Is David Vandervelde the new Ziggy Stardust?
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Chicago has been known to keep musical secrets, but last week’s release of David Vandervelde’s The Moonstation House Band on Secretly Canadian may turn the blush of online acclaim for his elaborate glam-folk into a full-on deluge. Are the early comparisons to Ziggy-era David Bowie and T. Rex’s Marc Bolan bold? Yes. Are they also accurate? Close. This 22-year-old songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist is an easy mix of self-effacing good humor and swagger that’s less brash arrogance and more precocious devotion to rock ’n’ roll. Just before Moonstation’s release, Vandervelde spoke to The A.V. Club about blogs, MySpace, and prairie-fire shots.
The A.V. Club: How did you end up with Secretly Canadian?
David Vandervelde: I did things the old-fashioned way: I just sent 20 or 30 burned demos with a little bio and my email address to labels, even ones I hadn’t heard of. I got an email from Secretly saying they liked the demo. What I like about them is that they have a lot of artists who don’t fit into conventional niches that are out there, like Richard Swift, Antony & The Johnsons, Catfish Haven, and maybe me. They’re able to look at something and say, “This is good music. We don’t know exactly where it fits, but it should be out there.”
AVC: You were recently an “Artist To Watch” on Stereogum. Do you pay attention to blogs?
DV: I don’t think I’ve ever read a blog in my life. My manager or label rep will call me and say, “You were featured on this or that!” and I’ve never even heard of it. It seems like that kind of thing is more influential these days than, say, Rolling Stone as far as making people decide if they’re gonna get into the record or not. It’s all been pretty positive so far, so I’m not looking forward to the day when I read something really awful.
AVC: You do have a MySpace page, though.
DV: [Laughs.] I’m just not an e-mail and computer kind of guy. Me, my manager, and my booking guy had a meeting with Secretly Canadian, and they all basically said, “Dave, you need to get on the Internet and promote.” I guess one hour a week at the coffeehouse wasn’t cutting it! So I got the Internet, but MySpace is kind of weird. Every time I’m on there, I just end up looking at girls.
AVC: What kind of musical comparisons are critics making?
DV: I get asked if I mind being compared to T. Rex or ELO, and always say “hell no!” because I much prefer people drawing comparisons to artists and albums I know and love, and not something modern that I’ve never gotten into. Though, I did read this hilarious thing in NME that said “Chicagoan wunderkind is country glam-rock, as if Marc Bolan was jamming with Kings Of Leon.” What’s weird is that I’m not 19 anymore.
AVC: To many of the people writing about you, 19 and 22 aren’t very different. Do you ever hear the term “prodigy”?
DV: [Laughs.] Yes, it’s an angle some writers have taken before. As I get older, though, it reminds me of that Jackson 5 movie [The Jacksons: An American Dream], how they’re always telling Michael to lie about his age. Their A&R person [asks], “Michael, how old are you?” and he says, “I’m 12,” and the A & R guy goes, “No, you’re 10!”
AVC: Despite the good press, you’ll inevitably encounter people who haven’t heard of you. What do you do to stand out?
DV: Well, I’m absolutely hilarious, and my witty stage banter is stunning! [Laughs.] I don’t know. I put a lot into the record sounding a certain way, but live we can put more of a loose and sloppy, Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Rolling Stones rock-band thing behind these songs that are “just so” on the album. We play a wild version of [the Stones’] “Cocksucker Blues” that went over well when I was on tour with Bobby Bare Jr. It’s an energy that I think will be appealing to people in a live setting. When I go to the UK, I want to take a couple of the guys from Bobby’s band. It seems like people are taking to the record faster over there.
AVC: Any experiences from your last tour that you hope to repeat or not repeat this year?
DV: When we were in New York on the Bobby Bare Jr. tour, the Catfish Haven dudes were in town too, and we went over to this awful bar that my friend works at. Richie, who plays guitar with Bobby, asked me if I’d ever had a prairie-fire shot—it’s tequila and Tabasco. I’d been drinking all night, and right after I did the shot, I was like “Where’s the bathroom?” When I got to the men’s room, there was a homeless guy asleep in the only stall, so I had to throw up in the urinal.