John Vanderslice came into his own as an indie singer/songwriter in the 1990s. He turned indie record producer and recording engineer, founding Tiny Telephone—an analog recording studio located in the Bay area—in 1997.
On his own he’s released 12 albums over the years, working in studio with indie bands such as Frog Eyes, Samantha Crain, The Mountain Goats, and Grandaddy, and had previously worked with Sophie Hunger, Bombadi, Strand of Oaks, and Spoon.
Vanderslice grew up in rural Florida, but the family moved to Maryland in 1978 when he was 11 years old.
In seventh grade, at the tender age of 13, he partook of the herb when an older friend offered.
“He was in eighth grade, but I remember thinking he was 100 years older than me,” he laughed. “I was an anti-authoritarian stoner-kid who loved the Kinks and David Bowie.”
Cannabis, he said, was central to him learning to play the guitar.
“The plant changed what I listened to and deepened my understanding of what music could do – as well as how incredible it could make you feel,” he shared. “I was simply more perceptive, and my senses were heightened while stoned. Once I started smoking, it was always about playing or listening to music, weed was and is,” he emphasized, “always connected.”
He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics and a minor in history, when California called in 1990. Vanderslice waited tables while taking classes at the University of Berkeley, with his sights on being an English teacher. But after five years as a member of the indie band MK Ultra, music called him away from academics.
Music & Muse
Tiny Telephone recording studio was established with Vanderslice working full-time as a producer beginning in 2014, and the Oakland studio opening in 2015. Bands who have recorded with Tiny Telephone include Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney, Okkervil River, Deerhoof, and Spoon—all bands that would shape the sound of indie rock heading into the 2000s.
But, Vanderslice had written and recorded albums of his own, touring with his band MK Ultra, then solo for many years until focusing on producing.
His own music reflected much of what was going on in the world when he wrote it, with politics heavy on his mind.
“In 2000 I penned a song, ‘Bill Gates Must Die,’ for my Mass Suicide Occult Figurines album,” he said. “We concocted a hoax in which Microsoft supposedly threatened legal action over the song. The CD couldn’t be manufactured because the artwork resembled a Windows installation disc.”
Controversy aside, his 2005 album titled Pixel Revolt referenced the September 11, 2001 attacks and the Iraq War, earning him an 8.3 rating on Pitchfork, cited as an excellent album for its meticulous arrangements.
In 2007 he said he was so beaten down by politics he titled his latest work Emerald City, referencing the Green Zone in Baghdad and the Wizard of Oz.
“I was so depleted as a person I had to write myself out of it,” he explained.
By 2009 his voice lent itself to a softer side of life with Romanian Names, with a focus on personal reflection, romance and our human relationship to nature. Many other albums would follow until the fateful crash and subsequent exit from performing.
Fader called Vanderslice “a mammoth figure in the indie rock scene,” and a “folk troubadour raised on the hyphy movement and art-pop.” Stereogum referred to him as the “erudite and inventive singer-songwriter-producer… doesn’t get enough respect as one of the architects of 21st Century indie rock.”
As reported to The New Yorker, a near-death experience in 2014 while on a solo tour promoting his album, Dagger Beach, prompted him to quit touring and making records. He ended up putting all his energies and focus into helping others perfect and record their own music.
“The van we were traveling in nearly flipped on Interstate 80 in Ohio,” he shared. “Surviving was life-altering and caused me to immediately realize I did not want to die in a van on the road. I wasn’t heartbroken about it—it was like, I knew I had a good run.”
After many years of staying put and producing for others, today, he’s back on the road with his own music, launching album, Eeeeeeeep, on August 21; with single, Song for Leopold, to be released on August 5.
He continues to run Tiny Telephone, relocating from Los Angeles to be closer to his San Francisco studio; while opening a third recording studio, Grandma’s Couch, back in LA.
“My stash is very tweaked and modulated,” he explained. “I’ve tried so many different types of edibles and sublingual sprays to find the ones that really work for me—especially when I’m dealing with insomnia.”
Due to a musician’s grueling schedule, calming down and getting to sleep after a gig is a real conundrum. But Vanderslice said he’s been dealing with the sleep disorder since he was 12 years old.
“I’ve become a pro at ignoring it, but cannabis at night definitely helps,” he explained. “Other than my sleep issues, I feel very healthy—and I know the plant has something to do with that.”
Vanderslice said he loves going to dispensaries, remembering a time when all his weed was sourced from the illicit market.
“I grew up when you could actually do jail time for this shit, so it still feels slightly taboo,” he added.
His current stash includes the cultivar Grape Ape, grown on some land a friend has in Sonoma County in Northern California.
“It’s biodynamic and delicious!” he shared. “He’s a great grower and has been providing weed for Tiny Telephone for a while now. His cultivars are studio favorites and enhance the music and the recording experience.”
Other flowers in his stash include Chocolate Hashberry, Purple Diesel, Berry White, Pacific Stone 12 percent Lemon Diesel, and Old Pal—a 10 percent THC blend.
Vanderslice loves edibles and will ingest five to seven milligrams of an activated THC product at a time to get to sleep at night.
“Or, I’ll take a mix of two point five milligrams of THC in an edible, and 10 milligrams of CBD, a few hours before bed,” he said. “I think the 4:1 ratio of THC to CBD is perfect. There’s something unique about CBD when it has some THC to work with.”
He also uses Care by Design’s 8:1 and 4:1 sublingual spray, and Social CBD Tincture (previously called Select).
A self-proclaimed casual partaker, Vanderslice said he’s a cheap date and prefers the low THC cultivars.
“Two hits and I’m done,” he laughed. “I love getting high, but I do it only at night when I’m finished with work. Then, I love disconnecting from the world and listening to the rough mixes of music I’m writing or working on for other musicians.”
Aside from using the plant as muse for his work, medicating with cannabis also provides him with unbelievable clarity.
“I find it amazing how all the different methods of dosing and individual potency of cultivars feels so different to me at different times,” he added. “Weed transports me to somewhere completely different from where I am in my head and encourages me to focus on the present. I love turning off my phone and entering into a new, more personal space.”
For more information on Tiny Telephone recording studios visit, www.tinytelephone.com