John Vanderslice is the nicest guy on earth - with noble opinions and a stack of mesmerizing albums Michael Moore would likely enjoy. The following is a conversation between Mister JV and a noble Macintosh.
Bill Gates must die.
+ So I'm gonna go out on a limb here and take it you're not (like 97% of the country!) a fan of this W Bush creature - what are we as a nation going to do for 3 more years, John Vanderslice?! Isn't it about the scariest situation in your lifetime?!
Yes, this is the worst I can remember. I went into a frothing rage with a "Bushie" yesterday about the hurricane. I think I'm past the point of no return here, I'm wondering when I'm going to don the camo and go underground!
In direction to your thoughtful decision to post complete albums on
is that out of a love for technology or simply saying "if
it's going to get out there, get it out there (internet-land) right"?
+ Where did this live to 2-track idea come from.. . that leaves very little room for anything other than voice and guitar.. yes?
I wanted to strip it down to the essential elements: lyrics and melody.
It was VERY hard!!
+ You've done a couple small tours in Japan, and there are references to Japan and Japanese culture in your songs ("Dance, Dance Revolution", and Shibuya, a shopping district in Tokyo). What do you find fascinating about this country?
Japan is unreal! One of the best places I've ever been to. I've spent a lot of time there alone walking around at night with my camera. The visual sense of the culture, along with the very particular energy of the Japanese changed me.
+ What triggered this more personal approach to songwriting on Pixel Revolt? Why was it more appropriate to talk about your life on this album than any of your other records?
Well my life fell apart, so writing about things 6,000 miles away didn't resonate anymore. I had to write about my own life in hopes of working through it. That, by the way, doesn't work very well!
How large of an influence / editor was John
Darnielle to the final lyrics on Pixel Revolt? Do you
ever think you will share any roughs / original ideas with your fanbase?
+ How do you generally go about choosing an editor for your song lyrics?
I've only used two and I have to understand their work and feel like
they understand mine. I worked with Amanda (Yskamp) for five years.
I had known (John) Darnielle for at least that long before we started
to work together.
One subject that is present on Pixel Revolt is the day of
and surrounding 9/11 - but Cellar Door was released in 2004.
Did you specifically pen these songs for the latest album after Cellar
Door, or were they around during that release too?
you ever see me writing prose, a screenplay, or a
novel, please Tanya Harding my kneecaps. I think it's hard enough
to get good at one thing!
+ We hear you have some wacky battle bot-building neighbors behind the Tiny Telephone studio - what are those peeps up to?
Laboratories are the best neighbors I could ever have,
they have kept peace order down at the yard where Tiny Telephone is.
They don't have as many shows these days and they definitely don't
run the V1
rocket as much as they used to, thank God - because that will
stop a recording session in five seconds flat.
not, unfortunately. But, "maybe those last days of freedom
were the best of his life?"
Because I have good job. Any musician who is not nice to the people around him/her should be bound and hurled in the San Francisco Bay.. .
Hiller and Gibbard rule.
( Barsuk ) 2005
John Vanderslice is known for writing quirky pops songs about the darker and more obscure aspects of life. His topics include: a pedophile who wants to exact revenge on Bill Gates (from Mass Suicide Occult Figurines), the traumatic experience of watching a girl hit by a car ("Everything Changed", from Time Travel is Lonely), and a war veteran haunted by his days in Vietnam ("White Plains", Cellar Door). The messages in his songs are never handed to the listener on a silver platter, covered in a saccharine coating for easy swallowing. Instead, he prefers to express his thoughts and feelings by way of the explicit confessions and narratives of characters that find themselves in dire and strange situations.
For his sixth release, Pixel Revolt, the already-accomplished lyricist John Vanderslice worked with another music mastermind – John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats – to create a poignant record with frank, yet poetic lyrics. Like in his previous record, Cellar Door, Vanderslice once again travels down the path of war and politics in his songs. The song "Trance Manual" tells the tale of a journalist in Iraq who drowns out the chaos and disillusionment by seeking comfort from an Iraqi prostitute: "Just walk right through/past the bullhorns and sleepy 47s / right by the coalition guards /.. . Come to me now / you are warming weather / come to me now / the kind that comes with / sandbags along the river." War, however, is not the dominating theme; Vanderslice also touches on the struggles of daily life, including his own, which is something he rarely mentioned in previous albums.
Failed love and disappointment are scattered throughout the record, both in real and imaginary situations. "New Zealand Pines," a love song Vanderslice wrote to an ex-girlfriend, is full of nostalgia wistful imagery. On the track "Angela," a lost pet bunny suddenly prompts a couple to reconsider their dismal surroundings and circumstances. Taking a break from the melancholy, a delicate instrumental track called "The Golden Gate" perfectly captures the image of the graceful structure peeking out through the gray fog in the bay.
From his years as front man of MK Ultra to his solo career, Vanderslice has always produced records that are original, never trite or boring. Pixel Revolt is interesting both sonically and lyrically, a perfect blend of contrasting sounds and poetry. Let us hope that John Vanderslice never runs out of stories to tell.