John Vanderslice

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John Vanderslice
Tiny Telephone - John Vanderslice (6951199223).jpg
Vanderslice in March 2012
Background information
Born (1967-05-22) May 22, 1967 (age 48)
Gainesville, Florida, United States
Genres Alternative rock, indie rock
Years active 1999–present
Labels Dead Oceans Barsuk Records
Associated acts Mk Ultra, The Mountain Goats, Spoon, Death Cab for Cutie

John Vanderslice (born in Gainesville, Florida) is an American musician, songwriter, record producer, and recording engineer. He is the owner and founder of Tiny Telephone, a San Francisco Mission District analog recording studio.

In 10 full-length albums, and 5 remix records and EPs, Vanderslice’s songwriting is characterized by deeply personal and political lyrics and the use of experimental analog recording techniques. His declared musical influences are diverse, ranging from Neutral Milk Hotel and Radiohead to Public Enemy and Henry Cowell. He has collaborated with renowned musicians such as The Mountain Goats, St. Vincent, and Spoon.[1][2][3][4][5]

Early years[edit]

Vanderslice grew up in rural North Florida, before his family moved to Maryland when he was 11. In 1989, he graduated with a degree in economics from University of Maryland, where he also studied art history. Vanderslice moved to San Francisco in 1990. While supporting himself as a waiter, Vanderslice took classes at University of California, Berkeley, with the intention of becoming an English teacher. Vanderslice then spent five years as a member of the experimental band Mk Ultra, with whom he released three albums in the 1990s. The last of these, The Dream Is Over, received a 9.2 from Pitchfork Media.[6]

During this period, he also founded Tiny Telephone, a 3,000 sq. ft., two-room recording studio in the Mission District of San Francisco. Established in 1997, the studio was initially used as a rehearsal space before being developed as a full-time, all-analog recording studio. Bands who have recorded in the studio include Death Cab for Cutie, Okkervil River, Deerhoof, The Mountain Goats, The Magnetic Fields, Third Eye Blind, and Spoon.[7]

Solo career[edit]

In 2000, Vanderslice released his first solo album, Mass Suicide Occult Figurines, and briefly gained some national media attention for the single "Bill Gates Must Die" after concocting a hoax in which Microsoft supposedly threatened legal action over the song; Vanderslice then however had trouble manufacturing the CD because the artwork resembled that of a Windows installation disc, and at least one manufacturer was wary of legal action.[8] During the controversy, he was interviewed by Spin, Wired, and the San Francisco Chronicle.[8]

Vanderslice at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, 2007.

Time Travel is Lonely and Life and Death of an American Fourtracker followed in 2001 and 2002 respectively, followed by 2004’s Cellar Door.

Many songs on the 2005 album Pixel Revolt referenced the September 11, 2001 attacks and the Iraq War and were more overtly political in their lyrical content. The album earned an 8.3 rating on Pitchfork Media and was cited for its "meticulous arrangements" with "everything in its right place", and declared an "excellent album".[9] The album's ending resolves the narrator's struggles with acute depression ("Dead Slate Pacific"), suicidal thoughts ("The Golden Gate") with a love song to psychotropic drugs ("CRC 7173, Affectionately").

The title of his 2007 album, Emerald City, references the nickname of the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and The Wizard of Oz. "I was so beaten down after the 2000 election and after 9/11 and then the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan," said Vanderslice. "I was so depleted as a person after all that stuff happened, that I had to write my way out of it." Emerald City achieved a score of 82/100 on Metacritic.[10] Entertainment Weekly called the album "a gleaming gem" that doesn't disappoint.[11] Billboard's review of the record called Vanderslice an "always perceptive lyricist."[12] Calling Vanderslice a "master story-teller", Matt Fink of Paste said that Emerald City was "vividly imagined yet subtle in tone, with conflicted character sketches unfolding around somber synth melodies, creaky electronic effects, and fuzzy acoustic guitar strums."[13]

In 2009, with Romanian Names, Vanderslice broke away from overtly political lyrical content characteristic of previous albums and turned his focus to personal reflections on romance and a modern person’s relationship to the natural landscape.[14][15] Maintaining his commitment to fully analog production, Vanderslice recorded guitar and piano tracks for this album in his analog basement studio of his San Francisco home. He completed further instrumentation and production at his own Tiny Telephone recording studio with producer Scott Solter.[16] The album art features Vanderslice’s own photography.

