Vanderwolf is an iconic character who worked closely with David Bowie, Massive Attack, Patti Smith, Jarvis Cocker, and Ornette Coleman during his years at the Meltdown Festival. He now produces awesome pieces that are currently in the making while releasing his singles. Vanderwolf’s debut album ’12 Little Killers’ will be released on July 28 (via Proper Music). I am really excited to listen more to the effort and work he went through after his latest release, “When the Fire Grows Cold,” with the immaculate atmosphere that it gives and how Vanderwolf feels and thinks about his future productions.
What do you miss most during your music career in the UK?
There’s a lot I miss and a lot I do not miss. But the glamour and glory of a successful gig was always enticing. Even in its most frustrating or difficult moments (and there are many), the promise of the next amazing gig or festival was always enough to press ahead. The camaraderie of the staff and crew, the appreciation from the musicians, the non-stop bustle of it all which occupies every corner of one’s life — it’s all gratifying to the ego and absolutely blinding. Stepping out of it was easier than I thought but life now is more solitary, ego-less. I like, ”having time”. I like stepping out of the superficiality and rigours of the work. The self-imposed constructs that come with having that kind of job are actually more restricting than I had realised. I think of all I left behind trapped on ”PLANET BUSY”– it’s an endless hamster-wheel and I dont envy them.
Tell us how you created your first single “When the Fire Grows Cold” – what was your favourite or most memorable part while recording this piece with Robert Wyatt?
We drove up to Chapel Studio Lincolnshire to record Robert since that’s his patch of England. He was focused and professional in a way I hadn’t yet seen. Although I worked with him to produce his Meltdown Festival, clearly the studio was his domain. I was struck by his confidence. For me there’s something humbling — almost embarrassing – -about giving this great man my words to sing. But he liked them — they were written for him to sing — and he could hear it. It was a lovely afternoon and then we were heading back to London with a sense of promise.
How did the pandemic affect your mentality and your music?
Like many others– taking a break from the flurry of activity was much-needed and eye-opening. I’d been on repeat for a long time. Nothing was new and I didn’t have time to explore alternatives. As soon as things stopped and the music industry shut down, making music completely filled my days and nights. Writing and recording demos. Re-mixing and mastering past recordings, strategizing and setting up for releasing some music — its all incredibly time-consuming and now finally I had the time to do it. But it was a reawakening of another kind– I found a kind of spirituality in it…and a kind of discipline I had not experienced before.
Describe your creative process when you produce a new piece.
It varies. It’s wonderful when a bolt of lightning hits you in the form of a song — but that’s rare.
Another process comes from a kind of ”automatic writing” in which a random interaction with a musical instrument produces a sound or a chord progression that invokes a melody– or an idea– that makes one say, ”What the hell was that?” and then from this irrational unconscious place you start to consciously work out what it is you’ve done and why it works to your ear.
And finally there are other times you sit down and consciously write a song. Its work…but its good work.
All of these methods can be effective — and all come with their challenges.
How did you dream up the video for “When the fire grows cold”?
The context of the music indicated something that reminded me of European animated video — especially the Russian and Yugoslavian animators of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I also wanted to pursue the contrast of something so innocent and gentle as a lullabye with something as dark as the subject matter of the song. In the end, Alden Volney, the brilliant director suggested we riff on the incredible Rankin-Bass Christmas animations that were so popular for us when we were kids. It has an immediate impact for anyone who has seen ”Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or ”Frosty the Snowman” tv shows that are re-aired each year. The bearded gentleman in the wheelchair is like the snowman character who was played by Burl Ives in “Rudolph” — interesting, as Ives was blacklisted as a communist in the US in the 1950’s. Those kinds of historical resonances turn me on.
What do you like most about being a musician? Tell us about the best times you’ve experienced during your career.
Well it’s kind of the extremes of solitude — writing, practicing etc…and then the other extreme is camaraderie and collaboration. I’ve been very lucky to work with such talented people and in some cases supportive people who trusted my talent enough to make the kind of sacrifices that are required in the process of making a band or producing an album.
Whom do you admire the most and with whom would you most like to collaborate? What are the qualities you admire about them?
I’d like to collaborate with Mahatma Ghandi. How he was able to face down imperialism and racism through the legal system and non-violent means is just astounding. No one has the patience for his kind of ”soul-force.” Not that many people know he was a really swinging bass player In fact he was a big influence on Ron Carter and Charlie Haden. I imagine we’d call the album, SATYAGRAHA.
What are your next steps from now on with producing your own albums and releases?
Gotta keep ’em coming — I’m like a short-order cook in a greasy American diner flipping burgers, whipping up batches of pancakes, serving big slices of pie and a side of coffee. As long as there are ears that are hungry I will feed them songs. I’ve got a single due in November called, ”3/5th is the Fire” and early next year an album of 9 new songs recorded in LA and NYC.
I can’t wait to listen to your next album, “12 little killers,” Please tell us more about it and how it will be different from any of your previous albums.
12 Little Killers is a collection of 12 songs intending to document the human condition.
On Side A each song — or each killer — depicts a woeful tale of torment and degradation.
Side B we begin to move into issues of transcendence and spiritual yearning from the perspective of a terrier who seeks the inner light.
It’s a journey and like our favorite albums it’s meant to be heard in sequence and in its entirety.
I realize that’s no longer the way people listen to music — which is a great shame — but the competition for the attention of humans is fierce.
I can’t compete with the inane shit most people waste their time on. That’s ok– there is an audience somewhere in the outer galaxies that prefer its music to be carefully considered.