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INTERVIEW: St. Van Cortlandt & the 101

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great! Really busy! We’re releasing a lot of new content this week and in the next few months, so we’re just trying to stay ahead of it all at this point! But we’re really proud of our new EP, The Lion Tree and we’re excited and relieved it’s finally going to see the light of day.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Like the Arrow Miss the Stone”?

It’s the lead track off The Lion Tree. It introduces the broader themes of the EP, both lyrically and musically. The title of the song itself is a metaphor for the sense of loss in your life as an adult, once you, the arrowhead, have been shaped from the larger stone, your family, and shot out into the world. The weird grammar of the title is meant to suggest the childlike perspective one tends to slip back into when remembering how things were within the protection of the family unit. Sonically, the song sets up the dark boisterous feel of the record with an almost spaghetti-western style intro that leads into a kinetic electro-rock anthem.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

The song came together after the concept for the entire EP was decided on. After our first record, I had all these snippets of musical ideas that all fit vaguely into the Ab minor key. Rather than coming up with each song individually like I normally would, I though it might be fun to try to create a short sequence of songs that all fit together as one cohesive piece of music with a unifying theme. Since these songs all shared the same musical DNA, so to speak, and one of the songs was already written about my mother, I thought it would be appropriate to write each song as a portrait of each individual member of my family. “Like the Arrow Miss the Stone” I wrote about my brother, because the music dictated that this would be a more youthful, energetic song, and that seemed right for him, since we were mischevious partners in crime as kids. Also he seemed like the right person to introduce the record because he introduced me to so much great music growing up.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

That’s actually the next project we have to tackle. We have a lot of cool ideas that we’re sifting through and we’ve got a director we’re in talks with, but scheduling and budgets are really big obstacles for us right now. If all goes well we’re hoping to release it the same time as the EP, though it might come out right after. We’ll see.

Speaking of new music, what’s the story behind the title for The Lion Tree?

When it comes to titles I like poetic word-associations that don’t always mean anything literally. I guess the easiest explanation is I’m a Leo, and I’m the fruit of my family tree, so … The Lion Tree.

How was the recording and writing process?

This was a long one. It usually is because we like to sneak as many little details and nuances into our records as we can, so that you can go back and hear new things each time you listen. But with The Lion Tree it was even trickier because there were more people involved, more moving parts, more live tracking than on the first record. For instance I wrote and programmed the drum parts in the computer, but we really wanted that live band feel so we went into the studio and re-recorded all the drums with Chris Crawford from French Miami, which is something we hadn’t done before with this project. As far as writing goes, this was challenging too because there was a mandate in place: no scrapping any of the songs. On the first record if a song wasn’t standing up against the others, I’d throw it out and start a new one. This time, since each of these songs is like a family member, it felt wrong to do that, so I just had to rewrite, re-record, edit, and mix until I was happy with them. But the results are self-evident, it’s a richer sound with more layers, but with more cohesiveness too. These songs sound best together.

How much does technology get to influence your music?

I like to employ various types of “technology” when I write and record. I’m not really a gear-head by any means, but I have built a pretty nice Apple and Apogee based home studio where I do most of my tracking. It affords me the freedom to listen back and experiment as much as I want. But honestly, when I’m first working out rough ideas I like to use an old hand-held tape recorder. I like the ability to mess with the tape speed because you can sometimes discover the potential of a song if you hear it at a much faster or slower speed. Really high-tech, I know!

How has the inception of four new members affected your music?

It’s been amazing. Before, I needed some time to figure out my voice as a songwriter, and that’s what the first record was about. But the thing I realized is no matter how diverse and experimental you can be as a solo artist, there’s just something inherently limiting about it, and there’s a certain homogeny that sneaks into everything. You need other people, and the colors they bring to the overall palate, and the energy of collaboration, to really bring music to life. On The Lion Tree, Troy Fannin (lead guitar/backup vocals) really wrote a lot and had an active part in the decision making about arrangements and production. His guitar solo in the outro of “Escape Artist” is one of the stand-out moments on the EP. The solo itself is this sweeping, epic, fuzz-drenched thing, but after we tracked it at the Bunker in Brooklyn he re-amped the solo through a pitch-shifting and hard-panning pedal which he manipulated in real-time creating a secondary, production-based performance on top of the solo. I thought it was crazy when he presented the idea but it’s now my favourite part of the record. Once the rest of the guys came into the picture it changed my life. This last year we’ve been writing a bunch of new material as a band and I think it’s the best stuff I’ve ever been a part of.

What led you to write a dark themed record?

My general temperament? Haha, no I think anytime you reflect on your childhood, if you’re being honest, you are going to find some dark themes there, even amidst the happier memories. And like a lot of people my age I’m a child of divorced parents, so there were definitely some unresolved issues there. Believe it or not writing about it this time around actually helped me work through some of it. Also, and I want to stress this, this isn’t a record about how angsty I am toward my family. There’s a lot of me saying “I took you for granted” and “I’m sorry for what I did” here. When I played “The Nurse & the Wine Maker” for my father he teared up a little bit because it touches on some really sensitive subjects, but one of the main points about that song is me recognizing that he did the best he could for our family. That was an extremely positive realization for me that came about while writing that song. Still, even talking about these kinds of things is troubling. A lot of people would just rather not do it. The subject matter is inherently dark I guess, but it’s really about seeing that silver lining.

What other aspect of family relations did you get to explore with this album?

Aside from that I really got into the idea that you can idealize and idolize the people who raised you. My brother is 7 years older so he basically taught me everything from when I could crawl to when I left home. I had to really dissect and disassemble that dynamic in our relationship in order to ever feel like my own man. It’s a strange duality to examine because these people who raised us and all the things they said and did have such a huge hand in shaping who we are, they are almost like gods to us in certain light, but at the same time they’re just people like anybody else. Some of the things they say we find ourselves holding onto for decades, and some of that stuff is really just nonsense they made up to deal with a difficult situation, but it becomes profound and almost mythic within the context of our life history, and because we believe in it, it has meaning to us. It’s really powerful stuff. And sometimes it’s stuff that a lot of people share in common with each other, and you discover there are these family archetypes that drive whole societies. It’s almost limitless in terms of the depths to which you can mine for material, but this record I tried to keep things pretty personal in the hopes that that would lead to broader universal truths.

Any plans to hit the road?

We’re working on that right now as well, we’re a Brooklyn band so it’s easy to find shows around New York, but branching out into other areas has proved difficult, especially with the costs of living in the city being so prohibitive and the costs of travel are of course another hurdle on top of that. We’re hoping to hit the road in mid-late Novemeber, but there are no dates to announce yet. If anyone reading this wants to book us, email me! (stvc101@gmail.com)

What else is happening next in St. Van Cortlandt’s world?

We’ve just launched our first official website at www.stvcmusic.com and at the same time we’ve released a brand new live video for the song “Love On Cassette” which is one of the new songs we’ve been writing as band. We haven’t recorded it yet so this live video is kind of an exclusive premiere of the song. We’re hoping to find a producer who can help us do something really special with the studio version, because it’d make a great next single.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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