my John Vanderslice interview, full and annotated

I did an interview with John Vanderslice back in July on the air at KZSU. Below is the full, unedited, linked/ annotated and with mp3s of his in-studio performance. It’ll be like being in the pop up video version of the studio. If you want to read the last interview I did with him, head here. If you want a shorter version of the interview, read yesterday’s excerpts.

John Vanderslice – Numbered Lithographs (Live at KZSU) (mp3)

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Adrian: Thanks so much for coming down again. So last time–I wanted to talk a bit about last time. The two things I remember most, besides me being completely frazzled sort of like I am now, were one: you thanked me eight times for asking you to come down and I thought that was the craziest thing ever.

John Vanderslice: Well that was the first interview I did on Pixel, remember? I think that was the day it came out or the day after it came out. You’re getting me when I’m fresh. At the end of the cycle, I’m just like a zombie.

A: You’re just like–people are like “Thanks for coming down.” And you’re like “Yeah, whatever.”

JV: [laughs]

A: That was a year and eleven months ago to the day.

JV: I’m not very productive. I mean, don’t you think? Come on.

A: Where’re all those records, John?

The other thing that I remember that I think is just crazy is that I just stumbled through something and I was like “Crap, I don’t remember what question I was going to ask you” and you said “The question you were going to ask was this” and then you answered the question for like three minutes, allowing me the perfect time to recover. It was actually probably the first interview I’d ever done and if you hadn’t done [that] and [the interview] had ground to a halt right there, I probably would never have done [another or] invited anyone else down again. So thanks for that.

JV: Wow. Absolutely.

A: So that [song], “Numbered Lithograph”, came out on your album that came out yesterday, out on Barsuk records, available at all fine independent retailers and online establishments, etc. I wanted to ask you a question about that song. There’s this weird clicking, popping sound. What in the world is that?

JV: It’s a Rhythm Ace made by Roland. It’s a very, very early drum machine, probably in 1971 or 1972. It’s just put through a bunch of pedals and distortion and things that Scott [Solter] and I did. It just provides this weird fabric. It’s interesting because when we were mixing the song we noticed that that sound is so present in the beginning but for some reason when the guitars come in, they’re so distorted that the clicking sound almost totally disappears until the end.

And I feel guilty that I didn’t warn you that the song ends so quickly. I was trying to get your eye contact and I blew that.

A: It’s alright. I’ve listened to the record. I was with you there.

The Scott that you were referring to there was Scott Solter, who’s sort of your right-hand man on all these records.

JV: He’s my partner really. He produced the record and he works at my studio a lot. And he toured with me for–I can’t believe now that I got him out on tour for so many times because you know, he’s married, he’s got a real, normal life. I think I took him out on six tours or something. But he’s been there since Time Travel [is Lonely]; he’s been really really [door bell at the station rings] important to what I’ve been doing.

A: Very cool.

JV: That sound was incredible. Did you hear that?

A: That’s our doorbell.

JV: Wow. Cool.

A: I’m surprised it got picked on on the microphone. I sort of apologize for that.

JV: No, it’s cool. I’m into it.

A: What was I going ask about Scott? Is this the first time you’ve listed him as a producer? Usually he engineers and you’re listed as producer.

JV: Well I’ve never actually listed a producer because it’s such a malarkey word. I wanted to give him love and respect; I wanted to give him more than “Engineered by”. I mean I wanted to put his photo on the cover.

A: [laughs] That would have been funny. Speaking of photos on the cover, this is the first time you’ve put your photo on the cover, right? That produced so much–I don’t want to say anxiety, but, questions, debate online. Do you have anything to say to that?

JV: [laughs] I just–I love that anyone cares on any level about anything that happens in the world. You know what I mean? It’s funny what people pick up on. I don’t have any–I read Golden Fiddle; I’m interested in what Lindsay Lohan is up to. I’m not a high art kind of guy, so I don’t have any problem with that, but it is true that–for instance, I just got a haircut, got my hair dyed. I will receive emails about my hair color. I don’t mind that…

A: Yeah, I’ve seen comments online about your hair color, too.

JV: Yeah. I’m superficial. I’m not here saying that there’s something deeper that people should be paying attention to, but there is a very funny thing about what [people pay attention to].

