By Lea Rittenhouse | Courtesy Photos
Vito and Monique Aiuto live a seemingly ordinary life in Brooklyn, NY. Monique is a preschool teacher, and Vito is the senior pastor at Redeemed Presbyterian church, but one thing sets them apart —They’re in a band called the Welcome Wagon.
Signed by Sufjan Steven’s label, Asthmatic Kitty records, the eclectic couple released their second full-length album this year produced by Alexander Foote. The CD, titled “Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices,” serves its purpose as a joyful solution, with its light-hearted, quirky melodies and relatable, humble lyrics. The name is borrowed from a 17th century how-to devotional written by Thomas Book, which is among Vito’s favorites.
“I think of the record as sort of like that, but I wanted it to be remedies that God might use to help people. That it might be something that God would use to provide solace or comfort or challenge in someone’s life,” Vito says.
The album reflects their simple life with refreshingly raw undertones to their musical style, complete with rearranged covers, original songs and guest performances from Stevens.
With no ties to a particular tradition, lineage or genre, the Aiutos play music they enjoy, which Vito says could be described as a folk, gospel flavor, although ultimately, their style is hard to pinpoint. “I really always stop short when somebody asks me or us to describe it,” Vito says.
The Welcome Wagon released their first LP record, “Welcome to the Welcome Wagon,” in December 2008. The album was recorded and produced by music pioneer and friend Sufjan Stevens and captured a musical production, heavily influenced by Stevens himself.
“It was really a great gift to us from him to do that with us,” Vito says, referring to working with him on their freshman release. “One of the things that was most amazing about it and really wonderful was that he was a real servant to us.”
Both Vito and Monique are from Tecumseh, Michigan, but they didn’t know each other growing up. After graduating high school, Vito went to Western Michigan University and Monique attended the Copeland Union art school in New York. They “ran into each other” during a summer vacation back home in Michigan, and Vito says they’ve “kept running into each other since.”
After getting married in 1998, Vito wanted to create an occasion for them to sing and worship together as a family, so he purchased a guitar despite the fact he didn’t know how to play.
“When we started to play together, mainly what we would play was hymns,” Vito reminisces. “What’s inspired it is a desire to praise God and also to do something together, to have something that we’re both passionate about.”
Around the time the couple began experimenting with old hymns, their friend, Stevens, whom Vito shared a mutual interest in writing, asked them to contribute a song to a compilation his record company was assembling.
“He said, ‘Well I’m going to put this on the compilation, what’s the name of your band?’ We didn’t have a band. Monique came up with the name and came up with this idea that we would be welcoming, that we would be hospitable—that’s who we wanted to be as a band.”
The couple continued writing songs, and occasionally Stevens would bring a recorder to their house and record more.
“Most of the first songs we ever made were recorded at our house and he would teach us about recording and production and arrangement, and we would make these songs together.” When Vito met Stevens through a friend and began to form a friendship with him, he had no idea he was a musician until he gave him a copy of a CD he put together in college.
“It’s funny because when you live in cities … it seems like everybody you know is a musician, and everyone you know had been a director or has been in a play,” Vito says. “You don’t necessarily assume it’s going to be really excellent.
“I remember we put his in our CD player one morning as we were banging around the kitchen and making some breakfast and stuff and the first couple songs played, and then the next couple, and at some point I just sat down, and Monique and I thought, ‘This is really good. This is amazing.’”
Vito adds that Stevens is multitalented, with his abilities spanning across recording, producing, engineering and playing instruments.
Although the couple hopes to go on a weeklong tour in the spring, they don’t tour or play live on a regular basis because their jobs are year-long endeavors and being parents doesn’t accommodate for much free time. If a venue or church requests they play, Vito and Monique try their best to make it to the event. The Welcome Wagon has played a number of shows in Texas, according to Vito. “Texas is where we’ve played some of the biggest shows and had some of the most fun,” he says.
The couple’s biggest inspiration for their music is their faith.
“We want to be able to love God and love other people with our music. We want that function to be performed when we sing it and when we perform it, but we also want it to be served when anybody else listens to it,” Vito says.“If someone buys one of our records, our hope is that it will help connect them with and help them to love God and know that God loves them … It’s kind of a lofty ambition but that’s the one we’re shooting for.”