Catching Up With... John Vanderslice

Music Features John Vanderslice
Share Tweet Submit Pin

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 (May 19).

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 Goats.

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 Francisco?
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 instruments?
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 drastically.

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 Coast.

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 accountant.

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 touring?
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.

I 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 shooting photos.

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 liked?
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.

Recently in Music