Crowd Control

John Vanderslice gets by with a little help from his friends both live and in the studio.

"He was extremely respectful of what I was trying to get at," Vanderslice says of Darnielle. "Only a couple times did he tell me to tear something down and only a couple times did he do serious renovations on the structure of the lyrics. He was very, very good at getting me to just do very clean and simple cuts on stuff and to tell me when to be clearer. He would suggest some verses and lines that are some of the best lyrics in the batch."

In particular, Darnielle lent his skills to "Trance Manual," perhaps the most beautiful and convoluted song on Revolt. (Darnielle was responsible for the line "wear your aqua mirabilis dotted on your pulse points," a line that Vanderslice refers to as "unbelievable.") In the song, an American reporter embedded in Iraq gives a series of serpentine instructions to an Iraqi prostitute, past armed guards and barricades and into the bowels of a Holiday Inn's sub-basement.

"The idea there is that the directions are convoluted — our place in Iraq is so fucked up and so misplaced that to find the American presence in Iraq is like a bizarre series of contradicting and confusing directions," he says. "I loved [that] the whole setup of the song was just getting to that guy's office." And while Darnielle was responsible for suggesting the sexual-solicitation-as-political-occupation metaphor, Vanderslice still found a way for the track to double as a love song: "Dressed like that, you are a flag of a dangerous nation/Dressed just like that, you are some kind of declaration."

John Vanderslice: Karaoke wizard or twisted pop genius? You decide.
John Vanderslice: Karaoke wizard or twisted pop genius? You decide.


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If Vanderslice's fans have come to expect the unexpected from his songs, the singer has tried to avoid letting himself be burdened by the expectations of his crowd. In a sense, by offering the fans the chance to live out the fantasy of being lead singer for a song, Vanderslice is getting what he wants: an unpredictable show in which the barrier between singer and audience has vanished.

"I don't want to sound selfish, but I guess I'm really only interested in what I'm interested in, because if I was too paralyzed by what I thought people wanted then we definitely would be more boring," Vanderslice says. "We're willing to have someone completely ruin a song, or completely outdo me."

The open-mic aspect of this tour may be a thrill for Vanderslice, but what about the audience? How do they feel about some yokel flubbing the lines to the late-summer wistfulness of "June July"? When asked if people have complained to him about the guest singers, Vanderslice offers a glimpse into the dark territory of his fans' psyches.

"I'm sure people think that, but I'm sure people think everything," he says. "I'm sure there's someone in out the audience thinking 'Man, I would love to sodomize that guy,' you know? I'm sure that people are thinking, like, 'I would love to burn these guys' van to the ground,' and I'm sure someone else is like, 'I wanna move next door to that guy and stalk him forever.' You have to be open and honest about the multitude of people's thoughts."

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