John Vanderslice Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, September 19, 2008 04:33pm | Post a Comment
John Vanderslice is one of the Bay Area's most well known and most beloved musicians. He is also the proud owner of one of the few remaining all-analog studios, Tiny Telephone. John's a Barsuk recording artist and his most recent album is entitled Emerald City. He also happens to be one of my favorite people I've had the pleasure of meeting during my tenure at Amoeba. You can check out a sweet performance/interview with John from 2007 here on the Amoeba website, and you can also check out an mp3 of his song "White Dove" right here. Read on for our interview about reluctant piano lessons, greencards and the perfection of the Kinks.

Miss Ess: How did your passion for music develop when you were young?

John Vanderslice: My mom forced me into piano lessons when I was 6. God, I hated them!! Of course, years later, when I had absorbed some theory and could play a bit of piano I thanked my mom for starting me out. From there, it was a lot easier to move to piano and voice.

ME: I took piano from six as well and had much the same experience, minus the great success you’ve gone on to! When was the moment you realized you could make creating music your life and livelihood?

JV: After I started Tiny Telephone and we got a few clients, I realized that the combination of the studio and my touring income would allow me to leave my job (I was a bartender at Chez Panisse, a fantastic to place to work).
ME: What have you been listening to lately? Whose songs resonate with you?

JV: Well, tons of podcasts: Studio 360, Democracy Now, This American Life, Le Show. And heavy doses of Lil Wayne and Scarface when I'm driving my Corolla.

I love the idea of you in your Corolla nodding your head along to Lil Wayne! If time or place wasn't an issue, whose live show would you most like to see?

XTC on their UK Drums and Wires tour in 1979.
Is there an album or song that moves you to tears when you hear it?

The 4th movement of Mahler's 9th symphony is extremely sad.

Back when I was in orchestra I always loved Mahler. Is there a song someone else wrote that you think is just perfection? (One of my picks is "Waterloo Sunset.")

THE KINKS!!! Yes, how about "All Of My Friends Were There" off Village Green [Preservation Society]. They have about 20 songs that I find to be perfect!!

Totally. Weird how spotty their albums are, but the good songs are sheer perfection. Vinyl sales are on the up and up all across the country: what is it about vinyl that is enduring to you?

It just has it! It is so collectible, unlike the dreaded CD. I personally love the sound of vinyl, not only the music but the surface noise. I find digital silence to be totally alienating.

Me too! Your recording studio has all analog equipment, which I admire greatly, and you've hosted bands like Deerhoof and Death Cab For Cutie. Semi-similar to the popularity surge of vinyl, it seems like many bands are heading back to recorded music's roots and recording analog. I love it! Do you have any thoughts about why this is occuring? What is important for you about creating and tending to a place that allows artists to recapture the warmth of analog in their recordings?

Analog sounds wonderful. Also, people love that linear recording limits their options. Sometimes art thrives with limitations. I love keeping these old machines working for people that want to use them.

Artists in SF are always grumbling about how difficult it is to continue here with the high cost of living. I feel like it is worth it to be in such an inspiring and cosmopolitan place! What makes it worth staying here and being creative within SF for you?

Well, if I didn't own Tiny Telephone, I probably wouldn't be able to afford to live here. I would live in Portland like the rest of the Bay Area art community!! I love it here, but jeeez is it pricey!

Yeah, it’s really rough to cope with. And you’re right, practically all of Portland is now from here! And it’s getting expensive up there too! You have some of the most dedicated fans around-- people who know every word to your new album the day of its release! How did you foster and continue your relationship with your fans?

Well, that's nice to hear. I really care about playing live and trying to make the records as good as I can. I also like playing free shows and giving away songs. Maybe that helps!

What is your favorite local band (current and past)? Is there one around at the moment you think is on the brink of breaking out to a larger audience?

I loved Granfaloon Bus. I still listen to those records. I like Love Like Fire, Hello Central, The Frail, The Dodos, Port O'Brien; there's tons of great bands here.

I've never heard of Granfaloon Bus -- I've got to check them out. What's your most prized piece of musical gear?

Neve 5316 discreet mixing console.

What has been your peak musical moment?

David Berman [of the Silver Jews] coming to see us in Nashville.

I read that you are an avid photographer.  What are some of your preferred subjects when you are at home in San Francisco?

Well it's strange, I never shoot in San Francisco. I only take my camera out on tour. It seems like too much responsibility.

You're playing at the Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend. Is there anyone's set you are particularly looking forward to checking out?

Or, the Whale, Tegan and Sara, Fleet Foxes, Okkervil River. The line-up is AMAZING.

I know your last two albums were in part inspired by both 9/11 and the political situation going on here in the USA. Do you have hope for this upcoming election? What are your thoughts?

Hopes and thoughts, for sure. But mostly prayers!

It’s hard to know how it’s going to go. I feel like we live in an Obama bubble here in the Bay Area but I am not sure what is going on in the rest of the country, really. I know another inspiration for the record was your French girlfriend's difficulty getting a visa.  Any closure on this situation yet?

Ha, she's right by my side asking me why I didn't do the dishes today. I'm not kidding! This is strange because:

1. I usually do the dishes.
2. She usually doesn't care.

I need closure on these dirty dishes!

She has a temporary green card. It was not easy. We live together. I am happy.

What's been your best-ever find at Amoeba?

All the Radiohead on 180gram vinyl!!!

Thanks so much for your time!

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Tiny Telephone (3), John Vanderslice (5), Barsuk Records (1), Interview (341)