On the folk-laced pop of “Roman Candle,” Mark Charles Heidinger compares a friend’s wild youth to a trip into space. The song is a coming-of-age story—complete with stops to Mars and the moon—about a person who emerges battered, bruised, and changed from travel. Heidinger sings in the chorus, “You always had a Roman candle for a heart; / Now you’ve got a firm grip on things from the start; / I suppose that’s a part of growing old.”
Heidinger, originally from Kentucky, has spent time playing with rock outfits the Apparitions and These United States, but for now his time is invested in his own project—Vandaveer. Vandaveer is an old family name that most recently belonged to his great-grandfather and father. Heidinger decided to continue the tradition in 2006, when he moved to DC. “Instead of giving it to a child, I decided to give it to a musical project,” he says. “Songs are kind of like children. You don’t have to change diapers, but you do have to nurture them.”
“Roman Candle,” like all Vandaveer songs, is built around the acoustic guitar, a clever set of lyrics, and Heidinger’s voice, which hits both conversational tones and higher-pitched harmonies with ease. On the spry “However Many Takes It Takes,” an instantly accessible track off 2007’s Grace & Speed, his lyrics bounce with a quality reminiscent of early Dylan. Heidinger isn’t a folk-rock icon, but he has a clear talent for narrative songwriting, within which he’s able to sprinkle bits of insight and wit. Like all the best musicians, he performs the balancing act of borrowing from other artists while making the songs undeniably his own.
Heidinger, who’s signed to French label Alter-K Records, has a new record due out in Europe on April 6. The US full-length is still in the works, he reports, but a seven-inch record will be released stateside in the spring.
Check out Vandaveer when Heidinger plays the Black Cat on March 9. We also recommend his performance on La Blogotheque.
For now, learn more about Vandaveer with our Q&A below.
Name: Mark Charles Heidinger.
Hometown: “Mostly somewhere just outside Lexington, Kentucky, but also a tiny town in Ohio called Cadiz.”
First song that made you want to play music:
“Well, let’s see . . . first there was “The B-I-B-L-E Song” back in my wee-little-tyke days, but that song just made me want to sing, almost exactly like so. A little later on, there was “Billie Jean,” which made me wanna dance, dance, dance. Eventually, all that flannel rock from the early ’90s hit the airwaves, and for a young teenage boy out in ruralish Kentucky, that was bit like opening the floodgates. My ears were green, but it seemed tangible enough. Soon after that, I found my dad’s old Gibson guitar and figured I’d make a go for it myself. I’m still figuring it out, having discovered a thousand others that still make me want to play music every day.”
“I plunked and clunked my way around a piano for several elementary-school years, moved on to the trumpet in junior high, then crystallized my course with that aforementioned Gibson.”
Local spot to seek inspiration or write music:
“Any spot can inspire if properly sought. Best to keep your eyes open and a notebook and pen handy.”
Best local venue:
“I’ve found plenty of love at each and every venue I’ve played in town, but I suppose my heart beats warmest at Iota and Black Cat.”
Best bar to hear music:
“The best bar to hear music is whichever one is playing the music you want to hear the most.”
Favorite local band other than yours:
“The inscrutable, indomitable Kitty Hawk. The masses know not what they’re missing.”
Best thing about Washington’s music scene:
Worst thing about Washington’s music scene:
“No matter how hard one tries, one cannot get enough Kitty Hawk.”
Craziest tour memory:
“We spent one epic night wandering the streets of Montmartre in Paris, barefoot as can be, searching for Sacre-Coeur. We eventually found it, but not before forgetting just how to wind our way back to our host’s apartment. Around dawn, we stumbled home and began scaling the ledge of the building to climb back through the window we had climbed out of hours before. Halfway across the ledge, 15 feet or so from the balcony, we were spotted by cops below on the street, shouting, ‘Arrêt! Vous êtes stupide! Vous êtes stupide!’ We opted not to stop, scurried over the balcony, closed the windows, and promptly passed out. With filthy feet.”
Finish this sentence: “When not making music, you can find me . . .”
“. . . walking my dog in Stanton Park.”
Rolling Stones or the Beatles?
“Yes, please. But if you’re gonna force me, I’ve gotta go with the Beatles.”
Digital download or hard copy?
“People still pay money for music? Happy to hear it, I am!”
Rolling Stone or Spin or . . . ?
“All-Story kills. Gently. Quarterly.”
Club show or festival?
“An appreciative audience tops all other factors. I’d play in a shoebox if the right audience was inside.”
When introducing your music to someone for the first time, what song do you play?
“I suppose if I’d written it or played it even once, or actually ever pondered such scenarios, I’d go with Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World,’ but since I didn’t, and I haven’t, and I don’t, I’m going to have to regrettably pass on this question.”
What song do you find yourself covering the most?
“I just spent the last few days recording a version of ‘Long Black Veil’ for a compilation that’s coming out later this year. That’s the number I’ve covered most recently.”
Vandaveer is a pretty flawless name. What are some of the band names that never made it?
“Well, thank you for saying so. I have a family tree full of ancestors who’d agree wholeheartedly with you on that account. Ill-fated band names . . . First there was Mark Charles & the Holy Roman Empire. Those were good times. Marco Polo was in the mix, but then some Canadian chap started rapping under said name. I always thought the Underground Monsters would make a good band name—not for the stuff I write as Vandaveer so much, just in general. However, in scientific studies conducted over the past six years, I’ve found exactly zero people who agree with me on that one. I have a notebook full of incredibly-awful-yet-somehow-still-awesome-at-the-same-time band names for projects that will never come to be. I suppose I could share them with you, but I’m gonna hold out just in case things with Vandaveer don’t pan out.”
Favorite musician or band that sounds nothing like you:
“Kitty Hawk. Try as I might, I sound nothing like Kitty Hawk. Is there a pedal or magical gadget of some kind that would do the trick? Really. Somebody? A little help here . . . .”