Vandoliers on "Forever"
It’s been a busy last few months for the Vandoliers. They released their 3rd album ‘Forever,’ their first for Bloodshot Records in February, debuting at 25 on the Americana charts. They were a force during SXSW, earning praise in Rolling Stone, and were featured in the 30 Best Artists We Saw SXSW 2019. We’ve been keeping our eye on our neighbors to the north for a while now, and we caught up with Joshua Fleming a few days before Forever came out.
Luck: Let’s talk about the new record, this latest LP is about 2 years in the making. It’s gotta feel great getting this out there, right?
Vandoliers: It’s incredible! Our first record ‘Ameri-Kinda’ was piecing the band together over a series of months, just recording everything separately. With ‘The Native’ we got to record as a band but... we had just changed bass players and we hadn’t even toured as a full band yet. But as soon as we released it, I began writing what would eventually become this new record, ‘Forever’. 50 songs & 400 shows later we’re sifted through and figuring out how we want to represent ourselves at this point in time. It’s been a crazy road of writing, recording, arranging rehearsing and touring, all to lead up to 8 days in a studio in Memphis.
We worked with Adam Hill (Low Cut Connie, Deer Tick) who really pushed us to perform the songs as a band and as a group. Ya know, try not to utilize punch ins & all that shit. He just made us a better band. After that we had to sit on it for 5 months, waiting for this release. During that time it’s been really crazy for us cause we've changed labels, management and booking agencies. Theres a sense of anxiety with that, like “Oh fuck, I hope all this work was worth something!” I’m really proud of it and I’m proud of my band. I can’t wait to see what people think.
Luck: Sounds like 2019 is the year to hit that next gear?
Vandoliers: Absolutely, it's been really cool just to see our fan base grow with us. You know it started in the punk clubs and then with ‘The Native’ we got thrown into the alt-country, red-dirt… Americana base. It’s been really cool to see our punk rock fans stay with us, and then grow into what our fanbase is now. Now I don’t even know very many of them! It’s not like they are obligated friends and family who are sitting out in the crowd. The music is speaking to people and I feel like we have found our sound with this record. That’s one of the biggest stepping stones for a band -- setting yourself apart from everybody else and having your own thing. Man I’m so glad we found it! (laughter)
Luck: Let’s talk about getting signed to Bloodshot Records, seems like a killer fit for the band.
Vandoliers: I know! I’m really proud to be with them, they are the greatest people I‘ve ever met (180). So smart and artist-friendly, they are just so supportive of us. You get it, at Luck y’all book all kinds of bands, there are all kinds of sounds that you hear. From an artist perspective, anytime somebody gets what I'm doing or believes in what I'm doing… it’s just so crazy to me. It's a really great feeling for the music to hit people and that they are latching on to it. It’s no longer a discussion of what genre our music is. It’s getting to be “Man, that's the Vandoliers” and that's a good feeling. With Bloodshot I just feel we define everything they do and have done for the last 25 years.
Luck: You mentioned earlier working with Adam Hill. Our readers might recognize his name, as we’ve spoken about him in an interview with The Reputations and Low Cut Connie. What makes him such an in-demand producer right now?
Vandoliers: One, he has a golden ear. Two, he’s the funniest person I’ve ever been around. His personality was the thing that attracted us. His resume with all those records, whether as an Assistant Engineer at Arlyn or a Head Engineer/Producer with Low Cut Connie or Deer Tick. What attracts bands to Adam is that he allows you to be the creative force and he is the filter. He’s so on top of everything, in a non-brooding manner. He doesn’t stifle you, he just ensures you get the best performance out of everything. I loved working and would work with him again, any day of the week. He knows how to make a studio session seamless, fly by and at the end of it, oh my god, I'm a better musician. That's something he's bring to the table that a lot of people aren't. He’s done a ton with Low Cut and each one keeps getting better and better. He does a stripped down 4 track recording and make it sound like gold or a full 24 track studio. He always keeps it minimal, it’s really weird, the studio magic is never produced, it's just already there.
Luck: You recorded the record in Memphis?
Vandoliers: Yeah, we kinda just fell in love with Memphis. We got there and met these two people, Bill and Kate who own Music Mansion, a bed and breakfast for bands. They told me they had a producer we should talk to. At first I was like, Ok whatever, send me his contact and we will figure out. Well they sent me the contact, I started doing my research and was like holy shit this is a real dude! (laughter) So we set up a meeting in memphis, and Adam and the band hit if off immediately. We toured a bunch of studios and eventually we landed on American Recording Studio in Memphis. Really huge records were recorded there. We walk in and my favorite Wilco record AM is hanging on the wall and there’s like... I’m not sure how to describe it, but feels like there are ghosts in that room, there is a really good vibe. We hit it off with Toby Vest & Pete Matthews, the lead engineers and so we had a great team the moment we walked in. We felt we were at home, but away from distractions enough to hunker down for a week and make this record.
Luck: Having that trust and comfort level in your team… it’s got to be invaluable right?
Vandoliers: Having the choices, shit. When you are starting a band you don’t have any choices. Whoever you can afford, let’s go. With this, we had the opportunity to find the right fit, find something that's good for us. Now we are a Texas band, and recording in Texas is awesome, I love it, but we wanted to get out of town for a minute. The city of Memphis has really welcomed us and I love everything about that city, it’s a weird city. It was inspiring, so much music, the birthplace of rock and roll. Everything Memphis used to have, it’s still there, it just may not be utilized as much. I fell into the city, met the people, and fell in love with the stories. I think it comes out in some of the sounds too. To me there are 3 different Tennessee cultures. Chattanooga/Knoxville scene, Nashville with the big money and big machine, and then there is little ol’ Memphis, which is raw. (laughter)
Luck: It’s good to shake it up, get out of the comfort zone, gives a different sense of readiness.
