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TBTS Interviews Mark Charles Heidinger of Vandaveer

September 1, 2009

Vandaveer is the latest project of Mark Charles Heidinger, a central Kentucky native and current resident of Washington, D.C. Throughout this still-young century, Mark has honed his musical craft—as singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter of The Apparitions, as an occasional member of These United States, and now as Vandaveer.

The lovely Divide & Conquer is the second Vandaveer record but the first to feature the powerful vocal tandem of Heidinger and his kindred spirit Rose Guerin. Their conjoined voices and the spare, elegant chamber pop backdrops are like the comforting words of the friend who knows you best. You don’t just listen to these songs—you get to know them.

Mark was kind enough to spend some time answering some questions (both serious and silly) about Divide & Conquer, his approach to songwriting, and his ever-growing audiences in both America and Europe.

Q: I’ve heard a lot of your music over the years, and I think Divide & Conquer is the best thing you’ve ever done. How do you feel about the process and the end product this time? For you, what turned out different and/or better?

Well, first, thank you for the kind words. I think this is the first record I’ve worked on where I gave myself an open-ended time frame. Usually, these projects are deadline or budget driven, but with D&C I wanted to give each song all the breathing room I could so each idea would be more fully realized. I’ve been piecing together a small studio of my own to help make this particular method of recording more feasible. I tracked roughly half of this album at home, then took the tracks back to Duane Lundy in Lexington to complete the project. On a personal level, it’s the most rewarding album I’ve worked on, and I’m excited about sharing it with folks near and far. And then, of course, I’m anxious to get things moving on the next record, too… Sitting still never suited me much, I guess.

Q: It’s impossible to imagine these songs without Rose. It seems that she’s now a central part of the Vandaveer ensemble instead of an accessory. How does her presence influence your songwriting in terms of melodies and phrasing?

Rose is a gem. She has an uncanny ability to find her place in a song without a lot of effort. We honestly don’t spend much time debating when and where she should sing.

Q: So her parts are sort of improvised at the beginning?

I generally come to her with a song more or less written, scribble the words down for her, and off we go. A couple passes through and we’re basically there. She certainly is a key cog in the wheel and I don’t think it would turn all that well without her at this point. With respect to the melody or phrasing, I think those elements are dictated by each respective song. Rose is just such a pro she can quickly find her place once I give her something tangible to work with.

Q: Divide & Conquer has a more fleshed-out, full-band sound than the first Vandaveer record, Grace & Speed. Are you shifting solidly in that direction in your thinking about the future of Vandaveer’s recording and performing?

I definitely wanted this record to sound more… something. Maybe more dimensional? I’ve always wanted to record more piano, so this time around we did just that. I’ve got ideas for record #3 that will be different from D&C, but I don’t have any master blueprint about where things will go sonically five years down the road.

Q: Any plans for returning to louder, more plugged-in rock, similar to what you did in The Apparitions? Will there ever be a raucous Vandaveer noise record—or maybe a concept album with orchestral arrangements and a children’s choir?

When I started this project it was more or less a reaction to The Apparitions’ way of doing business. That was (and perhaps will be again at some point) a democratic, long-distance, rock & roll relationship that presented all sorts of interesting obstacles. Our last record took well over a year to complete. The first Vandaveer recordings were originally just an exercise in economy, an antidote, almost. I wanted to do something quick, something stripped down, something altogether different. Once I finished tracking the tunes that would end up being Grace & Speed I realized I might want to pursue more with the project, so I gave it a name. I like letting things breathe, and I like keeping doors open. So, yes, I might make a noisy record someday, or something with kids on it, maybe orchestral arrangements, too… Maybe all of those things at once. I just want to be sure I’m engaged and happy with whatever direction is pursued.

Q: First Grace & Speed, now Divide & Conquer. Do you have an ampersand fetish? For your third record, may I suggest Chicken & Waffles?

You may suggest Chicken & Waffles. You may suggest anything you like, in fact! But I will most likely politely decline. I may or may not have an ampersand fetish, and I may or may not have a title in mind for record #3, but those are not unlike state secrets—not fit for sharing, see?

Q: I often read that British and continental European audiences know a lot more about quintessentially American musical forms—folk, country, jazz, blues—than Americans do. Has it been your experience that they have better frames of reference for what you’re doing musically?

I can’t say whether or not our European audiences have a better understanding of Americana, but they certainly have a reverence and curiosity for it that we don’t notice as much here. I think a lot of that has to do with ingrained familiarity. In a sense, we all live Americana. Europeans experience it. So when Rose and I take our particular slice of American pie over to France or Belgium or the UK, perhaps it has a bit of an exotic quality to them. Generally speaking, our European audiences do seem more inquisitive—I don’t know how else to describe it. Another factor is the sheer volume of choices we have here in the states. You want Americana in Anytown, USA? You have near limitless options. You want Americana in Rouen, France? You might only get a few opportunities a month.

Q: You’ve got a song on the new record called “Beverly Cleary’s 115th Dream.” Do your European audiences have any idea who Beverly Cleary is? Are they down with Ramona, Beezus, and Henry Huggins?

I’m guessing very few Euro-folks know Mrs. Cleary the way we do back home. Everybody knows Ramona here. Not so much the case in the Old World… In France I’ve been asked if Ramona is my girlfriend or wife. To which I respond, “Of course Ramona is my girlfriend AND my wife. She is also neither of those things.” To which they respond, “What the hell are you talking about?” To which I respond, “Let’s drink more wine!”

A fitting place to wrap up. TBTS encourages you to grab a bottle of your favorite wine (I recommend a vintage Mad Dog 20/20), buy a copy of Divide & Conquer at your local independent music store, and settle in for an eminently pleasant listen.

[You can hear tracks from the first Vandaveer record, Grace & Speed, on the TBTS music page at Last.fm.]

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5 Comments
  1. A Fool permalink
    September 1, 2009 8:24 pm

    Definitely gonna check out the CD release party on the 9th @ The Green Lantern.

  2. T. Stump permalink
    March 8, 2010 1:16 pm

    When will this damn Congressman’s grandson make his way to the North Star State?

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