Much different from the Rock and Roll lifestyle, the indie rock lifestyle seems like it should be enjoyable for everyone. The majority of "successful" indie rock acts seem to really love what they do. Sure the music itself is not for everyone, but wicked fans come out of the woodwork for their favorites. Such is the case with one John Vanderslice.

I have been one of those excited fans of Mr. Vanderslice for nearly five years. When I first heard the title track of Time Travel is Lonely I immediately fell for the songwriting. This guy has five times the creativity than the normal human being, and he is careful with it. This careful creativity puts him in a category all his own. 

I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with John Vanderslice inside his tour van outside of the Abbey Pub during a recent stop through Chicago and I got to find out what a genuinely great fellow he is.
// photos courtesy of Barsuk Records.

LAS: The first time I got to see you live, you opened for Spoon. You have a pretty close relationship with them, is that correct?

JV: Yeah, that was a really great tour to be on. The tour itself was too short, I really wanted it to go on a lot longer. It was only 12 shows or something. It was as good of a match up as it is currently with Beulah. We're all good friends, so it's always great to be out with them.

LAS: Didn't you help them out with their album Girls Can Tell?

JV: Yeah, I did end up helping Brit with some lyrics on that album… No, it was Kill The Moonlight. They actually cover one of my songs on the Insound tour support CD.

LAS: And Jim Eno helped out on your last album too, yeah?

JV: Yes. He played drums on a couple songs. We both own studios and have been really influential on each other's decisions and buying gear. He's actually sold me a lot of gear and has put me up a lot. He's a great guy.

LAS: I read about another great tour you got to take part in – the final tour of Japan with the Dismemberment Plan. How was that?

JV: That was really fun. The audiences in Japan are really attentive and passionate. They are hyper-aware that there is a show going on. They know you are going to be getting on a plane and leaving. It's a very cool feeling. They take it all in while they can and it's really powerful. What people had told me is absolutely true; they do not say a word. The crowd has lazer beam eyes fixed on you. Quruli – the band we were touring with is really big over there. They're like Beck, and the last show had 2000 people at it. That is the most I've ever played for and I was very nervous. It was nerve racking, but a lot of fun.

LAS: How is it, being in Japan compared to the US?

JV: I'll tell you, the things I thought were against how I imagined it – it's very industrialized. You can imagine it's very compressed. There are a lot of people everywhere and it's relatively built up – at least where we were along the Southeastern coast. It wasn't the best time of the year to be there while we were. It actually was so overcast it reminded me a lot of Portland, just overcast the entire time. People kept telling me that I have to come back there in the fall. I'll bet it's really beautiful.

All the architecture is very new – being destroyed by wars. So being able to compare the new architecture with the old shrines in Kyoto which were spared from the wars, It gives an idea of what Japan was like.

Overall, it was very exhausting. We were there for 2 weeks and it was really tiring. I've been to Thailand and Malaysia, but in a weird way it was more foreign. One of the strangest parts about Japan is that it is so industrialized; yet it isn't westernized. They keep out – it is Japanese 24-7.
There are a lot of people. Walking around, you get to some crosswalks and you just get swallowed up. I'm used to being in bigger, busy cities – but it was so much more intense than being in, like Times Square. Like a hundred times worse. I would have to go home and lie down after walking around for an hour. It was that tiring. And I have a high-tolerance for that stuff.

It's unlike anywhere else in the world. It's a great place to go, whether you're playing shows or not.

LAS: The people there seem to always be having fun. All smiles.

JV: They really are very gracious. The best hosts you could ask for.

LAS: How was it, being there with the Dismemberment Plan?

JV: Well we had toured with them before, here. It was the third time they had been to Japan – so they were showing us the ropes. It was great. 

LAS: I know you have worked with the Mates of State a lot, when they lived in San Francisco – did they record Team Boo with you?

JV: They recorded that in Texas with Jim Eno and a little at Willie Nelson's Studio. We actually stopped by that session and sang some vocals on Team Boo. We actually just bought the record yesterday and haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. Jason and Kori are great.

LAS: You work pretty closely with Chris Walla at Tiny Telephone don't you?

JV: Yes, Chris is in the studio a lot. He engineers a lot of bands at Tiny Telephone.

LAS: What about you, do you engineer for anyone else?

JV: No, just for myself. I would never inflict… I'm a very self-taught, kind of slow… I wouldn't be good for other bands. I've been asked to do it, but I think it would eat into my creative energy. And it's hard enough to tour 4 months out of the year – then go home and make a record. The thing is – it's kind of easier to own the studio and not engineer. It gives me a little bit of distance and it doesn't burn me out, and- I've done a little bit of production stuff – but that just means I'm the "overseer" of the project. I'm really guarded with my time. I don't want to run out – because my records would suffer – So I'm always sort of protective. I need to have the time to be lazy and zone out and think about my own music and songs. It's a creative rush to work with someone else and honestly, I don't want to fulfill any of my creative urges with someone else. I'm too – I mean I know that I have so little – everyone does, you only have so much, I'd hate to waste it.

LAS: So Chris doesn't mind being the Engineer extraordinaire at Tiny Telephone?

JV: Chris is a natural. He is one of the few people who can do both. He's actually making a great solo record [under the name Martin Youth Auxiliary] and he is the key to Death Cab For Cutie. He is an- elevated human being. He is a very talented person. Most engineers have their own method, there's a craft to it and you see them get into their own way to do things and it's not like they really challenge themselves with every project. Chris is one of those few guys who is making strides with every record he does. He makes adjustments and changes as it goes – he's very curious in that way and that is a rare trait in engineers. Plus- he's such a good guitar player.

LAS: Outside of music, what are some of your creative outlets? I've seen the pictures you take on your website, they really look great.

