MLV: So, Charleston, South Carolina!
GH: Yeah, Charleston, that’s where I’m at right now!
MLV: It’s a great town…
GH: It’s a lovely town – have you played here before?
MLV: A few times at The Royal American, I’ve duck-walked across that bar a couple times. The people that work there are really, really cool. And we’ve played at High Water music festival back in 2016.
GH: Oh yeah, the first year!
MLV: That’s right. And Michael and Cary Ann have become really good friends over the years. We’ve done a bunch of different tours and our kids are just a day apart – our son Thor and theirs. Needless to say, I love Charleston.
GH: And your show is coming up on Monday, correct? The 20th at the Royal American. The Royal American is honestly one of the coolest bars in Charleston, hands down.
MLV: I think it’s one of the coolest bars on planet Earth. It’s pretty up there. Top 100 on the planet. Maybe top 50.
GH: So you came out with a new album this year, a solo album.
MLV: That’s right, called Light’n Up.
GH: Light’n Up, nine tracks, from Dine Alone Records. I was listening to it this morning actually, and I really enjoyed it. It’s got a lot about being a father, and I think that’s a side of music that a lot of people don’t want to admit to for some reason?
MLV: What, being a parent?
GH: Yeah, separating the work from the family I guess you could say.
MLV: I have a hard time with that, just ‘cause I like to write from my own perspective and not someone else’s.
GH: I found it’s very honest and direct in the lyrics, and I appreciate that honesty.
MLV: Thank you, you know we try our best. So this is my third record, everything is going great. I’ve been living in, err, we – my family – we bought a house in Wimberly, TX and fixed it up. We were planning on chilling in 2018 and then my father-in-law got Alzheimer’s and so that’s why we made this crazy move within six months. We decided to move to Oslo, Norway. So we’ve been in Oslo, Norway for the past year and a half now.
GH: Oh wow. Can you tell me more about that? I know there’s a mess going on in the United States right now.
MLV: Yeah, yeah part of that was…the mess in the United States right now versus the family stuff, our family dynamic. It was just kinda, we’d been on the run for a while and just kind of working-living musician, you know, providing for my family. We’d lived in California, we’d lived in New York, Austin where I’m from, and we were doing really well and happy and finally settling in for the first time. And then it always seems like right when stuff’s going really good the other shoe drops! But that’s kind of the moral of the record. Yeah, shit happens but your family and love are the priorities. Those are the big things. Hanging in there for the big things and trying to enjoy the little stuff when you can. And I think this record, Light’n Up is a sarcasm. Just saying basically, “Ah yeah, you went through a tough period, didn’t ya bud. Bu you’re gonna be all right.”
And then songs like “Vacation” and “Trailer Park” – “Trailer Park” is a song about my little neighborhood which is just trailers and old people, a little beautiful, rural area outside of Austin.
we have access to this river, and it’s basically like Ry Cooder’s “Poor Man’s Shangri-La.” Really cool, and everybody’s in their 60s but we’re on the same wavelength, just at a different curve. *laughs* We’re talking about, “Ah I was just in Italy!” or “I was in Amsterdam and I smoked this hash, and it was really good hash!” and then like, “Do you like hash, man?” Just talking to people my parents’ age that are kind of like a bunch of bar-crawling 30-year-olds. You know, they’re not living like they’re in their 20s, they’re living like they’re in their 30s.
GH: So 60 is the new 30 I guess?
MLV: And 30 is definitely the new 60.
GH: Yes! I feel so old sometimes like, “Oh do I really want to go out on a weeknight and see that band play at 9 o’clock?” And the answer is yes I do, but I’ll pay for it the next morning.
MLV: Yeah, and that’s kind of the economy of it. You have kids and you’re so sleepy. All the time. But it’s great. You want the best of all the shit and you wanna get yourself in a position where you’re doing okay. That’s 60 and 30.
GH: Good advice!
MLV: And your tolerance for crap isn’t really there the same way. *laughs* When you’re 20 and everything is all “Woo!” You’re like, I could go to that show or I don’t really want to go to that show. You pick your battles. You want to go to a good show. You gotta get wowed.
GH: I’m looking forward to that delivery then! Okay, so you’re promoting your solo album here on this tour. And I know you’re in Delta Spirit as well. Can you tell us a little about the different dynamics on stage then versus now?
MLV: I have a bunch of young buck 20-year-old – no, no, they’re all in their 30s now – and we’ve been playing together for some time. We’ve been playing across the world quite a few times together now. Joe Johnson, Brendan Bond, and Spencer Garland – PR Newman. Spencer is PR Newman, my opening dude. But they’re some of Austin’s finest musicians and they’re all just incredible. Whereas Delta Spirit – it’s tough to talk about the differences, really.
