I met up with Van Pierszalowski from WATERS after a set at the Orange Peel opening for Matt & Kim on April 20. As San-Fran Van (he proudly hails from the west coast’s Fog City) sipped his honey tea, I asked him a few questions.
KO: What can you tell me about the new album and how it’s been different from your previous disc?
VP: It’s a lot different from the previous one, actually. The first album Out in the Light was much more garage-y. I was listening to a lot of In Utero and a lot of, like, earlier Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Galaxy 500 kind of stuff. And for the new record, the influences just changed in terms of the kind of record I wanted to make. Instead of that stuff, I flipped the coin, kind of, and was listening more to Nevermind over In Utero [Nirvana], The Blue Album instead of Pinkerton [Weezer], and stuff that was just like a little more song-based. I started listening more to the records again that made me play guitar when I was like 8, like Dookie by Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins and The Cranberries. I kind of wanted to use that as like a jumping board.
KO: Great groups right there.
VP: Yeah, definitely. And we worked with this producer Ryan Rabin from the band Grouplove. He’s their drummer and producer, and it just came together.
KO: So, inspirations for the album…coming into it, did you have a concept or were you just like here are the lyrics I feel like writing?
VP: Lyrically, I definitely wanted to be more direct than the last record. I like pop music in that there’s very clear narratives. A lot of indie stuff that I’ve been listening to for years, I couldn’t tell you what the fuck that song is about. Like I love Beach House for example, but I don’t know what any of those songs are about. And I don’t even know if anyone does. So, I like the idea of making songs that were like oh, this is a song specifically about this sort of thing and then having all of the lyrics adhere to that, which as a songwriter, I think, is much more challenging. I think it’s way, way harder to write pop lyrics than more indie and imagery-based stuff. Every line has to be perfect and fit into the narrative while bringing something new and not being cliche, being relatable and it was a challenge. I spent, yeah, so long on all the lyrics for the record.
KO: So, what’s your standout song? “What’s Real” is my favorite personally, but give me yours.
VP: Yeah, that’s one of my favorites, “Stupid Games” is one of my favorites, umm I really like “Mom and Dads.” I don’t know; it kind of changes from day to day.
KO: I feel you. And with touring and playing live, how has that been a change from the studio in regards to your experience?
VP: Uh, it’s totally different. The studio’s like a laboratory to use the hip-hop kind of analogy. It felt like that for this record. We built stuff from the group up- building blocks. It wasn’t like the last record where we played like all of the songs and then recorded them live. We were like fuck, here’s a new song, what the hell should this be about, what if we throw this on. Live, it’s just different.
KO: Do you find yourself switching things up every time you play?
VP: No, it’s just more like massaging it. We’re always talking in the band about little things we can do, little vocal changes, like today in sound check, when we played “Blank Space,” [Taylor Swift cover] we came up with how Greg can sing the last part of the bridge where she’s like *starts singing* “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya” *starts talking again* But then the chorus comes in under that, so I was having to be like *starts singing again* “Don’t say I didn’t warn yaaa so it’s gonna be forever,” so it’s like maybe he should keep doing that and I’ll come in underneath. [You had to be there for this. It was great.] So, just little things like that- just constantly kind of tweaking it.
KO: Solid. So, who have you toured with before and then how has the tour been with Matt & Kim so far?
VP: We’ve toured with Tegan & Sara ( yeah they’re awesome), Small Pools, Magic Man before that we did Weezer and then that’s pretty much it for this record. For the last record it was more indie stuff…Nada Surf, Wye Oak, that kinda stuff. These last two tours, honestly, have been the best I’ve ever done. Yeah, I think it’s just because I’ve never had a band this good. Like, I can say we’re really good, I think. I’ve had bands in the past that aren’t good, well who are good but not great, and it doesn’t quite feel like a band, where this is like, we’re so connected musically and in every way. And I think the songs are getting out there more than ever, so people know more and crowds have been more receptive. So, honestly, this tour, we’re only like a week or so in, but it’s the best one we’ve ever done for sure, I can already say.
KO: That’s really cool you already have such good vibes.
VP: Well, not every night, like Philly kind of didn’t work but then tonight totally worked, and then Columbus, OH was like off the fucking chain, ya know. You never know what’ll be good, but this will be awesome. I really love it here.
KO: So, what have you gotten to do while you’ve been in Asheville?
VP: Nothing, really, this time. We had to stop by the pharmacy right before sound check because our drummer has bronchitis, so we’ve been to Rite Aid in a strip mall. And then we came here. Then, I had dinner there *points across the street to Wicked Weed* and then I had coffee at the double-decker bus. It was good coffee. I’m a total coffee nerd.
KO: Wait, what are you drinking right now then?
VP: Oh, that’s tea, because my voice sucks. So, this is throat coat with a lot of honey. I can’t drink anymore at shows. It’s just horrible for your voice- it’s just the worst- and, as I get older, I just don’t like drinking. I like getting high, I love getting high.
KO: Hey, it’s 4/20…
VP: I know, but I can’t smoke either, because of my voice. So, I just eat weed chocolate at night. It helps me go to sleep. But, I don’t like drinking, like for me, it’s just kind of boring. And the fact that you have to keep re-upping yourself so often, like here’s a drink, oh fuck, I need another one, it’s just so exhausting and horrible for you. With weed chocolate, I just eat a little bit. In California, it’s pretty much legal. You just go to the shop, pick it up, it’ll last for hours and you go to bed feeling great… Asheville’s really chill, though. I’d love to come to South Carolina. My grandma, she was from Charleston, actually. I never made it down there. It’s probably like one of three states I’ve never been to, and that’s one of them.
KO: Hawaii and Alaska?
VP: Yeah, yeah. I spent a lot of time in Alaska. You’ll have to Google that. Haha. I’ve done way too many interviews about Alaska.
KO: Wait, I do want to know, what’s your favorite place you’ve been? What’s your craziest experience you’ve ever had?
VP: That’s two questions.
KO: Okay, you’re right. Go with the first one.
VP: What’s my favorite place I’ve been? Ever? Um, * long pause* shit I don’t know. I have a lot of favorite places. It’s hard to just pick one. Um, I really like Berlin. I like Oslo- I lived there for a couple of years. I really like California. Honestly, I’m just gonna say California. That’s my favorite place. I would say specifically the Southern Sierras, the Sequoyah National Forest. No humans anywhere, and it’s just like the biggest trees in the world and you can get right up to them. It’s incredible- so peaceful and beautiful. And then you drive three hours and you’re surfing and then you drive three hours back and you’re snowboarding. It’s got everything.
KO: Okay, so second question: craziest experience?
VP: Probably smoking pot with Neil Young.
KO: WHAT? Whoa. You just one-upped everyone.
VP: Yeah, when that happened I knew, alright I’m good…We just fucking talked shop, smoking pot, with him and his band and his manager. It was pretty crazy. Gave him a vinyl- he was really stoked on that. He thought it was just so funny that I- he came up to me after we were a little high and he was like “So your name’s Van,” and I was like, “Yeah,” and he’s like “Who drives the van then?” and I was like, “That would be me,” and he started laughing like harder than I’ve ever seen an old man laugh. He almost fell over. It was pretty amazing. Like, I don’t know why he thought that was so funny.
KO: I mean that’s pretty hilarious.
VP: I mean kind of. But, he just lost it. Alright, I should probably get back in there to sell merch.
KO: *secretly hopes for free T-shirt while shaking hand goodbye, then, instead, takes a total fan pic*