John Vanderslice preps new EP (stream a track), talks moving to L.A., David Berman & more in BV Q&A
A lot has changed in John Vanderslice's life in the last year or so. He moved to Los Angeles, just closed his original Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco, and opened a new studio, Grandma's Couch, in his L.A. backyard. (There is still a Tiny Telephone in Oakland, however.) He's got a new EP, titled Eeeeeeeep, that's due out August 21, that marks more new territory: his first-ever all-digital release. "I was an analog obsessive for my entire career but the shelter in place order pushed me into digital recording," John tells us. "I only had a computer and Ableton, not even instruments. It changed my life in all the good ways. These are the first songs I have ever recorded on a computer."
Eeeeeeeep, which follows last year's The Cedars and this year's Dollar HIts, is glitchier and weirder than anything Vanderslice has ever done before. "My current goal is to keep exploring abstraction and electronic treatments in my own music, devaluing acoustic instruments and figuring out a way to blur my vocals and lyrics into some weirder shit," he says. If he didn't already have an album titled Pixel Revolt, that might've worked well for this EP. You can get a taste via "Lure Mice Condemn Erase," which mixes the very digital with sounds we more associate with John. The song premieres in this post and you can listen below.
We also traded a few questions with John via email, and found out how his new L.A. life is treating him, what he misses about the Bay Area, how David Berman influenced the song we're premiering, Twin Peaks, the new Arca album (and other things he's been digging during lockdown), and more.
Read our Q&A below.
What has been the biggest surprise going all-digital with this EP? Did it burst/reinforce any preconceived prejudices?
well, what blew me away was how terrible my first stabs at digital recording were. it simply wasn't believable. my benchmarks are modeselektor, JPEGMAFIA, autechre... digital shit that sounds really really good. I wasn't even in the same galaxy.
because of covid i had more time to fuck around than i've had since i was 12. i went to work!
What do you miss from the way you normally record?
i'm not very sentimental about process, so it was easy for me to disconnect. there's something i hate about analog purists. i'm not interested when artmaking is rule-based and codified. analog can sound way better, that's why i like it. i don't care if someone actually performed a part from top to bottom without edits. sometimes i miss the sound of moving air, of real definable space.
the arca @@@@@ record is my favorite record this year, so i am clearly off on a different trip.
Did it affect the way you write songs?
YES!!!! it gave me a lot of room to reverse engineer the song, change the structure and undermine the first layers. it's very flexible and fun.
"Lure Mice Condemn Erase" is the song we're premiering. What can you tell us about it? The title feels like an anagram.
david berman sent me this formula for writing lyrics and creating titles. it's from his methods. RIP.
the song is about creating and enforcing a cult on land that i partially own in west sonoma. i always thought i would have been an effective cult leader.
You closed the original Tiny Telephone, your long-running SF studio, which was supposed to be open till this month. I'm guessing it shut down much sooner due to COVID. I'm sure that was far, far from ideal but, in some ways, was it like ripping the band-aid off?
well it had to close, our rent went up to $7k and we were still under market. our landlords were great but an arts business can only be protected for so long. the SF studios had an amazing 22-year run: we were sold out almost the entire time and the records that came out of there were often incredible. tiny telephone oakland is strong and stable.
You also moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. What are the plusses and minuses?
LA has worse grocery stores and farmer's markets. the proximity to tons of organic farms serves the bay area well. the open space of the bay area is NUTS. coffee is not quite as good in LA.
other than that, i'm really happy here. LA's secret weapon is that it's always been a punching bag for the rest of the country, it feels very underrated and special right now.
The opening line of "Song for Jaime Sena" from the new EP is "We're living in the Black Lodge" (is this a lockdown metaphor?) -- how big a Twin Peaks fan are you? What did you think of 'The Return'?
hahaha, yes that is definitely a lockdown nod!
that was written for an awesome patreon subscriber. she told me she is a huge lynch fan, so that's a call out to her! i loved "the return". i also loved the short he did recently that's on netflix right now where he interrogates a monkey.
How has your lockdown been in general? Any music or other entertainment that helped you through it?
i had a solid month of transcendence and philosophical growth. and then a wave of depression and anxiety took hold and dragged me into the swamplands. i'm still there but fighting everyday to get out of it. i know everyone reading this will know exactly what i'm talking about.
things i've loved recently:
arca - @@@@@
normal people - hulu
lorenzo senni - scacco matto
california split - robert altman
kate bush - the dreaming
todd rundgren - a wizard / a true star
you must remember this/polly platt season - podcast
jay electronica - a written testimony
this way up - hulu
missing in alaska - podcast
tik tok - had to delete, too addictive
Anything else we need to know?
love yourself fiercely.
try to imagine covid and america's insane response as a storm that will eventually pass. i know it's hard sometimes, believe me.
John Vanderslice - Eeeeeeeep EP tracklist:
Lure Mice Condemn Erase
Song for Leopold
Team Stammer Savior Machine
Song for Jaime Sena