When I first heard David Vandervelde’s music, on the 2006 album The Moonstation House Band, it energized me. Bold, guitar-driven, and with more than a little swagger, it seemed to be a revitalization of classic rock sounds, sometimes taken to a harrowing place. Vandervelde’s third album, Shadow Sides, is an entirely different entity. While the same knowledge of rock and pop traditions are present, Vandervelde’s focus here is more restrained, his vocals often heading into a higher register, his lyrics venturing into surreal confessional territory. I checked in with Vandervelde about the album, due out today on Secretly Canadian (digital), Park the Van (LP), and Burger (cassette).
Shadow Sides was recorded on a four-track cassette recorder. What was the most difficult aspect of this process?
Psychologically difficult at times, being willing or ready to commit. When bouncing and combining tracks, there’s no turning back! Also keeping all my tapes labeled and organized… Not losing shit. Haha! Now I have 20 or so tapes in a box somewhere.
How much planning in advance did you need to do in order to match the songs to the recording technique?
No planning really… The songs were written and recorded at the same time, or within a couple hours of writing I’d start recording. It was really as simple as saying I’d make a 4 track album, and actually doing it. I worked on it every day for a month or so. When I got to 10 songs I called it good.
There’s a lot of falsetto used on Shadow Sides. What about this particular collection of songs lent itself to that vocal approach?
A couple things really. I wasn’t in a real studio… I was in my old apartment in Chicago on Grand Ave and was kind of “squatting” there in an obvious kind of way, with permission. So singing quietly was partly out of consideration for my friend living above me at the time.
Also, hearing what the format of cassette tape did to the high end of my voice was exciting. On my other records I don’t really sing much falsetto, so this seemed like an appropriate time all around.
What does the concept of “shadow sides” mean to you? Is it a nod to recording or releasing music, or something entirely different?
“Shadow sides” refers to the parts of our personalities we choose to not engage or would rather not. And when we do, we might find things we never thought we would. (Carl G. Jung idea of the shadow)
Listening to “More Than God,” there seems to be a sort of inversion of gospel going on. How did that song evolve?
It is an inverted idea of God I guess… Using some gospel-ish-language. It’s about being in a relationship where the only power greater than myself was my lover. And the other way around. When I put this level of dependence and trust only in another person or myself, I’m setting up to be let down just as when I try to control the world I live in and the people around me. People make mistakes and the world will let us down…can be harsh at times. I get really bummed when shit doesn’t go my way, But If I’m searching and try to find evidence of a power greater than me or greater than one other person, I can learn how to accept the world for what it is and surrender some control. When I have this perspective, life doesn’t have to be about my happiness all the time, it can be about acceptance, and gratitude… Then I can be at peace, even if the universe throws me a curve ball.
Shadow Sides will be released by a trio of labels. How did that come about, and how did you match each with the format?
Secretly Canadian has technically passed on releasing the past 2 albums I’ve recorded. One of them called Big Lies is not out yet. They agreed to distribute this one digitally, but aren’t doing any promotion. The most recent and exciting part of this release to me is Burger releasing Shadow Sides on cassette! This came about from selling my 4 track recorder on Craigslist. The dude (now my good friend) who bought it off me happened to be a fan. About 6 years ago he and his pals would listen to my album The Moonstation House Band all the time. We talked about the song “Nothin’ No” and some others. I was blown away he knew of me and my music. He asked what am I up to now, so I told him about the album I made on the tape recorder he was buying from me. He really wanted to hear it so I played it for him off my phone! He wanted his fiend at Burger to check it out, and said he’d send it over to them. I was stoked just knowing they’d hear it. Sean at Burger called me a couple days later saying they dug it. I’m grateful to have this happen in such an organic/oldy timey way.
Small, small world. So thankful to have Burger involved.
Since recording this album, you’ve moved to Los Angeles. Has that had any effect on your songwriting?
Yes… Yoga pants and moon juice…
But seriously, some of my oldest friends live here so I feel right at home. I love living in California.
What inspired the cover art for the album?
My love of basketball, and true dedication to the sport.
How I perceive these two icons, or Gods of the game. Maybe seeing parts of themselves in each other they’d rather not resulting in a loss of control. I felt this way while making Shadow Sides. My friend Dirk at Black Tent Press sent this drawing over to me as an idea, after we discussed a lot…. This image struck us as perfect. He is an amazing friend and artist who understands the weird level of humor involved too. Using a drawing of Larry Bird and Julius Erving strangling each other for the cover of a rock album is pretty funny.
Photo: Derek W. James