CD review and interview with…David Vertesi

CD review – David Vertesi – Cardiography

Release date: Tuesday October 26, 2010

by Jade Sperry


Cover for David Vertesi's solo CD Cardiography.

David Vertesi is well known for having been part of the Vancouver indie pop group Hey Ocean!. He has just completed his first solo album, Cardiography, which is a diamond in the rough that sparkles with its beckoning intensity. Starting out with the song “Mountainside” with its fuzzed out feedback, bird-like chirps and prominent bass line, David’s beautiful baritone voice sings of sincerity to the point of being self painful (love’s a mountainside/that I wish I could climb/your love is a stormy sea). Following that song is “Gentlemen Say”, a poignant song about how love can be confusing without communication. David’s vocals in some way remind me of Leonard Cohen in this song in particular – how he can tell a story through songs and get the emotional output across to the listener. The title song “Cardiography” is an upbeat, up tempo song that musically sounds almost happy in a forlorn way. The acoustic guitar is absolutely spot on in this song. Although musically the songs on this CD are simple in their melody and chord structures, they are effective in their subtle charm. Many different instruments were used in the songs which give the CD a good overall structure and versatility. Lyrically, David can weave emotions vocally through each song in a style that is his own. Other stand out songs are “Learn To Run”, “Rossland” and “Soft Skin”. This is a very refreshing and original start to his own solo career with this collection of 11 songs.

The CD will be available starting on Tuesday October 26 and you can order it at File Under:Music.

On a bright Wednesday morning, I met up with David Vertesi at an East Vancouver location in mid-October to discuss his new album Cardiography which is being released on Tuesday October 26. It was an insightful interview into David’s background with music and family and what led to making this album of his original music. Here is the interview in a Q&A format with an album review following:

Jade: So let’s discuss the first song “Mountainside” – who’s female voice is backing you up?

David: All the female vocals on the record were done by Hannah Georgas. There are four songs that she helps me out on which are “Mountainside”, “Gentlemen Say”, “All Night All Night All Night” and “Epilogue”. I went back and forth between having multiple female singers versus just one female singer and in the end, I wanted Hannah’s vocals. She is a close, close friend of mine and I really love her voice. She’s very easy to work with; she comes in, goes with it and figures it out.

Jade: How did you come up with the music and lyrics for “Mountainside”?

David: This is one of the last songs that made it to the record. I wrote this song around my break-up and around a book I was given in that same time period by Eric Fromme called “The Art of Loving”. It was written in the 1950’s in response to Freud and his concept of love. The reason I like this book is because it discusses different views and levels on love between friends and family and also speaks of sexual love between people. It was an incredibly inspiring book to read but also really intense and dark too. Academically, when you read a line that states “Love is more a reflection of how alone we are than how much we really love that other person”… that is a really intense thing to read! My entire record is conceptual and meant to tackle the idea of love. Love is more than one dimension. There are some songs on my album that are about young love, others about devastating heartbreak … and there are other songs that fall somewhere in between. With “Mountainside” (and the entire album), I wanted to write about myself and try to understand this concept of love. The whole album is about me and the journey that I’m on. I wanted to start the record with talking about who I am. And that idea was inspired by Gene Simmons. He was the one who said that you should introduce yourself before you play music.

Jade: I like the way that by introducing yourself on this record it comes across in your music to the listener. Within the first three songs, I got a really good impression of who you are as a person in regards to what you’re doing as an artist. I think that a lot of people can relate to what you’re talking about. You’re record is original and fresh and can crossover to other genres (jazz, folk, etc,.).

David: I really believe as an artist in the “Universal Experience” at this point in time. I’ve just been through some really intense times in my personal life and part of this record is about that. The more personal you are in your music and art the more you’ll speak to people. I’m blown away that some people are relating to what I wrote about in so many different ways!

David Vertesi (left) and David Joseph (right, from By Divine Right) plays songs from the CD Cardiography. Photo by Jade Sperry.

Jade: On this record, you have a friend helping you out from The Zolas – Tom Dobrzanski and also Adian Knight. What was it like to bring them into the project and work with them?

