John Vanderslice just might be one of the less-appreciated natural resources in the city’s indie scene. The man is whip-smart, writes a mean pop song, crafts a complex lyric, and runs the gritty-fabulous Tiny Telephone, the all-analog decade-old recording studio at the bubbling borderlands of Potrero Hill, the Mission, and the 101-280 interchange (a neighbor for years with the internationally renowned, blow-‘em-up-real-good DIY-robotics crew of Survival Research Laboratories). In between Vanderslice’s duties hosting such indie rock names as Death Cab for Cutie, Okkervil River, Jolie Holland, the Mountain Goats and Spoon (he’s also produced the latter two) at the cozy Tiny Telephone, Vanderslice has spearheaded a digi-mini-uprising of sorts with tunes like 2000’s “Bill Gates Must Die” and his passionate espousal of analog recording technology. Somehow he’s also found the time to make seven studio albums including his latest, synth-centric full-length, Romanian Names (Dead Oceans). Vanderslice celebrates its release tonight, May 19, at the Rickshaw Stop.
Q: Describe the genesis of Romanian Names.
John Vanderslice: I took nine months off, stopped touring and stayed home at my place in Mount Davidson and wrote songs behind the fog bank.
Q: Is the title an anagram or…?
JV: Well, I have to admit it's the internal rhyme that got me. The title track is about an affair between a Romanian gymnast and a West German swimmer in the 1964 Olympic games.
Q: The new album seems to have more of a keyboard orientation.
JV: Multi-tracked keyboards sound so good to me, especially when you're adding a lot of string and wind instruments later. Guitars are wonderful but they eat up so much dynamic space.
Guitars invite more guitars - keyboards are an open book.
Q: Is there a conflict between your longtime championing of analog production at Tiny Telephone and the increasingly "synthetic" sound of the album? Did something change for you?
JV: Oh, yeah, there are always conflicts. Romanian Names was made without computers, but Scott Solter (my engineer-producer) and I are very interested in music that is heavily indebted to nonlinear recording: the Books, Radiohead, Fennesz. So, in an odd turn, we end up treating instruments as if they have been deconstructed and tweaked on a hard drive.
Q: Tiny telephone recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. What are your hopes for the studio, and how is it doing amid the continuing music industry doldrums?
JV: Well, I hope we keep our lease, most of all. The studio business will be fine after a little more price correction. Studios need to be a place that bands feel comfortable doing business with. Making records is a very vulnerable process.
Q: What are your plans for the upcoming live shows - any surprises?
JV: We play as a fivepiece now, with two guitars and a Wurlitzer playing a lot of counterpoint and melodic development over drums and bass. We'll have that lineup at Rickshaw and later in the summer at Outside Lands. With any luck, there will be another show with the Magik*Magik Orchestra [Tiny Telephone’s house ensemble] before the end of the year.
John Vanderslice performs with the Morning Benders
5/19, 7:30 p.m., $16
Rickshaw Stop (Hayes Valley)
155 Fell St.
Also 8/30, check sfoutsidelands.com for times and prices
Golden Gate Park