After enjoying success with his former band Port O’Brien, Van Pierszalowski has moved further away from his lo-fi folk rock sound and reconnected with grunge and pop rock influences with his band Waters.
We caught up with Van to talk about his transition into Waters, studying Anthropology and playing at Treasure Island Music Festival.
Waters plays the Chapel on July 10th before returning to the stage later in the year to perform at Treasure Island Music Festival.
What was your headspace after Port O’Brien disbanded?
Basically we broke up in 2010, which was really hard. That had been my life for six or seven years. I started recording those songs in my dorm in Berkeley. It was my passion, my everything. When it occurred to me that it had to end, I never really thought about moving on from music. I always knew that I still wanted to pursue music, I just needed to do that with another vehicle.
During one of the last tours in Europe, I met a girl in Norway and fell in love and ended up moving there for, more or less, two years after Port O’Brien to refocus. I didn’t have a job, just worked on music and writing songs and found these incredible musicians and started jamming. All of a sudden I had an album, Into the Light.
So me and my Norwegian bros recorded the first album in Austin and toured for about a year and half, and my girl and I moved back to San Francisco and I started writing the next album. It became apparent to me that it was going take a long time to make the record and was like, “I guess I should get a job.”
Was it tough for you to acclimate to working life?
It was really amazing for the most part. After I graduated from Berkeley, I didn’t have a home for five years because of touring. I loved it but I was craving a bit more structure, especially when we weren’t touring. I tried to force myself to work on music and it was just a nightmare. It was amazing to have another outlet, and I got to meet a lot more people in the community. It turned out to be a great transition into having a more settled existence.
I could imagine it helped a little more financially, as well?
For me, and my experience, I never made a whole lot of money touring. It’s an awesome way to get your music out there, but the expenses are so high that it’s pretty hard. The only thing that has kept us afloat is licensing stuff, which is a whole other issue. But touring is really addictive also, it’s hard but it’s also easy. Your entire day is mapped out for you. You sit in a car and play a rock show and drink free beer.
What did you study in college?
Anthropology. It doesn’t really relate in any way, but I’m really grateful that I studied it. I thought about studying music, I just don’t quite have the brain for it. Anthropology is great, there’s no practical applications that I use in my daily life, but it made me realize how complex the world is and gave me a sturdy handle of taking certain things into account as far as a cultural stand point. I’m also a little more observant than I used to be.
I feel like learning music theory after already developing a certain style could potentially jeopardize things more than improve them.
I always prided myself on not being a musician. I still don’t consider myself one. I don’t know anything about theory at all. I think of myself as more of a songwriter and I use what comes naturally through learning Green Day and Weezer songs when I was kid. That being said, for some people, theory is absolutely the way to go. But for me, I haven’t felt the need to go down that road.
A lot of the press you’ve received for Out in the Light was that it was so glaringly different than your previous musical aspirations. What changed for you?
Port O’Brien for me was more a folk project that turned into a rock band sometimes. I felt like it started as a folky thing and retained this singer/songwriter folk vibe that was kind of rooted in my Alaska fishing past, where as Waters started as a rock band. There are times when I go back and play with an acoustic guitar, but it’s a rock project that sometimes does folk.
Your new single, “Got to my Head,” is damn catchy. Is this indicative of the new record?
Totally. We’ve been working on it for about a year and half, which is kind of insane. The new album is really different than the last one. The last one I wanted to shift gears a bit and make a record that I would have freaked out about when I was 16 or 17, when I was going to shows and being absolutely excited about. I remember going to shows in high school and college and being there at like 3 pm, and now I go to the Rickshaw early to get a good sitting.
So all these bands like Green Day, Nirvana, even the fucking Cranberries, I wanted to reconnect with that source of inspiration and recombine it with a pop element. I got together with Ryan Rabin, who drums and produces Grouplove. Bringing him to the table, writing wise, has really helped shape this record.
So would you say you have a slight obsession with the ocean?
My dad’s a commercial fisherman on Kodiak Island in Alaska. It was my livelihood working on my dad’s boat three months out of the year from high school until college. It’s gnarly; twenty-hour workdays, you don’t sleep and there’s no shower or toilets. It’s insane and really shaped who I am and my songwriting.
Port O’Brien was the name of the Port where my parents met in the 60s, and when I was trying to come up with a name it had to be something related with that world. With Waters, I wanted something more vague. It’s a lot bigger of a world and lot more active.
Are you planning on touring after playing the Chapel?
Yeah, we’re doing the July 8 and July 9 in Los Angeles and then July 10 at the Chapel, which we’re really excited about. It’s by far our biggest headlining show in San Francisco. After that we’re playing Aug. 1 with Weezer—they were heroes of mine back in the day—and then we’re playing Treasure Island in the fall.
I played at Treasure Island once with Port O’Brien but it’s kind of a blur. My friend came and brought his Star Wars cards, and I was just so excited that after our set I just stayed in our backstage tent and played Stars Wars cards.