Aug 3, 2007

John Vanderslice Interview: Part 2

Here's what you've been waiting for, part two of sixeyes interview with JV. If you missed part 1, with talk of sex on desks, Don Rickles, and Rhythm Ace drum machines, PLUS the exclusive premiere of "Numbered Lithograph" Live at Tiny Telephone, you can jump back to it right here.

Now, here's Part Deux of sixeyes interview with John Vanderslice...

With Bowie being your hero, do you aspire to reinvent yourself, if not image-wise, but musically each time you set out to make a new record?

John Vanderslice: Oh yes, but I never do. Isn’t that strange?? It seems like an easy thing to do... I really admire how Bowie changed musical styles like actors changing roles. Genre was like clothing in theater, something you inhabit for effect. Now I know how difficult it is to take those clothes off!!

SIXEYES: You've penned a number of songs that deal with and/or are set in Baghdad (the obvious being "Plymouth Rock" and "Trance Manual", and now you've advanced to the point where you are naming your upcoming album after a section of the city. I've got to ask if you've ever been there and if not, what have you read or seen that has affected you so much that that city keeps reappearing in your work?

JV: Well Baghdad city seems to be the epicenter of so much American folly. In the middle we've got a heavily fortified green zone, where we're building a billion dollar US embassy, by far the largest in the world. It's on 104 acres and half of the 5,500 employees are security. This is INSANE! But fascinating, right? I mean, why? It's the one of the only projects we built in Iraq that was delivered on time. And another indicator we're never leaving.

I've never been to the Middle East. I would love to take that drive from the airport to the green zone.

I don't think I really understand why we're there. Oil, China, heartland theory, funding a shadow government, yes I'm sure all those, but there are other reasons I haven't figured out... and that keeps me coming back to Iraq.

SIXEYES: This has nothing to do with the new record, but a while back I was listening to "Big Band Stars” and got a strong impression from the lyric that you were perhaps a fan of Melville’s Moby Dick? And that thought came back to me when I read something you’d written on your website about hurling a harpoon into black water. Does the story of the whale hold special significance for you?

JV: Oh yeah, Melville and Chaucer were the two big things for me when I went to UC Berkeley. I think anyone who tours and makes music over a long period of time must be haunted by some unknowable monster!!

SIXEYES: Just what is the plan for promoting the new album? Is the main thrust going to come from blog interviews and previews on blogs like Sixeyes, or are you going to lay down serious cash on a half page ad in an indie mag, or two, or three?

JV: Well, we're trying to do something different from our past records. I personally live on the web, so that's the place I want to push the record. We probably won't have any print ads for Emerald City. Everything is different now, and by the time my next record comes out we'll have to rethink it all again.

One thing that has to go: the three to four month lead time for a record release. This is retarded! That’s all to set up national press. Can you think of anything slower and more 20th century than doing something FOUR months in advance to get a record review? Shit, there's tons of nights where a blogger emails me THE NIGHT of a show and has written and photographed extensively about the performance they saw two hours earlier. That’s more my speed.

SIXEYES: Who shot and edited the Tiny Telephone Emerald City Tour film? And did you get involved in any way with the post-production?

JV: Scott Ottaway was the mastermind. He contacted me about filming a show in Seattle and I thought he'd be a natural. He brought two camera crews down to Tiny Telephone and kept everything rolling. I wasn't very involved in the post-production. I was too busy with my pit-bulls (it's dog-fighting season here). I told Scott I wanted as few cuts as possible, and for him to keep it very natural and unprocessed. He did a wonderful job.

SIXEYES: How long a process was this? Was it an all day affair?

JV: Two 14 hour days. By the end we felt like prostitutes on Super Bowl weekend. Whatever that means :)

SIXEYES: And I'm curious about who came up with the idea to shoot the film and offer it to favourite blogs of yours? Also, was this in any way to deter the entire album appearing as mp3s as soon as it hit the shelves?

JV: It was Barsuk's idea!!! Which is great because they can't blame us if it all goes wrong. Ha!

No it wasn't done to deter any p2p sharing. More of a way to show appreciation to fans and blogs for the support. And also to prove we can actually play these songs live!!!

SIXEYES: In the song “The Tower” you mention Tarot cards and I’ve seen a deck of Tarot cards in a picture of the console in Tiny Telephone. How heavily are you into Tarot and that kind of thing?

