Vandaveer : DC-by-way-of-Kentucky tunesmith Mark Charles Heidinger

Vandaveer is the alt-folk song-singing/record making/globetrotting project penned and put forth by DC-by-way-of-Kentucky tunesmith Mark Charles Heidinger. Vandaveer’s debut album, Grace & Speed, a mostly live, stripped down affair, swiftly entered this great big dusty world in the spring of 2007.

Touring continually on both sides of the Atlantic ever since, Vandaveer has played 250+ shows, sharing stages with a host of artists including Bon Iver, Vetiver, Alela Diane, Alejandro Escovedo, Vashti Bunyan, Bill Callahan and Fleet Foxes.  Vandaveer’s sophomore effort, Divide & Conquer, touches upon similar themes found in its elder sibling, winding timeworn themes of love & death, malice & goodwill, sin & perseverance into (mostly) four-minute vignettes. To see D&C through, Vandaveer enlisted the able assistance of longtime collaborator and producer Duane Lundy, brothers-in-arms/These United States bandmates Robby Cosenza and Justin Craig, and most notably, Rose Guerin, supplying the loveliest harmonies this side of Eden. A decidedly more produced venture, D&C offers up a flourishing chamber folk companion to its bedroomy lo-fi folk/pop predecessor.  Glide recently had the privilege of tossing a few questions Heidinger’s way.

Currently you are touring in Europe with a large number of France dates on tap.  Does Europe hold a certain sweet spot for you or do you feel as if your music translates better overseas?

Europe is a lovely continent, isn’t it? Full of old countries and new countries and cobblestones and fast trains… Hard to find things not to like over there, really. So, yes, I’d say all that constitutes a certain sweetness. As for the translation of music to European audiences, I can’t really say. We’ve had great tours here in the states and across Europe. The French seem to have taken a particular interest in what Vandaveer does, but I think that’s the case for a lot of American, folk-oriented music right now. France is quite keen for that particular flavor of song these days…

How has the reception been overseas so far with Divide & Conquer having been released there since April?

The reception in Europe has been very kind. There are always more expectations—both personal and public—with a second record, and the response has been quite positive on the whole, and for that we are grateful.

Your debut from 2007 Grace & Speed was stripped down, do you feel as if Divide & Conquer is more representative of what Vandaveer set out to sound like from the offset?

I’m not sure Divide & Conquer defines that sound and more or less than Grace & Speed, but it certainly defined that bunch of songs. We’re starting record #3 in a few weeks and I can’t really say what it will sound like until we’re actually finished making it. I think the key is to keep things interesting on a personal level, and hope that what comes out translates when you eventually share the record others.

What was the creative theme or energy behind Divide & Conquer?  Were most of the songs written on the road or did they come together through a specific writing/recording session. 

I think the most consistent theme that ran through the process of D&C was patience. I wanted to give that batch of songs as much time as necessary to become comfortable pieces, so we did our best to apply a patient energy to the process. No timetables or deadlines, really. Just an open-ended process where ideas dictated the direction and duration of the project.

The terms “Nick Drake/Tom Waits/Bob Dylan” have been used numerous times to describe Vandaveer’s sound.  How do you most like to describe your own sound?   What is the greatest misconception listeners have about Vandaveer?

I think we play folk music, more or less. I mean, most music is folk music if you strip it down far enough. Chamber folk might be a good way of describing D&C. I’m sure that description will change with the next record, or at least I hope it does… I don’t know if there are many misconceptions about Vandaveer at this point. I’m not sure how many conceptions there are to begin with, so identifying those that are off-base might be a bit tricky…

Having shared the stage with the likes of Bon Iver, Vetiver, Alejandro Escovedo, Vashti Bunyan, Bill Callahan, Fleet Foxes – what do you gather about the new modern folk movement and how do you see it remaining creatively healthy and relevant? 

I suppose it’s a healthy movement, but I’m not sure it’s a conscious one. I think there are loads of people making really high quality music that will remain relevant for a long while, and though I don’t think this all happens in a vacuum, I’m not sure how connected the process is. Movements seem to make more sense when reflected upon ten years later, but there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of creative minds making good quality music these days.

What artists that you have shared the stage with, have you gained the most from?

Besides my close friends, whom I’ve shared the most stages with, I’d probably have to say Alejandro. He was so genuinely kind
the first night I met him, and at each subsequent show we’ve played together that kindness and generosity has been consistently present. That’s impressive for someone who’s been at it since the ‘70s. Certain spirits endure, I suppose.

Has the acoustic guitar ever provided you any limitations in terms of storytelling or songwriting and what themes or occurrences provide you the most inspiration to pen new songs?

A good friend of mine says that each of us is really only limited by our own imagination. Certainly, you can be technically limited with a guitar—as I surely am—but the bigger obstacle is usually how you manage your imagination. Sometimes you let it run freely, and other times you stifle it. And lots of other times you find yourself somewhere in between. I think human beings are really good at observing, imitating, dreaming, positing, etc… Those are fairly consistent qualities that nearly every person shares. I thing songwriting draws from each of those activities, and sometimes you end up with something worth sharing. Other times you don’t. I guess it’s all about balance on some level.

If you were to incorporate a bigger band project (ala Bright Eyes) what would your ideal band incorporate in terms of instruments and sound?

Oh, I could get carried away fast and furious-like if I were given no parameters, but I’d be happy to have double bass, piano, maybe a horn or two, someone far better than myself playing guitar… That’d be a nice place to start I think. Firstly, I’d want to be sure we were all friends. The instrumentation would be secondary at that point. Friends are likely to make better music with less than enemies or strangers with more…

Do you feel as if Vandaveer has its breakthrough moment yet?

I have absolutely no idea, and I think I’d rather continue having not a clue. Ignorance is bliss, right? Then I am truly in a blissful place at the moment.

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