‘Strolling through your dreams’
Tracey Holland (vocals), Chris Tye (guitar), Fritz Mueller (bass) and Dan Miller-Schroeder (drums)
Guitar-led Americana from a San Francisco four piece. Discography to date includes ‘V’ (2009) and ‘Fire In The Desert’ (2012). Performances with BAMM include ‘Red Ribbons’ and ‘Leaves’.
If the cultural arbiters would have us believe them, there’s nothing more American than climbing to the top via hard work. We can question this until the cows come home – but that hasn’t stopped Vandella (purveyors of swampy-guitar Americana) from fixating on their rise ever since their formation in 2008. They’ve graduated from taking the local SF scene by storm to major festival slots and nationwide tours.
All very impressive. But how did they get together? “Chris and I met at Musician's Institute in LA in 2004,” recalls lead singer Tracey. “We were in a band together in San Diego (which shall remain nameless) and eventually moved up to San Francisco in 2008. We met Fritz at an open mic night literally within the first month we lived here- he helped us with some sound issues the club was having and at the end of the night, came up to us and said he dug our songs and would be interested in playing bass with us. Several months after that, we actually met Dan through Craigslist. We always say Dan was the luckiest Cragslist find ever, because it can be pretty hit-or-miss sometimes.”
As mentioned from the start, they’ve come a long way in those four years. How has the dynamic of the band further gelled since? “The way I think we've evolved is almost a contradiction,” Tracey muses. “I think we've honed in a little more on what our "sound" is, but at the same time, what that is is a wide range of styles and dynamics. I think it's just that instead of trying to tailor songs to fit a certain sound or genre, we're more or less just letting each song develop how it will and being what it is. Somehow, all our songs seem to make sense together, though they run the gamut at the same time. Band-wise, I think we're a pretty well-oiled machine. Each of us has a skill set that we rely on to get the work done that needs to be done - we're always working tirelessly at this in some way or another. We're like a family now so along with that comes us griping at each other now and then- but we're really tight and get along pretty puke-tastically.”
Puke-tastic or otherwise, their different personalities certainly all bring something to the collective. Tracey lays it out: “I'm definitely the acting manager/booker. I booked our West Coast tour last summer, which ain't as easy as it looks. I felt pretty damn good about getting that off the ground. Fritz is the most prepared man in the world, can fix anything electronic or otherwise, has a crazy good ear and is awesome when you're stuck for arrangement ideas on a song. Dan actually majored in film so he's responsible for shooting and editing all our videos; he also helps with coding for the website, and a lot of graphic design stuff that the rest of us aren't as good at. Chris is, I think, the visionary of the band- he's always got a pretty clear vision of what he sees for a song, or a performance, or where we need to be at. And all of them are just damn good musicians that I for one feel really lucky to get to play with. We all contribute to the songwriting process in our own ways, and everyone pulls their weight.”
Another element of Vandella that has remained constant is their eclectic list of influences, and the unique way they filter them through into their sound. “I'm not always sure you can hear them outright in our music,” Tracey reveals, “but they still make a huge impact on certain aspects of it. But for me: Jenny Lewis, Bob Dylan, Band of Horses, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Murder by Death ... each has influenced me either vocally, lyrically, stylistically. Lots of old country and blues, and even some jazz singers from the 20's, 30's, and 40's. Those ladies had some impressive vocal control and phrasing!”
And what about the Vandella sound itself? How would Tracey describe it? “The concise answer I usually give people is that we're a folk-rock/Americana band. We're definitely a rock band, but thematically encompass a lot of Americana and even noir-country elements. Folk is another heavy influence that is apparent in the music, as is a little bit of soul and even some Motown.”
Finally – as their musical journey continues – it does seem somewhat apt to ask Tracey about the band’s proudest (and not so proud) moments to date. “Proudest moment would maybe be the last show of our tour last summer, when we were back in SF. There's a quality you get after having played together every day for 10 days that you just can't replicate....we'd had an amazing time in our van, driving around, playing shows together, and it showed. Weakest moment...probably a show we played where we all had just a little too much fun before taking the stage and we didn't play as well as we would've liked at all. We were playing with a band that had just come back from SXSW and they were really nice, brought us on their tour bus and shared their whiskey with us....which wasn't their fault but it ended up being our downfall. Maybe we're just bad drunks or something. Anyway ... we allfelt a little sheepish that night ...”
The BAMM Questionnaire
What would be your dream gig/venue?
Tracey: In the Bay Area, I'd love to play the Fillmore or the Fox, orGreat American Music Hall again. They're all such beautiful, classicvenues that have had so many amazing people on their stages. Dreamtour would probably be going on tour with Band of Horses or Lucero orsomething. I love both those bands and those dudes all seem like a lotof fun. And I'd love to play all the big festivals...how's that for abroad answer?
What event would prove to yourself that you've "made it"?
Dan: I think that's kind of a false pretense, though it's an easy oneto get caught up in. We have plenty of goals and "wouldn't it beamazing ifs," but classifying something like that just seems likeyou'd be setting yourself up for eventual failure or disappointment.
What do you do after you play Wembley? Call it quits? I mean, you'vepeaked, right? For me "making it" means I can live comfortably off ofmusic alone and still exercise creative control over what I make anddo. I think we're all of a pretty similar mind on that.
Tracey: Secret about me - I kind of dread karaoke. Unless it's one ofthose Japanese joints where you get a room with your friends and drinkcopious amounts of plastic-bottle beer, it hits a little too close tomy old performance anxiety days. Besides, when you're a singer, it'shard to not approach it too seriously...and everyone knows the bestkaraoke-ers are the people that are out of tune and falling to theirknees, making a spectacle of themselves.
Dan: 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love' by The Darkness. "GUITAR!!!"
Who's a hero of yours?
Tracey: I really admire Jenny Lewis and her career. Not only is sheone of my favorite singers, but I feel like she sort of has the bestof it: she's worked hard to build a really solid career and has herhand in a number of different projects; she can work with close toanyone she wants, but has still maintained a semblance of anonymityfrom the mainstream and the whole celebrity machine. She'swell-respected and seems to have the freedom to move between differentstyles and worlds. And of course - I'd die to write Bob Dylan's lyrics.
Drink of choice?
Tracey: Greyhound. Or Jameson with an Anchor Steam back (or Fernetwith an Anchor back - what I like to call the real San Francisco treat). Yeah...I'm a bit of a lush.
Dan: I'm liking the Oatmeal Stouts lately. I'm a pretty capriciousdrinker, though. Manhattans, G&Ts, Pilsners, and White Russians haveall had their day in the sun.
If you had to make a pretty girl/guy laugh, what's your joke?
Dan: "So, I play the drums..."
Tracey: That made me actually laugh out loud, so guess it's a proven success!
It was great getting some video content to give to fans since wehad very little before that. Playing for a camera instead of a crowdis definitely a strange experience. It was good practice for when EdSullivan finally asks us to play on his show. That guy's still around,right?