I never knew Piano's served food, but I was enlightened in more ways than one last Monday evening when I met Vandaveer
. We planned to meet at the popular soapbox venue, located down on the Lower East Side. When I arrived, huge tour vans were parked outside, and a few conspicuous people lurked about, giving the impression of some big budget rock star. I gave singer/songwriter Mark Heidinger a call to try and figure out if he was any of these people (I'd never seen him before). He answered jovially (he was none of these people), and asked where I was. He remarked how he could hear the same music that was playing where he was, and that I "couldn't be far." So he walked outside and invited me in to join him at his table. No back room, no contract-provided cheese-plates, just a table among the happy-hour crowd in the front room. He was sitting with Rose Guerin, collaborator and backup singer, and two people who were later identified as tourists staying in New York City. Mark and Rose talked to these strangers as if they had been friends for years, when in fact they knew them almost as well as they knew me: for about an hour. This basically sums up my impression of Vandaveer: down-to-earth, friendly as hell, and so easy to get along with, you forget you're talking to a pair of talented musicians.
Back to the food, Rose and Mark had originally sat down to eat. So they invited me to have a drink and a chat before the "interview." They ordered two artisan-looking sandwiches and some spiced french fries, and wound up sharing plenty of it. I asked about the vans outside, and Mark chuckled. Their car was parked somewhere around the corner (I believe it was a Nissan). The vans outside belonged to an artist named Bill Hoge, doing a "private showcase," an idea that Mark thought silly. "I'd like to be able to do a private show" he told me. "But the whole idea of it seems misguided. And if I did, I'd let everyone in anyway."
Mark and Rose were eager to discuss some of their plans for the tour, including their rigorous movie-watching schedule, and their love of Paul Rudd. I shared Rose's enthusiasm for Inglorious Basterds
, but not for a certain vampire saga released later this year (I'll spare you). We also discussed Role Models
, which the two watched upwards of eight times all the way through while touring Europe. I asked about them being more popular overseas, and Mark agreed. "It's very backwards, isn't it?" Mark is from Kentucky, living in DC, and created the Vandaveer moniker based on the inscription of an antique pocket watch belonging to his great grandfather, a US congressman. The story is true. Mark recalled sorting through his grandfather's possessions, pencils embroidered with his name, cigarette tins, and other campaign items before stumbling upon the 'Vandaveer' watch. I told him of some of my prized relics from grandparents, including a few lost ones I wished to locate. Heritage and history are as important to folk music as any other. "Songs are like children" Mark said. "You create them, and then they go out, and make other things happen."
Rose was sporting pink hair, and was continually naming the "killer playlist" of Pianos happy hour, which included many older standards. We talked about how Rose likes "old-man bars" because they always have great jukeboxes. I suggested McSorleys of the East Village. However Rose herself isn't nearly "old" status; she and Mark are both in their thirties. And that doesn't seem to bother her. "You're thirty and you're never going to make any money" she said of her career, "but at least you're doing what you love."
Rose, tattooed all along one arm and sporting two Red Sox tags on each wrist, hails from Massachusetts. We discussed the importance of forties, and her hierarchy of Schlitz versus Colt and Old E. Rose has a solo album in the works as well as being a part of Vandaveer. The two asked me if I was a musician as well, and we discussed our various instruments of preference. When I told Mark I played drums, he was excited. "That's one I'd always like to be better at. I just can't seem to get my arm to do one thing and my leg to do another." He told me of some advice he once got on songwriting. "You need two things. You need a great song, and you need a great drummer." Mark told me about his guitar, a 1960's Gibson, and how like his pocket-watch, it "never leaves the house." He needed to have the body repaired once, and likened to job to open-heart surgery on a loved one. We also discussed Mark formally playing bass for These United States, a rock band the duo would be playing with later in the week at Union Hall in Brooklyn.
Later on, when I rejoined the pair for the show, Rose gave me a big hug, and asked where I'd gone for so long. She introduced me to her sister, who lives in New York with her family. We stood together to watch the show, a very raw and real performance consisting of Mark, his guitar, and Rose with a microphone providing backup. Mark spoke to the audience with the same comfort and ease that he first spoke to me. The songs were great (I knew what to expect, having already heard the new record Divide And Conquer
), but I have to respectfully disagree with Vandaveer. You don't need a great drummer for great folk. -joe puglisi
Divide And Conquer
is out now on Supply And Demand Music.