At age 16, a friend gave Vandarth a copy of the first Foo Fighters album where Dave Grohl played every instrument himself, saying “I think you could make an album like this”. It was a pivotal moment for Vandarth; he was blown away and began to record his own solo album. Today Vandarth performs as a one-man rock machine, but he still has dreams of turning Vandarth into a full-blown rock band someday soon.
Who is Vandarth? How did your music journey start?
“I am a music and guitar fanatic, a singer/songwriter living in Wichita, KS (USA). I grew up listening to bands like Foo Fighters, Green Day, Chevelle, and Pearl Jam. Anything with an electric guitar. My older brother got into grunge and alternative music when I was young. He brought the first Weezer album home one day when I was in first grade and I was hooked. I immediately started memorizing the lyrics and dreaming of becoming a singer/songwriter. I tried to learn guitar on my own a few times, but didn’t get serious about it until middle school. Before then, I wasn’t sure I would actually be able to learn to play guitar or write a decent song. What my musical heroes were doing seemed so far out of reach. Once I actually learned a real song though, I realized becoming a musician and learning to write a songs might actually be attainable for me. The possibilities seemed much more wide-open and that was exciting. Eventually I picked up bass guitar, drums, bought some recording gear and then realized I might actually be able to record entire albums as a solo artist at home.”
How did you come up with your stage name?
“I actually couldn’t think of a good stage name for a long time, so I asked one of my friends to come up with a name for me when I was 18. He said “Vandarth”. I asked him how he came up with it and he just shrugged. I thought it sounded cool, like Darth Vader driving a tour van, so I kept it.”
When did you first start connecting deeply to music in your life?
“That first Weezer album really impacted me. I loved the sound of the electric guitar but I also resonated with the lyrics. They were about relationships and I was way too young to be thinking about that, but another girl at school was also really into Weezer. We both memorized the words and would sing them together at school, which sounds kind of ridiculous now, but those songs actually helped facilitate a friendship that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
Did you have any music lessons growing up or are you self-taught?
“I’m mostly self-taught as a guitarist, although I did take guitar lessons in college. When I first learned, I just Googled “Green Day guitar music” out of curiosity and discovered guitar tabs. I didn’t even know that kind of guitar music existed, but I was able to figure it out and start learning on my own. I did have a background in piano which I think helped.”
What inspired your first song and when did you write it?
“A few years after I was introduced to Weezer, my neighbours and I decided we were going to make a “band.” Funny thing was, none of us could play instruments yet. Part of what drew us to the idea of making a band was the comradery. We did pick out three notes on guitar and some absolutely terrible lyrics. I decided the song was so bad that I didn’t even try to write again for at least five years.”
As a vocalist, which artists would you credit as your main influence?
“It’s tough to decide. I have vocal influences that are attainable for me, and influences I still aspire to be like. Vaden Todd Lewis from Toadies has one of my all-time favourite voices. When I was younger, I loved Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice, from Green Day. He had a unique vocal tone that seemed like something I could actually pull off. I’ve never had a great range. I loved Pearl Jam too, and my brother pointed out that a lot of the singers I listened to weren’t “great singers” but they were great at what they do. I think that encouraged me to try to learn to sing even though at that time, I did not believe I would be able to become a singer.”
Who are some of your songwriting heroes and do you think you can hear their influence in your music?
“As a lyricist, one of my heroes is Art Alexakis from Everclear. I think of him as a storyteller. He’s willing to say some pretty brutally honest things in his songs that would be embarrassing to admit in a normal conversation, but I think that made his music very relatable to me. Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters was a huge influence because he was able to make an entire record by himself. I would hear entire songs in my head. When I found out he recorded the first Foo Fighters record by himself, I wanted to try to record my own songs to see if I could get my own song ideas out onto a recording.”
“Musically I have a pretty wide range of influences: Blur, Avenged Sevenfold, Coldplay, Twenty-One Pilots etc. Anyone who is doing something interesting, creating “energy” with their songs or some kind of atmosphere.”
Do you have a songwriting process and routine that you follow?
“I don’t have a clear process but I do have a few different things I do. Sometimes I sit down with a guitar and just start playing to see what comes out. Other times, an entire song idea will float into my head while I’m mowing the lawn or taking a shower. Sometimes I have song ideas while I’m sleeping and have to write them down in the middle of the night. If I get stuck, I will try something different like pull up some synth software on the computer and see what I can come up with using a cool new sound. I might even try starting with a drum beat instead of guitar, so I have different tricks I use to deal with writer’s block.”
“Lyrically, I usually try to think of a theme or story that I want to write about first, but other times I’ll just hear a phrase somewhere and think “That could be turned into a catchy chorus”, then jot it down in a notes app on my phone for later. Then I have a list of ideas to work with in case I get stuck later.”
‘The Truth Is Out There’ was a inspired by X-Files. Your song ‘The Architect’ was inspired by a scene from The Matrix: Reloaded. Do you often draw inspiration from TV/film?
“I have used film for inspiration quite a few times. The song ‘Who You Are’ is actually based on an episode of Batman Beyond where he fights the Royal Flush Gang. Sometimes I turn to movies if I’m dealing with writer’s block. It’s helpful because I can get in a rut writing about the same personal experiences over and over again, so to freshen it up, I’ll try to write about someone else or imagine I’m living the experiences of a character in a movie.