GH: Oh for sure, they’re their own separate things.
MLV: I can throw anything I’ve thought of at them. And that’s something that we wouldn’t really be able to do with Delta Spirit because it’s a large ship, there’s a bigger production. The set list is the same every night on a Delta Spirit show whereas things get mixed up with the MLV stuff. And it’s good because you can pick out in the crowd how the show’s going, and if you need to make a turn to make sure the night is more fun you can just go do that. And so, I’ve never been happier creatively. Which is so nice.
GH: I can imagine! Having that freedom, like you were saying, to go with the crowd and see how they’re reacting to things and sort of turn yourself on your head as you need to.
MLV: Yeah, that’s definitely the advantage of the situation that I’m in now. Which is great. I miss the Delta dudes. We still talk. We’re still tight.
GH: So when you’re on tour right now are you driving around? Flying? How are you getting around?
MLV: We’re driving around pretty lean and mean in the van, and having a nice time. It’s great, we’re actually at our friend’s house, and I like that better now. I sleep a lot better, you know, if you’re in a home or if you’re in a hotel versus trying to sleep in a bus. I almost feel like I’m in my coffin when I’m sleeping in a bus? You get in this person-sized unit and you close the curtain and there’s a little fan in there, and the bus is moving and rocking, and you start questioning how much you trust your driver. Do I trust my driver when I’m in there at night?
I get pretty motion sick, so it’s nice to drive. You can listen to books on tape, right now it’s Don Quixote. We listened to Stephen King’s The Stand. Big fans of Audible, we listen to podcasts, lots of music. There’s no specific taste in music, so we’re listening to anything – like yesterday we listened to Gene Autry and then it went into White Zombie and then it went into Less Than Jake.
You know, and then I listened to a Dylan poem. It’s fun to not have to, you know, we’re not in our headphones the entire time. It’s a fun roadtrip with your buddies.
GH: It sounds like a little community there, sharing the knowledge and the joys.
MLV: Yeah, absolutely. Super fun.
GH: I think that’s a great way to do things! So yeah, one of my questions was going to be “what is on the tape?” but you answered that just now. An eclectic mix of things!
MLV: Yeah, yeah, very much just – “Oh, I thought of this!” I also have a drum machine so sometimes just as a joke I’ll make a beat and our merch guy, Murph will freestyle rap which normally has no rhymes. *laughs*
GH: That’s hilarious!
MLV: Yeah, it’s just a joke!
GH: I can only imagine how fun that would be.
MLV: It’s like, “I’m rollin’ down the street, and it’s pretty neat, oh my god there’s a red car!”
GH: *laughs* That’s so great. So where are y’all now, in Boston tonight?
MLV: Yeah, Boston tonight and working our way down to y’all.
GH: Cool, East coast rollin’.
MLV: East coast rollin’, that’s right. We just did the Midwest – super fun – and you’re as south as we get on this trip. Then to Atlanta, Nashville, back to Texas. I’ll be off for a couple weeks, back to Oslo, then we’ll do the West coast and the Rockies.
GH: Oh wow, so that’s quite the experience. I feel like that’s a good balance of locations as far as this country goes, anyway.
MLV: Yeah, we do most of it! No Florida this year, which I love going to Florida, and no Maine, which I love Maine. But we made it pretty concise. Most of the places are guaranteed fun and get me home to hang out with my son, before he forgets how to speak English.
GH: *laughs* I didn’t think about that!
MLV: Yeah, he’s totally bilingual already at 3, and he can speak well. It’s pretty cute.
GH: Does he have a favorite song of yours? Like do you play for him?
m: He loves “Red Fish” a lot… He hates “I Love My Boy.”
GH: Aww, I was wondering about that!
MLV: He just starts crying. I was crying when I wrote it, so it’s fitting.
GH: That’s so endearing, though. I think going back to the honesty and the frankness of your songwriting, on this album in particular, that all really comes through in this song for me.
MLV: Thanks! I was on FaceTime with him, and I’d recorded the whole record alone in our house, my wife left the day after Christmas, and I had a month to make the record and a month long tour after that, and I knew I wouldn’t see them for two months. And so when I got off this FaceTime call, I was just looking at him and was really overtaken by my feelings and I wrote that song. So, there ya go! *laughs*
GH: It happens! You know?
MLV: It does!
GH: So, what’s it like working with Dine Alone Records? They have a lot of like, contemporary – the big indie bands that are kind of Americana-y.
