John Vanderslice – Fetal Horses
John Vanderslice celebrates the release of his latest full length album Romanian Names tomorrow, and it’s another excellent work from one of the Bay’s strongest and most consistent songwriters. At the same time, the album marks a number of firsts for Vanderslice. It’s the first time he experimented in a home studio before heading to Tiny Telephone to record. It’s also the first JV album for the Dead Oceans label. Most notably, the new release feels more symphonic, and the studio talents of Vanderslice and Scott Solter create some moving soundscapes from the layers of instruments and vocals.
We spoke with JV about the new album, his upcoming tour and more. You can find that interview below. You can also stream the Romanian Names in its entirety at NPR.org.
Vanderslice will be performing at Amoeba SF tonight at 6pm. His official album release is tomorrow night at the Rickshaw Stop, with The Morning Benders opening. That show starts at 7:30pm and is $16. Advance tickets can be purchased here.
Also don’t forget you can still win tickets to the show and a copy of his two most recent releases here!
The Bay Bridged: Congratulations on Romanian Names! What do you think most distinguishes this album from your past releases?
John Vanderslice: Well thanks! Two things come to mind, the songs are shorter, faster, and the structure is more compressed. We also had a larger pool of finished songs to pick the 12 that ended up on the record. Also, there tons of backing vocals on this record, often recorded with the tape machine slowed down and then brought played back at normal speed, pitching up the harmonies.
TBB: You’ve mentioned before that Emerald City was the first time your band was really involved in the songwriting process. Did that approach continue on Romanian Names?
JV: It was less of a collaborative project, mostly because I had recently added a small studio in my basement. I did a lot of writing and tracking on my tape deck and then brought it in to Scott Solter and Tiny Telephone. Solter and I did work very closely on the album, he had as much input as I did with what happened after I brought in a song.
TBB: What was the impact of working first in a home studio before heading to Tiny Telephone? Did you expect that that change would affect your songs and songwriting?
JV: I knew it would give me more time and allow me to throw stuff away quickly (and without attachment). I thought it would be a drag to have the ability to write and record 24/7, but it was actually pure freedom.
TBB: Some of your past albums have felt very thematic lyrically. Do you think there are unifying or overarching themes to these songs? What inspired you lyrically when writing these songs?
JV: There seems to be a lot of songs about love and relationships. Possibly because I was at home for 9 months straight, living a very domestic, suburban life. I wanted to be free of connecting narratives and themes. These are very personal stories.
TBB: These songs have some great diverse instrumentation. What inspired you to incorporate strings and woodwinds so prominently?
JV: Well I grew up a classical fanatic, I’ve seen almost as many orchestral/chamber shows as I have indie shows. We partnered with the Magik*Magik Orchestra last year and that pushed me to want to write for other instruments. If I have my way, the next record will feature a ton of MMO.
TBB: Was it challenging to figure out where and how these instruments would fit in? Was there a process of experimenting to figure out the right balance of sounds and instruments for each song?
JV: Yes, but knowing you can erase tracks later makes the process easier. The second you realize you’re not committed to a performance, you tend to allow the most disorganized, weird shit to happen on your record. Sometimes that’s the most exciting tracking, even if it doesn’t make the cut.
TBB: I’ve always considered you a rock musician, but some of these songs don’t have guitars on them. Do you see your musical interests changing or expanding? Where would you like to go musically in the future?
JV: Well, I’m hoping my next record is ALL about electric guitars. It’s actually very difficult to make distorted guitars fit together on a song. We call them the cookie monster, they kind of eat up all available dynamic space in the midrange. I want to combine distorted electrics with symphonic bombast. Wish me luck.
TBB: This is also your first album on Dead Oceans. What drew you to the label?
JV: Their roster: Bowerbirds, Bishop Allen, Akron/Family, Dirty Projectors. It’s an amazing label.
TBB: Could you talk a little bit about the band you’ve assembled for this tour?
JV: Oh man, they rule. Matthias Bossi on drums, Sylvain Carton on guitar, Jamie Riotto on bass, and my right hand man, Ian Bjornstad on wurlitzer. We’ve been rehearsing all april and may. I adore them.
TBB: And finally, are there any copies of Moon Colony Bloodbath left? Do you have any plans for more tour EPs, remixes or other limited releases in the near future?
JV: Well I have about 400 in my basement! I’ll bring 300 on this tour and save the rest for the EU tour later this year. We’ll have an EP coming out later this year.