Loveland Duren photo credit to Jamie Harmon
Vicki Loveland & Van Duren Take Us Across The World and Back with ‘Any Such Thing’
Van Duren is a name you’ll know from the annals of Power Pop, and if you’ve been following Omnivore’s releases, you’ll have seen that his acclaimed album Are You Serious? has been brought back to the world, and his follow-up album Idiot Optimism has been released in the US for the first time. There’s also a recent documentary about Van Duren’s experiences in the music industry, Waiting: The Van Duren Story, currently looking for US release. Van Duren’s subsequent band Good Question and other collaborations continued to fill his time after those albums were made, and in 2013, he and fellow Memphis songwriter, producer, and performer Vicki Loveland joined forces to create the musical entity Loveland Duren. Their third studio album, Any Such Thing, arrives on October 1st, and is their first album release since traveling and performing in conjunction with the screening of the documentary in Australia and the UK in 2018.
As such, the new album casts the net wide on their experiences of travel, their life experiences in recent years, and their observations about the social climate of the changing (or not changing quickly enough) times we’ve been living through. It’s also a carefully orchestrated and produced album that shows the expertise of both Loveland and Duren, as well as their engineer Alex Hill and Producer Boo Mitchell. I spoke with Loveland and Duren about the way relationships at different stages of life are (or are not) represented in songwriting, how travel impacted the new songs, and what they have to say about social issues on Any Such Thing.
Americana Highways: Regarding the recording of the album, did some of that happen before the pandemic period, or did you have to do it all during this time?
Van Duren: We started, oddly enough, in September of 2019 at Ardent Studios, where we’d done work before. We did basic tracks and overdubs, then the pandemic hit and we shut down for a while to try to figure out what to do. Long story shorter, we ended up going to Royal Studios with our good friend Boo Mitchell. We ended up finishing the record there last summer.
Vicki Loveland: Insofar as some of the musicians we had on the album, we used social distancing, but some people still couldn’t come in to record. However, the universe works in strange ways and everybody who played on this was absolutely stellar, so it really worked out for the best.
AH: Yes, this is not a stripped-down album in any way. It sounds like you got exactly what you wanted here. It’s pretty ambitious and feels so full, complete, and polished.
Vicki: We took our time with it.
Van: We also had a great engineer, Adam Hill, who trained at Ardent for many years. He did all the Big Star and Chris Bell reissues. He also did our second album, Next.
Vicki: We are like kids in a candy store in Memphis, honestly. We have some of the best recording facilities and friends in every one of them. I think Royal felt like home because the deeper we got into the record, we wanted the sound of the room, too. We wanted the sound of their vintage mics and their console, so there was a decision to stay there for that reason. It felt like we were home.
Van: It’s old school with digital.
AH: Vicki, I heard that you have a background in engineering and producing. How does that impact the recording process for you?
Vicki: I have a music degree in a recording technology program. I did that many years ago when it was all analog and we were just breaking into digital editing. The reason that I did it, since I never really saw myself as a Grammy Award-winning engineer, was to be able to understand it and communicate it more effectively as a producer, especially. It turned out to be worth the time I spent. It’s a hard job and it’s not for everybody. Adam Hill really humbles me. It helps me hire the best people to get the job done! Also, when you hear a certain sound in your head, you can communicate that with the engineer and the other musicians in more technical terms, which helps. It’s just a great tool to have in your belt.
AH: I know that you two were on a pretty giant tour regarding the film release. It must not have been that long between your return from Australia and starting work on these new songs. Or do these songs have a longer history?
Van: Generally, we wait until we know that there’s a project coming up. There was five years between when we finished the second album and when we finished this third one. We were writing the whole time, especially lyrics, in Australia. We were traveling endlessly but we knew an album was coming. “Within Crying Distance” was written before we went to Australia, but the rest were written right up until the last recording sessions. A couple were right at the end, like “Tumbledown Hearts.”
AH: “Withing Crying Distance” is a tremendous song and has a video out as well. Obviously, the song has some references to Memphis, as does the video. What sparked writing that song?
Vicki: It came from a lot of different places, really. I was thinking of people who come and go out of your life and the times when you wonder how they are doing and whether they feel the same way as you. The imagery from the video comes from the fact that my father was a Riverboat captain for many years on the Mississippi and he was a huge, positive influence on my life. I was thinking about his spirit and the trials we go through in life in relationships. Sometimes we have to let some people go, whether that’s through saying goodbye, or through death, and sometimes you wonder about that connection, whether it still affects you.
Van: I’d like to add that on this record there are many songs that were written before the pandemic was even a thought and turned out to also be reflective of that situation.
Vicki: They kind of took on their own meaning as we progressed.
AH: This one was released pretty early on, and it really fit the times because it addressed grief and separation.
Vicki: You want things to be universal and connect, and feel it in their hearts, and we hope that comes across.
AH: It’s interesting that “Tumbledown Hearts” was a little later in the album process. People don’t talk about relationships among more mature people very much in music, and they should, nor do they often talk about complicated relationships. This song seems to be about people who have been through stuff in life and are now approaching a kind of equilibrium or understanding together in some way.
Vicki: I think with our generation, people still love music and need things that they can relate to. This is a song about people who have seen a little bit more of life and can put them in a different perspective than when they were super young and had rose colored glasses on about relationships. I think the older you get, the more you realize, a relationship is what you make it. The song kind of reflects that.
