Having slaved nearly a decade on the local music scene with catchy pop/rock, VonRa sounded like it might make it. But then the scene seemed to give up on VonRa, driven by relentless and good-natured Vaughan Rhea (guitar and lead vocals). Moreover, Vaughan's brother, Dave (bass), gave up on VonRa, too; he exited the band more than once to play around with signed hopefuls Dust for Life. Now Vaughan Rhea's group, with a newly assembled lineup -- including his brother and scene remnants Todd Hackenburg (Blue Meridian), Eric Steinberg (Hours, My Friend Steve) and J.D. Charlton (Virgos) -- is the talk of the town. VonRa's recent "Fame" platter won a signing with Elektra Records and has Vaughan just waking up, again.
OW: How long has this campaign been in the works?
Vaughan Rhea: "Fame" wasn't released until Aug. 10, and then by Sept. 10, we knew we were gonna be working with Elektra.
How did you pull it off?
The week of the terrorist attack ... we heard from Elektra that they were going to move on the band. Then the next week, I heard that Sony Music Corp. started freezing all signings completely. That was kind of strange. Not having any story behind this album was also kind of a weird situation, because there wasn't any radio play, no CD sales and no touring buzz around this album. There was just an enormous belief in the music from the guy that ended up signing us, the VP of A&R.
As far as "Fame" goes, any idea that you'll be re-recording it?
Yes, most definitely. We got a hefty budget, dude. I was not expecting what we got. I mean, we're going with a top-name producer and probably a very nice studio somewhere. Hopefully we'll get the guy who did Fuel and Vertical Horizon, Ben Grosse. I fell in love with the production of the Fuel album; it's compressed perfectly and mixed perfectly for what they're trying to get across.
You had some radio success with the song "Just Waking Up" a few years back. Will that be an option for revisitation?
My writing style has changed a lot since then. That stuff was written back in the '80s and early '90s -- I think that the new material, it exceeds it so far. I would like to bring back "Just Waking Up," but it would have to be revisited in a different way. ... I would like to bring "Drinker's Hour" onto this album -- take away the countryness of it and just rock it up as much as possible. I mean, it has changed a lot of people's lives here. A lot of people have quit drinking and gone to AA.
What made you make the decision to beef up your sound?
I love to rock. What Brett Hestla (recent Creed addition and producer of Fame) was able to do, was capture what we were doing. I mean, Brett Hestla is, other than myself, the most contributing factor to this signing. He feels music from his soul like no other in the town. To watch him work is just amazing.
Do you think the advent of the O-Rock-style power balladry is going to help you?
We're probably going to angle this thing into more of the O-Rock category than the WJRR category, because JRR is just ... angst music that I have no desire to write. We'll probably get even a little heavier than this demo is. ... It's going to have the guitar tones that Brett did -- there's still melody in them. If there is going to end up being any crossover into any pop situation, it's gonna be because of the melody in them. Singing melody lines, I think that's my forte. Marrying that with a few songs that have crushing riffs in them, that's gonna be fun.
Let's talk about your brother. It has been implied that he went away when things were going slow, but now he's back?
Let's just call him the prodigal brother. I forgive very easily. For him to go away and come back, that's just fine with me. ... He's one to jump up and say, "Man, I'm so proud of my brother for being the comeback kid of Orlando." He left for Blue Meridian and I had done the "Pains" album. ... I do this album and get signed. He understands that he didn't help make the bigger things happen, other than the writing. Dave and I write well together.