Air Jordan DMP John Vanderslice plays New York City
John Vanderslice has recently learned to enjoy America again. “For the first time in my life I wouldn’t say I was defending the country but I was in this very strange position.”
Since breaking off from San Francisco local legends, mk Ultra, Vanderslice has produced six critically acclaimed albums. His most recent, Emerald City, was released July 24th. Titled after the nickname given to the American occupied Green Zone in Baghdad, it chronicles a world on the verge of imminent collapse under the weight of its own paranoia and loneliness. David Shankbone recently went to the Bowery Ballroom and spoke with Vanderslice about music, photography, touring and what makes a depressed liberal angry.
JV: Great! I was just Air Jordan DMP on the Wiki page for Inland Empire, and there is a great synopsis on the film. What’s on there is the best thing I have read about that film. The tour has been great. I went to Thailand alone, and there’s a part of you that just wants to go home. I don’t know what it is. I like to be home, but on tour there is a free floating anxiety that says: Go Home. Go Home.
DS: Anywhere, or just outside of the country?
JV: Anywhere. I want to be home in San Francisco, and I really do love being on tour, but there is almost like a homing beacon inside of me that is beeping and it creates a certain amount of anxiety.
DS: I can relate: You and I have moved around a lot, and we have a lot in common. Pranks, for one. David Bowie is another.
JV: Yeah, I saw that you like David Bowie on your MySpace.
DS: When I was in college I listened to him nonstop. Do you have a favorite album of his?
JV: I loved all the things from early to late seventies. Hunky Dory to Low to “Heroes” to Lodger. Low changed my life. The second I got was Hunky Dory, and the third was Diamond Dogs, which is a very underrated album. There was tons of music I discovered in the seventh and eighth grade that I discovered, but I don’t love, respect and relate to it as much as I do Bowie.
DS: You said seventh and eighth grade. Were you always listening to Air Jordan 20s people like Bowie or bands like the Velvets, or did you have an Eddie Murphy My Girl Wants to Party All the Time phase?
JV: The thing for me that was the uncool music, I had an older brother who was really into prog music, so it was like Gentle Giant and Yes and King Crimson and Genesis. All the new Genesis that was happening at the time Air Jordan 11s was mind blowing.
DS: Do you shun that music now or is it still a part of you?
JV: Oh no, I appreciate all music. I’m an anti snob. Last night when I was going to sleep I was watching Ocean’s Thirteen on my computer. It’s not like I always need to watch some super fragmented, fucked up art movie like Inland Empire. It’s part of how I relate to the audience. We end every night by going out into the audience and playing acoustically, directly, right in front of the audience, six inches away that is part of my philosophy.
DS: Do you think New York or San Francisco suffers from artistic elitism more?
JV: I think because of the Internet that there is less and less elitism; everyone is into some little superstar on YouTube and everyone can now appreciate now Justin Timberlake. There is no need for factions.
DS: Everything is fusion now, like cuisine. It’s hard to find a purely French or purely Vietnamese restaurant.
JV: Exactly! When I was in high school there were factions. I remember the guys who listened to Black Flag. They looked the part! Like they were in theater.
JV: Yes, I believe it. But even emo kids, compared to their older brethren, are so open minded. I opened up for Sunny Day Real Estate and Pedro the Lion, and I did not find their fans to be the cliquish people that I feared, because I was never playing or marketed in the emo genre. I would say it’s because of the Internet.
DS: You could clearly create music that is more mainstream pop and be successful with it, but you choose a lot of very personal and political themes for your music. Are you ever tempted to put out a studio album geared toward the charts just to make some cash?
JV: I would say no. I’m definitely a capitalist, I was an econ major and I have no problem with making money, but I made a pact with myself very early on that I was only going to release music that was true to the voices and harmonic things I heard inside of me that were honestly inside me and I have never broken that pact. We just pulled two new songs from Emerald City because I didn’t feel they were exactly what I wanted to have on a record. Relative to the world, with the people I grew up with and where they are now and how much money they make. The money in indie music is a low stakes game from a financial perspective. So the one thing you can have as an indie artist is credibility, and when you burn your credibility, you are done, man. You can not recover from that. These years I have been true to myself, that’s all I have.
DS: Do you think Spoon burned their indie credibility Air Jordan Fusion 4 for allowing their music to be used in commercials and by making more studio oriented albums? They are one of my favorite bands, but they have come a long way from A Series of Sneaks and Girls Can Tell.
JV: They have, but no, I don’t think they’ve lost their credibility at all. I know those guys so well, and Brit and Jim are doing exactly the music they want to do. Brit owns his own studio, and they completely control their means of production, and they are very insulated by being on Merge, and I think their new album and I bought Telephono when it came out is as good as anything they have done.
DS: Do you think letting your music be used on commercials does not bring the credibility problem it once did? That used to be the line of demarcation the whole Sting thing that if you did commercials you sold out.
JV: Five years ago I would have said that it would have bothered me. It doesn’t bother me anymore. The thing is that bands have shrinking options for revenue streams, and sync deals and licensing, it’s like, man, you better be open to that idea. I remember when Spike Lee said, ‘Yeah, I did these Nike commercials, but it allowed me to do these other films that I wanted to make,’ and in some ways there is an article that Of Montreal and Spoon and other bands that have done sync deals have actually insulated themselves further from the difficulties of being a successful independent band, because they have had some income come in that have allowed them to stay put on labels where they are not being pushed around by anyone.
The ultimate problem sort of like the only philosophical problem is suicide the only philosophical problem Jordan Winterized 6 Rings is whether to be assigned to a major label because you are then going to have so much editorial input that it is probably going to really hurt what you are doing.
DS: Do you believe the only philosophical question is whether to commit suicide?
JV: Absolutely. I think the rest is internal chatter and if I logged and tried to counter the internal chatter I have inside my own brain there is no way I could match that.
DS: When you see artists like Pete Doherty or Amy Winehouse out on suicidal binges of drug use, what do you think as a musician? What do you get from what you see them go through in their personal lives and their music?
JV: The thing for me is they are profound iconic figures for me, and I don’t even know their music. I don’t know Winehouse or Doherty’s music, I just know that they are acting a very crucial, mythic part in our culture, and they might be doing it unknowingly.