In this week's music section, Christian Schaeffer interviews John Vanderslice in advance of his May 2 show at the Billiken Club, a gig where audience members will be invited -- nay, encouraged -- to hop onstage and sing Vanderslice's songs for him. Here are some quotable outtakes from Schaeffer's interview, where the singer-songwriter advises against joining a touring band, expands on his choice to have guest singers and hints that some of his favorite blogs might get some video love before his new record comes out this summer.
On audience participation and song choice: Someone is singing "Continuation" in a couple days. I suggested that people learn "Letter to the East Coast," someone recommended "June July" the other day, which I thought was really cool. I've recommended when people ask me that they sing "Letter to the East Coast" first off there's no drums on it, Dave just plays Moog on it, so it's really open and people can hear the singer. It's not a droning rock song, so I think that's kinda cool. That one we've done a couple times. Our idea now is to print out a bunch of lyrics for songs and it's like a human karaoke thing where they can come up and do whatever song. Sometimes people are very nervous about forgetting lyrics on stage. I mean, I am and I wrote the song.
On reinventing his live show: I toured a lot with Mountain Goats and seeing [John] Darnielle, how he really explodes the set he kind of defies and mocks the ideas of order at a show. I've seen him pull off the weirdest shit, the coolest, most interesting and on-the-fly things that I've ever seen anyone do live, and that kind of got under my skin and I really wanted to be a little more open and free. When we bring people up now, it's pretty new to me but it's fantastic what it does it literally grinds the show to a halt. Like someone comes up there and they may have a question about how to start, and you just have a conversation with them on the stage. I think it's amazing. People really like it too, because it's an open door at that point and it's very clear that there's no real barrier between people playing music and the people out in the audience. We've had huge groups of singers on stage that sing back-up on songs.
And the cool thing is that it's different every night. We've tried to keep it as unscripted as possible. We have someone singing "Trance Manual" tonight and we've had a singer on that song before. We don't vet them beforehand people always send us links to music and MySpace pages, like they're auditioning. We just don't want a ringer, we want someone who's really passionate about the music and, like, it's a big deal to them. The idea of someone coming up and singing on stage for the first time is what is really interesting to me.
On the inspiration for the song "Exodus Damage" (video link here): At that time, I was very interested in Timothy McVeigh and Michael Fortier's relationship [both men were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, in which McVeigh planted a bomb in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building; Fortier was sentenced to twelve years for his role as an accomplice in the bombing]. Timothy McVeigh is a very, very interesting character, through and through. I liked that Fortier has a lot of regrets about not being a real true believer. I thought that that was really interesting. You just don't imagine someone that far into anti-government activity would have second thoughts or that they see themselves as really flawed. The idea for me was to shadow that relationship with a guy talking to someone who was a true believer, like a McVeigh type, who was going to go to the chair without saying anything, even though there were certainly other people involved in the Murrah bombing and many, many things that he wasn't talking about. There's not an easy way to talk about home-grown terrorism it certainly isn't spun that way.
On becoming the pied piper of rock & roll: My only fear, honestly, in all of this is that I'm worried that someone will come up on stage and then sing and then become obsessed with playing music and then drop their completely valid, wonderful life and then go into touring music. To me, honestly, that just fills me with horror, because I know how hard it is and how miserable it can be. I just really hope I'm not starting off anyone on a path where they, maybe they're working with Adobe or they have some wonderful photography career and then all of a sudden they drop everything and get into a band and go on tour.
On the new record: It's gonna come out in the very early part of August. It's done now and I'm very excited that it's done and that we can plan for putting it out and touring on it. We're working on this idea where we perform the record live, top to bottom, in my studio, Tiny Telephone in San Francisco, and that we put out nine separate performance-based videos before the record comes out and we just give them to the blogs we read and digest everyday.