Double Talk: Vandaveer and Roofwalkers
(Also posted over on the Going Out Gurus blog, but thought it deserved to be here, too.)
On Thursday the Black Cat hosts a mighty fine all-local bill. Two of those bands, Vandaveer (above) and Roofwalkers, have brand new albums out. Vandaveer's "Divide & Conquer" will be available at Thursday's show; Roofwalkers' self-titled album will be out on Aug. 25, with the official CD release show on Sept. 18 at the Writer's Center in Bethesda. (Really!) Vandaveer is the vehicle of Mark Charles Heidinger; he plays elegant folk songs that are refreshingly earnest, with smart lyrics and smart arrangements. Roofwalkers, helmed by Ben Licciardi, is a six-piece band that specializes in tunes that are dreamy but never sleepy, catchy and complex at the same time. Earlier this week I got the two of them to talk to each other about their new albums, creative process and a little bit of Dylan. Which I swear I didn't even ask them to do.
Ben Licciardi (Roofwalkers): Hi Mark. I've been enjoying "Divide and Conquer" all day. The first thing that hit me about it is how nuanced and beautifully arranged the songs are. I've heard you play a few of them live, but it was only you and a guitar. Did you flesh the songs out in the studio just for the album, or did you always imagine them in this form?
Mark Charles Heidinger (Vandaveer): I think this is the first time I gave myself the time and freedom to let each idea or song fully materialize in a particular way before rushing it to tape, or to hard drive. I don't necessarily feel like the versions of these particular songs that made it onto the record are definitive, but I do feel like they are fully realized ideas.
Recordings are like Polaroid snapshots, I think. Songs live. They breathe. Sometimes they thrive. Other times they putter out. They aren't stagnant things, and a recording is really just a glorified way of documenting something at a certain point. A recording is an artifact, really. I like allowing myself the freedom to release an album of songs recorded one way, but performed live another. May not be the best marketing plan, but it feels right, so...
BL: Actually, that's one of my favorite things about someone like Dylan, how he's always coming at his songs from new directions, trying to imbue them with new meaning. Speaking of him, I think we're both fanatics, right? Any favorite eras? I remember you and Rose doing a great version of "Oh Sister" from "Desire" one night at Iota. The mood of that album slays me every time.
MCH: I think we indeed are both Dylan fanatics, yes. I recall a dinner many moons ago at some Mexican place in Del Ray. Afterwards, you and Adrian (Caroll -- he of Shortstack and Roofwalkers infamy) and I listened to records at your place, right? Wasn't "Desire" in that mix? I dunno. I make things up sometimes too. But, yes, fanatical. "Desire" was the first Dylan record I owned. And I still wear it out to this very day. I suppose for that reason I would have to lay claim on mid-'70s Dylan as my favorite era. From "Blood On The Tracks" to "Desire" to the Rolling Thunder Revue live recordings, there's a ferocity and intensity there that defies ambivalence. You can't not feel strongly about this stuff, one way or the other.
BL: Totally. Maybe my favorite part of that Rolling Thunder bootleg is the video footage of "Isis" with Mick Ronson on guitar and Dylan in white face, and everyone on stage looks completely fried out of their minds. The energy is so frenzied and murderous, it's like, how can you not react? Incredible stuff.
(Read more after the jump.)
MCH: So, your new record. It's fantastic. Lush. I'd use more expletives to describe how much I like it, but I don't wanna offend. If forced to describe what I'm hearing in one sentence I'd probably fumble around, then say something like, "it's understated and intelligent music, but catchy as hell at the same time." Is it your intention to be understated, intelligent, moody and catchy all at the same time? Or do you just play the cards you're dealt and regularly find yourself holding sweet hands?
BL: It's funny, I don't know if you've found this to be the case, but on some levels I think we're very conscious of what we're doing, but then on another, there's only so much control you have when you get five or six musicians in a room, each with their own strengths and limitations. You try and figure out the ways you work well together -- I think that's where the question of intention comes in. We've always found it to be second nature to do atmospheric music, so we've tried to play off that in different ways.
Another layer is, there's the whole thing where once you send a song out into the world, you have such limited control over how people perceive it. So we might spend hours working on a section of a song trying to make it sound dark and kind of brooding, and then a listener will describe it as "light" or "dreamy." But that's part of the fun I guess, seeing how strangers react to what you do. What about you? Do you ever hear descriptions of Vandaveer records that surprise you?
MCH: I'm always fascinated by reactions and descriptions that folks offer up. We all have unique reference points, and we all hear things differently, but I still can be taken by surprise when someone makes a comparison. I never read too much or too little into any comparison, because it's always so subjective. More than anything it's just nice to know that someone cares enough to make any comparison at all. I find that encouraging and uplifting.
BL: Maybe my favorite line off your record is, "your daddy was a singer but he never sang to you." There's always that danger that creative ambition can divorce you from the people around you. Is that something you've ever struggled with?
MCH: Ah yes, our old friend ambition. Can be quite blinding, eh? I'd like to say that I've never allowed my creative endeavors to get in the way of my most meaningful relationships, but I'd probably only be telling a half-truth. Anytime I find myself becoming too consumed by it I try to recall how it all goes to hell in "Macbeth"; there's just no happy ending there. We all gotta keep cautionary tales on call in our noggins, lest we get too carried away with ourselves, you know?
BL: Yeah, exactly. Those are words of wisdom. I always try and remind myself that being creative is about engaging with the world rather than creating an alternative universe. You have to remember and take the headphones off and look around, spend time with your loved ones.
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