In 2010, Vanderslice released a free EP called Green Grow The Rushes.[17]

A full album, White Wilderness, was released on January 25, 2011 on Dead Oceans. Here, Vanderslice forewent his usual meticulous process of manipulating and heavily over-dubbing tracks in the recording studio, in favor a pared-down production style.[18] He recorded the album live with Minna Choi and the 19-member Magik*Magik Orchestra, the house orchestra of Tiny Telephone, in three days at Berkeley’s historically-renowned Fantasy Studios. Vanderslice wrote acoustic versions of each song, while Choi wrote all orchestral arrangements. The collaboration resulted in a looser sound that maintained the structural complexity and pop sensibility of Vanderslice’s previous song writing.[19] Lyrically, Vanderslice reflects on his trajectory as a musician and performer, and draws inspiration from the California landscape. "The Piano Lesson" recounts early memories of learning to play the piano as a child, while "After It Ends" imagines a performer destroying and escaping his venue at the end of a show. The romping "Convict Lake" is an autobiographical account of an overdose on LSD during a camping trip at this Sierra Nevada, California lake.[20] It was produced and recorded by John Congleton.[21]

In January 2012, Vanderslice left his record contract with Dead Oceans. Vanderslice created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to start his own label. He reached his $18,500 goal within hours of starting the campaign.[22] The project funded on March 21, 2013, after 1224 backers donated over $79,000. It is currently one of Kickstarter's top 60 most funded projects in Music.[23]

In his ninth album, Dagger Beach, Vanderslice pushed experimentation with analog production techniques to the forefront of his song writing. For some songs, including "Harlequin Press" and "Damage Control", Vanderslice tried to avoid familiar song structures by writing over improvised drum parts played by longtime collaborator Jason Slota. Vanderslice revisits the theme of navigating the California landscape as a metaphor for personal relationships. “Raw Wood” reflects on solo camping in Wildcat camp of Point Reyes National Park, while “North Coast Rep” describes a disintegrating friendship by way of a found photograph of the Sonoma, California landscape.

In conjunction with Dagger Beach, Vanderslice released his own full cover version of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs. The idea for the cover album came in August 2012, when Vanderslice performed Diamond Dogs in full at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, followed by a screening of Michel Gondry's cult classic, The Science of Sleep. After intensive rehearsing for a single show with a limited audience, Vanderslice decided to channel his creative efforts with Bowie's original material into an entire cover version of the album. It was released in limited edition vinyl in June 2013.[24] Using the original album as backbone to experiment and improvise in the recording studio with collaborators, Vanderslice altered lyrics, song structures, chord progressions, and titles of many of the songs.[25]

With full control of the production and distribution of his self-released albums and a commitment to quality control, Vanderslice had both Dagger Beach and Diamond Dogs pressed in 200-gram vinyl by audiophile Quality Record Pressings plant. In response to widespread music file sharing and effort to control sound quality of distributed files, Vanderslice has made high-quality music files of many self-released songs freely available online.

Recording technique and collaborations[edit]

Vanderslice is a proponent of using analog instruments and recording equipment to produce a richer, more raw sound which he has sometimes called "sloppy hi-fi".[26] He has collaborated closely with Scott Solter in the production of his recent albums.

Vanderslice was a contributing producer on the Spoon album, Gimme Fiction, and also produced The Mountain Goats albums Heretic Pride, The Sunset Tree, and We Shall All Be Healed. In March and April 2009, John Vanderslice toured alongside The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle in the "Gone Primitive Tour". These shows featured Vanderslice and Darnielle each playing acoustic sets and then performing material together.[27]

Vanderslice's latest collaboration with American songwriter, musician, and singer Samantha Crain; whose third full-length recording Kid Face produced by Vanderslice, was released February 2013.

Vanderslice has often chosen bands to tour with him who have gone on to widespread recognition and critical respect, including Sufjan Stevens, Okkervil River, The Tallest Man On Earth and St. Vincent.

In 2014 he produced an album by New Zealand act Herriot Row.[28]

Influences and interests[edit]

He is influenced by film and is a fan of David Lynch, whose work is referenced in his song "Promising Actress". Vanderslice is a prolific amateur photographer, doing publicity photo shots for Thao Nguyen, The Mountain Goats, Will Sheff of Okkervil River, and Mirah. He has also had his work used in album artwork by Matt Nathanson, Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes, Mobius Band, and Vanderslice's own 2009 release, Romanian Names.



