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Q&A with Vandaveer

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A band as intriguing as the hauntingly beautiful songs they sing, Vandaveer are in the middle of a Pledge campaign for a record of folk murder ballads. Comprised of Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin, the vintage group takes every detail into consideration, even recording in an old farmhouse to let the walls speak into their music. Here, we talk to Heidinger about his start in music, Vandaveer’s upcoming record and just what a folk murder ballad is, exactly.

You guys just launched your Pledge campaign last week, and you’re already past 90 percent of your goal. What has that been like for you? Were you surprised?

This process has been startling and humbling, to be sure. This is the first time we’ve involved our fans to such a degree on the front end of a project, so we were a bit nervous about how they would respond. We truly had no idea it would take off like it has.

I’d love to hear a little about how you got your start as a band. I know you have some band members who come and go, but what was the origin of it all?

I started Vandaveer in 2006 as a solo side project. At the time I was quite busy with two other bands and just wanted an outlet for stripped-down material – song scrapbooking, really. I didn’t anticipate it becoming my primary musical project, but after releasing “Grace & Speed” in 2007, that’s precisely what happened. Rosie came on board soon after said release and has been an integral part of the family ever since.

You recently took part in the 78 Project. Tell me a little about that and what the whole experience was like for you.

The 78 Project is truly a special thing. I could jaw about that for the next few hours, but in short it’s a venture spearheaded by two wonderful spirits in New York who record current artists’ versions of traditional folk tunes on a fully refurbished 78 RPM acetate machine, each in a unique setting. We’ve done more video blog sessions the last four years than I can count, and the 78 Project sits at the top among the most memorable and rewarding.

Now you’re working on a record of folk murder ballads. How did you go about finding songs that fit into that category?

In preparing for the 78 Project we had a hard time whittling down our choice to a single song. Rosie and I had so many ideas for songs that would work well for our session, and almost all of them could be loosely described as murder ballads. Finding songs that fit into that category wasn’t the hard part, but narrowing it down to 10 for an album certainly was.

I’m curious to hear more about the kinds of songs you’ve found. What (other than murder) have you found thematically in these songs?

The common thread running through most of these songs is the dark, tragic, broken side of love. Love goes right and people slow dance, plant flowers, take long walks. Love goes wrong and things get irrational. It’s a complicated thing, and the stories that play out in these tunes reflect that. A lot of these tunes are biographical or historical. They reference real-life crimes and memorialize the tragedies.

Do you guys usually do much writing as a band?

For this project we were certainly arranging the material very much as a band but weren’t penning original material. We enlisted some heavyweight players (J. Tom Hnatow and Phillips Saylor) to help make this record, and the arrangements showcase their talents quite well, I think.

It looks like you’re recording and capturing this record in such a neat setting. Tell me a little more about where you are and how that’s affecting the overall feel of your music.

We’re making this record in an old, historic farmhouse outside Lexington, Kentucky in the heart of horse country. We wanted a space that was as old as the songs we’re recording, and this space has been ideal. We’re swapping stories with these walls, bouncing sounds from room to room and capturing it all on record. A house can make a home to be sure, but it also can make an incredible studio.

What draws you to folk music? Why did you land in that genre to begin with?

Louis Armstrong once said something like “All music is folk music, I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” I’ve always liked that. And I’ve always liked a good story. When I was 16, my dad gave me his old Gibson acoustic guitar. From there it was a natural progression to what we call folk music, I suppose. Rosie was born into a family full of musicians who were part of the Cambridge folk scene in the early ‘60s, some of whom performed at the inaugural Newport Folk Festival, so for her it’s in her bones and blood.

In addition to releasing “Oh Willie Please,” what else is on your collective plate for 2012?

We’ll be touring in support of the new record later this year, and we’ll likely start planting seeds for another original Vandaveer record in 2013. I tend to write each chapter as we go, so I can’t say exactly where we’re going beyond “Oh Willie Please.” We’re just anxious to share this one with everyone first and follow it wherever it takes us.

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