My band mates were really worried about it. I’ve wanted to put my photo on the cover since… You know, I’m a Bowie fan. Bowie was my archetype and he was my mentor growing up. He was like the guy who I wanted to aspire to and especially those very, very intense albums he was doing in the ’70s. And every single album was transitional. It seemed like every single album he was doing at that time was transitional between one phase or another and they were done very quickly. They were extremely interesting from a production standpoint. Who is this guy? What, what is he? Albums like Pinups to me are still baffling and bizarre and same with Diamond Dogs.

He put himself on almost every single cover and I thought, I gotta do that.

The emails and the questions I get all the time are is that woman my grandmother? It’s just a woman that lives in my neighborhood. We were driving by her house. She was sitting in her garage. I’ve never seen her since. She had the door open and we pulled the car over and we asked if we could take some photos with her. After ten minutes we left and it wasn’t until later on that we looked at these photos and thought, these are insane, we have to use one of these.

I’ve never see her since. Someone said, you should give her the record. I don’t want her to [see it]. Maybe her son’s a lawyer or something in the Rincon building and he’s going to come after me. I don’t know.

A: Is that your new neighborhood because you just moved…?

JV: Yeah, I just moved to Mt. Davidson which is a neighborhood no one [knows where that is]. Well, I live in Miraloma Park which really no one know where that is so I say Mt. Davidson and a few people seem to think they know where that is. You know where Dirty Harry got chased by a criminal, where the cross is in the city? That’s where it is.

A: I really want to talk forever but maybe we should get back to some music.

JV: You want me to play a song? I’ll do whatever you want.

A: Yeah. What are you going to play?

JV: Let’s play “Peacocks in the Video Rain” which is a song I never ever play and you requested it and I agreed to play it for you. I’m playing two songs for you, my friend. It should be said that Adrian and I see each other at clubs and shows so you have a lot of pull with me.

A: Three songs.

JV: Yeah, what’s the third song?

A: Um, “Pale Horse”.

JV: Oh yeah, that’s right. You guys are going to clap, right?

A: Yeah.

JV: Alright, awesome. Very very cool.

[to Jin] Are you going to clap to?

[she answers in the affirmative]

What’s your name? Jin is here taking photographs so I want to include her.

John Vanderslice – Peacocks in the Video Rain (Live at KZSU) (mp3)

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A: There’s so much I could ask you about, but, uh, you basically recorded this as a band, this album?

JV: Yeah, it’s the first time I ever did that. It was difficult in the beginning because we’d never recorded together and I don’t think I was ready to–it wasn’t give up control, but work in that environment, you know? The thing is, I discovered it was a lot easier. I could sit on the couch and surf the internet and I’m not kidding and I’m not being funny but I realized that if I had other people painting the fence for me, it would be more fun as an experience, you know what I mean? And these guys are incredible musicians. Their ideas are so often more interesting to me. Ian Bjornstad played keyboards. Dave Douglas played drums and also did tons of arrangements and [Dave] Broecker did bass and keyboards. Everyone just pitched in. They can all play different instruments. It became easier. I realized that–wow, being in a band is actually easier. Just like I learned–I played a show in LA last week and I played solo and it was kind of a raucous, party crowd. There was a lot of people there. It’s very difficult to play solo; it’s hard. It’s one thing to be on the radio: it’s focused and it’s quiet. I was exhausted after the show. Whatever mental–you were listening online. It takes so much to hold it together when it’s just you on stage. When I play with my band, it’s so much easier and it’s so much more musical in a way. There’s a conversation; there’s a fluency between players. I just found when we recorded together it was actually the same thing. It felt like how it felt playing solo versus playing in a band. It was much easier.

A: Like you said, you have such amazing musicians around you. When you let me sit in for that rehearsal–

JV: Yeah, you were there for the recording.

A: It was kind of awesome to see that [as a] fly on the wall, but one thing I was completely surprised at at first was Dave Douglas would just be like–he’s a drummer, nominally. He plays other stuff but he’s a drummer in your band at least. But he would suggest things like “Ian your harmonies should go this this and then this”, you know “the third and then the fifth and then back to the third” and he’d be right every single time. He seems like he’s brilliant.