You have licensed a number of original songs to various TV/Film projects. What would be your dream series or film to feature your music?
“My ultimate dream would be to have a song in a Batman movie. Any superhero movie would be cool. I did get lucky enough to license a song to Saturday Night Live last year; a Batman spoof with Zoe Kravitz (Catwoman) called ‘Please Don’t Destroy – We Got Her A Cat’. It’s the closest I’ve been to realizing that dream yet! It’s an orchestral song I composed though, not a Vandarth song.”
Up until now, what would you describe as your favourite song you’ve recorded? What makes that song special?
“That’s really tough! My longtime favourite song I’ve recorded was ‘Canon in Drop D’. I took the typical Canon wedding ballad and turned it into a heavy breakup song.”
“More recently though, I really like how ‘Delusions From The Mothership’ turned out. It’s spacey and atmospheric, then features a massive chorus. That song was originally based on an old demo that I recorded in college. I thought the song was only b-side material and almost didn’t re-record it this past year. When I finished though, I was so glad I had decided to record it anyways.”
What are the pros and cons of working solo on all aspects of your music? Is it important to you to have full control?
“It’s really hard to keep up with writing, mixing, editing and promoting. The downside of being a solo artist is there’s so much work to do. It’s hard to keep up with it consistently and maintain the level of quality I want, and the process can be lonely too. Sometimes I’ll have to stop and learn some new mixing technique to get the sound that I want, and that might delay a release or cause me to not post on social media for a few weeks. There are so many different hats to wear, and when you’re still trying to build your audience, disappearing for any length of time can be costly. From a marketing standpoint, people just forget about you. It’d be easier to have help from other band members.”
“From a songwriter’s perspective it is sometimes easier to keep the songs true to how I first heard them in my head as a solo artist. When you get other people involved, the ideas can morph into something else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, you just need people who mesh well stylistically. I had a band in my hometown called Project Hero for almost ten years, and their input took some of my ideas in new directions that were probably better than what I originally envisioned. I’d like to turn Vandarth into a band someday as long as it doesn’t compromise the sound I’ve developed over the years.”
If you could make a change in people’s state of mind through your music, what would it be?
“I think as I’ve entered my mid thirties, I’ve noticed a lot of my friends are struggling with some of the challenges life has thrown at them. I have as well. I really don’t think life is turning out to be what we thought it was going to be when we were kids. So in my twenties I mostly vented about that in my music, but now I’m trying to think more about what would help people get through the things they’re facing. I’d like to help give my friends a boost with my songs or help them feel like there’s a purpose to it all to help them hang in there. I think society is in a very stressful place right now, and I’d like my music to help people through that and inspire them.”
What’s on your bucket list that you’d want to achieve?
“I would love to score a film or TV show. I’ve been working to hone my skills in that area over the past couple years. Some regular or semi-regular work in TV/film would be a dream.”
“I’d also like to eventually make a miniseries that shows people what it’s like to be a songwriter, taking them deep into the creative process and the meaning behind the songs.”
“Someday I hope to be in a position to be able to help develop and encourage other young musicians. I know how difficult and discouraging it can be nowadays to try to build something from scratch. Sometimes it’s exciting, at other times it can be very painful. I hope to be able to help others through that someday and help develop strategies to reach their goals. Hopefully the experience I’m gaining now will enable me to do that later.”
If you won an award for your music, who would you thank?
“My parents, my old bandmates, and the friends who have listened to my music over the years. Anyone who invested in my future as a musician. Just knowing some people were enjoying the music helped me push through some of the discouraging periods. I might not have stuck with it without them especially given some of the obstacles I’ve had to face along the way.”
Do you have plans to release more new music soon?
“I do! My plan is to release a new single every two months for the foreseeable future. I do have a brand new album I’ve been working on that will feature some new styles; electronic elements blended with my usual rock sound. I want people to feel like they’re watching a Netflix show while they listen to music so it will give them almost a visual experience. While I perfect the newer songs though, I’ve been remixing and updating some songs from my first album that were never widely released. ‘The Architect’ is actually one of those songs. The original version featured some acoustic guitar and had no strings or piano. I tried to “modernize” it to give the song new life, and I am taking that same approach with my next few singles.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20 and why?
“I’m totally biased towards Dusty Grant’s ‘I Think I’m Okay!’ We’re from the same town and he actually got me my first gig in Wichita at the Elbow Room a few years ago. The thing that blew me away about this song is how much Dusty’s been improving. When I first discovered his music online, his sound was rougher and more acoustic-based. It was good though, and now it’s inspiring to see how much he’s been able to grow. The stuff he’s putting out now looks and sounds extremely professional. To see an artist grow like that actually shows other artists how they could develop over time. I’m very impressed with what he’s been doing lately.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“There’s an indie song I recently discovered called ‘Epoch 2140’ by Mercury Teardrop and Rosalie Sonsalla. I dug this song because of the atmosphere. It has that signature drum sound that I love, a soundscape created by guitars and you can hear some 90’s influence which is always a sweet spot for me. It’s kind of like a modern version of The Cranberries or Hole.”
Website: vandarth.com, YouTube: @vandarth, Twitter: @vandarth, Instagram: @vandarthmusic, Facebook: @vandarthmusic
(Photos by Heath Parsons)