David: The Zolas are good friends of mine, yes. Tom Dobrzanski plays keys in The Zolas and he has his own studio in town (Vertical Studios). Tom has had studios in basements as long as I can remember and he’s worked on every Hey Ocean! project. He works a lot with indie bands. I went and worked with Jose Miguel Contreras in Ontario on Cardiography and when I got home, it wasn’t quite finished and I needed to get it done. A lot of the strings, horns, piano and Hannah’s vocals were done in my parents living room. Tom brought in extra gear, and Adian came into the project because I really trust his opinion because I like his music. Adian is great to bounce ideas off of. I knew that I could turn to him at any point and say “Is this a stupid idea?” and I would always get an honest answer.

Jade: How did the song “Gentlemen Say” come about? I think that’s the best song on the album.

David: Thank you! Well, this is one of those songs that literally happened, it’s a true story …

Jade: Really? Well, the lyrics are awesome!

David: (laughing) Yeah, it was something that happened, and then I went home and wrote about it. I write the music first and the lyrics followed. It just came together. How I write music is I write a bit of music, then some lyrics, more music and the music takes the song in a certain direction so the lyrics then follow. Actually, my friend Shad has influenced me in how I write in some ways. He’s a good friend. Hannah is also a good friend of Shad’s. Shad learned how to play guitar that had 4 strings. One string was missing. But the guitar was in the house, so he just picked it up and took it on. So when he writes a song now on a guitar, he gets these quirky riffs and this is how he has influenced me. So getting back to the song, this is about that game of getting tired of the game. It’s like a dog eat dog thing. Do I hurt you before you hurt me? Should get my guard up? When I played it for Hannah, she laughed her face off! We have our moments….(lots of laughter)…she’s on tour right now actually.

Jade: Yes I saw on her website that’s she’s somewhere out east….having fun no doubt (more laughter)…One song on the record “Learn To Run” has a really slow build for about three and a half minutes when suddenly the music just explodes within the song – how did this song come to fruition? The tension in the song is mind-blowing really…

David: Yeah, I like to record music and be open to what’s going on in the moment and sculpt a song – I don’t like forcing anything in music, it never works if you do that. It was always meant to build like that. The middle wasn’t quite supposed to be that way, but we pulled out the guitars and it just sounded so great. Jose said that I was lucky to be in a position in any song to be open enough to let the moment happen. And this is such a personal song. For me, this song turned out the way I wanted it to.

David Vertesi (left) and David Joseph (right, from By Divine Right) play songs from the CD Cardiography. Photo by Jade Sperry.

Jade: In the song “Cardiography” is that you playing the guitar part in the middle of the song? It’s such an uptempo, funky piece of music …

David: Yes that’s me. It was planned that way. Sort of. My philosophy with making music is that I want to make teenagers cry and older people dance. (we both break out laughing) If you make older people dance, everyone is dancing. I love the shoulder shimy too. Kind of fun with contrast. If you make people dance and get emotional it’s good.

Jade: A lot of people are saying that Hey Ocean! are no more, that you’ve left the band to do this album. Is this true?

David: No. Hey Ocean! is still a band but we haven’t done anything in a while. We’re going on tour next month (November 2010). So when my album comes out, I’ll be on tour with Hey Ocean! and not with myself (laughter from David). I’m actually producing the next Hey Ocean! record.

Jade: So you’ll have producer credits as well.

David: Yeah. But, with Cardiography … I’ve been writing music since I was twelve years old and I did try to write a previous album but it fell by the wayside. The oldest song on this record is about 3 years old. I started writing a lot of love songs but at some point, I just wanted to write about different things – not love. I got into Hayden and other people’s music. Then I went through this break-up. I went to a friend who said “Instead of fighting it, why don’t you do it on purpose, write love songs and make an album about it?”. This is more about the journey than just a break-up album for me.

Jade: Yeah, when I was listening to the album, I felt like I was walking a path with you, because I could relate to what you were singing about.

David: Thanks. That was my intention.

Jade: One of the many people who follow my blogs sent me a question to ask you – what is the Topless Gay Love Tekno Party about?

