DAVID VANDERVELDE: With Little Help from His Friends

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“I liked the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot record, because I’m a Jim O’Rourke fan…” says David Vandervelde before pausing with a groan. “I’m not sure you should print that,” he says with a laugh. In most cases such an admission would indicate nothing less than a taste for Wilco’s experimental side, but in this instance it potentially indicates nothing short of betrayal. 

“I liked the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot record, because I’m a Jim O’Rourke fan…” says David Vandervelde before pausing with a groan. “I’m not sure you should print that,” he says with a laugh. In most cases such an admission would indicate nothing less than a taste for Wilco’s experimental side, but in this instance it potentially indicates nothing short of betrayal. You see, Vandervelde spent more than two years working on his debut album with Jay Bennett, the former Wilco multi-instrumentalist who was dismissed from the band because of his objections to O’Rourke’s involvement with that aforementioned record. “It’s kind of a delicate subject,” Vandervelde admits.

From the sounds of The Moonstation House Band, it doesn’t sound like that particular subject came up much. Part glammed-up Bowie swagger, part John Lennon echo-laden intimacy, the eight-song effort from the 22-year-old Michigan native is a confidently retro-fitted exercise in sounds that fell out of favor before he was born. And though Bennett figures heavily in the mix as an inspiration and kindred spirit (not to mention the fact that the album was recorded in his studio and on the same equipment that produced Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Being There), the album is Vandervelde’s vision. The “Moonstation House Band,” from which the album derives its title, is not a band at all; it’s Vandervelde playing all of the instruments.

“It’s fictitious, because I played pretty much everything on it,” he explains. “It’s definitely not a band record. It’s a band sounding record. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but it’s a different sounding solo record. It’s not ProTools-y at all, which I think makes it unusual for a solo produced, played and recorded record. It’s not super minimal and folky, and it’s not chopped up and ProTools-y. It feels like a real record, and I was going for that. When I was in Chicago, I wasn’t out meeting people and playing shows,” he says, becoming serious. “I was a studio hermit, because that’s what I love to do.”

In that obsession, Vandervelde found a kindred spirit in Bennett, and the two hit it off so well and so quickly that Vandervelde was soon living in Bennett’s Logan Square studio and helping him mix and produce the acts that came through his doors. In the process, he got a crash course in the art of mixing and producing albums, resulting in a debut where the learning curve was far less steep than normally experienced by songwriters working on their first tracks. From the pristine Big Star jangle of “Murder in Michigan” to the delicately string-laden “Corduroy Blues,” it’s the sound of an artist showing off what he has learned, never repeating himself during its 35 minutes.

“In the record, I almost want people to hear how I’m developing,” he says, explaining that the album is a near-chronological account of his time in Jay Bennett’s studio. “I’ve learned a lot about a lot of stuff from Jay, even outside of music. He’s like my best friend, my brother, and my dad all rolled into one. But at the same time, we were doing a lot together, and I’ve been writing and recording music since I was real young. I wouldn’t have been in that environment for two-and-a-half years if I hadn’t been learning. It wasn’t like, ‘Lesson Time with Jay,’ but he’d show me some fucked up way to do something, and I’d try it out.”

Of course, all good things come to an end, and soon enough Vandervelde had to bring a close to his chapter of sonic experimentation with Bennett. “We both started bawling our eyes out when the session was over, and he was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to come back.’ I remember leaving and being in the car and kind of freaking out because I felt like I’d found that other person in my life, musically, who was so significant,” he says, turning disarmingly sincere. “It was definitely a learning experience and still is.”

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