Where Is My Mind?: On the Water's Fletcher VanVliet
- by Q.D. Tran
On the Water
surprised us in 2011 with one of the most impressive local releases of that year with their debut EP Anchor
. Born from the mind of Da Comrade!
’s Fletcher VanVliet, this solo folk project has expanded to as much as a nine-piece plus special guests for the recording of the band’s first LP False Starts
. VanVliet has been on the road performing as a trio for all of March and the beginning of April in support his new release. He’s currently making a pit stop home for a little recovery time and to celebrate his latest accomplishment with friends, fans and the rest of his band members tomorrow night at The Beaumont Warehouse before taking on the second leg of his tour. We caught up with VanVliet yesterday to find out more about the recording of False Starts
, how tour has been going so far, and much more below.
The Deli: A lot of your recordings sound like all of you are performing the songs together in the studio. Was there much overdubbing or vocals and instruments being recorded in separate sessions on this album?
: The full band songs were recorded live with a nine-piece band playing with some mostly minor overdubbing added later. “Dog Eat Dog” and “Child” were originally recorded as duets with Jesse Sparhawk
. “Dog Eat Dog” was a piece I had played with Micah from Da Comrade! for years, so he was always in my mind for the track. I reached out to the collective members for their ideas, and also roped in Maxwell from Wood Spider to lend a few extra touches of Singing Saw.
TD: Why did you name the album False Starts?
FV: There was a point where we were going to scrap all or most of the live band sessions and start again. We might have come up with an even better record. Who knows? But I think it was for the best to just accept our flaws and just keep moving forward. I’m glad that we did. I think we got something really special. A big deciding factor was that Liana had already left the group, and we would have lost that element. She really played some fantastic parts.
TD: You are the lead songwriter. Do you come to the band with a good idea of what instruments you’d like to hear in a song, or do you tend to just jam on basic ideas sorting things out with more input from the rest of the band?
FV: Everyone in the group usually has something wonderful to contribute. I don’t believe in limiting anyone. I don’t have any expectations. We’ve evolved to the point where I bring an almost complete work to the table, and people start writing their parts, and it begins to shape the final contours as I finish the writing process.
TD: You are also in an avant-garde band, Da Comrade! What inspired you to start doing folk music under the moniker On the Water?
: Da Comrade! was such a huge part of my life. As it stands, we’ve been on a hiatus for about a year, although we did very gently release our album Chariot
a couple months back. It’s available for free at dacomrade.bandcamp.com
. On The Water had been my solo moniker (in my head) for a couple of years, and it slowly and casually evolved into a group. Myself and friends used to run a collective house called Chernobyl. We got our start as one of the house bands opening up for our touring friends. It was fun to do. There was no stress about recording or touring - just us having fun at home.
TD: Was there a defining moment when you realized that you wanted to move forward with this being your main project?
: There was no conscious effort on my part to move away from Da Comrade! We got to do some sweet stuff like play with Dr. Dog
for a couple days on the road and perform with Monotonix for their final U.S. show, but I think we were all pretty frustrated by the end. We had spent so much time, energy and money on the project, but after five years, we were still treading the same ground, and I think that in part broke our spirits. At the same time, On The Water had recorded its first EP, and the reaction to that was extraordinary, so the path we’re on now just opened up naturally.
TD: Who are some folk artists that you admire, and why?
: America has a fantastic underground music scene with a gigantic scope of genre, but there are some particularly great bands playing experimental folk. Wood Spider is simply fantastic. Spirits of the Red City from Minneapolis are one of the best bands I have ever seen live, and were a huge inspiration when forming On The Water. Their members live across the entire country, but they come together every year to tour and make music together, and it’s marvelous. Philadelphia’s own Bad Braids
are definitely something else. Megan is such a stellar songwriter. I believe their new album is about to drop which I’m very excited to hear.
TD: You just went on an extensive tour. How many band members did you take with you? How did it go? Were there any cities that were surprisingly supportive of your music?
FV: We were traveling as a three-piece, which seems so small when compared with what you get here at home, but I’d like to think we brought a great show. Taylor and I toured last year as well, and it was great to hook up with our friends in the south. Our return to Fayetteville, AR was particularly glorious. Some friends there run a DIY venue called The Pleasure Chest, which attracts a phenomenal crowd of folks. I’d say they can almost match West Philly for team spirit. Tour is not quite over with. We head out for the second leg of tour on the 24th. We’re home now for the release show and to spend a few weeks recovering.
TD: What did you learn from this tour that you could share as a protip to young acts getting ready to start hitting the road?
FV: This was the first tour I’ve done with any band that we stayed in hotels for a few nights. We book DIY tours and play a lot of house parties/DIY spaces, so a lot of times you end up sleeping on couches or floors, showering in dirty fucking showers. It is a GODSEND to have a clean shower and clean bed for the night. If morale is low and you can afford it, pamper yourselves.
TD: You’ve been involved with the Philly indie music community for a good amount of time now. How has it changed for the better and the worse since you’ve been part of it?
FV: It’s always in a state of change, but I definitely wouldn’t say for better or worse. It’s always a shame to see a band you love call it quits. But what can you do? The important thing I see is a pervasive desire to create new and challenging dynamics, to defy expectations within genre. That was so inspiring to me when I moved to the city eight years ago, and that hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s gotten better with time.
TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?
FV: A chargrilled pork hoagie from FU WAH in West Philly. So goooood.