Story by Jenna Million
Photo by Mason Endres
For a pop-punk band from Richmond, Virginia, Safety Word Orange had all they wanted. They had played Vans Warped Tour and even had a song featured on MTV. But two of the members, James Mason and Jackson Wise, wanted to make something that would last, and their dreams culminated in The Vantage.
Starting the new project, Mason says the shift from pop-punk to alt-rock was natural and essential. One of their first songs, “On My Way,” opened the door to explore a new sound. It wasn’t the same driving bass and drums they were used to, but it worked, so they ran with it.
The duo started taking their project more seriously after moving to Austin. “We moved into The Vantage, and it felt right. And since we’ve started that, we’ve even moved forward from that [sound],” Mason says. Their first EP, 2013’s “This Time Now,” was an upbeat combination of pop-rock and jazzy undertones, but their 2014 “Color Blind” EP features a more driving, rock-influenced sound. Their newest single, “Place in the Water,” released in February, blends distorted guitars with upbeat drums, the result of working with different producers.
Mason and Wise agree that the best songs usually come naturally, but that’s not always the case. “I find that the best stuff comes from letting go of something real quick, whatever your intention of the song is going to be, and seeing what comes out,” Wise says.
They’re still trying to find their place in the Austin music scene and beyond. Wise likens their sound to other Austin artists like Quiet Company, The Rocketboys and Saints of Valory. “It’s Austin, so there’s every other kind of artist here, and they’re all doing well and doing work,” he says. “And they have their niches, and so it’s sort of been like, ‘How do we get on the radar of these other guys?’”
Wise recognizes the competition that comes with the supersaturation of local music, and understands the need to to cut through the noise of what everyone else is doing. “You have to show someone and give them something valuable for their time and effort for them to come and see you,” he says. “And that needs to be lasting and memorable. The Vantage are still working on figuring out what that means for them.”
While The Vantage is a duo, Mason says they’re no Daft Punk, as they perform with a full band live. Austin is saturated with talented musicians, but finding ones that are serious enough to commit to the band has been a challenging task, partly due to the city’s laidback attitude. Translating their studio sound to a live setting has also proven difficult. They have to figure out how to incorporate more synth found on their recordings, either through tracks or by adding a synth player.
But they haven’t given up. “What else can we do?” Mason says. “This is all we know how to do. This what we do the best. That’s why we do it.” The thrill of writing a great song keeps their spark alive. “New anything is still exciting,” Wise says. “It’s like a challenge, always trying to cross bridges and jump gaps.”
Ultimately, they both want to be involved in a career that doesn’t feel like work. “You need something with autonomy,” Wise says. “You need something that has a value and reward-based system.” While the excitement of writing a song fulfills that need currently, they hope it will translate into making money. Mason says they hope to share their excitement with fans.
For now, they have a new music video for “Place in the Water,” and a new album in the works for which they are currently figuring out the best release date. For The Vantage, it’s all about finding the right place and the right time.