JV: I like taking photos. I like the Internet. I love interfacing with the world through the Internet. I absolutely love Blogs and music sites. I'm a junky, just like everyone. I wake up and read all the music sites.
I really like movies. I've been buying a lot of DVD's on this tour, Adaptation, Last Picture Show, Election. We've bought a lot on the road. We have a TV and a Playstation 2 right here so sometimes on the road we play.

But sometimes, on the road... it's so fragmented, your schedule. Makes it hard to sit down and concentrate on anything like a movie. Though some drives you can sit and watch 3 movies in a row. All depends on where you are and what's around. At home I probably watch 3 or 4 movies a week.

LAS: And how long have you been in San Francisco?

JV: Ten years, and if I didn't own a studio there I wouldn't be there because it's too expensive. I do have rent control, so I'm shielded a little more than other people, but still.

LAS: Last time you were here, with Spoon, that drummer was a blast. I'm sorry I can't remember his name-

JV: Christopher McGuire. He is now a permanent member of Quaruli, that band in Japan. They hired him away from me. It was very nice that they asked me- it's the Japanese way- and it's a great move for him. I'm totally behind it. His best friend Peter Anderson plays with me now – he's from Minneapolis. So, it's all in the family. But Mac's great. He comes out and records with me, but he's on a contract and he gets paid a hell of a lot more than I am able to pay him. And he deserves it.

LAS: He was such a fun element of the show, just to watch him work.

JV: He was great for me too. He was my right hand guy. He's a force. He's a rare musician.

LAS: Can you talk a little about MK Ultra?

JV: Yeah, that was a band I was in before I started doing solo stuff. We played for about 5 years in San Francisco. Totally obscure band. Even in our hometown of San Francisco where we played a lot we were unknown, I don't know why, but we just were.

LAS: With projects like the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, which was just so… interesting, to say the least – it's hard to believe you guys didn't get more recognition.

JV: Yeah, I was always a little shocked that nobody paid attention, but I learned a lot in that band. I learned you have to keep doing it. You have to make a lot of records and stay on it and it's not easy to make records.

LAS: Especially albums with that much creativity – to fall on deaf ears.

JV: And it was really heartbreaking the way the band broke up. I didn't want to breakup, but everyone was getting offers to play in bands on labels, Major labels – that's payroll being offered to people and they left and it was a really rough creative time for me. Up until then I had never even thought of doing anything on my own. I wanted to be in a band. But the breaking up eventually became the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me make music that was weirder, a little more idiosyncratic. It's weird how close I am to those guys still. I see them all the time. Dan the bass player has toured with me a bunch of times.

LAS: Well breaking up the band doesn't mean it is the breaking up of friends.

JV: It's rare you meet people that you can relate to on that level and I'm not going to give it up because of my ego.

LAS: How do the people at Barsuk treat you?

JV: They are great. They are a good label. Since I started – they were a two-person operation and now they have a warehouse space and a staff of employees. They're totally legit. It's unbelievable how many people come up to me and try to get some sort of "in" with that label. Every band on there and everyone that works there – all have the same vibe, it's all just super cool. And I work out well on the label because we're all pretty rational, even people.

LAS: I can see that, with bands like Death Cab for Cutie...

JV: Yeah, they're totally accessible, they're super mellow – and they're fucking huge. They are such a big band and they are the most unpretentious guys. It's pretty amazing.

LAS: Same can be said about Spoon though, going back to them.

JV: Yeah, I've known all those guys for a long time. I actually called Jim Eno out of a 411 once, like 5 years ago. I saw them once and thought – This is the best band I've ever seen, so I called up 411 and got Jim Eno's number. He said, Wait, who are you? I'm just a huge fan… And we made contact. I was actually calling to get the engineer's contact, John Croslyn, who eventually ended up being my partner at Tiny Telephone. It's all pretty intense – a close relationship. Jim ended up starting a studio after I did, so I gave him a lot of input. 

LAS: I read recently that he (Eno) and Brit worked with Sally Crewe in the studio, She's a Texas girl who moved to England?

JV: Actually she's a girl from London who came to visit and record in Texas. She lives in England. She's got a beautiful, killer accent. She's a great girl. 

LAS: Can you tell me about Cellar Door?

JV: I am probably the least reliable source to talk about it. I've worked on it for 12 months and I'm really glad it's finished. I'm glad I'm not working on it anymore. They're pressing it right now and it's going to be a 180 gram pressing on vinyl, which is awesome audiophile from RTI – I'm really excited about that. I can't imagine working on that record another minute. It's absolutely finished for me. I had a lot of time and it was all that I could do at the time. I am actually really excited to start working on a new record. Whenever you go on tour it happens. Tour is like output, I mean, I'm just playing songs that I've played and I want something- that spark of newness. We will be playing 3 new songs from that record tonight, so you be the judge. It's a very orchestrated... you know, it's exactly the same as the other records for better or for worse.

LAS: Sure, from your end.

JV: There are a lot of songs about movies and a lot of songs about family – and there's no conceptual tie in whatsoever. So it is a normal pop record with a lot of songs about the confinement of family and the difficulty therein. Each song is a separate narrative, some of the songs are autobiographical, and I'll never say which ones – and some of them are fictional narratives. And the other half of songs are love letters to movies. Donnie Darko, Mulholland Drive, HUD, Far From Heaven, Requiem for a Dream. I really watch a lot of movies. They're very important to me. If I could be anything, I'd be a director. I'd be like Paul Thomas Anderson.

LAS: Have you thought about it?

JV: It's too difficult – it would be too Svengali if I did. Too much shit to learn and take care of.

LAS: Guess you've got plenty of that right now. As it is.

> www.johnvanderslice.com 
> www.tinytelephone.com 
> www.barsuk.com