An interview with music chameleon John Vento

by | Sep 15, 2021

John Vento is often called a chameleon in the Pittsburgh music scene; and, while his critics may use the term as a pejorative, Vento views it as a compliment. He understands that they’re motivated by the frustration of their inability to lock him into a specific musical style. After all, the front man for the high-energy, hard-rockin’ band, the Nied’s Hotel Band, is also known for his introspective, brooding solo recordings.

John’s 2019 MTS release is “Love, Lust and Other Wreckage.” The album received the IMEA Award for Best Americana Album. His single, “Rainbows And Lightning” reached the Top 20 on iTunes Canada charts, receiving national and international airplay and charting. His follow-ups, “Baby Blues,” “Humble Way,” and “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love with You” (Tom Waits cover) have also received national airplay chart attention.  His latest single, “Well Yeah Maybe” reached #1 on the South African iTunes charts. The videos for his singles have all been selected for film festival inclusion, around the globe.  John is a January 2019 Billboard Magazine Emerging Artist and a Communitas Award Winner for his work with non-profit, Band Together Pittsburgh.

In late 2020, John Vento began releasing one track per month from his new album collection, “Brick By Brick.”  The album includes the #2 iTunes Rock Songs single, “No One Wears A Watch Anymore,” #1 iTunes Rock Songs single, “Not Your Kinda Man” and #1 UK iTunes Gospel Song, “Let God Drive.” The album will be completed by 2022. 1 In Music meet the West Deer singer-songwriter to find out more.

1 In Music: Hi John, thank you for joining. Talk to us about your music and what makes it so unique.

John Vento [JV]: I’m kind of lucky to have 2 extremely diverse and different live presentations. There’s The Nied’s Hotel Band, which is a seven piece R&B and Rock’n’Roll band. It’s high energy with a lot of power and great musicianship. We create a really exciting type of live performance. And when I get away from the band, the music I make is much more intimate. Usually it’s with just a few folks, acoustic duos or trios, acoustic guitars and voices, occasionally percussion. It’s for more of a listening room or coffee house kind of setting, with an Americana story teller kind of presentation, if you will. It’s kind of cool that I’m blessed to be able to do both things and I try to do them both well. With both groups, besides the covers we do, we write our own material, which is unique because we draw upon the inspirations of so many different people, within the groups and also with some writers outside the groups, which gives the songs perspectives from multiple points of view and variety of sounds from different genres.

Creating my own signature style took a long time.

When you first start, you get used to emulating the people whose songs your are covering, and their style gets embedded in your soul, but over time, you begin to let go of that, and you try to become your own person. I’ve worked real hard to avoid the old “Well this sounds like…” approach, even though there are certainly commonalities in the music that we create with well-known classic rock and folk, but as you get older, it gets easier to develop your own sound and style.

1 In Music: What or who shaped your music and who supports you?

JV: I was always surrounded by music because of my mother’s family. Her father, my grandpa, was a great mandolin player. He would come over to the house all the time, and he would entertain the neighborhood. That was always a highlight. Plus my great cousin, Ron Anthony, played guitar for Frank Sinatra for many years. So I would say it’s in my blood!

Who supports me? I am blessed to be surrounded by many talented and skilled musicians friends and family… we make a wonderful team. My beautiful wife, Michele Vento, who supports everything I do, Michael Stover of MTS Management, Kim Coles, our marketing manager, Jim Pitulski, our videographer, Skipp Barr, our photographer, David Granati of Maplewood Studio, our studio engineer and producer, all of my band members, and the list goes on.

1 In Music: When did you realise you were going to make music professionally?

JV: I’ve been involved with music a lot longer than I care to share publicly LOL. As is the case with a lot of younger musicians, I made the mistake of trying to be Mr. Cover Song Singer Dude, and that was ok. But it really didn’t allow me to grow or mature as a writer, and as an artist. In the late 1990s, a guy named Billy Hibbert formed a group called The Businessmen, and we started to get involved with original music that Billy wrote, and it really opened my eyes to a whole new direction of creating original music, and it’s been kind of non-stop since then. I’ve been writing and recording with my incredibly talented friends almost consistently for the past 20 years now.

1 In Music: What type of music do you listen to?

JV: I listen to many different types of music, some of my favorites being Harry Chapin, Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, and Bruce Springsteen, who have created so much wonderful music, and have also made positive impacts on the world.