JV: Well, I love the Rider-Waite-Smith deck; I think the narrative ideas in it are fascinating. The song "the tower" is about the perils of ego and hubris. As far as my own beliefs, I am a godless soul who doesn't buy any of it.

SIXEYES: The current press release on Emerald City says that you wrote the bulk of the record while attempting to get your French girlfriend a visa, has that situation been resolved? And what did you learn, or are learning, about your government from this sad state of affairs?

JV: Well we're still dealing with all of that!!!

Well, I certainly learned that you need to constructively use all the anger these things produce, and not become bitter and crazy...

SIXEYES: Ok, on a lighter note... from photos I’ve carefully scrutinized it seems that all the members (excepting you of course) of your band are smokers. What’s it like being the odd man out when you’re on a six-week tour with three tobacco fiends?

JV: Yeah that's kind of a bummer. It’s strange I don't mind tobacco, what really messes me up is processed smokes. I used to work in a cigar bar and all that real tobacco was fine for me. I tried to get my band mates to roll their own. That lasted about three days.

SIXEYES: Now that you’re a world traveler and have seen things I can only dream about, or see on cable, where would you like to go if you could go anywhere right now?

JV: Vietnam!!

Seeing how the previous question was about 'travel', I thought I'd now ask John to take a trip down memory lane for his thoughts and feelings on the past six solo albums he’s recorded and released. And, as always, JV being a generous and open soul, he offers to pay for gas so I can come along, tells me that I'm coming along on his next European tour, and says something about blueberry pancakes, or was it blueberry blunts... here he is, on the couch:

Mass Suicide Occult Figurines (2000)
My first solo record, and my first record for a label. It’s really half an mk ultra record and half experiments in recording myself at tiny telephone. The heavy band songs (bill gates, speed lab, what did you do today, big band stars) were mk ultra songs tracked live with John Croslin. I love the title, and I love the sound of the record, but I can't listen to it. It’s too fragmented and unfocused. It wasn't until I cleared my mind of my old band that I was able to move in a new direction.

Download the entire Mass Suicide Occult Figurines album here at his homepage.

Time Travel is Lonely (2001)
Probably my fondest memory. It was the first record i felt like I found any kind of style that was true to what I was hearing in my head. I had made a lot of breakthroughs in recording since MSOF, finding a noisier, more distressed way of tracking. This was the first record I worked with Scott Solter, who did some tracking and overdubs. John Croslin mixed it at Tiny Telephone on our (then) new Neve 5316 console.

Download a couple of tracks from Time Travel Is Lonely here.

Life and Death of an American Fourtracker (2002)
This album feels a bit rushed to me, notice it was my third record in three years. some individual songs are high points for me (the mansion, 424) but the overall feel of the record is not fully realized. Some of the sonic experiments that Solter did (the percussion in "Nikki O Nikki", the drums in "Amitriptyline") are mind blowing to me today. After this record came out I decided to slow down my recording schedule, partially in response to the increase in tours.

Download a couple of tracks from Life and Death of an American Fourtracker here.

Cellar Door (2004)
A new direction. The first full collaboration between Scott Solter and me. It seemed to really benefit from the slowed down recording schedule. Sonically, Scott and I have never topped “Up Above The Sea”.

My only regret is leaving a track on the record that's probably the most requested song from the record. I won't name it!!

Download a couple of tracks from Cellar Door here.

Pixel Revolt (2005)
The biggest seller and many people's (along with TTIL) favorite. I really feel it's too long. If I had it over again I would pull four songs of the record and put them on a companion EP. I grew up with 40 minute LPs and, for me, that's the ideal format.

The songs for the EP would've been:

1. Peacocks in the Video Rain
2. Continuation
3. Radiant with Terror
4. Crc 7173, Affectionately

Then you would've had a ten song, 40 minute record and a very interesting EP.

Download a couple of tracks from Pixel Revolt here.

Emerald City (2007)
9 songs, 40 minutes! Yes. The first record made with a band: David Douglas, Ian Bjornstad, David Broecker. Mostly tracked live with Scott Solter. No other players appear on Emerald City. It’ll take me a few years to figure out how I feel about this one. In general, my estimation of a new record is a manic-depressive cycle. One day you're stunned you let so many mistakes make it to tape, and other days you feel you'll never be able to make music like this again.

