Riff Raff Interviews John Vanderslice



John Vanderslice’s art-punk toilet

The John Vanderslice Interview

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Frisco indie rocker John Vanderslice keeps good company (the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle), writes smart songs (average IQ: 128), and from his Tiny Telephone studio, produces all your favorite bands (John Vanderslice). His new record Pixel Revolt is 14 tracks long, and has been released in the compact disc format.

Vanderslice has already played a ton of gigs at CMJ already this week, but tomorrow afternoon he’s the draw for the 2005 Brooklyn Grilled Corn, Mushroom and Jicama Exposition–free, 2pm start, 721 Metropolitan Ave in Brooklyn. More details here, but get this: It’s free, just like this interview I did with the ‘Slice a few days ago.

Where are you now?

I’m in Boston right now, just came back to my hotel room because I was expecting you to call. I played on two stations today–WNBR which is at MIT, and WERS which is at Emerson. They were really fun because I just hung out on campus afterwards. It’s so easy to get wireless and good food on a college campus, so it’s like, what else could you possibly want?

Free wireless?

When you go on tour with the band, all they ever want is wireless. If you can get your bandmates wireless, you could probably stick them in the Astrodome to sleep in. As long as they have wireless, they’ll be at peace.

Please keep talking about wireless internet.

We got it covered, dude. I’m right on your side.

I’m going to ask you a question that really only you can answer: Is John Vanderslice your actual name?

The funny thing is I’ve never been asked until maybe a year ago. I grew up in mid-Florida where that name stuck out like an absolute sore thumb, and no one ever asked me if that was my real name until a year ago. And I thought that was kinda great, that I had made it so far in my life. It was Vandersluic, and it’s broken up into three words, and when they Americanized it, they changed it to Vanderslice.

How does it feel to have the second-greatest rock and roll name of all time?

Wait, what’s the first-greatest?

Snake Tigerface.

Is that his real name?

Well, Snake is short for Snakedog. I also see you listen to a lot of rap.

I like that last Murs record a lot. And I just got the DangerDoom record and I’m just getting into that. So far I really like it. I’ve been a big fan of MF Doom’s stuff for a while, like the King Geedorah record. I’ve been a fan of Immortal Technique for a long time. I listened to the new R. Kelly a lot, and had no problem listening to the Game or 50 Cent mixed in. But man I’ve been listening to tons of jazz lately.

I used to play trumpet in high school. Listen, somebody called you the Silk Tha Shockah of indie rock, and I was wondering what your response to that would be.

Who is that? I don’t know who that is.

They were comparing your lyrical techniques.

Shit man, I’ll take it. I will absolutely download him. Is it S I L K?

Yes, but “Tha Shockah” can also be “The Shocker”; it depends on what he’s going for.

I will totally download his stuff.

I’ve read a lot about how you hate digital recording equipment.

I just could not imagine that the collective musical consciousness of the United States at this point in time would further bail on a format that had been perfected over 70 years. I couldn’t believe it, but it happened. You had these beautiful Studor two-inch decks that were really the last and most functional and useful of the two-inch decks–when I bought one they were $25,000. It took 18 months of blood to get that in my studio. By the time I ended up finishing paying for it. It was something around 18 or 17. Now you can get those decks for 8 or 9000 dollars in the same condition that I bought them for. And those are like BMW 800 series two-inch decks! You could easily get an Ampeg MM1200 which is arguably one of the greatest sounding tape decks ever made, for $2000.


My gripe with digital is that one, in theory, I would make shitloads of money if I embraced digital. I did have MixPlus 24 down there, I couldn’t have it down there without feeling that it was malpractice. But most engineers will absolutely wax over the issue, because they love to control the clients. And to have the clients be digital, it’s in their interests. Because all the sudden they can shift the backbeat over a little or quantize the bass player or whatever. They’re now part of the band, and that’s something that’s not said very often. Engineers love being part of the process, and going digital gives them a lot more control.

You work a lot with John Darnielle. Do you guys get in fights?

We joke about that stuff all the time. If you don’t think Darnielle calls me when I’m getting my Soundscan numbers–of course he does. We’re always seeing who’s gonna be higher on CMJ.

Who has screwed up Pixel Revolt? Do people think it’s better than it actually is?

Well the thing is there is definitely a wide variance how people perceivethe narrators and the narrative, and what side of it I’m on. All of that variance to me is fantastic. But once I make a record, the record is completely closed for me, and I don’t reflect on it anymore. Otherwise you can get caught up in your own work. I don’t mind if people get stuff wrong, even if they get it right.

That was the political answer, but there’s totally some people that think it’s a little too good, right?

One, I don’t ever read interviews I do, I don’t ever read reviews of my record, and I don’t willingly engage in conversations about my record with people.

But you’ll read this interview right?

I will read this interview.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 16, 2005

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