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Interview: Daniel Van Cortlandt of St. Van Cortlandt & The 101

Let the good times roll this autumn! With the crisp cool air slowly making its way into the north, fall music should best be served with some apple cider and bourbon by the fire. For music fans eager for such musical delights, look no further than with St. Van Cortlandt & The 101. Band members, Daniel Van Cortlandt, Troy Fannin, Marcel Hamel, Matthew Watanabe and Dave LeBlanc, have all unleashed some new greatness recently with their new single, Like The Arrow Miss The Stone, from their new upcoming EP “The Lion Tree.” To give listeners some more scope on these musicians, Daniel gave his piece on their music and adventures to date.

How it all began was quite simple. “I’m not sure it was entirely intentional to begin with. It was just something I loved doing as a kid because it provided me an avenue to express myself that I didn’t have otherwise. The transition into trying to do it professionally instead of as an artistic hobby was purely masochistic, ha-ha. Seriously, I think what that really boils down to is a desire to do the thing you love doing as often as you possibly can, and since we all have to work, the best way to do that is to get paid to do it. The trick with that though is balancing doing it often with doing it in a way that is both satisfying to you and ethical toward your audience. Do you persevere as an original artist, staying true to what your heart tells you to, or do you take the music job that pays but doesn’t really provide much artistic or spiritual fulfillment? Do you make music that is going to provide the listener with some sort of positive value, or do you make musical equivalent of junk-food? I think you can look at challenges like that as obstacles or opportunities. I look around at the mainstream music world and I see ways that I can add something to the conversation, it’s just a matter of getting heard.”

Their greatest musical achievement is their new bits soon to grace the earbuds of many. “Our new EP, “The Lion Tree,” has got to be my current favorite. To borrow your word it feels like the most ambitious thing we’ve done to date. The first St. Van Cortlandt record was, at the time, pretty ambitious for me, in terms of making a whole record from start to finish by myself, and making sure each of the songs on there was as good as the next, and that each one had it’s own individual journey from rough sketch to completion. In the end, it is a collection of good songs that don’t necessarily relate to each other. “The Lion Tree” was a step in another direction. For starters the project had developed from a one-man show to a collective effort from the band. The music itself was written with that collective spirit. Each of the songs leans on the next, creating a listening experience that works best when you take the record in as a whole. It’s not perhaps, the most conventional strategy in the current climate of singles, but then again it is only a four song EP so we’re not asking anyone to listen to a 70 minute prog-rock opus. Just a 20 minute one.” However, there would be some fans out their eager for an opus of that caliber, one can dream.

Venue choices come easy for these musicians. “There are a lot of musical milestones that are still ahead of us. We are trying to get our first tour together right now, but it’s hard breaking into new markets in areas where we haven’t played before. I’ve wanted to do SXSW for years now, and we are currently trying to arrange a performance at the Band Shell in Central Park. As far as past performances, I think finally playing at Rockwood Music Hall has felt like a bit of a triumph for us.”

As shows slowly blend together, there are some that stick out. However, they are not always ideal. “I guess that would also be our first three shows at Rockwood Music Hall, ha-ha. We had a pretty rough string of unfortunate circumstances. The first time we finally booked Stage 2 was January 23rd, 2016, which if you live in New York, you might remember was the day of this winter’s big blizzard. I was at work checking my phone every 15 minutes to see if they were going to cancel the show, and when they finally did, it was a mix of feeling crushed and defeated, but also relief that I wasn’t going to have to risk my bandmates’ lives to play to an empty room. When we finally rescheduled it was in April. We played pretty well, but halfway through the set, while we were playing three brand new songs that rely on a lot of electric guitar, the house guitar amp completely melted down! The sound guy was great and rushed in with a replacement amp but our guitarist Troy was so upset! I was laughing because that’s what I tend to do in those kinds of situations, but I just kept telling everyone that third time’s a charm and our next gig at Rockwood would be a huge success. It turned out to be true. The next time we played there was our private pre-release party for our new EP, “The Lion Tree.” The place was packed, the performance was really great, and we caught the whole thing on film. We’re actually going to be releasing live music videos from that show periodically throughout the rest of this year, but the first one is up at on Vimeo. It’s for an as-yet-unreleased song called Love On Cassette.” The musicians are truly dedicated to their craft and the work really has paid off in the end.