From Emerald City: white dove [mp3]

Aug 2, 2007

JOHN VANDERSLICE: Live From Tiny Telephone + Interview Part 1

Emerald City, John Vanderslice's latest solo record and his first with a tried and true band backing him, was released on July 24th through Seattle's Barsuk Records, and it stands up well beside his last release, the critically acclaimed Pixel Revolt. But this time out not only is the sound pared back, but the content as well, with nine tracks which crackle, buzz, and mesmerize like the overload of media information we are inundated with each and every day (Pixel Revolt had 14). JV feels this buzz, he lives and breathes it as an avid consumer of online culture and print media, and he may understand it better than some because his new baby, Emerald City, is being promoted in a different way with print advertising being pushed to the side and JV's home away from home, the internet, being the prime focus. And the main push right now is his Tiny Telephone Emerald City Video Tour which is using nine of his favourite music blogs to host each of Emerald City's nine tracks in glorious 16 x 9 videos (go to his homepage for links to all the videos posted, so far). Sixeyes is proud to present the latest in that series, "Numbered Lithograph". Here it is, along with part 1 of the sixeyes interview with JV below... enjoy.

From Emerald City
white dove [mp3]

BUY Emerald City

JV homepage
JV myspace

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SIXEYES: John, the new album opens with acoustic guitar, was there any specific reason you leaned more heavily on acoustic for this album? Was it because you were tired of the electric, or is it just easier to work with an acoustic in a live recording environment?

JV: Well, to be honest I find recording electric guitar very difficult. Also, Scott Solter and I call it the "cookie monster" at Tiny Telephone because it chews up so much dynamic range. It steals space from vocals and most harmonic instruments that live in the middle. It’s like going out on the town with a loud-mouthed guy who's wearing a "sigma pi" sweatshirt. Unless you're getting jumped, he may be a liability.

There’s something more feminine and subtle about an acoustic, even when it's distorted to high heaven.

SIXEYES: Sometimes it's the little behind-the-scenes things that I wonder about, such as your going out with a photographer and scouting locations (that sounds so Hollywood) for the cover shot. What is that like? Do you typically spend a day having your picture taken? And why put your mug on the cover this time out (sixeyes: this is the first time JV has been on he cover)? And who is that woman sitting behind you on the cover of Emerald City?

JV: Well, remember Alan that I would love nothing more than to be a cinematographer. So photo shoots for me are amazing. Autumn de Wilde and I drove around for hours scouting places to shoot. She is a tremendous photographer and the only reason I ended up on the cover, I'm not sure who else I would trust that to. We shot for about 14 hours straight, and that's pretty rough. I mean to look interesting for five minutes is tiring, right!

So, we drove by an open garage door with an old lady and her son listening to Dr. Laura (right-wing self-help blabber, if you don’t know her, it's hilarious), Autumn said: "Stop!" We got out and she charmed the women into letting us take photos with her. I drive by her house everyday but haven't seen her yet to tell her she's on the cover. I'll wait until I get them back.

I wanted to put myself on the cover because I wanted to make more of a direct connection with the listener, and because my hero is Bowie and he's almost ALWAYS on the cover!

SIXEYES: A cinematographer, eh? You know, even if I don't currently own a camera (cell phones don't count) I sometimes find myself thinking, as I gaze through windows of cars, or buses, or trains, 'that would be a great shot', or 'that's a very cool location for a shoot'. Do you ever do that? And do you also, as I do, think 'oh hell, what am I doing, I'm not gonna make a movie'? Or maybe it's just me.

JV: Yes, I think of that stuff all the time, I usually take 300-400 photos every tour. And yes I know I’ll never make a movie. That would be absurd! It’s a very potent fantasy to be able to shift into another creative area. But it took me 15 years of playing and recording to even begin to figure it out, so I’m not sure if I want to go through that again!

SIXEYES: The eighth track on Emerald City is "Numbered Lithograph", a song that was previously titled "Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Numbered Lithograph". I didn't know who Mackintosh was before being prompted to search him out online, I was certain he was an artist, a painter, knowing of your interest in art history, but he's not, he's an architect (sixeyes: he's renowned as an architect, but did paint as well). How did you receive inspiration for the lyric in this song?

