Talking to musicians, even only via email, is such a treat, especially when they can offer pleasant things such as humor and real insight. Van Tastik, an American expat living in Europe, offered just that in our brief conversation on the internet. I’ve selected his song “Drag Me to Hell” for the Music to Conquer Mountains playlist (link to song here please). Because the song is just so damn interesting, Spotify even selected him for its Delta Blues Playlist. I wanted to talk to Van Tastik about all that - his songwriting, being an expat and the power of streaming. Check it out!
According to your bio, you've traveled quite a lot in your life and you've chosen your home to be Edinburgh. Yet your music draws a lot on the roots of American music. Why have you decided to pursue those influences?
Well, I grew up basked in those roots on both sides of my family. I always associated with the pain and the passion that went into early American music - Blues, Gospel, Appalachian Folk, Great American Storytelling Folk, Early Ballad Style Country, Work Songs, Ring Shouting. Travelling all around and feeling isolated culturally - like an outsider and not having anywhere to call home always drew me to American roots music. But until more recently I have to admit that I'd long thought blues died in the 80s with the bunch of old men on yachts who sit around and listen to guys play the same lick on different tracks over and over and whom my parents grew up calling blues.
As an American living in Scotland, you're an expat. What's your main reason for living outside the US?
I actually don't consider myself to be very American, a part of me is but I don't believe in the selfishness which I see in the American economic and social models today. I spent most of my life in France which is actually my citizenship, where the model is far more socially-minded on the economic and social level. I miss America because most my family is there and because inevitably some part of me is there. When I can afford to, I return there.
Instead of forming a band, you've decided to write and perform on your own, even on stage, where you have an impressive setup that grants you the full band sound. Why?
I have played a plethora of genres in my life, church music, pop punk, heavy metal, funk, soul, jazz, deathcore, singer-songwriter, folk, acoustic punk, French, German, American, British but the one thing that always let me down was the band. Having organise people and corral them into rehearsals, gigs and composing just became an obvious Icarus mission if I intended to keeping moving around so much. I can't expect others to get on board with that so I decided to try it alone instead. I now travel using my music as the driving force behind it - and it's working so far: UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands and New Zealand all know my name and the more I travel the more people I intend to touch with my music.
You've been selected for Spotify's Delta Blues playlist. Did you feel that impacting your career in any way?
It has and I'm very grateful for it! However you're never on too many playlists ;). I hope to get myself on many as possible to become a go-to for people who are down but want a pick-me-up, people who are in sorrow but want a friend in their woe and people who want to dance to fast paced blues or sway and headbang to sludgey muddy fuzzy heavy blues riffs, too.
What's your take on this whole streaming thing? Is the digitalization of the music industry a good or a bad thing?
I think it's unstoppable. Ultimately it doesn't matter what the composers or the musicians think, it's up to US to make OUR music available to people in as many ways as possible. What I do believe in is letting people have it for free. At very least, some songs! I would much rather people download it from my website or bandcamp for free or write to ask for the files than download the stream from YouTube.
If you don't mind me asking - is Van Tastik your real name? It sounds a little bit fantastic to me, if you know what I mean.
Of course not, it's a stage name, a pseudonym, you know? Like many of the greats that inspire me. If you want to call me something else call me Lowly King C.
You’ve submitted this song to my playlist “Music to Conquer Mountains.” What’s your Mount Everest?
There's no peak that I want to climb as such, like the saying goes the sky is the limit right? The further up and afield I can take my art the better. Whatever form, medium or genre that art my be in.
What’s your greatest accomplishment so far?
Playing as far away as New Zealand and releasing two songs entirely on my own.
If you had to climb a mountain, what three items would you bring?
Are we talking fantasy (like "what i'd take from my house if there was a fire"?) if that's the case my guitar, something to write with and a helicopter to come and go as I pleased haha. If we're talking real practical: Good boots, a climbing pick and a harness with enough rope.
What great unknown band out there should our readers should definitely hear about?
Reignwolf. He's one of the people who helped me believe in myself as a musician again.
I love Reignwolf, couldn’t agree more. Thanks for answering my questions! I hope I'll get you see you live soon!