Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Album: Divide & Conquer
Band Members: Mark Charles Heidinger (vocals, multiple instruments), Rose Guerin (vocals)
For Fans Of: Elliott Smith, Frank Sinatra, The Bird & The Bee
Mark Charles Heidinger, the primary member of Vandaveer, is at once an old soul and a little child trapped in a 32-year-old's body. His band's name comes from the middle name of many men in his family, the word engraved on a pocket watch passed down for as many generations as the name itself. He balks at the idea of reading on a Kindle ("I want the pages, man") and begins our conversation by saying, "I am often failed by modern technology—I couldn't answer my phone." Yet he believes the kids' section of The Washington Post is "absolutely the best part of the whole paper" and draws as much songwriting inspiration from Shel Silverstein as from the work of John Steinbeck. The music on Vandaveer's upcoming second album, Divide & Conquer
(out Aug. 25 on Supply & Demand Music) reflects this duality, with
lyrics referencing both World War I and children's author Beverly
Cleary in daydreamy songs featuring rich piano melodies and the pure,
delicate voice of bandmate Rose Guerin.
Heidinger grew up in Lexington, Ky., where he spent plenty of time at church listening to choir music with his father, a minister. There, he also picked up a voracious reading habit (Cleary's stories about Ralph and Ramona were some of his favorites) and developed an appreciation for the music of Madonna and Michael Jackson—more specifically, he says, “whatever trickled down to the smaller communities in the booming metropolises of rural Kentucky.” Later, he played with Lexington indie rock band The Apparitions, but split when he moved to Washington, D.C. five years ago. In D.C., he joined a community of musicians called the Federal Reserve, though which he met Guerin. “She just sort of will stop you, literally, in whatever you’re doing when you hear her voice for the first time,” he says of his bandmate. “And that very much was the case the first time I heard her sing.” Guerin had her own solo project at the time, but signed on to work with Heidinger, her sweetly haunting harmonies complementing his own deep, straining voice.
Divide & Conquer has already been released in Europe, where Vandaveer's had a bit more success than in the States—especially in France. "The Ministries of Culture are very active over there, [so] I think people are more aware of what’s going on,” Heidinger says. “We have just loads and loads of bands toiling in obscurity over here in the U.S., very deserving of attention and exposure, but it can very much feel like a rat race over here.”
When he expands on the challenges making it as a musician in the U.S.—specifically, the reduction of music to zeroes and ones as digital downloads—his love-hate relationship with technology resurfaces. "How do we continue to convince people that music is something that is worth more than a couple clicks of the mouse?" he wonders. "It has a monetary value. At some point, you’ve got to be able to pay your gas bill. And if you can never sell a song because everyone thinks that that song is supposed to be available to them for free, it gets harder and harder to pay that gas bill because you can’t do the same thing with your gas bill. You can’t just click your mouse a few times and get a month’s worth of home heating energy."
Still, Heidinger is thrilled with the community created by the Internet and the opportunities it presents—he loves that he can post a song online from his home in D.C. and get feedback from someone in Milan with half an hour, for example, or that it no longer costs a hundred thousand dollars to produce a record. "There are a lot of things going in our favor," he concludes, "but there are also things piling up against us." But if the classic sounds of Divide & Conquer are any indication, Vandaveer will easily plow through anything blocking its way.