David: Alright! This is such a joy for me. It’s a band that I play in that’s totally crazy, it’s a great release for me and it’s garage synth dance music! I wear a full body spandex suit! It’s all performance based. The music is great too. Michael Schindler and Donne Torr started this about a year ago, looking for musicians to play bass and drums … so they recruited myself and the former drummer for Hey Ocean! Benny Schutze. We just played a show this past Saturday – and that was nuts! It was totally packed, I was playing bass lying on my back in the middle of the floor with the crowd around me … and I’m wearing spandex pants, no shirt and space boots … (lots of laughter)…the lyrics to the songs are so over the top and it just goes….(more laughter), we also did crowd surfing and the place was packed! (@ The Media Club).   This is why I do music – this is how I express myself and exist. Hey Ocean! is about musicianship and writing music and progressing as a band; my own music is about expressing things that I feel, and with Topless, it’s about release; getting crazy and having fun. Different outlets to express different things all within the realm of music. When you tour for 5 years of serious music you just need to blow off steam. I just love it all.

Jade: What personal goals have you accomplished this year and what goals are you setting for yourself for the next year? I know some musicians don’t set goals…

David: Actually I do set goals. Before last year I wanted to record 4 albums. And I’ve done 3. I did mine, I’m in the process of recording with Hey Ocean! (which should be done this winter) and recorded with Topless. And I’m happy with that. As for goals for this upcoming year, I’d like to do a lot more producing.

Jade: Do you like producing better than playing the music?

David: Producing is just totally different. I love to produce. Translating music into a recorded form is just a beautiful art form. With Hey Ocean! I’ve gotten to work with bigger name producers and I’ve learned a lot. Doing more mainstream producing as well as independent producing – I mean, I recorded my album in a barn out in the woods with Jose, living with his family … it was crazy and I definitely learned a LOT. I feel like I have a lot to bring to the table and I love music. With this record, my goal was to introduce myself to the industry. I’ve been around, I’ve done a lot, but because I’m the bass player in a band with an amazing vocalist (Ashleigh Ball), I tend to get overlooked. I’m an integral part of the musical process of Hey Ocean!. I just wanted my voice out there telling people where I’m coming from.

Jade: How was the whole recording process with Jose, and how was sharing producing credits?

David: I loved it. I never could have done this without Jose. I really couldn’t afford to go to Toronto but I decided in the end to do this with Jose. There are a few producers in Vancouver, but I just couldn’t see myself doing this with anyone else. We have great chemistry and there is a dynamic element there between us that I liked. He’s someone who believes in the “experience” of recording which translates to the record. I needed someone whose palate I trusted but at the same time who wasn’t going to force anything on me. I like to experiment and feel my way through the music and I wanted someone to guide me and bring that side of me out. Enhancing that experience! There is so much on the record that is recorded weirdly. I play drums on the record – and I don’t play drums at all. I took a kick drum and propped it up …then I took a snare drum in one hand and a hammer in the other hand and I just went for it! You don’t hear any cymbals on the record except for two songs. And that was me later just adding the cymbals in! I don’t know of any other producers that puts up with that kind of thing. Jose is always talking about the “vibe” and he also gets into the idea of “it sounds like something”. He’s a very positive and supportive man. He is an underrated talented man. And he has so much patience!

Jade: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard of you or the bands you’re in?

David: It’s very personal music. I like the term “new-folk”, modern folk music, not based in roots. Music for the people. I use synths in an organic way, not a “Devo” way. Adian Knight has that same kind of music. New modern indie folk…..

Jade: What’s your take on the Vancouver music scene in general?

David: I think it’s a weird place because it’s so removed from the rest of country. You have to drive a while to get somewhere to play a show. In Ontario it’s not so removed. So that element makes Vancouver interesting. I personally feel that there is a vibrant scene here. It’s an amazing scene and it’s growing. I like watching it grow. I had a conversation with Ryan (vocalist/guitarist for Mother Mother) and drinking wine and playing songs and going to see his band at The Marine Club … and playing at The Fairview with Dan Mangan! And looking at these bands and people now….wow. It’s amazing. There is so many great young bands like We Are The City and The Zolas … people don’t realize how young these guys are! Said The Whale have only been on the scene about 3 years! So yeah in the next 5 years … who knows where it could go? We could be the new Montreal … well maybe not so much Montreal but …

Jade: You know, it’s funny you say that but a few years ago, I interviewed Patrick Krief (The Dears, Black Diamond Bay) who said that Montreal and Vancouver have a common musical link ….

