David Vandervelde

David Vandervelde
In David Vandervelde’s career, he’s rarely stayed in one place for long, both physically and musically. Since growing up the Michigan, the nomadic 24-year-old songwriter has called Chicago, Brooklyn and now Nashville home in recent years. He’s also got to know more than a few couches, as well as studios, quite intimately. One recording space in particular was that of ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett, where Vandervelde lived and recorded his dense boogie-rockin’ debut, The Moonstation House Band. It was with this self-played, self-produced record that Vandervelde landed a deal with Secretly Canadian, the acclaimed Baltimore label also behind his new follow-up effort, Waiting for the Sunrise. And by comparing the two, it doesn’t take long to figure out Vandervelde is not a man who’s content to repeat himself.

Unlike The Moonstation House Band, Waiting for the Sunrise shows a more relaxed Vandervelde, one who trades much of his left-field studio trickery for more subdued, soft-rock vibes. It also shows Vandervelde can work well with others, as he abandons his solo routine for a full-band approach, which puts his high-pitched Bolanesque voice among more live-off-the-floor surroundings. And perhaps most importantly, Waiting for the Sunrise shows Vandervelde growing up, with him sounding more at ease with his songs and the direction he’s trying to take them. So why all the sudden change-ups? Exclaim! talks to Vandervelde in his new Nashville home to find out.

You started writing most of Waiting for the Sunrise right after you made the move from Chicago to Brooklyn. Do you think this move had an impact on the record? Yeah, I definitely think it did in a lot of ways. I’m not exactly sure how it all comes across in the record as a whole, but a lot of the album is dealing with a different type of isolation, where New York was super big and I wasn’t really involved in the musical community there and was without my band. I just kind of hung out with my girl a lot. And a lot of the record is about finding happiness and just being at home and writing songs and cooking food and that kind of simple stuff.

So do you think this record is a lot different than the last? Oh definitely. The first record was still personal, but I think overall it was a bit more of a pop experiment, in my mind. It was all self-recorded and self-played and I was in Chicago and had recorded all those songs while living in a studio there. And I mean, I’m 24 now, but a lot of songs from the first record were written when I was, like, 19. I just feel Waiting for the Sunrise is a lot more me and it’s just a lot more personal.

How do you think your songwriting has evolved then since the first record? It’s evolved in a lot of ways. And I think a lot of it has to do with me playing with a band and playing live. When doing the first album, I had never played live before, and with the new record, most of the songs were done live in the studio with my band intact, and there is little in the way of overdubs and editing and all that studio stuff.

So why did you choose to record Waiting for the Sunrise with a band instead of doing by yourself? Well, basically, because I didn’t want to make the same kind of record again. I just really wanted the record to have more a live feeling to it. I just wanted to play the songs live in the studio so that on stage they would have a similar feeling and be able to translate better so people can understand what I’m going for a little bit more clearly.

On this record, you wrote the song "California Breezes” with Jay Bennett, who used to play in Wilco. Could you tell me a bit about your musical relationship? Well, I lived with Jay for a while and helped him out at his studio in Chicago, and we wrote that song together probably about four years ago. It was one that had kind of always lingered around and I liked playing it live with my band. So I just called him up and asked if he was cool if I recorded it and he was really flattered that I wanted to use it on the record. Jay’s a really good friend of mine and we had our "theory” together in the studio for a while. I mean, I recorded my first record during the same time he was recording an album and we were both living in the same studio at the time. But maybe the reason this new record is so different is that I am now completely separate from Jay and having access to all his studio toys and being able to stay up all night and fucking around with tunes with him.

So what came first for you: being a producer or a songwriter? Well, it kind of goes hand in hand with me. I’ve always really been into recording and I kind of learned how to engineer just by recording my own stuff.

How did your musical influences sneak into this record? I’m influenced by a lot of music from the past, obviously. There are so many records from the mid- to late ’70s that are just so good. Any time I’m recording I like to use reference points and using my influences when going for a certain type of sound. And I just really like putting my tunes into that same vibe and sound of older recordings.

Was there any certain goal you were reaching for with this record? I think that where I was coming from with the album, and the vibe that a lot of the songs have lyrically, is searching for hope in a time when it doesn’t feel hopeful, and just being okay with that. Sometimes it’s okay to not feel hopeful, and you have to sit back and think about what’s going on and what makes you happy in your life — about what you have and what others don’t have. Then put everything into perspective and say, "I don’t feel that hopeful but there is hope, and I’m looking for it and everything is going to be okay.” It’s a pretty simple idea, I guess.

Do you think the title Waiting for the Sunrise reflects this? Well, not to sound overly sentimental, but a lot of the idea of waiting for the sunrise — where you have been up all night working or partying and it’s getting really late — is it gets to be that time of the morning where you feel really, really peaceful. And the sun starts to come up and you can just sit down and reflect. It’s just such a great and beautiful moment in life.

Is there is a certain kind of setting you think this record is best suited for? Yeah, I think the whole vibe of the record is very much a summer evening kind of record. I actually listen to it myself right now; I’m still really into it. It’s really good porch music, I think.

So what are you hoping listeners take away from this record overall? I want people to identify with or at least relate to the whole hope concept behind the record, but also on a surface level, hopefully the songwriting just comes across and people are like, "Hey, this record doesn’t really sound like anything else coming out right now.” Maybe people can get into the organicness of it and that it feels all natural and it’s kind of chill. I just hope people realize it’s different than what other people are doing right now and for people to identify with each song and just get into the vibe of it all.