The initial idea for The Wild Mercury – the fifth and newest album by Lexington-bred Mark Heidinger, better known as Louisville indie folk-pop stylist Vandaveer — was curiously tame.
The game plan called for some aural downsizing. Heidinger and Vandaveer mate Rose Guerin were to record a new batch of new, original tunes with minimal fuss and accompaniment — songs, harmonies, guitar and not much lot else.
But things quickly changed once Heidinger connected again with a crew of Lexington pals — producer Duane Lundy, longtime guitarist-collaborator J. Tom Hnatow and others. The sound and scope of what would become The Wild Mercury quickly expanded.
“I knew I had a batch of songs that I wanted to go in the studio with,” Heidinger said. “I thought, initially, given the thematic nature of the material, maybe this will become a stripped down, confessional type album — more of a singer-songwriter production.
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“But I had a pre-production meeting or two with Duane and thought, ‘You know what? We should really go all-in and do this as a band.’ We wanted to kind of find our way, sonically speaking, with the whole unit. So there was a lot of exploration in the studio where maybe with past records, we were working more in a sort of compartmental fashion and then pulling in pieces as we felt they were needed. With The Wild Mercury, there was much more collaborative, creative exploration in the studio.”
While Heidinger’s songs have long been the nucleus of Vandaveer’s music over the past decade — from its folkish intuition to its sometimes psychedelic reach — Guerin’s accompaniment has become a signature exponent of the group’s sound. Even in the expanded touring lineup — rounded out by guitarist/pedal steel ace Hnatow, bassist Blake Cox and drummer Robby Cosenza — Guerin’s singing shifts the temperament of the tunes from robustly soulful and to stark and ghostly.
“Rosie picks and chooses where she injects herself into the creative process,” Heidinger said. “She has very definitive ideas about vocal arrangements. I come from a pop background. Rosie comes from a storied folk family. That’s her reference point. There are times when I’m needing more of a pop harmony and she’s adamant about doing something that’s more in that folk vein. But Rosie has carte blanche when it comes to the sort of choral arrangement of vocals she brings to the table.
“We do a lot of vocal exploration where we’re just sitting together and it’s just the acoustic guitar and the two of us singing. She is just so innately good at harmonizing. She comes up with winding, melodic harmonies that are just world class.
I don’t know if a band in our position would have even come close to making a fifth record with the old economy and the old structure where if you didn’t sell a ton of your first record or a ton of your second record, there was no third record. So we if can carve out our own little niche and claw our way up our ladder leaning up against the giant wall of music, then I’m thrilled.
Mark Heidinger, Vandaveer
How does all this translate into the music the Vandaveer quartet will bring to this weekend’s second installment in the Sunday Sessions series (an evening that will also include an exhibit by Herald-Leader staff photographer Mark Cornelison) and subsequently, the furthering of what has already been considerable national attention for Heidinger’s songs, is difficult to forecast. He is well aware of what he terms the “new model” of the music business, so much so that The Wild Mercury retains Vandaveer’s indie profile by being the debut release for the Lexington-based WhiteSpace Records. Beyond that, Heidinger’s hope rests on his ability to be heard in any capacity, by any audience.
“There is a lot of complaining about the new music economy, about how it’s not fair and how it devalues music. Somehow, there is this idea that the old way of doing things was better and was inherently more fair. I think some of that is revisionism. I don’t know if a band in our position would have even come close to making a fifth record with the old economy and the old structure where if you didn’t sell a ton of your first record or a ton of your second record, there was no third record. So we if can carve out our own little niche and claw our way up our ladder leaning up against the giant wall of music, then I’m thrilled.
“We’re in our mid-to-late 30s and we’re making music ‘for a living.’ We’re finding a way to move forward. So it’s privilege more than anything. Of course I would like to be able to put this record in front of more people and perform it in front of more people onstage. But for that, you’ve got to put your head down and work. We’re fortunate in that we get to do that for as long as get to do it.”