Over the course of seven solo albums,
John Vanderslice has shown an innate ability to add subtle layers of
instrumentation to gentle pop songs. Whether discussing the aftermath
of 9/11 or the immediacy of love, Vanderslice has been able to create
intimate moments on record with ever-so-slight manipulation. He
continues this exploration on his new album, Romanian Names, out today
When Paste caught up with Vanderslice, he was enjoying a short reprieve
from touring at his home base in San Francisco where he recorded
Romanian Names as well as an EP with John Darnielle of The Mountain
Paste: So you’ve been home in San Francisco for a
while working on the new record. How is life different being home
after being on the road so much?
John Vanderslice: Well, I was home for nine
months straight doing this record. I had like maybe half a dozen
fly-ins during that time, but that was probably the most that I’ve
ever been home in the past eight years and it was pretty incredible.
I planted stuff outside of my house, I mean, I did stuff that I
haven’t even really considered doing because I haven’t been
stable or focused in one place.
It’s weird, I did not want
to tour at all, even when I had to do like a one-off show, I did not
want to leave the house. [laughs] But now that the record’s
getting closer, I’m gonna go play a show in Florida this weekend.
And then I’m gonna do the Mountain Goats tour, so it’s starting
to crank up again. And I’m starting to get the real taste for
moving around quickly. Touring does something to you. It excites
something in you, this restless nature, that once it starts it’s
hard to shut off.
Paste: Are the songs on Romanian Names
drawn more from your surroundings and relationships in San
Vanderslice: Yeah. To me, it sounds like San Francisco and my
life. I’m very domestic. I mean, I live at home with my girl and we
cook dinner every night. There’s a lot of songs about relationships
and love and the difficulties and impossibilities of being in love
and also about having some kind of stable life. Usually other albums
are written wherever I am, they’re just scattered.
Paste: Did you need to adjust your songwriting because of all the extra
Vanderslice: Yeah, the difficult thing is that when you
start adding clarinet and oboes and violins, the song changes so
dramatically. You know, I’m used to adding drums and bass; I know
what that’s gonna feel like. But when you start to add, like, the
Swedish Nyckelharpa [he laughs] it changes the song really
It was confusing in the beginning but I started
writing material that would actually be able to breathe a little bit
more with those classical instruments. They’re very, very powerful
and there’s just a completely different palate then I’m used to.
Paste: You did a show recently in San Francisco with
Majik*Majik Orchestra. What was it like performing with that massive
presence behind you?
Vanderslice: It was very overwhelming. Being in a
room with 34 musicians, there is an energy, especially the top end,
the beautiful treble of all those violins coursing together. There‘s nothing like it. It was a very intense experience.
Paste: So are you planning on doing some more orchestral work
in the future?
Vanderslice: For the next record I’d really considered
doing orchestral recordings. I wanna make half the record with Majik and somehow put together a tour, maybe just East
and West coast. Bring out the 30-piece orchestra, you know, play the
Bowery [Ballroom], Music Hall [of Williamsburg] and just string it
down as far as we can, bring it down to DC and maybe the West
Paste: You’ve been doing a lot of work with John
Darnielle, How did you guys meet?
Vanderslice:and Bob Mould, at a NoisePop show. And so John and I started talking
backstage. I was very nervous, it was the first show that I played
as a solo artist, and John was really complimentary to me after the
show. I thought that he just kind of just sensed that I was nervous
and was just giving me the camaraderie stuff that you get at a lot at
shows, which is fantastic. But he actually kind of kept up with me
after that show. And I had been a fan. For me, Coroner’s Gambit had
been a huge album. I really didn’t have any allies, so I was kind
of excited. So we just kind of slowly kept up and started played
more and more shows together, before you know it, we have the same
Paste: You guys are doing a tour together and it's
been announced that you'll be playing songs together. How’s that
gonna work? What songs will you play?
Vanderslice: We just did an EP
together called Moon Colony Blood Bath. And we’re gonna play some
of those songs at the end of the show. It’s gonna be really fun for
me, I really like the EP. Its gonna be a vinyl only tour EP, and
we’re gonna just play together at the end of the show.
Paste: When will the EP be out?
Vanderslice: I think it’s being plated
today. Yeah, the vinyl’s getting plated today and we should have it
probably around the beginning of tour [laughs]. We're a little
behind, actually. I think we’ll have it by New York.
Paste: I noticed you like to post photo slideshows on your blog. Is
photography a good diversion from constantly working and
Vanderslice: When I started taking photos on tour it reminded
me so much of when I was first recording, there was no expectation
about what I was doing it was just purely self taught and purely for
the love of the medium it had no other baggage whatsoever.
love being in touch with the craft where there isn’t other stuff
involved. I mean, I’m fine with music, I don’t have any crisis
with aspects of being a musician, I’m fine with it. But it’s
amazing to just be shooting away and you just don’t care what
happens, you don’t care if its good or bad or profound or mundane;
it is just a childlike activity. The more I tour the more I like
There’s an experimental quality to film
that reminds me so much of recording. It saturates things, there are
errors in the medium that become part of the art itself and I’m
kinda into that whole exploration.
Paste: I know you’re sort
of a film buff and I was wondering if you watched the Oscars this year?
Vanderslice:reminds me a little of the Grammys. It’s a little bit out of touch.
Paste: Is there anything you saw recently that you really
Vanderslice: What I saw recently, that I think is fascinating as
a piece of pop culture history, is JCVD. It’s a French film. It’s
almost in the style of a Godard film, and it like a meta kind-of
exploration of this aging action star and its stars, you know, JCVD
[Jean-Claude Van Damme].
It’s basically like a bank-robbery
film, and it has this pretty famous like six-minute monologue in the
middle of the film where he addresses the camera and starts crying;
it’s unbelievable. Its not an amazingly crafted film, but it’s
really worth seeing.