David: He’s right. I think there’s also an element of commonality between Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We are the third largest city in Canada behind Toronto and Montreal. One thing is that there is a sound here just like in Montreal and Toronto which is just blossoming right now. The only problem is that there is no support structure for young bands starting. It just structure isn’t there. Art groups focus on artists, not music. Factor is federal funding which can be difficult to obtain. Factor is based in Ontario and there could be a bias there for other bands in other provinces. In BC there should be a fund of some kind to support regional artists to national artists. I think one of the worst things in not having all ages venues. Kids in bands have no where to play. Oscar Wroz in Kamloops let us stay at his house after Hannah and I had played in a music school that was weirdly shaped. Lots of people came, Collen Brown, Hannah Georgas and I played then Oscar’s band played. Then we went back to his Dad’s house and there were rooms for all of us…..he shouldn’t have to do that, there should be something else in place to support what Oscar did. There are just so many ways to do things…

Jade: You’re very passionate about this….

David: Yes! I truly believe in this.

Jade: If you ever need help with this I would like to help out.

David: Thanks, I think I’ll take you up on that.

Jade: Yeah, I will publicize this for you big time! (laughter)

David: Cool.

David Vertesi plays songs from his new CD Cardiography to a full house @ The Media Club Vancouver. Photo by Jade Sperry.

Jade: What motivates/inspires/drives you to create music?

David: I’ve been making music since I was really young. My family is very musical. I took singing lessons until my voice changed when I was about 12. I was in the choir in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond! I was Pink, that was my colour, Pink. Then, I wanted to be a hockey player at some point. I never thought about making music. At all. My mom taught me the ukulele when I was eight or nine. Shredding on uke! Then I tried to play guitar and I just couldn’t get it. So I gave up. Then my older brother started playing guitar and that was it. I had to learn the guitar. It was that little brother thing. If he could do it, I could too. I wanted to impress girls with my guitar skills. I was in Sooke that summer and my brother taught me Pink Floyd‘s “Wish You Were Here”, and within 2 months I was writing like crazy! I started grade eight that year. My parents were always supportive of my music, but wanted me to stay in school. I went to Mount Allison and was in a band and did fund raisers for Cancer. I left after 2 years, came home and met David and Ashleigh and yeah the rest is history. I thought I was just going to work in the Industry and thought that I wasn’t good enough to work in music with a band. Inspirations have changed over time. It started with girls…

Jade: (lol) It usually does with most men.

David: Yeah. Well the album is about girls….and other things….

Jade: I heard that! (laughter)

David: Thanks for doing this Jade.

Jade: You’re welcome. And thank you for this interview. I know a lot of people are really excited about this. They want to see what music you do outside of Hey Ocean!.

David: I just hope people check out the record, come to the shows and HEAR the music, not just listen to it.

The Pack a.d. Interview with photos

The Pack A.D. – Interview

by Jade Sperry

Becky belts it out to a packed crowd at The Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver. Photo by Jade Sperry.

Becky Black and Maya Miller are The Pack A.D. and they are a FORCE to be reckoned with. But not from Star Wars. Playing to their hometown crowd in Vancouver BC at The Biltmore Cabaret, I attended their show on Friday April 23, and it was INSANE. The Angry Dragons from Manitoba opened the show and they were a good warm up to the next band, Vancouver’s Sex With Strangers. Although Sex With Strangers have completely different music than the other 2 bands, they fit in well because of the intensity of their live show. They were in fine form for this show and Hatch, frontman for Sex With Strangers, told of a funny story of being in Texas a few months back and getting the girls from The Pack completely drunk before their shows at SXSW, and of seeing beaver dams in Louisiana. After that crazy show, you could feel the energy from the crowd rising to a peak when The Pack took the stage and killed everyone and everything. I must admit that I have never seen Becky and Maya live, and I loved every second of their show. Opening with “Cobra Matte” from their newest offering we kill computers, they whipped the crowd into a full blown frenzy in less than 10 seconds. Headbanging, screaming, pounding drums, slide guitar, moshing, stage diving and intense playing on Becky and Maya’s part, this show had it all. The Pack played for just over 90 minutes and Maya let us know that this was their longest set ever. The crowd went insane for that bit of news, and in the final moments of the show, Becky took her guitar and lept into the crowd for a bit of surfing on the hands of the people while Maya beat the hell out of her kit. All songs were played well, in time and in tune. They had all the new tunes as well as most of their material from their past releases.