Remix albums[edit]

  • MGM Endings: Cellar Door Remixes (2004)
  • Suddenly It All Went Dark: Pixel Revolt Live to 2-Track (2006)
  • Scott Solter Remixes Pixel Revolt in Analog (2007)


Tour history[edit]

Time Travel is Lonely

Life and Death of an American Fourtracker

Cellar Door

Pixel Revolt

  • Japan Tour Summer 2005
  • "My Aim Is Only True When I'm Aiming At You" US Solo Tour, Summer 2005
  • John Vanderslice and Photographs "I've been living in a k-hole" US 2005 Fall Tour
  • European Tour 2005 with Nada Surf
  • European Tour Spring 2005 with Death Cab for Cutie
  • "Getting it on with the hangman's daughter" US Spring 2006 Tour (with Laura Viers supporting)
  • John Vanderslice and Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday European Tour Fall 2006
  • Summer 2007 Australia Tour "Get Lonely" (supporting The Mountain Goats)
  • John Vanderslice and Suburban Kids w/ Biblical Names Spring US Tour (with St. Vincent)

Emerald City

  • Emerald City Fall US Tour (with Bishop Allen supporting)
  • Fall 2007 European Tour
  • Spring 2008 European Tour
  • Spring 2008 US Tour (supporting Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks)

Moon Colony Bloodbath

Romanian Names

  • Summer 2009 US Tour (with Tallest Man On Earth and The Morning Benders supporting)
  • "Steady The Bow" Fall 2009 European Tour
  • Fall 2010 "Undercard" Tour (supporting Extra Lens)

White Wilderness

  • 2011 SXSW Tour
  • "White Wilderness" Spring US Tour (with Damien Jurado supporting)
  • "I Couldn't Wait To Fall Off The Map" Fall 2011 European Tour

Dagger Beach

  • "West Coast Living Room Tour" Spring 2013

Notable performances[edit]

  • On March 17, 2000, Vanderslice played his first solo show, opening up for Bob Mould, The Mountain Goats, and Thingy at Bimbo's, San Francisco, CA.
  • On August 27, 2003 Vanderslice joined Quruli and Dismemberment Plan on stage at Namba Hatch in Osaka, Japan.
  • On September 12, 2005 Vanderslice performed live on Soundcheck with cellist Erik Friedlander New York's NPR affiliate, WNYC.
  • On May 14, 2005 Vanderslice joined The Mountain Goats to perform songs from The Sunset Tree on NPR's Weekend Edition.
  • On March 6, 2006, Vanderslice joined Death Cab for Cutie onstage at the Melkveg in Amsterdam.
  • On December 31, 2006, Vanderslice performed with The Mountain Goats at the Falls Festival in Lorne, Victoria and Marion Bay, Tasmania.
  • On May 3, 2007, Vanderslice performed with St. Vincent at Randy Bacon's Gallery and Studio in Springfield, MO. For the last two songs of his show, he invited the crowd on stage to sing along. Then he told everyone he wanted to play in the middle of the street, so he walked off stage, through the crowd and out the front door. The entire crowd ended up outside, surrounding Vanderslice in a circle in the middle of a city street. He proceeded to finish his entire set, playing acoustic guitar, the drummer on a bass drum, and Annie Clark on backup vocals. The mass of bodies filled the entire city street, blocking traffic until the last note of "Nikki Oh Nikki."
  • On May 18, 2007, Vanderslice sang "Such Great Heights" at the Fillmore, San Francisco with Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis.
  • On July 29, 2007, Vanderslice performed "Live at the Fremont Drawbridge" where songs from Emerald City were accompanied by the Fremont Bridge bells in Seattle, WA.
  • On December 7, 2007, Vanderslice played with The Liars and Deerhunter at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain.
  • On September 1, 2008, Vanderslice performed the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, WA with Beck and The Black Keys.
  • On September 21, 2008, Vanderslice played at Treasure Island Music Festival with Spiritualized and Tegan and Sara.
  • On October 18, 2008, Vanderslice played the grand opening of 92YTribeca in New York, NY with Michael Showalter.
  • On January 30, 2009, Vanderslice played a sold-out show with Magik*Magik Orchestra at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Tiny Telephone.
  • On May 24, 2009, Vanderslice played the Sasquatch! Music Festival in Quincy, WA with Animal Collective, Bon Iver, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
  • On August 30, 2009, Vanderslice played at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco, CA with Modest Mouse, TV on the Radio, and Calexico.
  • On September 22–24, 2008, Vanderslice joined Spoon on guitar and vocals for their residency at San Francisco's Fillmore.
  • On June 17, 2011, Vanderslice performed with a 35-piece configuration of the Magik*Magik Orchestra at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre to celebrate the release of White Wilderness.
  • On July 16, 2011, Tiny Telephone and The Bay Bridged presented Phono Del Sol, a yearly San Francisco music festival featuring Aesop Rock, Mirah, and Man/Miracle.
  • On July 21, 2012, Tiny Telephone and The Bay Bridged presented Phono Del Sol festival featuring Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Gardens and Villa, and Fresh and Onlys.
  • On September 29, 2012, Vanderslice sang James Mercer's part on "Living A Lie" with Aimee Mann at the Fillmore in San Francisco.

