Misia Vessio Shows How It’s Done On the Drums
By Rhona Melsky
When drummer Misia Vessio got the call from her brother Dante Vessio that he wanted to get the band back together, it was a statement that bands all over the world have heard since bands started playing.
But this was different. It wasn’t as if Misia could actually sever ties with her brother, and nor did she want to. Misia had gone off to do her own thing in college to study jazz and played with anyone and everyone she could to hone her craft on the drums, while Dante went off to high school.
“We wanted to focus on ourselves and develop on our own, which allowed me to be by myself and explore, meet other people, and play in a bunch of bands,” Misia said. “But I always knew even when I was in college the only thing I wanted was to play with my brother. We really do have a connection when we play.”
Born and raised in Astoria, New York, Misia, now 23, grew up in a musical and intellectual household where her Brooklyn-born father Michael regularly played the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix on the radio. He was a graphic designer and although he didn’t play an instrument, he wanted his children to be musically inclined.
Her mother Eva was born in Poland where she played piano and took vocal classes. When she came to the U.S. at 27, she didn’t speak English.
Their father was focused on the musical education of Misia and Dante and their duo as Vessio while their mother, a landscape architect, was providing for the family, working as a creative director for one of New York’s largest horticultural companies.
Misia and Dante, 19, began music lessons at a young age. She started taking piano lessons at 7. Her father bought them a drum set while they also had guitars, a piano and percussion instruments. “My father would put on the radio and he would tell us to play,” Misia said. “He really pushed us.”
At 4 years old, Dante took drum lessons, but the classes were an hour and at such a young age he couldn’t handle it, so Misia took the second half hour although she really didn’t like the drums. They also took dance (at Alvin Ailey) and studied martial arts (they currently are second-degree black belts), art classes, and even read Shakespeare and Kafka. At age 11, Misia, a soprano, began voice and guitar lessons, which is when she began writing songs.
The siblings became the band Vessio, a duo, when Misia was 12, where she sang and played guitar while Dante played drums. They also switched spots, which was easy because they both are multi-instrumentalists, both playing the same instruments. They played a few times a week at local bars, pubs and open mics, playing everything from originals to covers by Zeppelin, Hendrix and Bad Company while also developing relationships with other musicians.
The duo busked on the Steinway subway station in Queens. “It wasn’t about money; it was really developing ourselves as musicians and performers,” Misia said.
Drums Come First
Misia’s drumming developed on its own since she was playing often, and the show was more interesting to the public with her on drums. By high school, Misia knew she was a good drummer and decided it was time to be more serious, choosing it as her main instrument.
In her sophomore year of high school, she auditioned and got into the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School in Queens. Attending a school named after one of her big influences turned out to be extra special when her jazz band director put her name in to audition for a spot in a Gap commercial, “Giving Love Through Arts Education,” with Tony Bennett, the founder of her high school. She got the part along with four other students. Take a look:
When it comes to drummers, Misia admires many including Art Blakey, Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, Buddy Rich, as well as the “absolutely amazing Cindy Blackman,” she said.
While growing up she loved the Beatles, Queen, Marvin Gaye, Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette, Led Zeppelin and Cream. In high school, she started learning more about jazz, big band and orchestral music. “College is when I really dug into my drum set and my sound and really opened up my knowledge of music, more in the genre of jazz.”
She attended The School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City and graduated with a BFA in performance in 2017. At college she was the only female drummer, pushing herself and joining as many ensembles as she could.
College gave Misia the freedom to be in control of her own life, be her own manager, and play with a variety of people. She auditioned for various bands and played as much as she could whether it was a paid gig or to simply develop her sound. “I wanted a career, and you have to get out there,” she said. “I loved putting myself in situations where I knew I wouldn’t be the best because I knew later on, I could only get better.
“I like being pushed. If someone is better than me, it makes me work harder. That’s why living in New York is the greatest place for someone like me because there’s always someone better than you. If you’re really serious about what you do then it will only make you work harder.”
He's Got that Bass
While playing a gig with a jazz trio, she met AJ VanSuetendael who was on bass. After the gig, AJ approached her and said, “Misia, you’re an amazing kickass drummer. I hope we get to play again someday.”
It’s something Misia never forgot. “I remember that moment so vividly because it really touched my heart,” she said.
When she started her own band, Misia needed someone to play electric bass but all the bassists at school played an upright. Remembering that AJ played electric bass, she contacted him. He was up for the challenge.
The Band is Back
Misia got back together with her brother in March 2018 after he called saying he wanted to get the band back together. Their first show was April 20, 2018, and when they decided to add a bass player, they asked AJ. “He came to play and it was just magic,” Misia said.
The trio wanted to be new and fresh, which meant a new name. They tossed around some ideas and came up with Holy Vulture.
While vultures are often seen in a negative way, in Tibetan culture they are seen as holy and sacred. It all fit in with how they are as humans and how they see the world. “We try to be peaceful and right-minded as possible and we really care about the environment, the earth and the animals,” Misia said.
The band took a hiatus toward the end of September of 2018 knowing that everything would have to come together by early 2019. They began recording, worked on a video, which will debut soon, and will release a five-song EP and head out on tour. They debuted as Holy Vulture this past New Year’s Eve at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City.
Yes, Women Kick Ass on Drums
Misia categorizes Holy Vulture as psychedelic rock infused with pop and soul. Everyone in the band throws out ideas, melodies, rhythms, lyrics and grooves. While Misia used to write about heartache and love, after traveling the world and meeting many people, she has experienced a lot in her young life. She now writes more about feelings, the issues of the world, and how to effect change. She has the technical chops when she plays along with the commitment and a style of her own.
While she has faced some discrimination as a woman drummer, she basically ignores it. “I really didn’t care what negative people had to say because after I would play, they would come up to me and say all these nice things,” Misia said. “I just surrounded myself with people who were good, and I had a goal and set my mind in the right direction. I worked hard and didn’t allow what other people said to affect my journey.” A journey that has taken her on tour as far away as Japan and up and down the East Coast.
It’s not a secret that the music business can be tough and those in it have to be strong. “People are going to try to tear you down every day,” Misia said. “When you post on social everyone will always have an opinion or a view, but if you really love what you do you will find a way to ignore the negativity, and you will find a way to push away and push past the people who are trying to bring you down.”
Check out Misia Vessio in an episode of You Play Like a Girl from 2012 with host Samantha Maloney from bands Hole and Motley Crue: