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QRD #31 from August 2006
about this issue
Jessica Bailiff interview
Tara Vanflower interview
Nathan Norman (Devo 2.0) interview
Alan Sparhawk interview
Heller Mason interview
Kimber Lanning interview
2:22 by Tara Vanflower
Murder Suicide by Tara Vanflower
My Name is Brian
The Transformation of Ernesto
I Heart FX - Jim DeJong
I Heart FX - Bill Horist
I Heart FX- Shiny Arnd the Edges
I Heart FX - Alan Sparhawk
I Heart FX - Jessica Bailiff
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Interview with Heller Mason
August 1, 2006
Heller Mason: Minimalist and Anchored Heller Mason is the singer-songwriter project of Todd Vandenberg.  I’ve been in touch with him for a few years now after hearing his original three song demo disc back in early 2003.  I liked his stuff enough to put out his record.  & now, the interview...
: Listen to the song Minimalist & Anchored
: More info
: Reviews
QRD – Your early demos were just you & your guitar.  Why did you feel the need to embellish the recordings?

Todd – Well, it actually happened by accident you could say.  I had in mind to do the record with some cello & a little bit of electric guitar & bass & maybe some female vocals.  But then as I played it to people along the way who were in bands in the area; first there was the drummer who wanted to add something & then it just kinda went on from there.

QRD – You started recording your debut album a couple years ago & scrapped things & started over a couple times.  How do you know when you need to start over versus when you're finished?

Todd – It’s kind of interesting because there were times I thought I was finished.  There were times when I really liked the album & then I’d listen to it the next day & listen to it too much & I’d just be sick of it & I thought there was too much wrong with it for it to be released.  There were times when I thought I was done with it & I’d send it off to labels & if it worked out they’d give me money to properly record it.  But I guess just being able to let it breathe for a while & step away from it for a couple months & then going back to mix & master it helped a lot.

QRD – Having worked as a music reviewer for a while, did that affect your idea of needing a record to be somewhat perfect?

Todd – I don’t know if that had anything to do with it.  A lot of the albums I listen to are recorded on a low budget, but I’m a perfectionist by nature.  No matter what I do.  This past week I went to do some disaster relief work & I was slow in what I was doing just because I wanted to make sure I was doing things right, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing as far as fixing houses & things like that.  I don’t know, I just always feel like I don’t want to wish I’d done better when I look back on something.

QRD – Despite having written quite a bit of material between the inception of Minimalist & Anchored, you kept it as the original collection instead of working in the new songs.  Why was it important the album only be those tracks?

Todd – They were all written at a certain time in my life & are all about pretty much the same subject.  The two bonus tracks were written about a year later.  But it needed to all stay together as its own story & own collection.  The same thing now with the next album, it’s pretty much done, but even if I wrote another song I wouldn’t have it on there.  It might not jump out at other people listening to it, but it would jump out to me because it would be about something else.

QRD – Who is Heller Mason & why do you use that name instead of your own for the project?

Todd – It’s an artist’s last name from Florida.  Her name is Elizabeth Heller-Mason.  I saw her art at the college I attended.  It doesn’t really have anything to do, per se, with her.  I saw her art & I liked it.  You could say her art is a little feminist in nature & about social injustices & things like that.  So it doesn’t really have anything to do with my music.  But I liked her last name & I stole it for a project I had started with some friends where I was playing drums (even though I didn’t know how to play them) & my friend was playing bass & we were doing kind of a post-rock-Tortoise-y kind of thing.  When that just gradually fell apart after a couple months I decided to start playing guitar & I liked the name still, so that’s how it became the name.

QRD – How long do you think it will be before your next album is finished as far as actual recording?

Todd – Well, I guess the songs have been done for the most part for a year & a half to two years already & it’s just a matter of buckling down & practicing & a matter of getting everyone who was on the last album (who the majority of will be on again) & figuring out there schedules & making sure they’re not gone when I book the studio.  I would essentially like to record it in a week & a half instead of a year & a half.

QRD – You work with Ameri-Corp, how do you think this type of job is helpful & detrimental to being a musician?

Todd – Well, in the past I pretty much just worked in coffee shops & record stores, which is kind of what I think a lot of musicians do unless they lucked out & became teachers or professors or something like that.  For the time being I wouldn’t say it took me away from music, but has made me focus more on something that I see as a career working with kids.  So I haven’t really written a song in a while since I’ve been involved with Ameri-Corp for almost a year now, but I’m not sure if there really is a connection.

QRD – Why did you want to cover the Rivulets' song "Barreling Towards Nowhere Like There's No Tomorrow"?

Todd – I was doing some reviews for a magazine out of Milwaukee & they sent me a copy of the first Rivulets record.  It was one of those times matching music with a time in your life.  So that album just hit me really hard & I ended up doing a half dozen shows with Rivulets.  I just really liked it.  It’s funny because all the people who played on the song have never heard the original, but I guess I’ll play it for them soon.

QRD – I heard some story where out of high school you went to Europe & happened to see Rivulets in Paris & it kind of altered your musical direction.  What is the story?

Todd – Actually I was done with college & it was November of 2002 & I was already familiar with Rivulets at that point.  But I pretty much found out he was playing in Paris while I was in Paris by accident as a coincidence.  I think I saw it on a website or on a flyer & I went to see him play.  I think it was the Glacial Dreaming tour.

QRD – Besides the singer-songwriter type stuff, you've been in a couple other musical projects.  What were they & how did they lead you to where you are now?

Todd – The first music that got to me was punk rock.  So that’s kinda the background that I came from.  Getting into it from Green Day &  Mtv & the radio & before that Nirvana & Soundgarden & Pearl Jam & things like that.  You get into punk rock from the stuff that’s more mainstream & then the more underground stuff.  So I was into a lot of hardcore bands.  So the first three or four bands I was in I had no idea how to play an instrument & I was just a singer or screamer & the songs were a minute & a half long or a minute.  Even during that time I was getting into things that were on Jade Tree & The Promise Ring & Texas is the Reason, kind of emo bands.  So I started a band with some friends when I first got to college & we were kind of a Get Up Kids/Lifetime-ish band.  Poppy but with a bit of an edge.  After that was a band called The French New Wave & in all these bands all I did was sing & hopefully I progressively got better.  The French New Wave was a little bit slower & I started to do some percussion with tambourine & claves & things like that.  I really liked that band, but I was going through a little bit of something & I was starting to learn to play guitar & do solo shows looking down at my hands a whole lot & then I stopped doing the band & kept doing the solo stuff.

QRD – You've been in a long distance relationship with your girlfriend for a while now, do you think it allows you to focus on your music in ways that might not be as acceptable in a relationship with closer physical proximity?

Todd – I don’t know so much about that.  It’s only been about four months, but I did by coincidence write my first couple songs in quite a while during that time.  Maybe there’s a connection, maybe there’s not.

QRD – I know when you've done strings of shows in the past you've kind of focused on the house show punk/emo circuit.  What do you like about this type of show? 

Todd – Looking back I like how intimate they are.  That’s the kind of show I like the best.  Shows that I played with no amplification at all that sounded real familiar to me because it was just like sitting in my room.  But when you start throwing in microphones & having your guitar hooked up, there start to be problems.  One of the things I got frustrated with was bad PAs & low turnouts.  That got frustrating because no matter how good I’d play, it would sound bad to the listener as far as acoustics go.

QRD – Do you have a problem with these people not wanting a guy with an acoustic guitar?

Todd – Yeah.  Sometimes it was surprising.  I got thrown on a hardcore show on a tour & I thought nobody would care, but it turned out to be one of the best shows.  People sat down & listened & it was great.  Then there were other times I thought it would be good, but people just talked & wouldn’t go outside to do it.  There’s a positive side & a negative side to it & mostly it has to do with making sure there’s a good PA system.

QRD – Why did you feel drawn to work with Silber Records?  It seems like a label dealing exclusively with alt-folk might've been a better match?

Todd – Well it was Nathan from Rivulets.  I talked to Silber first three years ago about my demos.  But with the Alcohol EPs & Jamie Barnes here is some stuff in the folk/acoustic realm.  Nathan kinda emailed me out of the blue saying, “Brian asked me about your album & I think if you did this & that…” & he kind of mediated the situation.

QRD – What's your favorite piece of musical equipment?

Todd – Probably my guitar.  The first one I had was a Seagull & now I have a Martin & there is a world of difference.  The Martin has been good to me & fits my moods.

QRD – Anything else?

Todd – I don’t think so.