John Vanderslice

Pixel Revolt

BY Helen SpitzerPublished Sep 1, 2005

There comes a point in your life when, if you don’t change the way you’re doing things, circumstances force you to. For John Vanderslice it came with the dissolution of a difficult relationship, one which he candidly admits "kind of destroyed me.” Inconveniently, it also came in the middle of making this record, producing the Mountain Goats’ recent album, and working with clients at his all-analog-all-the-time studio, Tiny Telephone. The result is uneven and often quite trying at times. Less passionate than last year’s Cellar Door, and less artful than his two previous records, Vanderslice vacillates between frantic confession and ambiguous personae. Not quite at home with either, he hides himself — and his best songs — in the last third of the album. It’s due in part to friend and Mountain Goat John Darnielle goading him toward autobiography, but you wish the intervention came sooner. This is the sound of a songwriter looking for himself in his songs, while still trying to cover his tracks.

Why do you keep a recording diary? Because we make tons of decisions right in the moment. Before Tape Op, it was very difficult to find out how people were making records. I had to figure it out the hard way — a lot of experimentation and looking people up in the phone book. It is a monumental process to learn how to make an album, especially if you want to incorporate the studio as an instrument.

But you seem to be getting away from that. I’m really thinking about making a record that has nothing electronic whatsoever. It’s not a philosophical thing — I just want to change the process of how I make records. [Engineer and collaborator] Scott Solter said to me, "Why don’t you write a piano ballad and record it live, and that will be the restriction.” That is the only song, other than "Dead Slate Pacific,” where the vocals were recorded at the same time. It definitely makes it more real, more present.

Why the sudden shift to autobiography? That’s new for me. Two of my heroes have ended up doing the same thing this year. Maybe it’s going through all this political turmoil — or maybe people’s lives fall apart at the same time. It’s very clear to me that we’re at the end. The Maldives are going to be gone, the Alps are melting, the war. How could it not just grind you into some unknowable anguish?

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