5Q :: Art Vandalay treats Northland to free showHe’s back: Brandon Henry is making the drive up from the Cities April 16 to play a free Art Vandalay show in Canal Park. PLUS: A “reprint” of Perrine’s review of Art Vandalay’s debut album, “Dancin’ with Your Demons.”
It’s about time, Brandon Henry. Though it’s been just over a year since his group, Art Vandalay, played a CD release show for “Dancin’ with Your Demons” at Beaner’s, it feels like an eternity since we were able to bask in his glory.
In celebration of his return to the Northland — April 16 at Amazing Grace (details after the Q-and-A) — we thought we’d bother the Minneapolis Americana master for a spell:
What kind of reactions did you get to your first album, “Dancin’ with Your Demons”? I think it was pretty clear how enamored with it I was.... (See below.)
Henry: Overall the response was very positive. Drawing comparisons to Neil Young (in the Budgeteer) and the Byrds as well as the Lovin’ Spoonful (Twin Cities Daily Planet) — can’t ask for more than that. I was really happy with they way people responded to the songs. Makes you feel like what you’re doing matters.
What have you been up to since that came out? Do you have a new album ready?
I’ve been playing out a bunch, usually once or twice a month. Each time is in a different configuration: sometimes solo, sometimes guitar and keys and sometimes drums and keys. When it’s the three of us, that’s when I think the songs are strongest, but with each configuration you get different sounds from the songs.
I’ve also been working on refining the songs from “Dancin’” … as well as working up the tunes that didn’t make it on the record and trying to write more. I think I’ve got a batch of songs that I’m really happy with and am ready to record again. It’s just a matter of setting aside the time and doing it. I’d like to record over the summer and have a full-length ready to go for the fall.
For those of us unfamiliar with your buddy Ben Cook-Feltz, what can you tell us about his sound? He’s going to be playing a set at Amazing Grace as well, correct?
Ben is an amazing keyboard player and songwriter who can pretty much play any song and style you throw at him, and his repertoire seems endless. I’ve seen him play full-on rock shows with his band as well as more-laidback acoustic gigs, like this one (in Duluth). He’s also has a band called the Percussion Armada, which consists of various hand drums and one guitarist. It’s really an amazing group that’s a lot of fun to watch.
But as a piano/keyboardist, his sound is kind of a mix of pop and rock. Think a happy marriage between Paul Simon and Ween. It’s a lot of fun playing with him, and it’s great to work with someone who’s not only a fantastic musician but a good guy. I feel really lucky.
Is it true you first picked up a guitar after watching Green Day’s video for “When I Come Around”? Did you ever attempt anything resembling pop-punk before Art Vandalay, or have you always fancied the Americana sound?
That is absolutely true! I saw the live video of “When I Come Around” from Woodstock 1994 on The Box — the mid-’90s MTV for people who didn’t have cable — and it just looked like so much fun to be up on stage strumming away.
I’ve never tried hard to write music within that genre, though it’s a lot of fun to play. I think, overall, it’s hard for me to write in that style, because my music taste and influences have changed so much since then that my writing reflects more of what I’m into now, which is mostly singer/songwriters and Americana rock. That being said, it’s also nice to try and get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to write in completely different styles and see what happens. So maybe there’s a Green Day/Foo Fighters-esque song or two built up in me. Who knows!
Finally, what’s next for you? Are you working with any other groups, or are there any big concerts on the horizon?
I’m in a group called Gumption Trap. It’s a three-piece folk/jam band that plays kind of a mix of Grateful Dead and John Prine. It’s mostly originals, but we also plenty of covers and revved-up traditionals. It’s a lot of fun to play with them because I do lead guitar in that band and get to shred away on the guitar in a way I don’t get to with Art Vandalay. It exercises a different part of my musical brain. We’re recording this spring and playing a bunch this summer around the Twin Cities.
I’ve also wanted to record an album of kind of chill/lounge/electronic songs under the guise of the Hot Tub Coalition. The name comes from when I would lifeguard at the nearby YWCA and there was always a group of guys that would just sit in the hot tub and hang out. It was usually the same group and I eventually gave them the name “The Hot Tub Coalition.” Of course, then I started thinking that’d be a great name for a band. Some day I’ll try and make music that would be playing in the background at a meeting of “The Hot Tub Coalition.”
Art Vandalay will play a free show at 8 p.m. April 16 at Amazing Grace Bakery & Café in Canal Park. Ben Cook-Feltz is also on the bill. Check out www.myspace.com/artvandalaytunes for song samples.
Art Vandalay: Irresistible Americana still exists
Note: This CD review, also written by Perrine, originally appeared in the Budgeteer March 29, 2009.
Neil Young once suggested that folk-rock dream team Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was a well-oiled machine, while Crazy Horse, his legendary backing band, was a rusty truck you couldn’t quite keep on the road.
Well, I’ll do him one better: Minneapolis’ Art Vandalay is a little bit of both. As in, their album “Dancin’ with Your Demons” is well-oiled music to listen to in your rusty truck.
But that’s not the only reason I bring “Mr. Soul” up: His fans, new and old, will find much to love here, as singer/songwriter Brandon Henry and his comrades in Art Vandalay create music that can only be described as timeless.
Not to be outdone, they also bridge the gap between dusty roads and hipster pads — an enormous undertaking if I ever did hear one.
Take this mini-LP’s opening track “I Been Down,” for example. The guitar work could easily be confused for some lost noodlings from Young’s Buffalo Springfield days, but, once Henry’s pleasant lyrics and Calvin Plocher’s refrained drumming saturate the scene, you’re immediately pushed forward a quarter-century. It all just comes together in such a pleasant way that you’ll no doubt rethink your “Save for the pure farm-boy charm of Six Mile Grove, Americana is so played out” Twitter update.
A good reference point is the brilliant AIDS-awareness compilation “No Alternative,” which was released in the fall of ’93 — more specifically, I’m referring to its contributions from Urge Overkill and American Music Club.
“Take a Walk” and “All Your Jeans Were Too Tight” best exemplify that period of music for me. Songs from that era were obviously steeped in the sounds of Young’s golden years, but never so much that it became obnoxiously redundant.
Then again, you might not hear that at all. You could listen to “If You Love Me” (the album’s best entry point) and just hear Henry’s expansive, humming-down-the-highway approach to songwriting for what it is: impossibly catchy.
Art Vandalay isn’t pop music per se, but the group definitely deserves its very own horde of uncontrollably emotional fans. If anyone starts a sign-up sheet looking for people to storm their performance at Beaner’s, my name will be right up there in the No. 1 spot.
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