Kenny Vasoli was only 14 when he formed The Starting Line back in 1999, but the Pennsylvania native’s drive to become a musician began even earlier. When he was just 9, his parents bought him a cheap bass guitar, and he started taking lessons.
“I knew I wanted to start a band already at that point, and bass didn’t seem terribly hard,” he tells the Observer over the phone. “I liked that it was bigger than the guitar, and it was a simpler mechanism.”
Vasoli, now in his mid 30s, still stands by that sentiment today. “I still think that six-string guitar is a nightmare to play,” he said. “Bass is just so much easier to wrap my head around.”
But as fate would have it, Vasoli became a singer and guitarist instead. In the late '90s, he met fellow musician Matt Watts, who was 20 at the time, “via the internet.” Those of us familiar with “the internet” in the '90s know that we’re not talking about Facebook or Instagram. These two connected randomly on America Online, before the platform's instant messenger was even a thing.
“He found my profile, and I don’t think it said how old I was,” Vasoli recalls of Watts. “It just listed a bunch of punk bands that I liked, and he was trying to fill out his own band — he was looking for a singer.”
Watts would frequently pick up the younger Vasoli from his parents’ house so the two could “jam” together, but his parents were understandably wary of their son hanging out with older kids he met online.
“My mom was like ‘What the hell is this? Why are you playing music with college kids?’” Vasoli remembers. “Then she met Matt, and he’s a nice, gentlemanly young man. He won her over, and there was no problem there.”
The rest is history. The Starting Line soon filled out their lineup and cranked out some pop-punk magic — particularly impressive given their age and the fact that the genre was still in its infancy. Vasoli and his bandmates idolized acts like Jimmy Eat World and Blink-182, who straddled the line between alt-rock and pop-punk.
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“I could tell right away that this was music that I wanted to be playing,” Vasoli remembers. “It was hard to find people that were into pop-punk because it was kind of a new thing at that point, and it wasn’t even really well-defined.”
The group's debut record Say It Like You Mean It dropped in 2002 with hits like “Best of Me” and “Up & Go” that solidified the band’s place among the best in the scene. The Starting Line has taken a few short breaks over the years, but one thing keeps them coming back — each other. Vasoli hopes that fans pick up on that.
“It’s rare to find a band that can be loyal to each other and have the integrity of all the original members,” he says. “It’s not because we don’t get on each other’s nerves, ’cause we do. We really do ... but we’re also family at this point. We’re brothers.”
The Starting Line will be hitting the road for a special, albeit short, run of anniversary shows, and they're coming to Canton Hall on Saturday, Nov. 16. This will be the first time the group has played a show in Dallas since April 2008. But this isn’t an anomaly, considering they haven’t toured extensively since 2006 or so — the guys all have families and day jobs these days. They’ll typically perform two or three consecutive shows over a weekend here and there, which Vasoli says is perfect for them.
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“That way we don’t get sick of each other, and we also keep our chops sharp,” he told us. “Then everyone can be back at work by Monday.”
Now that two decades have passed, Vasoli holds on to the positive sentiment fans continue to express toward the group. Perhaps this sentiment is just nostalgia or a result of the popularity that the genre, as a whole, has enjoyed for the past few years. Regardless, The Starting Line has always been thoughtful about the way they release new material.
“The Starting Line is more of a tradition than a band at this point … and I’m very careful to not fuck with the legacy of this band,” Vasoli says. “I don’t just wanna shit out another record because it would mean more money or attention for us. Things go so well when we just do what we do.”
The Starting Line definitely holds a special place in the hearts of emo kids everywhere. It’s impossible to listen to songs like “Island” or “Bedroom Talk” without getting that warm, fuzzy feeling and immediately reaching for your black eyeliner. But maybe that’s just us?