Van: The song just kind of spilled out. The first line, “Snap off the light,” is something that I stole from a 1940s Bogart film, To Have and To Have Not. He’s telling Lauren Bacall to snap off the light when she leaves. I thought it was a great phrase. The song is a collection of phrases we had put in our phones to get to later, and when we put them all together, the song came together quickly. It’s not about a one-night stand, but it’s about maybe something that happens one time and leaves the people to think, “Let’s take a deep breath here.” So it’s a beautiful thing, but it’s also a little bit cautionary.
AH: That’s terrifying since it suggests that love can be really scary at any stage of life and in any situation! Regarding the music for that song, I was really struck by the fact that it could have been a really straightforward country song and worked, but a lot of Indie Rock elements come in and make it even more interesting.
Van: That’s exactly right. Between the two of us, we’re well known for putting a spin on things like that, especially musically.
AH: I noticed that one song is obviously about traveling, “Skywriting.” How much did the experience of that trip impact you?
Vicki: It was a real eye-opener. I think any kind of experience where you get out of your comfort zone widens your perspective on things. You see that people everywhere is pretty much the same. We all want love, respect, and good things in life for the people that we love. When you get out in the world and see how different cultures operate in ways that are not like what you’re used to, it makes you think about what you’ve learned and what you need to unlearn. It’s just conditioning. It does inspire a lot of writing and ideas. I don’t know if it was because I was so sleep deprived or because I was sitting on an airplane so much, but it definitely had a big impact on quite a few songs.
Van: We went to London for six days, and it was a whirlwind, especially since I had never been, but we were in Australia for 30 days. The first thing you realize is how different everything is, like seeing a whole tree full of cockatoos. But we did a lot of traveling that was pretty exhausting and it left us very reflective about a lot of things. We realized what we took for granted about home and also what was so wonderful about Australia, and Tasmania particularly. It inspired a good half of the record, I think. “Skywriting” and “Where Are We Going” are two of the big ones. But there are other songs we didn’t completely finish. Though there are ten on the album, there are ten unfinished.
AH: “Skywriting” really builds a certain atmosphere.
Vicki: We wanted a feeling of floating and space. Joni Mitchell was kind of my muse on that one. Liam Grundy played keyboard on that song, and before he came to Memphis to play, he really listened to the lyrics and recreated the lyrics musically in his solo.
Van: Vicki wrote the lyrics while we were in Tasmania and Australia, but we didn’t really have a chance to work on the song until we got back from the trip and caught our breath. She had a whole song of lyrics and a basic melody, so I just randomly sat down at the keyboard and put it on the Wurlitzer electric piano. I started playing it as if it was already there, pretty much, so that’s where the composition came from. That’s what we sent to Liam in London and when he came over, he did five tracks on five of our songs. He played over the Wurlitzer and the result is something like Joni Mitchell playing with Traffic. That really surprised us when it came together so quickly.
AH: There’s a really otherworldly feel to it. It could almost be an orchestral song if that was a goal. A couple of these songs have some social elements to them, conjuring up some of the strife and discourse of recent life, though they could go back further. “A Place of No Place” is really intriguing and seems to talk about violent conflict.
Vicki: It’s current events, for sure, from when Trump’s reign of terror was still in office. But also it was inspired by looking at everything that was going on, and finding it appalling. I came up through the 60s as a young kid, living in Memphis when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and seeing a lot of awful things. I can see that we’ve been to these places before and we had to get up, protest, and fight. It’s pretty much about being unhappy with what’s going on in our world as a whole and knowing that you have to take an active part to change it. It is a protest song.
AH: It’s motivating. Remembering what we’ve been through is important so we can take it as a cautionary tale.
Vicki: It’s Rock ‘n Roll, too. I’ve got Rock ‘n Roll in my heart. I remember saying, “This is a Rock song. Think of The Rolling Stones!”
Van: Let’s steal from the best!
AH: I am a huge Rolling Stones fan, so you will not hear me disagree. Though there is a wide range of sound approaches on Any Such Thing and that seems to go along with the vibes and ideas of the different songs.
Vicki: Everybody wants to put you in a box, but if I hear a great Jazz song, I want to sing that. Also Rock, Pop, Country. Linda Ronstadt was a big influence and a huge idol of mine in younger years.
Van: We have our own unique genre. It’s called “Lower Middle Classical.” We’re going to have a Lower Middle Classical Festival someday.
Vicki: That’s it! Trademark that.
AH: Another song with social themes on the album is “Everyone Is Out of Tune.” I thought it was really cool that the musical composition actually suggests discord, too. Is that a more recent song?
Van: Yes, it’s one of the last ones that came together.
Vicki: That’s one that got pulled together in the studio.
Van: It’s kind of a twisty thing, but that’s the idea, that things are so discordant. I’m not going to say that I have an answer to that, but it is interesting writing about it.
AH: I appreciated that there was nothing cut and dry about that. I mean we are dealing with social chaos right now, and sometimes a great song just reflects the times. It helps people look at these things.
Vicki: Every artist hopes that work will make people think about things more deeply.
Van: …Or maybe just think about a different take on things.
Find their information here: https://www.lovelandduren.com
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