It started last August. I’d met up with John Vanderslice (note: hilarious outcome if you go to jv.com instead, expecting some Vanderslice) outside the Great American Music Hall, before I went in to see Black Heart Procession, and we were chatting. We were going along and then he looked at me, “I should give you a tour of Tiny Telephone sometime! You’d love it!” I told him I think I would love that.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to organize a tour, seeing JV play twice, chatting with him at a few more shows and hanging out with him at his Stanford show last fall, we finally worked out this past Thursday as a time for a Tiny Telephone tour.
I arrived a little before the appointed time, found some parking and wandered down. The complex looked nothing like I’d imagined. It’s an industrial complex in the Outer Mission, but I thought it might be more of a warehouse or something. I eventually found the studio amongst the car repair places and around the corner from the silk screener.
Dave Douglas (drums/moog in both the John Vanderslice duo and quartet versions) arrived right on time. He didn’t have keys and no one was in the studio yet, so we just hung out outside and chatted. He’s a really nice guy and we talked about the relative merits of various baseball stadiums and about how to get a reasonable ticket to Fenway without paying exorbitant prices.
The rest of JV and the Suburban Kids w/ Biblical Names arrived shortly after. We had (with top secret nickname, position in the group): John Vanderslice (“JV” or “J Vers”; lead vocals, guitar, piano, wurlitzer, niceness), David Broecker (“Broecky”, bass), Ian Bjornstad (“I dog” (pronounced “ee dog”); Wurlitzer, moog, piano), Dave Douglas (“Dave”; drums, moog).
JV had to run back home to get his ear plugs and the band started setting up. I knew they were going to rehearse that day, but I didn’t know why. I soon found out: this weekend they’re playing all nine tracks from Emerald City, his next album, live, tracking it and videotaping it. They’re going to split up the nine songs into nine live videos and give one each to nine bloggers. While JV was home, I chatted with some of the guys, but mostly left them alone to set up their gear. I wondered around the studio a bit to check it out and to snap some photos.
When JV got back, he looked a bit preoccupied, probably because of this upcoming recording and his girlfriend finally getting into the country/ town the night before. I realized that I wasn’t going to get a proper Tiny Telephone tour and I was a little disappointed. But, in the next few minutes, when the band started getting set up for rehearsal, I realized they were going to let me sit through a rehearsal of the new album. (Mentally, I was jumping up and down, giggling and clapping, but I played it cool…)
They started with “Kookaburra” which, I think, is going to be one of the standout tracks from the album. Just a great tune with a very singable chorus. It starts with guitar, keyboards, vocals and bass for quite a bit until this amazing Dave Douglas drum beat locks everything together. Another future favorite is, I think was called (they weren’t like “hey, Adrian, this song is called [blah]”) “The Party”, which I would have called “Be Calm” after words in the refrain. The refrain line is really nice and the harmonies were nice. “Time to Go” was another good one, but I can’t remember what it sounds like (they ran through it just once.) “Tablespoon of Codeine” is a dark and distorted song and has JV offering up some wild feedback, at least in this live version. All told, I think I heard six of the nine songs with “White Dove”, “the Minaret” and “Central Booking” being the ones I didn’t hear. I think this album’s something to look forward to, certainly.
Something else that I realized from this rehearsal: JV gathers pretty amazing musicians around him. Broecker plays the bass rock solidly and when they ask him to change his part, even to something more difficult, he gets it right without missing a beat. Ian plays some pretty complicated, syncopated and off-beat patterns on two keyboards at once while singing harmonies. Dave Douglas’ drum parts add a ton to the songs. After a run-through of a song, he would also say things like “I think the harmonies would sound better if they did [x] instead of what they’re currently doing.” I thought it was a bit odd at first, that a drummer (no offense drummers!) would say something like that, but I soon realized why he could get away with that: he was right almost every time.
All in all, it was pretty amazing to get to be a fly on the wall for this rehearsal of new songs. Thanks, JV! You rule.
See below for more photos.
 I always thought it be better if they were called Black Heart Processional.