JV: He has all the respect. He has a music degree in percussion from North Texas. He can play keyboards–he plays keyboards in Ian’s band. He can also play vibraphone [and] marimba. He’s a very well-rounded musician. He can read music. We listen to him, you know? And it is easier. The thing is, you realize that when you give up control and the people are really good, you do have a lot more free time.

A: I had a couple questions about your band going in the same sort of vein. You’ve called this your permanent band, your band forever, but–

JV: It’s already broken up.

A: Broecker’s not listed for your tour. He’s not going to be the bass player.

JV: He’s getting married. This weekend I’m going to play [the Capitol Hill] Block Party. Dave [Douglas] and I are going to play as a duo and then Dave [Broecker]’s going to play with us this weekend. If it’s local and he’s around, he’s going to play with us. He’s getting married and he’s working full time now. It’s funny because I did want a permanent band but then I realized that one: you can’t really look for that and two: it’s good that there’s some fluidity. People, they have to do their own thing. And that’s good and you still maintain a relationship with them.

On the next tour we have Daniel Hart joining us from the Polyphonic Spree and he’s going to play violin and bass and switch off.

A: Oh, that’s cool.

JV: It’s going to be very cool. He plays with St. Vincent now.

A: Awesome. Where did you find all your band members and how long have you been playing with them?

JV: I found Dave–I used to tour with Dave’s brother and I found Dave when he moved to town. People kept telling me “You have to audition this drummer”. The one thing that I am lucky–I remember when I moved here and I put ads in SF Weekly and that’s how I found mk ultra. The usual, typical thing. But because I own a studio, I do see a lot of people coming in and out. That’s been really helpful.

Ian was Dave’s friend. A lot of the guys I play with are Denton connections. My old drummer, Matt Torrey from mk ultra went to [University of North Texas in] Denton. Our sound guy now is in Denton. A lot of great people come out of that college. But it’s mostly through friends.

A: What I saw you rehearsing back in May was this crazy idea: basically you’re making a video of every song on the album and releasing them to blogs.

JV: Yeah.

A: Which is sort of putting your money where your mouth is. You sort of railed against print media in at least one interview, DCist. And actually, when you were talking to Merlin Mann–which you can find online, everyone out there–you said you’d spend zero cents on print media this time. Is that true? Or have you broken–

JV: It’s true, but sometime when I read interviews I’ve done I just cannot believe I have said those things. Like I’m wondering now–seriously, the only thing I’m worrying about now is am I being boring? I’m answering your questions and I’m like–

[Adrian looks at other people in the studio, posing the question. They nod.]

See! I am! I need to ratchet it up, right?!

[Other people in the studio shake their head vigorously.]

A: [laughs]

JV: See, it is on me to be entertaining. I am an entertainer. I’m being asked questions. I really can appreciate that English front guy–Oasis–that guy just being absolute off-the-wall. I really appreciate him now. I didn’t get him but I went back and I’m like, that’s an artwork, a living, standing, breathing artwork, instead of having to read through some really careful press release. I began to think that–I really appreciate how honest and straightforward people are in interviews. I realized if you did that you’re going to be somewhat abrasive. You’re going to annoy some people.

I think that for advertising a record–things are changing. We could spend a couple hours talking about this. I’m all for talking about new media and the life and death of the CD. Things are really, really changing and by the time the next record comes out for me–we were talking about it this morning–anything is possible. I just don’t think for indie bands, that it’s the–I shouldn’t get too into the print media thing. I don’t want to get more emails, but I just felt at the time that it wasn’t the best way for us to spend our marketing money. Indie labels are all–bands have less and less to spend on the roll-out of the record. Everything is changing right now. It is important how you market a record. It’s a product, man. I own a business. I’m an econ major. I’m totally into the economics of an album roll out. It’s like half of why I do this. I’m kind of excited by that–the numbers game. I love owning Tiny Telephone as much, that it’s just a business, that it’s a recording studio.

The thing is, we came up with an idea–I love blogs. It’s how I get all these new bands that I listen to. It’s how we–it’s how I find out about music. That’s the interface that I use with the world. So we had this idea, maybe I’ll go to New York, I’ll go to Birmingham–Largeheartedboy–and I’ll go to Dallas–hang out with Gorilla vs Bear and I’ll play, like, a house party or something, just hang out with these guys. Then Barsuk actually came up with the idea: why don’t you stay at home and record the record and then send them a video of it. I think we just got lucky and met some people who did really–I think they did a really good job.