1 In Music: Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?

JV: Actually I’m going to answer with a category and not a specific artist. The most under valued music artists are those great indie musicians who create some incredible material with very little support or national recognition. Folks like my dear friend and collaborator Cherylann Hawk, who has been writing and performing for over 35 years. Her catalogue would rival any of today’s so called superstars, but yet she has to grind from gig to gig, scratching out a living. Why do folks like Cherylann keep going? It’s because they love the music and they love their audience. There is no phony corporate creation here, just authenticity and good music.

1 In Music: How do you prepare for your performances?

JV: I avoid caffeine and dairy products in the hours before a performance, and just before I sing, I do the vocal warm ups that my vocal coach taught me.

1 In Music: What do you do when you don’t do music (creative or otherwise) and that you are passionate about?

JV: I am a gardening fanatic. I just love creating and maintaining landscapes and gardens that bring so much peace and beauty to the world.

Aside from my “day jobs,” I love supporting and promoting all musicians, especially younger ones. I also contribute to as many charitable causes as possible by helping to organize fundraising concerts and events at which I love to perform.

The most impactful mission however, is my work with Band Together Pittsburgh. OUR VISION – Band Together Pittsburgh believes that music has the power to unify the world. We envision using music to inspire and enrich the lives of those on the autism spectrum, enabling integration with family, friends, and society as a whole. OUR MISSION – Band Together Pittsburgh uses music as an instrument for change. We provide innovative programming, experiences, and vocational opportunities to enhance the lives of those on the autism spectrum.

I have a nephew and a godchild who are both on the autism spectrum, so it was a natural fit to get involved with an organization like this, and of course to involve music. In early 2016, I co-founded Band Together Pittsburgh with Ron “Moondog” Esser, whose son James is on the spectrum. Ron, who has been a huge part of the Pittsburgh music scene for 30+ years, owns Moondog’s and the Starlite Lounge in Blawnox, and he produced the Pittsburgh Blues Festival for more than 20 years. The Festival, during that period, netted over $2 million for charity. Moondog has also been awarded Volunteer Philanthropist of the Year by the Western PA Fundraising Professionals, and he is a board member of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. Band Together Pittsburgh is very personal and very fulfilling for us both. Please learn more about our autism friendly music programs by visiting

1 In Music: Success to you is…?

JV: [Success is] Freedom! Freedom to create what you want, when you want it, for the audience of your choosing.

Then if you really get lucky, your music just might move some folks in a passionate way. That is success to me!

1 In Music: What do you wish you were told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?

JV: I really wish someone would have told me to:

  1. Focus on creating original music.
    I wasted too many years performing cover songs. It’s a whole different world writing, recording, and performing original music. I would have also spent more time developing the craft of music and maturing much faster as a musician.
  2. Welcome input from outside, and to collaborate with other musicians.
    I look back and realize that I stayed in my safe comfort zone way too long. In other words, I took the easy path instead of pushing to explore new approaches. The great artists stay relevant through the years by constantly changing and creating new music.
  3. Take piano lessons on day one.
    I’ve never learned the basics of piano and am just beginning to understand the keyboard and how it can help me develop my voice. I also think that if I learned piano, I would have been in a much stronger position to communicate with my band in their language.
  4. Explore musical diversity, and learn about different cultures and the influence those cultures can have in our lives and even in the way that music is created.
    For instance, one of my recent songs has some Native American influence, plus I am learning about Asian and Reggae music.
  5. Take professional voice lessons.
    I’ve sure paid the price of poor singing technique and voice strain over the past few years. After two unsuccessful surgeries, I’m finally working with a vocal coach and learning how to do it the right way. I sure wish I had started off on the right track, but I feel blessed that I can still sing, though it’s with a slightly different voice.

1 In Music: Thank you for having us. Before we part, please tell us of any upcoming projects.

JV: My current project, “Brick by Brick” is quite a departure from my previous work. Construction of the new album began in November of 2020 with the release of the first single, “America (The Saints Come Marching Home).” Proceeding tracks have been and will be individually released (on all digital platforms) until such time the project is complete! Each new song is accompanied by a video, lyric sheet, and a narrative explaining some of the thought process in writing and recording.