Out of all the shows that I’ve seen in the last 10 years, this show is my 2nd favorite right behind Pearl Jam (in 1998 Pearl Jam played 2 shows in Seattle over a weekend that blew my mind.) The energy and music that Becky and Maya deliver in a performance is amazing, and because they know each others’ playing style so well, it looked effortless but was in fact a physically demanding show.

Becky sings her lungs out. Photo by Jade Sperry.

The Pack A.D. are currently in the midst of touring, but Becky and Maya were kind enough to take time out to answer some questions about the new CD, we kill computers, the current tour and playing their hometown of Vancouver after a short break in the schedule. This interview is done in a Q&A format.

Jade: On your current tour, you’ve been playing the new songs from we kill computers and I’m just wondering what are you personal favorites to play live, and what songs have been crowd favorites ?

Becky: My favorite songs we play live generally are the ones the audience digs the most. Obviously it’s much more fun to play a song the crowd is into than one that bombs. Right now I’d have to say “Deer” and “Cobra Matte” usually go over pretty well.

Maya: I’m gonna have to agree with Becky on this one. Any song we play is ultimately only as enjoyable as the audience makes it. On that note, I agree that “Deer” and “Cobra Matte” go over well as does “Raise Her”, “1880” and “Catch”.

Jade: What was the best part of making the songs for the new CD? Any memories you’d care to share with the fans?

Becky: The best part was ordering Indian takeout on the last day of mixing at the studio. Ha! We like food….Another good part was discovering that Maya can’t tambo for shit so I did all the tambourine in the recordings. I can’t play the drums but I can shake a ring with metal discs like nobody’s business.

Maya: The best part was finally admitting that I can’t tambo for shit. And it felt so good to just admit it, you know? I also enjoyed drinking endless cups of coffee, writing lyrics and making comments on the days where I didn’t have to physically do anything. Good times!

Maya raises her drumsticks in triumph at The Biltmore Cabaret Vancouver. Photo by Jade Sperry.

Jade: What’s the best venue you’ve played on your current tour in terms of the new songs, crowd reactions and the sound in that particular venue?

Becky: It actually seems, more often than not, that the shows at really nice venues with good sound have the worst tunout, and the shows we play at dive bars where we set up on the floor are the ones that are packed, rowdy and crazy! Our last shows in Missoula MT at Badlanders and in Spokane WA at the Sunset Junction were my favorites – based purely on the energy of the crowd on both those nights.

Maya: Yeah, sometimes the sound for the audience can be amazing but the sound is really not good for us on the stage – like the monitors aren’t balanced out right or the room just sucks everything away from us so the venue can be quite deceiving. We also had great shows in London ON at Moon Over Marin and at Phog Lounge in Windsor ON. I have a personal favorite show that we played in Richmond VA – we played on the floor and the people are always nuts there and I spilled all my drinks which is usually a good sign.

Jade: Is there any differences on this tour in terms of production than the last two tours?

Becky: Not so much. Same old, same old.

Maya: Well, we did have those lavish can-can girl outfits that went over super well in Texas! Other than that…..

Jade: Because you’ve toured in Canada, the US and in Europe and the UK, what differences do you find in the audiences that come to see your shows? Are they any differences that you see when you’re onstage?

Becky: I wouldn’t say there’s much difference playing shows in any one country or continent other than the occasional language barriers at soundcheck. The audiences usually differ depending on the types of bands on the bill.