A: Yeah, both the audio and visual quality on those is really good. It’s so much better than some youtube video of basically anybody playing on a stage or something.

JV: I was really surprised [by] the guys who did it and Aaron Prellwitz at Tiny Telephone who recorded it. But Gorilla vs Bear went today and Brooklyn Vegan is going tomorrow and Stereogum went yesterday. It’s like an online tour. Meanwhile, I’m just hanging out with you, so I don’t have to go anywhere.

A: Actually, I think Stereogum went maybe Monday…Was it yesterday? Because I literally have a window open on my computer with–well, now–the seven remaining blogs and I go through and I refresh every single one of them, waiting for them to come out. I imagine all these bloggers were completely enthusiastic when you approached them about doing this.

JV: Yeah. And I love these guys. I see them at shows. It’s really been a huge thing for me. It’s like a great partnership. And a lot of these guys are my friends. You know Alan at *sixeyes*, I’ve know that guy for a long time. He got “Numbered Lithograph” and I think that’s one of the best ones. That one’s really really cool.

A: I mean, I thought “Kookaburra” and actually “White Dove” turned out really well.

JV: Cool.

A: Speaking of promotions–let’s see here–last time you had “Bowling with John Vanderslice” night. Are you doing anything like that?

JV: Yeah we have a lot [of] anti-shows. I hate being in rock clubs. When we have to go to shows–Isabelle and I, who’s with me–I will seriously get nervous. I have a lot of social anxiety, so be being in clubs and stuff, I really don’t like it, you know. So anything I can do that keeps me out of clubs. I love playing; I like playing shows. I really like playing shows when there’s not money, when there’s not, like, graffiti on the wall, any dinginess. I’ve definitely played tons of house parties and backyards.

We’re going to play next weekend–not this weekend–on the LA River Basin for Aquarium Drunkard, the fantastic blog in LA. So we’re just going to set up in an intersection and play a show in the river basin at sunset and I could care less if one or five or if twenty people come.

A: I’m guessing a few more than that will come.

JV: And then we’re going to play at–uh–I’m going to play at the Fremont Bridge this weekend. It’s a drawbridge that has a warning bell that sounds when the bridge goes up, so I’m going to play

[plays the first few bars of “Kookaburra”]

Kookaburra, to this bell, because they’re in the same–I’ll actually learn the song, though, before I do it.

A: [laughs]

JV: There’s a whole bunch of other shows. We’re going to–go ahead, Adrian, what were you saying?

A: Are those online? Where can I…?

JV: Those will all be online. Absolutely, yeah. I’m going to go busk at Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard with the clowns and the dianetics guys. I’m just going to put a hat out and seriously play, like, a set. That’s going to be another show.

A: Awesome. This is fantastic.

JV: If I could afford it and didn’t have overhead, I would do only shows like this.

A: Sounds awesome. This album seems like there’s a ton of–maybe it’s all this blog tour and everything–but it seems like there’s a lot of people talking about this album. I mean, there were for the last album too, but it was a couple months before I heard about Cellar Door for instance. Maybe not a couple months, maybe a month. But anyhow. Are you–you’ve always said you’re a careerist, so does this build up of buzz worry you, like it’s going to be too much, too soon?

JV: No, it’s never enough. You know like when you were young–can I say anything I want? I should be mellow, huh. Let’s say you’re young, first time drinking alcohol and you want it to hit so fast and so hard and it doesn’t. I remember the first I got drunk, I drank bourbon at my friend Ricky Rankin’s house straight. We put lemonade mix in it. I remember thinking, this isn’t fast enough. It’s not intense enough; it’s not strong enough. And that’s how it is when an album comes out. You just want it to be this torrential flood of–the thing is, when you do it over and over again, there’s a routine. I think that routine is cool, but it’s almost–listen, you’re not the Beatles at Shea Stadium no matter what. I mean, there’s too many things coming out. There’s too many amazing records coming out every week. You’re just another band putting out a record. And you’re totally thankful for it, but there’s a part of you–seriously, there’s that Mick Jagger inside you that just, you know, wants insanity. You want to be in a Prevost driving 150 miles per hour while people are shooting heroin. You know? It doesn’t ever happen. And strippers and craziness. It just doesn’t happen.

