I’ve truly enjoyed Van Pierszalowski as a human being since we first met. I’ve had the privilege of producing multiple Port O’Brien shows and sessions for Laundromatinee.com/SIRIUS XMU. We bonded over the highs and lows of The Los Angeles Dodgers in recent years. The first thing he responded to me with when I requested this interview was, “Hey Dodge, my boy! Great news out of L.A, today, huh? McCourt is no more. We can move on now.” I chuckled, equally grateful.
I’ve been regrettably slow to cover Van’s new project, WATERS, but not because I don’t love it. Some of Port O’Brien’s slower/softer/folkier works I often skipped on by. The more aggressive, sing-along, boisterous songs always pulled me in. It’s as if Van heard my heart and brain all those miles away. WATERS is aggressive, loud, and rawkous, but not noisey loud. All of the great songwriting qualities that Van has always possessed are still there, he just grew a pair. This project has cojones. Out In The Light was released on September 20th, 2011 via TBD Records.
Tell us about this new direction and project. What prompted this rebirth? Were you fearful to start anew?
Van Pierszalowski : I knew it was time to move on and start something new. My life went through so many changes that it just wouldn’t make any sense to continue with my old project’s name. I needed a new platform to reflect my “all new everything” reality. At first, I was a little nervous, after having worked on my old project for so long and devoted SO much energy into it, but as soon as I got started on WATERS in Oslo, the excitement of it outweighed all of that.
How was your mindset different when approaching these songs?
Van Pierszalowski : I wanted to work a lot more on the songwriting before I ever took them into a band. In my old project, I would get a sketch or an idea and immediately start playing it. I wanted to give these new songs more time to grow and take form before I took them there. I always have been a song-focused musician, but WATERS is the most song-based record I’ve ever made. Its a lot noisier and louder than anything I’ve ever done too, which is something I felt like I could get away with if the songs were that steady.
How has living in the various locations, especially the move to Oslo, Brooklyn and then Dallas to record, affected your music?
Van Pierszalowski : I don’t think the physical locations affected the songs that much, actually. The songs are mainly a result of the things that I was going through in my personal life. That journey did take me to Oslo for a long time, which was an amazing place to catch my breath and get rejuvenated. And Brooklyn was an especially productive place to be for me. I went back to Kodiak, Alaska in the middle of the writing process as well. But through it all, the main inspiration behind the songs was my personal experience, rooted in relationships with people, which will always be more important to me than where I am.
How was it working with John Congleton? Did you learn anything from him?
Van Pierszalowski : It was amazing. I learned so much from him. That dude is a genius. He really took an active role in keeping things “punk rock.” I always feel like double-tracking or triple-tracking all my vocals, and throwing lots of reverb on, which has been so popular in “indie” rock or whatever for so long now, but he really wouldn’t let me do that. On “Ones You Had Before,” which is one of the most intensely personal songs on the record for me, he forced me to keep the vocal as raw as possible, and I love him for it.
Give us a quick rundown of the musicians that make up the new band.
Van Pierszalowski : On the record, its just me and a couple Norwegians. Nikolai Haukeland has been involved with WATERS from the beginning, and even played guitar on the last tour with my old band. Sigmund Nilsen played drums on the record. Both of these guys are amazing, educated musicians, which is the furthest thing from what I am. I could rely on them to really do anything I came up with in my head. It was amazing. They also came up with some great ideas themselves. Nikolai is still with the project, he’s played guitar in every WATERS show. Sigmund couldn’t come on tour, so he’s back in Oslo. On the live-side, my current band features the amazing Nicholas Wolch on drums, who is absolute BEAST. In bass-world, my current main man is Alexander Margitich. Alexander and Nicholas are both SF Bay Area-based homies.
As you stated earlier, there is some serious electric guitar in this new project. What prompted your desire to rock out more?
Van Pierszalowski : Well, I’ve always wanted to rock out a little more. There are hints of this on all the records, really. “Pigeonhold,” “Leap Year,” and live versions of “Sour Milk/Salt Water” all could totally fit in with WATERS jams. We even play “Pigeonhold” in our live set. With the new project, though, I started listening to a lot more noisy stuff around the time of writing and recording. “In Utero” has been my favorite album of all time since I was 15, and Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, the guitar work on Galaxie 500, those have been influences forever. But “Out in the Light” really does also feature other ideas and influences as well, particularly on “Mickey Mantle” and “Ones You Had Before.”
How has the new sound/project been received by Port O’Brien die-hards? Are YOU happier with this project?
Van Pierszalowski : I’ve been surprised and excited about the response from fans of my old project. And on a personal level, I am DEFINITELY happier with this project. I’ve never been this excited or proud of my work.
What do you having coming up to round out the year and what does 2012 hold?
Van Pierszalowski : We’re touring throughout a lot of the country with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. I really love their new record, and it’ll be an awesome and fun tour. We played with them in Paris earlier this year, and really hit it off. Other than that, more writing, more working, and more touring. I’m all in with this music shit. Hope to see you out there!
For The One performed by WATERS on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Shot and directed by Heidi Petty.