As purveyors of the musical space, Daniel gave his take on the overall business. “It’s a bit of a discouraging time, with the way that people seem to value music mostly as an afterthought, something to color the experience of some other activity. They value it below their morning coffee in terms of what they are willing to pay for it. Of course, live music seems to be in a perpetual state of decline with music venues closing up due to low audience attendance, while the venues that are still around are becoming less likely to take as many chances on newer bands. It’s a pretty big difference from the days when music seemed to fuel and even steer the wheel of mainstream culture, or at least that’s how it feels to me. Perhaps it’s just because a lot of the music that does seem to impact the mainstream culture today doesn’t really speak to me as much anymore, and it feels more disposable and forgettable than ever. There are two thoughts that comfort me though. One is that art has always been a difficult vocation, that throughout all time artists have struggled to live and to produce their art. There is no such thing as ‘the good old days.’ It’s just that the challenges and the obstacles have changed. Like I said, sometimes challenges are really just opportunities. That leads me to my other thought, that all of this is simply a matter of adapting to change. Someone is going to figure it out, a new business model, a new live format, something that will revitalize the audience’s interest in the kind of music that speaks to our humanity a little more than it speaks to our digital avatars. The kind of music that wants to reach in and shake our souls more than it wants to help market potato chips.”

Beyond music, artistic ambitions remain strong. “This might sound crazy but I’ve always kind of wondered about directing films. I love that medium and it seems like the artists with the biggest and boldest artistic statements in that field are directors. The director’s name also seems to be the most reliable indicator of quality, in most cases.”

As a whole, the band keeps their collective experimentation alive. “Part of the concept behind St. Van Cortlandt & the 101 is maintaining an exploratory spirit with each new project. On the whole first record my mandate was to set different variables for each song. Whether that was building a home instrument, or sampling my favorite drum sound, or recording with different singers and instrumentalists, or experimenting with arrangements, the idea was never to do the same thing twice. With the new EP we took that same idea and evolved it. I think on the next record we will again. Even as we speak we are experimenting with our format. We had a show on September 30th at Rockwood Music Hall and we stripped things down to just acoustic guitars, bass, and vocals, and Natalie Mishell jumped on stage and sang some harmonies with us. We do this because it’s fun and keeps things interesting to try to express our songs in new ways, but it also reflects life in the way that life is always changing and unpredictable.”

Influences range from all over the place. “I still have a lot of the same heroes I did as a kid: Trent Reznor and Tom Waits. I just saw Beck at Mountain Jam and I was floored by how great of a performer he has become. I think the band I am currently the most crazy about is Baroness. They are doing something harmonically with heavy music that I’ve never heard before. They are just as great live as they are on record.”

Daniel never seems to slow down and is enjoying every moment that he can. “I’m picking up my best friend and his wife at the airport, then we’re going to have dinner at my girlfriend’s apartment! She makes the best food I have ever eaten! I’ve got to practice for the acoustic show, and I have a whole bunch of press-kits for our new RP to put in the mail. It’s a busy life! We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now surrounding the release of “The Lion Tree,” tours and videos and the like. Probably the next big thing is recording the next single. I can’t tell you too much about it other than I want to try focusing on one song at a time for a while and making each one special in it’s own way.”

Give these gentlemen a listen and join their addictive musical enjoyment. With their roots expanding in the space, they will soon become names to remember. Make this fall a worthwhile one with some great tunes. Get down with it.

Jam On.

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Written by Myles Hunt

Music fan, simple and sweet.

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