By Mark Sussman
photo courtesy of Arizona theatre company
Vanderslice - John Vanderslice is a man whose studio prowess is matched only by his songwriting and singing. He and his band will play Plush this Monday, and they defy you to not be rocked.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 21, 2004
The debate over a "pure" live sound versus studio manipulation used to be a big deal.
Music seemed divided into those who embraced studio technology and those who saw it as a corrupting influence on music, sullying an otherwise immaculate sound. In recent years the debate seems to have become almost a moot point, perhaps because "purists" eventually acknowledged that any act of recording would change the quality of any sound. For John Vanderslice, the decision has never been to manipulate or not to manipulate. Rather, it has been how to manipulate.
"I see digital recording as using a microwave or buying your produce from Piggly Wiggly," said Vanderslice. "I am stridently pro-analog and see it as being more wholesome and organic because I just think that it sounds better. And I think that's what people listen for."
It is shocking to think Vanderslice used analog recording techniques to record February's MGM Endings, a collection that remixes songs from his powerful Cellar Door, released in January. MGM Endings sounds in turns expansive and claustrophobic, jilted and serene.
" (Engineer) Scott Stolter was 99 percent responsible for the way (MGM Endings) sounds," said Vanderslice. "Our intention was to recast the songs from Cellar Door, either make them totally stripped down or explode them into something totally abstract."
For Vanderslice, the process of working in the studio is just as much a part of writing a song as sitting down with a guitar. But this process is probably made a bit more convenient for him than other musicians, as he owns Tiny Telephone studios.
"I have no concept of if my music would be better or worse if I didn't own a studio," he said. "I don't think I probably intellectualize it that much. I don't reflect on it in a way I could verbalize. Things get interesting for me when I use the studio as an instrument. And the studio mediates the music. I like the idea of acknowledging that it's not just what's said or what's played, but what's captured."
Vanderslice puts as much care into his live show as he does his studio recordings. After all, at base, none of the sonic magic tricks and subtlety would matter if he didn't have a gift for melody, imagery and a strange, soaring voice reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum. His love for other musicians is apparent in how he plans his performances.
"(My band and I) kind of see playing live as covering songs on an album," said Vanderslice. "We don't try to be too accurate in the way we do it. If we did that I don't think we'd be able to play certain songs. I think the idea is that whatever we do is an interesting arrangement of the recorded material."
But, as many concertgoers know all too well, going to see a band you like isn't always just seeing a band you like. Most of the time it's a band you like and whatever low-rent trash the club booker could find on the cheap. John Vanderslice feels your pain.
"We always play with people we know," he said. "I like hanging out with bands I like personally. It's my responsibility to have a totality of a show that makes sense, so we always tour with other bands we like, or make sure we know the local bands we're playing with."
It's comforting to know that even in an age where a studio can make Hillary Duff sound like she knows how to sing, someone's got your back.
John Vanderslice will play with Robbers on High Street and Two Gallants at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Monday. Cover is $9 and the show starts at 9:30 p.m. This concert is 21+.