By Zach Schepis
Images courtesy of Fireships.
Andrew Vladeck has spent the past couple of hours getting lost in Columbus, OH. Maybe it’s the school spirit that has suddenly overwhelmed him, causing the artist to temporarily lose his bearings.
“If you were here and made a drinking game where you had to drink whenever you saw someone wearing an Ohio piece of apparel, you wouldn’t get far,” he says, laughing. “Because you would have to crawl.”
As principal songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist for the band Fireships, Vladeck allows himself to be overwhelmed with beauty. He’s currently on tour in support of his band’s newest release: a self-titled record which blends traditional folk roots music with unique instrumentation.
The result is a thoughtful layering of gentle plucking, West African rhythms, soaring harmonies, and electric pop hooks. Each song belies an earnest longing that remains with the listener long after the final hooks have receded back into the clouds.
Vladeck takes some time out of his busy schedule on the road to share with BTR the process behind the making of Fireships.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): You’re native to New York City, but have always been fascinated by the power of nature. Do you find those two forces coming to a head in your songwriting?
Andrew Vladeck (AV): Definitely, in part because like many New York artists going back a while I’m very enamored by Appalachian and southern music. Whether it’s the greats of the blues–Blind Willie McTell, Fred McDowell, rag-time or gospel–that’s where I start from. It’s my spirituality in a way, but my life is living in New York City, and the energy there shepherds my spin on all of that music to be its own particular mixture.
BTR: You were a New York City urban park ranger in Central Park for a while and from what I read you used to put on spontaneous public performances while in uniform.
AV: That’s right!
BTR: Did those experiences as “The Singing Ranger” later go on to influence your current group Fireships?
AV: The reason it worked, I think, is because I was a New Yorker in the nature of New York. Also the whole experience was born out of encouragement. Performing in that environment, it was an organic place to do what I love to do most. Finding that kind of space for my music, maybe it didn’t steer the music per se, but it felt right and inspired me to continue pursuing it.
That’s ultimately why I left the rangers, because all I really wanted to follow was the music. They were both very meaningful to me, but I needed to pursue it on my own.
BTR: Speaking to that kind of natural place for the music, you first created Fireships while living in the Hudson Valley during the winter. What was that period like and how did it inform the music?
AV: Having the silence and space which to really reflect on what my musical strengths were, naturally, was really important. I needed that to withdraw and gain a perspective that would give me the courage to follow myself.
I love folk roots and blues music–I can play all of Reverend Gary Davis and Blind Willie McTell and all of those guys–but I never found a way to express myself personally through that music. I only played it as a source of solace and peace. In the valley I was able to finally find a way to express myself while borrowing from that tradition in terms of guitar style.
It wasn’t until my friends came to visit that I realized the sound could be expanded upon, since I had realized and formed my own foundations.
BTR: Expanding that material, how did you know who you wanted to contribute and was it difficult?
AV: That was incredibly easy, sort of a just-add-water experience. Water, in this case, was the incredible pool of musicians that I’m surrounded by. A lot of them I play with in a giant collective band called Balthrop Alabama, and includes Lauren Balthrop, who has her own band Dear Georgiana. It also includes Jason Lawrence and Chris Buckridge, who both play on the record as well.
They were the friends I invited up to visit; they’re my people! They really fleshed everything out, it was very fortunate. And Lauren’s boyfriend Paul Loren came up Saint Patrick’s [Day] weekend and we got to know one another during a hike. We decided we’d work together, so he ended up producing the record.
BTR: What kind of creative headspace were you in for the writing of the songs?
AV: I was looking for ways to express the journey, my path as a human being who is ambitious and lost and passionate and longing for connection. I wanted to express that in a humorous and snarky way, but also have it be dreamy and meaningful. I wrote the songs to work it out in my mind, to figure out what I was really doing, and to make peace with the past.
I was often inspired by friends and it’s no surprise that a lot of the songs are co-writes. I was definitely collaborating a lot more than usual. Many of the songs are different from one another too, but they’re all united by the common threads of love and becoming.
BTR: Working with other artists can really push you in new and exciting directions.
AV: I was also collaborating in a sense with authors, with books. This was thanks in part to the Bushwick Book Club, which is a songwriting circle back in Brooklyn. Friends getting together to push one another in terms of writing and to really challenge each other–that’s what pushed me to make the best work I’ve ever done.
To hear more from Fireships, check out their official website or tune into BTR’s very own In the Den.