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JOE VANA / Mecca - Lead Vocals / Co-Writer

Well Joe, it's great to finally throw some questions at you and let the
public at large get to know you at last!

Thanks…let me start by saying I have been a HUGE fan of your site for over three years….I am thrilled to be part of it!
I am just a music fan who did an album to get out the songs I wrote and have Fergie sing with me.
Little did I know how it would end up!! I also wanted an album to showcase Mike Aquino. He is a really great guitarist and I hated seeing someone that good not getting a name for himself.

Very kind of you to say, thanks. Joe, you and I have known each other for a few years now.
You have been busy writing songs for a long time now and are breaking on to the scene as a new artist - is that in any way an overwhelming proposition for you?
No. How can it be? I do music for fun. No pressure that way. Pure and simple.
I love to sing…my poor neighbor Rick Milner probably wanted to move after hearing me in the shower…hahaha. But seriously, three years ago I had NEVER sung in front of anyone. Jim Peterik discovered me and next thing I knew I was singing on demos for the Beach Boys, playing in front of sold out shows with Jimmy and sharing the stage with my idols. Hell, I even got to sing with Dennis DeYoung….not a bad gig for a beginner.

Naturally, there are high words of praise for you from the likes of Jim Peterik, Fergie, Mike Aquino and that a moral boost for you?
Sure…of course it is. But my praise and admiration for their help in making my dream come true with this album cannot be measured. They all did an incredible job on this album and they all brought their A-Game to the table. As far as a moral boost I get one every time I see my son sing to songs I wrote...he sings them better than me...hahahaha…

Mecca is not your average debut album, is it not?!!!
Thank You!! My goal was to do an album that sounded like Toto meets Survivor meets Mr. Mister…and one that if my idols heard it they would like it.
I truly like to do nothing halfway in life. That can be a real detriment to mental health….but I took this album as my one chance to “show what I can do”. I wanted everything to sound just so. I know JP and Larry wanted to choke me during the whole mix and on some of the arrangements. But, in the end I am happy with the product…and I am not happy with many products these days. I sent Lukather a copy of the album and he loved it. To have Luke love my vocals was beyond flattering, That made the album completely worthwhile. His music is a religion for me….

Absolutley Joe! Could you have wished for a better vehicle to get the songs and your voice out there?
Trick question right?? I hear a horn section in the background….daaa da da daaa da daaa…(Ides of March fans will get this one)

Let's go right back to the roots of where you have come from and how your baby got started!
You are Chicago born and bread right?
Yep…lived in Chicago all my life. The album started in my basement with Mike and my buddy Jason Deroche. We wrote songs and had fun playing. I loved that period of my life. A heightened sense of energy and creativity. I met Mike [Aquino] and Jason at a local music store called Modern Music in Lisle Illinois.
Mike was my guitar teacher there. I told him after a couple of lessons that I write music and Jimmy Peterik was a REAL close friend. He probably thought I was nuts…until I introduced them. Jimmy heard Mikes playing on my demos and asked him to do demos for him. Mike and I both play in World Stage together, had a side project called EPB with Jimmy and when I was assembling my album he was my only choice…who better. Next came Mecca….

And just how did you discover you lived close to the great Jim Peterik?
Can you let everyone know how you first met Jim and how your relationship has developed with him over the years?
I used to see him in a local music store. I sent him a fan letter to their fan club and he answered. He said to stop by sometime since I lived so close to him. Little did he know some 13 year old kid would have to hop on his bike to ride over. I headed over and and knocked on the door…there he was.
He invited me in and we talked for a bit. Over the next few years I would visit him every couple of months. I heard Vital Signs and all of the next albums before they came out, he would play them for me in his living room. Cool Huh!?! After college our friendship grew…became something more than just visits. I became part of his extended family and he mine. When my wife and I took a one month break from each other to hit the reset button on our relationship Jim and Karen (Jim's wife) were there.
I had dinner with them, played board games and they counseled me on what's important. I was lucky, I had my Mom and Dad and my family to help me…and I had Jim and Karen.

At what age did you start writing songs?
31…I am 34 now.

Several of your songs and ideas have made it to the final version of Mecca how far back or how recent are those songs?
Not far. I have only been at it for three years. I played you the tunes over the phone…your interest and support kept me going. was a big reason this album got done….congrats buddy…your site had a baby….Mecca.

LOL! Obviously Survivor was one of your key influences, but I know there are others! Tell us about all your favorite bands and artists…
Toto and Mr. Mister are the main two. I am a huge AOR fan. I buy everything they play on. Lukather and Steve Farris are my favorite guitarists. Richard Page and Warren Wiebe (RIP) are my favorite singers along with Thom Griffin. I also really dig David Pack.

Mecca originally was just yourself, under the name Project Voyager - how did it evolve to what it has become and how did everyone that became involved come to be included?
Yikes…this could go on for hours! Let's just say I asked Jimmy to produce my album…and the rest is history….hahaha. I actually met Fergie over the Internet about 4 years ago. I asked David Hungate via the Internet and he demanded Shannon for the project (Thank God!!!!) Jimmy Nichols was a session player on World Stage and he goes way back with JP.

Sitting there now reflecting - what do you think of the final product?!!
Hard to listen to….really. So many emotions and feelings and trapped thoughts. It was such a hard thing to internalize and produce. First albums should never be this big….meaning involved.
I never did a demo tape…never played out live before 2 years ago…I am way to new to this to process all the information. BUT, I am real happy with the final result. Everyone did their respective jobs well……very well.

Knowing you for few years or so now Joe, I think you have excelled yourself, Personally and professionally on this album.
Thanks man!! That means a lot….you hear a lot of music and I really respect your opinion. What sucks is this is my benchmark now. I have to actually beat this on the next one…hahahaha. I grew a lot on this album. It was a real learning experience.