MLV: Yeah, and they represent those folks in the Canadian market, a lot of them – The Lumineers, folks like that. Then they’ve got Jimmy Eat World and that side of stuff. I mean, they’re great. I love my Canadian dudes. We were just in Toronto, the night before last, so it’s always good to see them out. They’ve been a really artist friendly label, for me.
GH: Oh, cool!
MLV: I’ve been at it for so long, I know my team. I know who my radio person should be or my PR person should be, and they let me outsource it. You know? I include them in the conversation, of course, but I know where to spend the money. So I just sort of go like, “Hey! These people need to be a part of it because they always have been and I love them! So please include them *laughs* and this is where you write the check!” But I don’t really need a lot of stuff. I’m really fortunate to have enough fans through my whole career stick with me and believe in me and I’m really thankful for that. I don’t take that lightly.
GH: Right, right. That’s a good perspective to have.
MLV: Thanks. Well it’s pretty easy to have it when you have people show up and they’re like, “I haven’t missed a show in 5 years!”
GH: Wow, yeah. Well people really connect to it for sure. Is there anything else you wanted to throw out there to the world?
MLV: Just excited to play The Royal American and hang out in Charleston! Get some good brunch.
GH: Ooh, where do you like to eat brunch down here?
MLV I forget the name of the place, Michael and Cary Ann always tell me. *laughs* I always forget. There’s a place by a dock that’s really good. You guys know how to do eggs benedict like crazy.
GH: I think there’s one restaurant I had it – I don’t know if you believe in spooks and haints and stuff – but there’s one restaurant I learned recently called Poogan’s Porch that’s haunted.
MLV: Oh cool!
GH: So haunted, to the point where there’s one woman – her name is Zoe – and she’s a ghost! And the hostess will show her to a table and then Zoe will just vanish in the blink of an eye. I’ve always wanted to go, so I am just throwing that out there! *laughs*
MLV: Yeah! My house is haunted also.
MLV: It’s funny, yeah. The person that lived in our house before us, she ended her life. And we found her on Instagram, and turned out she was my friend Kelsey – who is part of the Glorietta Project – it was her high school English teacher. Her ghost Instagram is really awesome, or her ghost Facebook is really cool. She loved John Stewart, because he was still on the air. And loved then Bill Marr and dogs, and was a really smart lesbian lady who lived in the country. Super rad! I was writing a song, “Ballad in my Bed”
And, granted, I don’t really believe in ghosts. My mom does. But I was also alone – so power of suggestion here for ya – but I was writing a song, driving from Austin, hadn’t seen anybody in days. And I wrote this song “Ballad in My Bed,” I was writing this song in my head in the car, and then I get to the house and I’m standing in the kitchen playing it. And I finished a verse and said, “Pretty good, Ladonna, huh?” and the whole house, the temperature dropped like 5 to 10 degrees.
MLV: And I’m like “AHH!” just talking to myself like, “I’m just gonna go and demo this real quick”, and then I’m gonna make it…tomorrow.” And so I do, I make a demo of it and I have this really fancy microphone and the microphone – so I made myself dinner after I demoed it, watching TV, and then by the end it’d been 30 minutes since I was in the demo room – all of a sudden the microphone just comes collapsing down! I’m like, “Noo!” This is my fancy mic! And I take it apart and the tube is rattling around in there. I take it apart and I put it back together, but I take the time though to get my camera lens-cleaner horsehair brush and just kind of clean the capsule. Because it had been sounding a little muddy anyway, so I’m just going to take the time to service it. And I did, and the mic never sounded better! So the next day on was all the vocals, really. It was great! So Ladonna helped me out.
GH: Oh! You have a song about her don’t you? On one of your EPs?
MLV: That’s right! Yeah, yeah, on Texas Murder Ballads. Which I recorded that and this record at the same time and I took those songs off the record, because what is on Light’n Up needed to be a concise collection of songs. There’s a couple left-turns in there like “Ball Pit” but for the most part I wanted it to be a journey of this period in my life, you know?
“Ladonna,” as cool as that song is, that song’s a little too-heavy rock for what the record was going for. Had to be on a different collection.
GH: Gotcha. Well, that’s so cool about the ghost story. I thought “Ballad in My Bed” was a peculiar track – not in a bad way by any means – just very haunting, very spooky to me. I got this supernatural sense from it, but now I know! I’m glad you cleared that up.
MLV: Cool! Well great!
g: Thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you, and I look forward to being there on Monday at The Royal American!
MLV: Can’t wait!
Originally from North Carolina, Georgia Hertz moved to Charleston, SC to go to university in 2011 and hasn’t found a reason to leave the coastal city yet. She’s a multi-instrumentalist herself, her favorite band is The Band, and she named her rescue dog after her favorite sci-fi character (Obi-Wan Kenobi).