A: [laughs]

JV: The question is, is it ever enough? No, it’s not enough, because I have this infantile image inside my mind of how intense it was in 1968. You know what I mean? [laughs] And all the bands I know, they’re like–it’s like business people on a trip. They go to their Courtyard Marriott, turn on the golf channel and go to sleep. And it’s never crazy.

The other thing you’re asking is, am I worried about getting too much attention and then people not caring about me?

A: Yeah.

JV: I don’t really worry about anything like that. I kind of don’t care.

A: That’s probably good.

JV: The thing is, it has to be a two-way thing. Like Isa and I are together; we’re in love. I want her to be happy with me. I want a fan to come to the show because they’re happy with me. It’s a mutually respectful relationship. If I start making really bad records, those people shouldn’t be coming to the show. I mean, there are tons of great records coming out, why should they stay with me? The only thing I’m worried about is losing my ability to write music. Like, I just start writing junk. It terrifies me. I don’t care about anything else. I’m not worried about the outside world at all. I’m not worried about if we get this show here or if the record comes out in Japan or… If any of that stuff happen, I’m happy. I’m just worried about my own thing. I can only worry about my own stuff anyway. That’s my feeling.

A: That brings me to another question: you turned 40 this year, right?

JV: Actually I turned 23.

A: [laughs]

JV: [laughs] No, I turned 40. Maybe that’s another reason I don’t care.

A: Is that it? Or, I mean. Do you feel like this is what you’re going to do? Do you imagine making records–

JV: What other options do I have? [laughs] Yeah! I mean, I’ve just done stuff because I wanted to do it. I’m lazy on a certain level. I’m not so sure if I could work myself up into a lather to show up and say, yes sir! And, I’ll get that database to you right now, sir. You know what I mean? You work too long in your own area and you get weird and you get idiosyncratic and you get a little stuck in your own way. But the thing is, I love touring and I love making records. And Tiny Telephone still exists. It might not forever, I’m month-to-month down there, but while I have everything as it is, yeah, I’m a careerist. I have no intention–I’m not angling this into–I don’t have an eye on, oh, I’m going to be a soundtrack guy in ten years. Nothing outside of what I’m doing now. Call me unimaginative. Nothing outside my scope of vision is–I have what I’m going for, I guess.

A: You’re doing my transitions so well for me. I hope you realize that.

JV: Into a song about suicide? Is that what you want me to do? [laughs]

A: No, uh, I was thinking earlier: a sort of common description, descriptive term of you music is cinematic. I was wondering if you ever get approached about doing film scores or if you’d be willing to do that. But you seem to sort of answer that.

JV: Well, I’ve just known so many people that have–I wouldn’t say it’s–to learn how to make records took me forever. Maybe I’m slow, but it took me 10 years to learn how to make a record. I feel like I should just keep learning how to get better at it. I feel like to even shift your focus at all–I don’t have that in me, I guess. I don’t go home and draw and then write poetry and then take videos.

A: But you take amazing photographs.

JV: That’s just–I don’t take any more amazing photographs than any of my other band mates. They’re right beside me; we’re taking the same shot. Theirs looks exactly like [mine]. It’s just that they don’t bother to put it on the web. [laughs] That’s the only difference. It’s just that I take 10,000 photographs a year and I weed out the 150 and I’m probably a decent editor. What I’m doing, anybody could do it, if they get a Pentax K1000, get some decent film and then go to Photoworks or Pro 1 in LA and have it developed on nice matte paper. It’ll look exactly the same, you know?

And, photography for me is a hobby and it’d never enter the realm of any other thing. I just think it’s so hard for me to make records that there’s some folly around, I’m going to write a play. You know what I mean? When people do that I’m like, here we go. They’re dead. They’re sunk.

A: Maybe get back to the music and do you think–

JV: and shut up? Is that–

A: No, no no! Do you think now’s a good time for “Pale Horse” or what were you thinking?

JV: Well I have that–if we play “Dead Slate Pacific”, it’s such a downer. We have to get it over with. Because if we end on this, you’re going to get calls. And, wow man, what’s going on with the vibe of that interview.

