Q&A with Pocket Vinyl
Piano slam rock. If there is any more perfect way to describe Pocket Vinyl, I’m not sure what it could possibly be. The New London, Conn., natives will be bringing their unique style of performing to the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St., beginning at 8 p.m. Jan 26.
Husband and wife duo, Eric Stevenson and Elizabeth Jancewicz, make up Pocket Vinyl, with an interesting twist. While Stevenson sings lyrics that one can’t help but relate to, Jancewicz paints beautiful works of art, making the performance breathe – almost come alive. At the end of the night, the highest bidder wins the painting.
The two aren’t strangers to the area either; they performed at Avenue 209 Coffee House in Lock Haven in November 2013.
Pocket Vinyl released “Death Anxiety” in October 2013, and are “trying very hard to be your favorite,” according to their website, which I’m sure they aren’t having too much of a problem doing.
Stevenson recently chatted via email with the Sun-Gazette, exploring the realm of being vulnerable with music, the couple’s fresh way of performing, and what to expect for their second performance in central Pennsylvania.
WIEGAND: On the title track of your album, “Death Anxiety,” you tackle some pretty deep, yet very relatable topics. (I don’t think I was made for children/ But how will I know unless I raise one/ I found I cannot make a baby/ Is it better that way? Maybe.) Is it a vulnerable feeling to be out in the open with your lyrics or does it lend to the experience of your music?
ERIC STEVENSON: Both, I think. Somewhere along the line in the past few years, I discovered that quite often the music I connect with the most is very vulnerable from the artist’s point of view. So I just tried to do that same thing. There were many songs on this album that I would cautiously bring the lyrics to Elizabeth and say something like “Is it OK for me to say this? Do I sound too stupid or blunt or rude or something?” She was (and is) always a great person for me to bounce stuff off of, to the point where I know she always has my back with that stuff. So if I ever write a song that nobody likes and thinks it was too far or something, I know she’ll be there still. If I didn’t have her, I don’t think I’d be as willing to be as honest in songs.
BW: You and Elizabeth are married. Besides performing together, do you write together as well?
ES: Not in the classic sense of it. We inspire each other a lot, with each of us giving the other ideas for a painting or song. We’ve kind of learned to do this weird collaborative thing where we each just do what we want. We’ve done it so much that it seems like it all just melts together. It’s kind of hard to explain, but most people who see the shows seem to get it. We’re both doing our own thing on stage, yet we do it together …. if that makes sense.
BW: What type of things, including other musicians, inspire you?
ES: When it comes to musicians, I’ve been listening to a lot of Ezra Furman recently. I find what he does very raw and honest, and was a huge push for me to be vulnerable lyrically. He can write in ways that upon first listen make me embarrassed just to hear them, as they sound so personal. He’s also just good at writing a fantastic rock and roll number. I’ve also been trying to listen to a lot of Elliott Smith and Joanna Newsom. I feel like they both play their instruments (guitar and harp, respectively) in unique ways, and I’m trying to kind of “crack their code” and figure out how to play the piano in similarly unique ways.
In terms of other things, given the title of our new album “Death Anxiety,” death has been something I’ve found especially inspiring. Just thinking about what it’s like, what it must feel like, what others will think afterwards, what might happen afterwards, how I would react to meeting God (if it’s there), etc. fills me with so much wonder in a non-depressing way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very scared of death, but that fear leads me to intrigue. And the more I’ve played those songs live, the more I’ve realized that they’re kind of inappropriate for bars, coffee shops, and public spaces. People tend to get uncomfortable when I try to talk about it, which only makes me want to dig into it more because it’s clearly a fear we all have. We all consider death in one way or another, and so many stories we make talk about how facing our fears is the best way to confront it. I don’t mean to get all philosophical, but it kind of comes with the territory of speaking about death, you know? I could talk about it for a while, but I’ll stop.
BW: Why did you decide to incorporate art into your performances?
ES: Honestly, there was no plan. Elizabeth and I really liked each other’s faces. Then we liked each other as people. Then I wanted to tour and I was going to by myself, but we both wanted to hang out more. One of our favorite bands is Cloud Cult, and they have two live painters on stage. So we figured if they did it, so can we. We had no idea that it would be as successful of a pairing as it’s turned out to be.
BW: How did you begin making music?
ES: My parents forced me to play piano since I was 5 or 6. I hated it until 10th grade, when I randomly found myself jamming with some friends spontaneously at school. We had fun and did it again, and again, and eventually we started to write stuff. I still hated piano lessons, but I really found some fun in composition. I also started listening to Radiohead and Beck a lot at that time, and I wanted to write weird stuff like them. Also, it was just a way to hang out with friends.
BW: What was your performance at Avenue 209 like? Have you ever been to area before? What can the Bullfrog audience expect if they’ve never heard of PocketVinyl before?
ES: In November was our second time to Avenue 209 and it was fantastic! People we didn’t know actually came out! In 2013, we’ve started to notice that some people, who aren’t our friends or family, will actually come to see us purposefully (I know, right?). They seem to be called “fans” and there were a few at that show. We’re very used to simply playing for whoever is at the venue, but it’s becoming more and more frequent that people seem to want to come see us more than once. Avenue 209 was definitely a night with a few folks like that. IT WAS AWESOME.
I’m hoping the Bullfrog audience will be as gracious and loving as the Avenue 209 audience. We’ll be playing for much longer than before, so we’ll probably overlap with a few crowds between 8 and 11 p.m. I very much like to talk in between songs and try to pull folks into the show and get into things like death and religion and all that (not in an “evangelical” way, mind you, but more of a curious “I have no idea what all this means, do you?” point of view), but it depends on the crowd at the venue and if they’re willing to play along with me with that kind of stuff. I have high hopes that the Bullfrog audience will be able to do that. Otherwise we’re just background music, and with the live art and everything, our show isn’t really built to do that. I kind of like to have the audience-performer relationship to be as two-way as possible and try to get rid of any walls there. We’ll do our best to do that at Bullfrog, you can be sure of that.
For more information, including free downloads of their latest album, “Death Anxiety,” visit www.pocketvinyl.com.