John Vanderslice's new video "Too Much Time" from his album Romanian Names reveals the singer songerwriter and his mini orchestra, the performance itself the focus rather than elaborate scenes and effects. But it's the unembellished video that lends John Vanderslice's passionate, elaborate indie rock and ingenious songwriting all the attention it deserves. - Laura Yan
John Vanderslice (born in Gainesville, Florida) is an American musician, songwriter, record producer, and recording engineer. He is the owner and founder of Tiny Telephone, a San Francisco Mission District analog recording studio.
In 10 full-length albums, and 5 remix records and EPs, Vanderslices songwriting is characterized by deeply personal and political lyrics and the use of experimental analog recording techniques. His declared musical influences are diverse, ranging from Neutral Milk Hotel and Radiohead to Public Enemy and Henry Cowell. He has collaborated with renowned musicians such as The Mountain Goats, St. Vincent, and Spoon.
In 2000, Vanderslice released his first solo album, Mass Suicide Occult Figurines, and briefly gained some national media attention for the single "Bill Gates Must Die" after concocting a hoax in which Microsoft supposedly threatened legal action over the song; Vanderslice then however had trouble manufacturing the CD because the artwork resembled that of a Windows installation disc, and at least one manufacturer was wary of legal action. During the controversy, he was interviewed by Spin, Wired, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Time Travel is Lonely and Life and Death of an American Fourtracker followed in 2001 and 2002 respectively, followed by 2004s Cellar Door.
Many songs on the 2005 album Pixel Revolt referenced the September 11, 2001 attacks and the Iraq War and were more overtly political in their lyrical content. The album earned an 8.3 rating on Pitchfork Media and was cited for its "meticulous arrangements" with "everything in its right place", and declared an "excellent album". The album's ending resolves the narrator's struggles with acute depression ("Dead Slate Pacific"), suicidal thoughts ("The Golden Gate") with a love song to psychotropic drugs ("CRC 7173, Affectionately").
The title of his 2007 album, Emerald City, references the nickname of the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and The Wizard of Oz. "I was so beaten down after the 2000 election and after 9/11 and then the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan," said Vanderslice. "I was so depleted as a person after all that stuff happened, that I had to write my way out of it." Emerald City achieved a score of 82/100 on Metacritic. Entertainment Weekly called the album "a gleaming gem" that doesn't disappoint. Billboard's review of the record called Vanderslice an "always perceptive lyricist." Calling Vanderslice a "master story-teller", Matt Fink of Paste said that Emerald City was "vividly imagined yet subtle in tone, with conflicted character sketches unfolding around somber synth melodies, creaky electronic effects, and fuzzy acoustic guitar strums."
In 2009, with "Romanian Names", Vanderslice broke away from overtly political lyrical content characteristic of previous albums and turned his focus to personal reflections on romance and a modern persons relationship to the natural landscape. Maintaining his commitment to fully analog production, Vanderslice recorded guitar and piano tracks for this album in his analog basement studio of his San Francisco home. He completed further instrumentation and production at his own Tiny Telephone recording studio with producer Scott Solter. The album art features Vanderslices own photography.
In 2010, Vanderslice released a free EP called Green Grow The Rushes.
A full album, White Wilderness, was released on January 25th, 2011 on Dead Oceans. Here, Vanderslice forewent his usual meticulous process of manipulating and heavily over-dubbing tracks in the recording studio, in favor a pared-down production style. He recorded the album live with Minna Choi and the 19-member Magik*Magik Orchestra, the house orchestra of Tiny Telephone, in three days at Berkeleys historically-renowned Fantasy Studios. Vanderslice wrote acoustic versions of each song, while Choi wrote all orchestral arrangements. The collaboration resulted in a looser sound that maintained the structural complexity and pop sensibility of Vanderslices previous song writing. Lyrically, Vanderslice reflects on his trajectory as a musician and performer, and draws inspiration from the California landscape. The Piano Lesson recounts early memories of learning to play the piano as a child, while After It Ends imagines a performer destroying and escaping his venue at the end of a show. The romping Convict Lake is an autobiographical account of an overdose on LSD during a camping trip at this Sierra Nevada, California lake. It was produced and recorded by John Congleton.
In January of 2012, Vanderslice left his record contract with Dead Oceans. Vanderslice created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to start his own label. He reached his $18,500 goal within hours of starting the campaign. The project funded on March 21st, 2013, after 1224 backers donated over $79,000. It is currently one of Kickstarters top 40 most funded projects in Music.
In his 9th album, Dagger Beach, Vanderslice pushed experimentation with analog production techniques to the forefront of his song writing. For some songs, including Harlequin Press and Damage Control, Vanderslice tried to avoid familiar song structures by writing over improvised drum parts played by longtime collaborator Jason Slota. Vanderslice revisits the theme of navigating the California landscape as a metaphor for personal relationships. Raw Wood reflects on solo camping in Wildcat camp of Point Reyes National Park, while North Coast Rep describes a disintegrating friendship by way of a found photograph of the Sonoma, California landscape.