Golden boy

S.F. songwriter/ producer/photographer/ recording-studio guru John Vanderslice to play Chico State

SLEEP IS FOR JERKS <br>Although he admits he has trouble sleeping, any extra rest might just keep John Vanderslice from doing half the cool stuff he gets to do.

Although he admits he has trouble sleeping, any extra rest might just keep John Vanderslice from doing half the cool stuff he gets to do.

Photo By Peter Ellenby

KCSC Presents:
John Vanderslice, with Pedro the Lion, Ester Drang and Bear Hunter.
BMU Auditorium
Sun., Feb. 29, 7 p.m.

John Vanderslice is a busy guy. Not the “all work and no play” type of busy guy, but rather a guy busy shaping his hobbies of recording, performing and producing music into a way of life that removes the wall between work and play altogether.

Since January of last year he has (inhale deeply) recorded and released his third solo album, Cellar Door on Barsuk Records; toured the United States non-stop with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Jets to Brazil and Beulah; made a couple of memorable trips to Japan—one to tour with Dismemberment Plan and Quruli and one for a press tour in anticipation of the Japanese release of his album on Bad News Records; produced the Mountain Goats’ highly acclaimed We Shall All Be Healed; and even lent his skills to the amazing Spoon’s latest recording sessions. Oh, he’s also run his immensely popular Tiny Telephone recording studio in S.F. and taken a ton of cool pictures along the way.

Vanderslice takes volumes of photographs of everything he does and composes striking slide-show documents of his journeys on his Web site (, and he will undoubtedly be adding another update to the collection, as he is fresh off his latest jaunt to the land of the rising sun. In a recent telephone interview, the amiable Vanderslice was as energetic as ever and eager to talk about his recent travels.

“This trip was weirder than the last,” he shares, “I was there doing press and wasn’t with my band mates. … I just started to explore a lot.”

Even though there were no monogrammed bathrobes handed out (like last time), the Japanese version of artist management still proved surreal for an American boy used to the no-frills world of indie rock. “You’d go into Tower Records, and there’d be huge cardboard cutouts [of me]!”

Cellar Door is the album he’s so busy promoting, and with it Vanderslice has once again produced (logging a mind-boggling 420 hours of studio time) a thickly constructed collection of lush and somewhat quirky pop songs. Since his time as the front man of S.F.’s MK Ultra, he’s enjoyed experimenting in the studio and tweaking his pop sound—and while critics continue to track his studio explorations, it’s a more personal approach to lyrics that might mark this album as a point of growth.

On the supremely catchy and very moving “They Won’t Let Me Run,” for example, the issue of family is tackled on two levels: “one day I fell in love/ and of course we fucked around/ the morning she threw up/ my options were all laid out.” The narrator tries to flee, only to be dragged home and set straight by his own family, who make the equal parts daunting and comforting promise, “we’ll never let you run.”

This turn in lyrical focus may be the result of his ongoing friendship and musical relationship with prolific lyricist John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Vanderslice was thrilled just to get the call to help with production of Darnielle’s latest, and the added bonus was that, as Vanderslice puts it, “He [Darnielle] was ready to make an outrageously great record.”

“He’s the shit, dude,” Vanderslice enthuses, going so far as to declare that, along with Brian Eno and Radiohead, Darnielle is his “No. 1 hero!”

As the interview winds down, I ask Vanderslice about the now infamous hoax he pulled back in ’99, where he faked a cease-and-desist letter addressed to him from Microsoft in response to his song, “Bill Gates Must Die,” off his Mass Suicide Occult Figurines album. Several media outlets actually ran with the story (Wired and Spin both called for interviews), producing quite a bit of free publicity for the happy trickster.

Vanderslice confesses to enjoying the fact that the story “really has legs, as they say,” and it’s obvious that this work pleases him.

“It never wears out its welcome—I have such fond memories."