How much more time do we have?

A: We have until seven, so we have twenty-six minutes.

JV: This is going too fast.

A: Yeah, it’s going pretty fast.

JV: [to other people in the studio] Isn’t it going too fast?

They’re all shaking their heads no. It’s just like…[laughs]

A: I wanted to tell you a quick story. This is not related to you at all, but, you know, but I want to tell you personally a story and everybody’s going to have to listen to it, because I’m the one on the air.

JV: Yeah.

A: Speaking of depressing music, I do a radio show that has plenty of depressing music and back when I was on WMBR out of Cambridge, I play this show that was just, like, all depressing music and then the next week I switched to–I said, alright I’m not doing that. All upbeat music. I, you know, I asked for callers, which do you like better. And I get this one nervous girl that’s like [in nervous girl nerd voice] “Um, I like the depressing music better” [end nervous girl nerd voice]. And then I get this call from this guy at Harvard that’s, like, depressing music’s going to make people commit suicide.

JV: Well, there is a suicide problem or is there, right?

A: Um…There weren’t any right after my show, for instance. But then I get on the air and I was like–I’d been on the air for maybe two months at this point and I was so nervous. And I was like, don’t commit suicide because of my music. Call me if you have any problems.

JV: Absolutely…And then you play some Morrissey.

A: Yeah. And then I played more depressing music.

JV: There’s a time when that’s all you want to hear. I’m down with that.

This is by request from Adrian. This is “Dead Slate Pacific” off of Pixel Revolt.

John Vanderslice – Dead Slate Pacific (Live at KZSU) (mp3)

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A: Oh man….


JV: Sorry I messed up the lyrics. Did you notice?

A: No.

JV: Was that a quick lyric recovery? Okay. Good. I got it over on you. Was that okay? Did you enjoy that at all?

A: Oh man. That was good. That was really good. And it sounds good thanks to you of course, but also Smurph, our engineer here.

JV: Smurph rules.

A: I wanted to make sure I thanked him before we got too far here. Is that–I mean, I don’t know if this is too personal–is that an autobiographical song?

JV: Oh yeah, that’s totally true. Absolutely. I did punch in the numbers and then I walked up the stairwell and then they gave me Celexa and then I went crazy and then I went off it and then I flew to Japan. All that’s true.

[long pause as Adrian tries to figure out if John is being sarcastic.]

[both laugh]

JV: I’m totally serious. And that’s one of the only autobiographical songs on Pixel, just like “Central Booking”‘s one of the only [autobiographical songs on Emerald City] and that’s about Isabelle Fix who’s right here. Let’s interview her.

A: [laughs] What was I going to say? I remember you wrote about on your website about the United flight you basically thought you were going to die on. I knew that part of the song came from [that incident] but I didn’t know if the whole song.

JV: That was the worst experience I ever had but the real depression of that flight was after–basically the plane just dropped out of the sky for four or five seconds and then everyone started screaming, like all these seasoned travelers. You know, people who fly back and forth every week were freaking out and there was–I mean, everyone was screaming at the top of their lungs for like three minutes. It was the worst thing I ever saw. I mean, basically, the plane was in the middle of the Pacific and it had just fallen out of the sky. It’d free-fallen so much that the crew and everyone–people had lost it. But it wasn’t then that I really went nuts, it was after the plane had stabilized and I thought, this is horrible. It was even worse when the plane was flying to Japan again. I mean, they were playing Miss Congeniality 2 on there.

A: [laughs]

JV: You know what I mean? I’m not trying to be funny, but I just thought, is this how I’m going to die? At this point in my life? It’s all the typical, cliched stuff you think about your life.

A: Um…

JV: Again, I submit, Miss Congeniality 2.

[both laugh]

A: Normally your songs take a more narrative or fictional or sometimes even abstract track. And I was wondering if you ever thought of pulling a [John] Darnielle and going fully autobiographical [for an] album?

JV: Well he’s always told me to write about my father which I’ve thought was really interesting.

A: Because he had an album basically entirely about his step father.

JV: Sunset Tree. Unbelievable. Really amazing record. One of my top, you know, five records.

A: And somebody produced that really well.

JV: Some joker. I don’t know who that was.

A: [close to microphone] It’s John Vanderslice.