Maya: Hmm, yeah, see, at first I was agreeing with Becky and finding I had nothing to say but then I thought about it and I would point out unabashed enthusiasm levels. I think that does go up and down depending on the cities and countries. In some places the crowds are through the roof like we’re Metallica or something….I say Metallica because Metal Is huge in Bogota and we’ve played in Bogota and so….Bogota is on my mind.

Jade: Were you writing songs for we kill computers while you were on tour in 2009 or did the songs come about in that two week period locked away in a rehearsal space in East Vancouver?

Becky: We write some lyrics in our van on tour but all of the songs for the album were essentially “written” at our practice space before we went into recording. And I say “written” because we don’t technically write out any sheet music or tabs or such things for our songs – we just play them and hopefully remember them. Sometimes we write sections of the song down on a piece of paper with a sharpie (pen) like “verse, gah!, boom part, verse, chorus” etc. There’s a little hint of that in the we kill computers album artwork….

Maya: Wow, so this is what happens when Becky gets to the questions first – hot damn, she’s stealing all the best answers! I’ve heard tales of bands creating whole albums in their vans while on tour and I don’t even know how they do that….oh wait, they must write things down….see I can’t even get started here. Becky covered that. Well, so yeah, I write lyrics away from the bandspace. Well at least I think I had one new thing to say. Glarp!

Jade: What drives the two of you to tour extensively every year?

Becky: We decided to quit our day jobs and play music full time which basically means when we’re not on tour we’re losing money. So we tour every single chance we get. The only time we take extensive breaks from touring is when the weather conditions are too poor to drive in.

Maya: PASSION. Maya and Becky are passionate people. They cannot begin to stop themselves from the playing of the music….PASSIONATELY.

Jade: You’re in the middle of this current tour and you’ve got a break before your show on April 23 (@ the Biltmore Cabaret with guests Sex With Strangers and The Angry Dragons) here in your hometown of Vancouver. Are you excited to play your hometown knowing your CD will soon arrive in the shops? Anything special you’re planning in terms of the show itself?

Becky: For our upcoming show in Vancovuer, we’ve both made a pact to remain mostly sober until after we’ve played. For some reason we end up….boozing a lot more during hometown shows which means by the time we’re on stage we’re like “durrr…..hic…” The idea of being able to play a solid show in town is exciting. I think it’s been a while and hopefully some people will come out.

Maya: Special wise, we have the new CD and LP (being released on Gatefold!) and two new T-Shirt designs and a Tour Zine. The CD is on for a low price that one night only. In terms of the show itself, I’m agreeing with Becky. I don’t know if “nervous” is the right word but playing our hometown is definitely different.

Jade: What bands have opened for you on this tour that you’ve really liked? And why? Are there any funny stories with other bands that you’d like to share?

Becky: For the second time in a row, our New York show has been with Cherie Lilly. She wears a body suit and sings about aerobics. It’s actually pretty amazing. And a nice change of pace.

Maya: We also played with a band called Belt of Vapor in Spokane WA. One of the best bands I’ve seen in a while and they barely ever tour which is bizarre. We also got to play again with Grand Analog while we were at SXSW – what a charmer!

Jade: When you’re on a break from the tour and come home to Vancouver, what do you find yourselves doing to relax from the road?

Becky: I like to shut myself away in a room and put on some records and just lie on my bed for a while. My bed is heaven after weeks of crappy motels and van sleeps.

Maya: I like to watch crappy action movies and eat triscuits. Though on this break, I managed to set up my stereo, and now I’m addicted to listening to Samuel Locke-Ward (from Iowa and amazing), Thee Oh Sees and Anti-Pop Consortium while playing Spider Solitaire on the computer and drinking coffee. I read a lot on tour so I’ve made a bargain with myself to not read anything longer than a paragraph during my break.

Jade: Is there anything else you’d like to share on the new CD that you’d like people to know that I haven’t asked?

Becky: The LP is coming out on Gatefold. I pushed for it because Gatefold is sweet! That’s all I can think of right now.

Maya: The center piece on the album is scratch and sniff, dill pickle. Okay, it’s not. But maybe it is…..

*Author note: this is also a featured spotlight story on NXEW!

Maya and Becky open the show with "Cobra Matte". Photo by Jade Sperry.