Vandoliers: In Dallas & Ft. Worth, we know everybody. We are very involved in the communities with the studios, the musicians… these are all our friends. We could have made a great record there. But like you said, getting out of the comfort zone was really what we wanted to do. We were going from a Texas label to a Chicago label. From a small independent booking to a major booking agency to a major agency, there were so many growing pains. It was a whirlwind and it was good to get away to be in a place where no one knew who we were. We ducked in the shadows and traversed the city, no one was the wiser we were there. It was perfect.
I’m really proud of this record. There comes a time for a lot of bands... there is a sense that you have to fall in line, be more marketable or that type of that shit. The cool thing about Bloodshot, they didn't ask us to do any of that. We get to be unapologetically us. We play to our strengths and we got to spread our wings in terms of sound. There is a piece of me that hopes people like it, but at the end of the day, the band & the label is really proud of it. People will call it whatever they wanna call it, but we are happy. We made a great Vandoliers record.
Verse from Sixteen Years
Yeah it took sixteen years
And a hundred thousand miles
I was a preacher's son who lost his way for a while
I sang a poor man's song
No one could hear
It took a hundred thousand miles and sixteen years
Luck: When you are proud of what you’ve put out there, the rest is just gravy…
Vandoliers: Yeah, you know the central theme of this record... even through trials, we are still going to continue, we are still going to be a band. I can point to a song like “Sixteen Years” namely for that. I’m still a creative person and when you are, you can be susceptible to depression and anxiety. One of my favorite things about this record is that I got to turn to one of my heroes, mentors, and now a friend in Rhett Miller (Old 97’s), about my songs. It helped me voice what I was going through. I was in a pretty dark spot for a period of writing this record, not all, but some of it. Where I didn’t know if I could complete the record, whether I could be in a band anymore. But the affirmation I got from Rhett, the label and my band, it pulled me through that. I got to write a great song called Fallen Again which is my favorite song I’ve written at this point, it means a lot to me. Probably not a single, won’t hear it on the radio cause I say “fuck” in it. (laughter) I thought it was an important song. I feel like a lot of people who struggle with depression and high functioning anxiety don’t really get to talk about or are afraid to talk about it.
It’s important to let folks know they aren’t alone. With that song, I wanted there to be triumph at the end of it. Being at fucking rock bottom with your back against the wall and knowing you can ask for help, that doesn't make you any less of a person.
Verse from Fallen Again
I'm still breathing
On to the end of my rope
Here I am
Caught on the edge
Is there still reason to hope?
Can you spare some water, brother?
I am dry
Can you give me a hand?
I've fallen again
Vandoliers: I never tried to be an outlaw, a good ol’ boy, not trying to be anything other than myself. I’m thankful I'm from Texas but I'm not a purebred, I played hockey and hung out in punk clubs. As I got older and married, my mindset and lifestyle changed, I was a lot less self-destructive. I turned to music and I simplified my writing to a couple chords and how I was feeling that day. That's helped me as a writer to open up. In my old band I felt like I had to portray something. A political stance, a badass or whatever, but with this type of writing and saying what you went through today. Hell, listen to Robert Earl Keen. He’s putting cheese enchiladas into a verse, and it doesn’t matter because it's honest. Willie, Townes, Guy... none of those guys were trying to be anything other than what they are. That's the most attractive point for me. I did a couple of shows last year with Marty Stuart and watching his TV show was the reason I wanted to pursue this type of writing and music. These were the best musicians I've seen in my life. Country musicians don’t get enough credit, they are some of the best songwriters and musicians out there. When I got to meet Marty and I found out he liked my music…. I could die happy now! (laughter) My life view is to expect nothing and be grateful for everything.
Luck: What’s the one Punk record you are bringing to the desert island?
Vandoliers: Oh my shit! The Clash by The Clash, it’s one of the first records that I ever bought on vinyl. My uncle was the one who gave me my first guitar when I was 9. He passed away when I was 11. He had a cd of the Cramps that I was really into & they mentioned The Clash in the liner notes. I got that record as I was turning 13. The guitar tones are raw and bad ass. The political climate of 1977 is oozing through that record. I went to a school made up of different races and people, and the anti-racism message throughout that record really spoke to me. I really latched on with the ethos & the mindset of what they defined as punk rock. God I love The Clash, they are the only band that mattered to me.
Luck: There is a slight Texas narrative to the Clash, recording the video in Austin...
Vandoliers: Yeah & they opened for Joe Ely, who was another artist I got introduced to through The Clash. He would be someone who would influence me forever. That band is so great, they aren’t tied down to genre, not tied to anything. They imploded at the end but man those first 5 records were really good. That album changed my life. As much as our record is a country record, to me it's a punk record. I feel like I have always just written punk songs. It's what I do. It’s a crazy time to be a musician, it's harder than ever but we are gonna look back at this period of music and be all... holy shit! The quality of music everyone is putting out. That Robert Ellis record (Texas Piano Man), incredible. The new Hayes Carll (What It Is), incredible. You can see it across genre, we are the same label as Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers. That album (Bought To Rot) is so fucking out of the box, there is no genre for it, it’s just a bitching rock record. I feel like genres are starting to explode and combine with everything. Has there ever been a better indie, rock, country record than Nikki Lane’s Highway Queen? It’s just so cool how everyone is getting down to the root of what music is, which is 12 fucking notes… you can put twang in or you can not, it’s still great music.