JV: I don’t know. The thing is, that’s a very valid question. In general it’s not that I’m not interested, but I’ve been writing songs for so long, I’ve mined a lot of that personal stuff. It’s difficult–you know, I’m not a drama guy. I’m actually looking for the absence of drama. I’m very very domestic and super mellow and I don’t really find or seek out conflict with people. I really don’t want to be emotionally destabilized at all so for me it’s not like I’m Faulkner. I don’t have this tremendous wellspring of experience necessarily. Or James Joyce. I’ve found that I take a piece of experience and expand it, blow it up, exaggerate it and then place it somewhere else, which is probably what a lot of writers could do anyways.

A: Yeah.

JV: I mean, not every slight that happened to Morrissey was really that important, you know what I mean? That’s totally–there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, that’s songwriting, that’s art. I mean, Emily Dickinson wasn’t really that freaked out about the spider in that one poem.

A: I was always so impressed with Ben Gibbard because he could literally write a song about being pulled over and having to open up his glove box. It’s an entire song just about that.

JV: Yeah, I think he wrote that song in my apartment.

A: Really? Nice.

JV: Yeah, he stayed in my apartment for six weeks and I need to verify that but that’s my claim to fame right now.

A: [laughs] Well, you know just about everyone in indie rock as far as I can tell.

JV: There’s a lot of people I’d like to know that I don’t know. A lot of people that I look up to.

A: Like who?

JV: There’s this band called Hello Central from LA; I only met them once.

A: But you’ve met them, so…

JV: That’s true but I don’t really know them. They’re incredible. You should go to their myspace page. I think it’s just myspace slash hellocentral . Unbelievable.

A: Yeah.

JV: But there are tons of bands like that who are making records on their own that I’d love to meet.

A: Yeah. There’s so much good music. It’s really absurd, I think.

JV: If anyone says there’s nothing going on or that music was better, they should be taken out and shot. Seriously. I don’t want to sound harsh–but let’s go one more than that. No, I’m kidding.

A: I have so much more to ask you, but maybe now’s a good time to take a brief break and play this b-side. World premier.

JV: Yeah, it’s going to be on the Australian and European release which is going to be in a couple weeks.

A: Okay. And then maybe we’ll get everyone in there with the clapping and with “Pale Horse” right after that?

JV: Sounds good.

A: Fantastic.

John Vanderslice – Pale Horse (Live at KZSU, w/ the KZSU Clapping Ensemble) (mp3)

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JV: That was impressive, my clappers.

A: Awesome. That was some sweet clappin’ I have to say.

JV: And Isa was doing it too, man. That was–

A: Yeah, five credited clappers on this recording.

JV: Don’t worry, you guys will get checks from BMI, I promise.

A: [laughs] Yes! Royalty check of a lot.

JV: When they show up, you just got to get the security guard and go right to the bank.

A: Yeah, you got to watch out. Geez, we’re running out of–what’s your last song going to be so I can time my talking?

JV: Oh, should I play another song?

A: We have a few minutes and then I was going to let you finish with a song.

JV: Oh I could play “Trance” or I could play “White Dove”. Whatever you want. You want me to play “Trance”?

A: Sure.

JV: I’ll play “Trance” and then you can play a song off the record.

A: I mean, we’re already at eight minutes till.

JV: This was too fast.

A: Too fast. We need to book two hours next time.

JV: I would do two hours. I would love it.

A: Yeah, sure.

So, I have a random assortment of questions left that I wanted to ask you. If you search for “the nicest guy in indie rock” in google, there’s like 20,000 hits about you, basically.

JV: I’ve got to punch someone out to get rid of that stuff, man.

A: [laughs]

JV: I think it’s damaging me.

A: You think so?

JV: No, I’m kidding.

A: You can’t be edgy enough?

JV: No, no. In fact I really don’t like when people act in a way there’s a predetermined–I see so many bands in the studio [where] they literally show up with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s because there’s that thing; they’ve read the Motley Crue thing or whatever. It’s just that I think you’ve got to mix it up.

Sometimes I think I should go road-raging or go crazy.

A: Awesome.

JV: But am I any different than any other person that comes in here?

A: Uh, yeah. You’re really nice.