I love your vocals on this record. There is something really appealing to them, they are raw, passionate vocals and ultimately really set the songs up.
Thanks again!! Emotion is everything to me. I listen to music about 5 hours a day. I am one of those audiophile nuts who listen into the music. Anyway, I can care less if a singer is sharp or flat…short or tall…thin or fat…chick or dude…if they can convey emotion, then they are a singer.
Until then they are just going through the motions. I believe anybody can sing…..If you can live the tune….you can sing the tune….I hope that doesn't sound bizarre….

Yes it does, but we'll let it pass…haha…Seriously now, let's go through each track you sing lead on for starters:
Without You
– Rocker – my seed – and Jimmy and I finished it……I always thought I should not have sang this one. This song taught me a smooth voice can pull off a rock tune…probably the best example of a true split between JP and me…we collaborated equally on this one….Survivor like tune…

Can't Stop Love (duel lead) – Rocker – JP and Fergie's tune – I was along for the ride on this one… tune…..can you guess who is who on the pre-chorus and the chorus….hahaha…Fergie and I sound REALLY alike in those parts…Shannon becomes Jeff Porcaro on this tune….

Silence Of The Heart – Mid-Tempo – JP seed – and then he and I wrote it together….JP really had a cool melody and chorus worked out on this one…I added a lot of lyrics but this one is pretty Peterik.
It's one of his best songs…..I added in the arrangement ideas too…but this song and Velocitized if someone played it for me…I would knew he had a hand in right away. The Hungate bass from Hell on this one!!!….hahahaah…kind of a Steely Dan or early ToTo tune….

Mecca – Slow rocker – another Peterik seed that we finished together….JP is smart about having singers be real involved in Lyrics…helps them connect to the tune.
This one has no beginning or end….it's a circle…kind of cool….when we worked on it I bucked having a second chorus…to this day I wonder if I should have kept my mouth closed….hahahah…..Special song…deep….a real bitch to sing though….hahahaha…Mike's best solo on the album…oooozes vibe and soul…..This song ended up totally Mr. Mister meets Toto….head on!!

Close That Gap – Our one true ballad- my seed - Jason Deroche helped me musically and then I presented it to JP….we ran with it….Real hard tune to not be able to connect lyrically to…I lived it…so it was a real breeze to sing. Shannon's percussion and Jimmy Nichols keys kill on this one…

Falling Down – Mid Tempo Rocker - My seed - and JP again helped it see the light of day…Toto meets Hall and Oates. This tune is everything I envisioned it to be…a real fun tune for me…I can't wait to sing this one live!!! Shannon and David Shine on this tune….

Now I really love Falling Down, that's so smooth! Youa re right with the Hall & Oates comparison.
Cool….I am thrilled you got the vibe on it…

On Silence Of The Heart, there is a real Mr. Mister feel, also on Mecca...
Thanks…to even be said in the same breath as those dude…YIKES!!! I really listen to way to much of that stuff….hahahah

And on Close That Gap, you asked special permission to take Larry aside and re-mix the track - I have to say, after hearing the original, that the final version works even better!
Thanks!! I wouldn't say remix…more rearrange or re-produce.
I told Jim I wasn't digging the final product of the tune in so many words. By this time in the mix we had an understanding to say what we felt….no more sugar. Jimmy was cool to let me rearrange the pieces of the puzzle. “Gap” was a song that I had the final way I wanted it in my head from the minute I began writing it.
When I brought it to Jimmy to listen to, he loved it. We finished it together, but I still knew how I wanted it. Jason Deroche did a great job of working with me on the original music ( KILLER classical player and writer).
He has great ideas and is a rare talent. I am a huge Richard Marx fan. I wanted a ballad that was like he did it. I have only two musical dreams left, one is to work with Richard and the other is to work with Lukather.
Well anyway, I had Larry dump the basic template and we started building. He was real cool in the whole process of the album. I was a total pain in the ass about instrument placements, keeping space, making the guitar a musical event and so on… and vocal levels. I am thrilled they let me have my head on the mixes. It caused a lot of arguments, but in the end it turned out great. I am lucky that it was just me, Jimmy and Larry there to mix the album….if there were more cooks the kitchen would have exploded!…..hahahaha….

And Without You has a special quality to it....great song!
Thanks….it's a pretty angry tune.
But considering the timeframe for me it's par for the course. In retrospect I can't believe JP didn't flog me for all these negative lyrics. He is so damn upbeat lyrically…God, is he fun to write with…..

What was your first experience n the studio like for this album?
Frightening!!! To be in the room where Don Henley, Vince Gill, Elton John, Garth Brooks, Backstreet Boys and others have recorded….I was freaked. But it was about the 10,000th album of JP's so I was put at ease.

Anything you would change now, looking back over the whole process?
Nothing I can say publicly….haha. Actually I think anything different would have changed the album….so no…I'll gladly keep it.

Well Joe, you are known now, this record is soon to be released to the world and then we will all be looking at you going, great - now what's next?!!
Mecca 2
of course!! But before then, we shall promote and support this album any way we can. I also just sang for the Genius Rock Opera….kind of Dennis DeYoung meets Dream Theater...on my tune only.

Who and when will be Mecca 2?!!
Who is a secret….for now….suffice it to say I am TOTALLY Excited and ready to go to work. I can't let myself down….I have to make sure it is better than the first….

Anything else you would like to add mate?
Thanks to anyone crazy enough to read an interview about me!
Seriously, Thanks to you Andrew and all who have supported me over the past couple of years. I only wanted an album that no one would say…Damn, I wasted my hard earned money on this???? Hahhhah…..I hope people connect with the album….visit our Official Mecca web site… my webgirl Jamie has been killing herself on it, and see you all on the road!!