See also[edit]

Wikinews-logo.svg News related to John Vanderslice plays New York City at Wikinews


  1. ^ Greenblatt, Leah (2005-08-26). "Spotlight on John Vanderslice | John Vanderslice | Music News | Music | Entertainment Weekly". Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  2. ^ Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate (2005-10-27). "Pop & Politics / SF's John Vanderslice gets political on his radiant new CD, Pixel Revolt". Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  3. ^ "John Vanderslice: 'Cellar Door'". NPR. 2004-03-11. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  4. ^ Little, Michael. "John Vanderslice - City Lights". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  5. ^ "John Vanderslice: Plugged In". Glide Magazine. 2006-06-05. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  6. ^ Fink, Matt. "John Vanderslice Biography". Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  7. ^ Gale, Ezra (23 January 2009). "Tiny Telephone, Big Decade". Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Athitakis, Mark (2000-02-09). "Riff Raff". San Francisco Weekly. Retrieved 2009-02-16.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "riffraff" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  9. ^ David Raposa (2005-08-25). "Pixel Revolt Music Review". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  10. ^ "Emerald City - John Vanderslice". Metacritic. Retrieved 2009-03-012.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ Simon Vozick-Levinson (2007-07-27). "Emerald City Music Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  12. ^ Jill Menze (2007-08-04). "Emerald City". Billboard Magazine. Retrieved 2009-03-12. [dead link]
  13. ^ Matt Fink (2007-07-24). "Emerald City Music Review". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  14. ^ Hilton, Robin. "Exclusive First Listen: John Vanderslice". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  15. ^ Schonfeld, Zach. "John Vanderslice: Romanian Names". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Tangari, Joe (5 May 2009). "John Vanderslice: Romanian Names". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  17. ^ "Green Grow The Rushes Download". 2010-09-14. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  18. ^ Brooklyn Vegan (24 January 2011). "John Vanderslice & the Magik*Magik Orchestra release 'White Wilderness' -- MP3 + an Amazon exclusive Atlas Sound cover". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  19. ^ Hilton, Robin (18 April 2011). "First Watch: John Vanderslice, Overcoat". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  20. ^ Garmon, Ron (2011-6-14 accessdate=11 June 2013). [Beckmann, Jim. "John Vanderslice on Seeking Discomfort, Tripping on Acid, and Making Pure Art"] Check |url= scheme (help).  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  21. ^ Tom Breihan (2010-11-23). "John Vanderslice Plans Orchestral New Album". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  22. ^ Hawking, Tom (27 February 2013). [Hawking, Tom. "John Vanderslice on Covering David Bowie and Why Kickstarter is "Just as Involved as Some Labels""] Check |url= scheme (help). Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  23. ^ "Discover Projects » Music » Most Funded". Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  24. ^ Connor, Matt (3 April 2013). "John Vanderslice Finds His Place as the Anti-Rockstar". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  25. ^ Hawking, Tom. "John Vanderslice on Covering Bowie and Why Kickstarter is "Just as Involved as Some Labels"". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  26. ^ Justin Cober-Lake (2005-10-14). "Make It Beautiful and Trash It: An Interview with John Vanderslice". PopMatters. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 
  27. ^ Anderman, Joan (2009-03-28). "John Darniell's Music Hurts So Good". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  28. ^ "Herriot Row Album Diary". Radio New Zealand National. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 

External links[edit]

Media related to John Vanderslice at Wikimedia Commons