JV: That sucks, though because it means they’re maybe not so nice because I just see myself as being completely normal. I am very socialized. It’s true, I am very socialized, but I feel that I’m totally normal.

A: In addition to being socialized which is an immense help if you’re doing an interview with somebody, you’re also very nice.

JV: Well I have done interviews with people. I’ve interviewed people on the air. And I’ve also done record reviews and I’ve also interviewed bands on the phone and in person and I know how difficult it is, actually. And I own a business so maybe I see things from difference sides, so I’m more sympathetic. And also I don’t think what we’re doing is all that important where you’d have to carry any sort of attitude into it, but that’s just me.

A: You’ve been around San Francisco making music for, what, fifteen years?

JV: Mk ultra started in 1994.

A: So that’s thirteen years. And you’ve put out nine or ten records?

JV: Mk ultra put out three and then was six records of mine plus the supplemental stuff: the insound tour support, two remixes

A: Your live-to-two track.

JV: Yeah, live-to-two track, which I’m going to post up soon, actually.

A: Oh, really? Man, I shouldn’t have bought a copy. No, just kidding…

JV: Well those–that’s good to have, man. There were only a thousand of those printed so those are way gone.

A: I also have your Bedside Recordings [split 7″].

JV: Yeah.

A: Yeah! The record, there were only 500 of those. You and the Mountain Goats.

JV: That was a cool thing. That was Gibbard’s label actually.

A: So, anyway, going along with that, how has the San Francisco music environment change in the last thirteen years or whatever?

JV: I mean, I think it’s normal now. It is somewhat restricted somewhat by the money situation in San Francisco. It’s extremely expensive to be there, so–sometimes on the fridges of Oakland and outside of town you find a lot of new bands and then they move into San Francisco, but sometimes I feel you don’t find the shear numbers of bands you find in Portland or Seattle or Vancouver or…

A: And that’s changed since…

JV: Yeah, when I moved there it was much cheaper and then when the tech stuff happened and it cleared out so many artists, it cleared out so many non-profits and then a lot of those guys left. Man, that was very lonely feeling to see a lot of my friends [move] away. I think it’s gotten, better, for sure.

Oakland’s incredible. We have tons of bands in Tiny Telephone from Santa Rosa or South San Francisco or San Mateo. Tons of bands from LA, San Luis Obispo. It’s happening everywhere. All I know is from talking to bands, it’s very difficult for bands to tour out of San Francisco, so they end up moving or they relocate somewhere else. It’s very difficult to hold that kind of rent on tour.

A: Yeah. One last question and then we’ll do that song, I guess. What is your favorite false internet story about you? Or false internet–do you have one? Is this a horrible question?

JV: No! I mean, um…God, false. I don’t want to dispel anything that’s super weird that’s out there. I would just say in general that I’m exhilarated when people are talking about me online. I just think it’s the funniest thing that there’s anyone that would pay attention to what I do. That for me is hilarious. That fills me with so much excitement. I really think it’s cool and I’m super appreciative, but I also feel no desire to correct anything that’s said. Once in a while my friends will email me something that’s on a comment board or I’ll get an email that’s definitely factually so off and it’s really intensely off and I know a lot of other musicians that will want to defend what they see as a wiki story, you know what I mean. It just doesn’t matter to me. I see it almost as a construct and the content of that is–it doesn’t matter. It’s a disembodied person or something.

A: Alright, let’s get to that last song.

John Vanderslice – Trance Manual (mp3)

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A: Fantastic. You’re awesome. John Vanderslice live in studio here at KZSU Stanford. Your album came out yesterday on Barsuk records called Emerald City. It’s fantastic. I love it. You can be found on the internet in a couple places: and You can stream the entire new album there, which I think is a really cool thing that you’ve done. You have two dates announced for the area: August 11 at Amoeba and also October 20 at the Independent.

JV: Yes, thank you so much, Adrian. Let’s go to dinner.

A: Yeah, let’s get some dinner. I’m hungry.

JV: And Amoeba is all ages and free.

3 responses to “my John Vanderslice interview, full and annotated”

  1. […] with John Vanderslice, the Morning Benders and the Apples in […]

  2. Brian says:

    great great great interview!!

  3. adrian says:

    Thanks, Brian. It was a fun one to do.

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