Sab Mai of No Vacation Talks: Being of Color in CA, Merch Design, and Angry Neighbors

No Vacation
Supportive friends have always kept me alive through hot trips to Disneyland and short bike rides to In-N-Out. Where would we be if we didn’t have pals to bump shoulders with?

 Sab Mai, singer and guitarist of No Vacation, is tragically far, far away from the shoulders of her band-mates Marisa Saunders (bass), Nat Lee (synth), Harrison Spencer (guitar), and James Shi (drums).

They miss her dearly from San Francisco, California as she journeys the cold streets of New York City while studying design. The five piece band came back from a near year long hiatus to premier their single “Mind Fields” with Topshelf Records in late February.

This four minute, thirty-two second wonder has me aching to get out of the cloudy pools that my failing relationships desperately drag me into. Lyrics like “Here I am/been waiting on you/for far too long/maybe we should call it quits/but you never even gave a shit”  remind me that I have to move on.

 Despite three thousand miles between them, No Vacation has been busier than ever! So we were stoked to get to talk with Sab about being of color in the Californian indie scene, supporting fellow Bay Area buddies, and keeping the band’s Instagram looking hella fresh, as usual.

As an Asian American who’s grown up with a huge interest in Californian indie music, I was always alarmed by the persistent lack of diversity. From your perspective, is this something that you have to be overtly conscious of?

I mean yeah, I think in creating the band I was super conscious about the fact that there were primarily white, cis males in the music scene. What I wanted to make different about this project was that I really wanted a lot of people of color to be represented. I just wanted our fans to feel like they are seen. And by being a band of primarily people of color, it’s empowering. When I look at other musicians of color or artists of color, I feel really happy actually; I think that’s one of the main things we strive to do, to be representative of the community.

Definitely one of the most striking things I’ve seen on No Vacation’s Facebook page is your really cool merch.

Thank you! I design those.

So what was the inspiration for that? Because that art style is pretty iconic.

I draw a lot of inspiration from modern and pop art and so I have incorporated that in my style as I’ve been drawing and creating over the past couple of years. I like to focus on heavy use of line and really symbolic or geometric shape. Are you’re referring to the newest artwork design for the long sleeves and posters?

View this post on Instagram

Spicy af 🌶

A post shared by No Vacation 🐼 (@novacationgrrl) on

Yes, those long sleeves!

So yeah, I don’t know, that shirt design was actually just a doodle in my notebook. Most of our designs come from just being doodles that I do and I’m like, “Oh that kind of works as something on a piece of clothing” and we kind of develop that further. I usually paint them and scan them in, then turn them into vectors before putting them on merchandise. So I guess that’s like the process.

So you do the merch design, does anyone else in the band do any other kind of art?

I do the primary art direction for the band, but actually our drummer, James, he works at GoPro and he studies film in college, I guess he’s the only other one who does art besides me. He works at GoPro as a film editor. But in terms of No Vacation related things, I do all the art direction for that.

If you guys could play anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you want to go?

I don’t know! I’d say… I’d like to play in Hawaii tomorrow because it’s really cold in New York right now and I’d like to be by the beach and in the sun. I was in San Francisco last week and it was so sunny the day before I flew out and I was like, “I really miss this.”


How have your practice spaces changed over the years?

When we have no options, we rent by the hour at this place called Music City Rehearsals in downtown San Francisco but when we have the option, we usually practice in our friend’s garages. However, like, their neighbors get really angry at us. This one time, we were practicing at 10 a.m. at Harrison’s old house and the neighbor violently banged on the garage telling us to shut up. After situations like that we were like, “Okay! I guess we should practice somewhere we won’t bother people!”


You definitely make a point to support other artists on Facebook, how important is it to get similar responses  from not just your fans, but your peers and people you look up to?

Oh yeah! I think that’s so important. And also because artists in the community are our friends and we’ve always been supportive of our friend’s endeavors. Not just on Facebook, but just being active and going to shows, like, when I’m in San Francisco, I go to as many of my friends shows as I can. Normally I’m there for five days but I got to see a handful of friends play at a festival. It’s always very heartwarming to know there are other people doing what you love, like sharing the same passion for music. And it’s always important to show that you care. I think that comes across, not just through social media posts but actually seeing them in person and saying “I really thought your set was great.” Those kinds of things continue to make the people in the community feel there’s a place for them. I feel like, in the Bay Area there’s a lot of people leaving and feeling like the scene isn’t there. I mean, the scene is still there it’s just some people choose not to see it.


How was recording “Mind Fields”?

It was super fun, it was in the same studio as Summer Break. We had a great time, pretty much the same process as Summer Break, we just wanted to keep the same momentum. It worked out previously so we didn’t want to do anything too different.

On your Instagram, one of the most consistent things is your hashtag “#MarisaMondays”, how  did that get started?

It was when we first brought in Nat and Marisa and we just started our Instagram, we thought it’d be funny to post funny pictures on Mondays. We just thought it’d be funny and kept with it.


Is In-N-Out over-rated?

Uhhm, no? I wouldn’t say that. When I went back last week I was like, “Hey Nat, I kinda wanna have some In -N-Out before I leave,” and then I thought I was leaving on Monday at 12 P.M. and thought, “We could go before I take off.” I found out my flight was actually at 8 A.M. and so we went at midnight on Sunday before I left instead. I love In -N-Out.


Did you get to chill out with the cool stickers as a kid?

Yeah, yeah, yeah! That used to be one of my favorite things to do, I would just ask for a ton of them and do them in the car or while there. I have this really funny story about In-N-Out, which is kind of like, sad. I don’t drink milkshakes anymore because this one time my aunt got me a milkshake and she was driving and I drank it and I vommed in the car. So I’ve never had the milkshakes there again.


Okay, last question. You grew  up in California? So have you ever been panning for gold?
Yes! I went on a field trip, I forgot where, it was some ranch. We had these little sifting pans, and they were like “Oh we’re going to try and find some gold!” I was in the second or third grade, I didn’t find any but they did have fake gold to make us excited about finding something.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s