JV: Well, a girl I dated a few years ago did her arts degree at Stanford on Mackintosh, so I got interested in him through her. When I was in Glasgow I went to the Glasgow School of Art and the CRM cafe. Amazing!! I first found out about him through his wallpaper and tile designs. I am obsessed with anything domestic and crafty.

SIXEYES: What startled me and put me off on first listening to the album version of the song (I listened to a couple of live versions many times before getting a hold of the album), was that mysterious clicking-clacking-burbling-gurgle that wiggles it way throughout the song. But now I enjoy it, although I have to ask: What the hell is that?

JV: Ha!! It's a Rhythm Ace drum machine, one of the earliest drum machines ever made. I'm sure it's being jammed into a bunch of effects and distortion boxes. I'm glad you got used to it!!!

SIXEYES: And the abrupt ending, both lyrically and musically, what are you trying to say by ending the track the way you have?

JV: That song to me is about fragmentation and isolation. And things that are separated from their usual place or environment. The girl from the table, the cell phone from the girl, the bird from nature and the singer from friends and a healthier life. I wanted an anti-chorus, it actually doesn't sum up the emotions of the song, but makes the narrative feel more fractured. The quick and ruthless cut was part of that.

SIXEYES: Your old collaborator, Scott Solter, was once again in studio with you for the recording. You've worked together quite a bit and I was wondering if his role ever changes, or does he always contribute musically as well as production-wise?

JV: Well, his role gets bigger and bigger with each record. I LEAN on him! Some songs he hangs back, makes a few suggestions here and there, and let's it happen. Other songs he'll do a complete tear down. "Tablespoon of Codeine" is a Solter production. Top to bottom. Now, Douglas, Brock, and Ian wrote a lot of the music, but Scott shaped everything. My version of the song sounds NOTHING like the completed song. "Time To Go" is very similar to the demo I recorded.

SIXEYES: The upcoming Emerald City tour lists the touring band as David Douglas, Ian Bjornstad, Daniel Hart, and Dave Willingham. Who are these new guys and what's up with Dave (Mr. Comedy) Broecker missing from the line-up?

JV: Ha, Broecker is funny as hell. The movie guy voice he does is requested as often as some of the songs! He'll play with us in Seattle this month and always for the NW shows. He's getting married and trying to have a real life:) You can't blame him. We will probably play as a trio now with additional players as they're available. Daniel Hart is a genius. He plays in Physics of Meaning and Polyphonic Spree. He's an excellent violinist and singer. He'll add a lot to the set. Dave Willingham is the sound engineer for the Spree, we're lucky to have him.

SIXEYES: I get the feeling that you didn’t have any writer’s block when it came to getting these songs down on paper. If so, was that due to the fact you were bursting with ideas from your globetrotting tours over the past couple of years in support of Pixel Revolt?

JV: I had no trouble this time around. I think the best thing was taking a longer break. We have a two-year gap in between Pixel (Revolt) and Emerald (City). That’s by far the longest yet. I think the next record will be a lot faster than that. And yes the tours help, you have SO MUCH visual and emotional input that it's bound to pour out when you're still.

SIXEYES: Staying the course here, didn’t you write Pixel Revolt at your desk? I seem to recall you saying that. I want to know if any of Emerald City’s songs were penned away from that desk? Do you ever write while on the road?

JV: Yeah, I do everything on my desk. Sleep, eat. Even make love to my girlfriend. My desk is my life! I’m there right now listening to a Don Rickles interview on Fresh Air and typing this to you Alan!!!

That’s a really good question because for the first time, I wrote songs on tour. The first two on Emerald, "Kookaburra" and "Time To Go" were written in Australia when I was on tour with the Mountain Goats.

We stayed on after the tour at Killcare Beach (pictured above - photo by JV) and swam and hiked. It was one of the best times of my life.

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Whoa now! Hold on good reader, this is just the end of PART ONE!! PART TWO of this interview will be posted tomorrow. Please come check it out as it features what I like to call 'John Vanderslice: a self-analysis in six parts'. Which is his own thoughts and feelings looking back on all six solo albums he has released. And there's lots more, stuff like Baghdad, Bowie, Moby Dick, shadow governments, Super Bowl prostitutes, Tarot cards, and hand rolled cigarettes to mention a few.

See you tomorrow then, thanks for reading and I know that John thanks you for listening and for watching.