Interview with Pocket Vinyl

Pocket Vinyl came back to Blacksburg last fall to perform at the XYZ gallery. They’re a unique group that combines music and art into their live performances. Elizabeth Jancewicz paints on stage while Eric Stevenson sings and slams on the piano. We caught up with them before the show to talk to them about their creative progression and future plans.

What exactly drove you two to bring the two mediums of art together?

Elizabeth: It just happened to be our talents at the time. He was played piano, wrote his own music, and started to book a tour. I was a painter forever then we got together and started dating. We just thought that we could do both at the same time.

Eric: It was an excuse to hang out with each other.

Where were you working before?

Eric: South Korea actually. This was May 2010. I came back to the United States that summer and had these dates booked.

Would you ever consider a tour in Korea?

Elizabeth: If we could somehow find a manager in Korea who could book a tour for us, then we would do it. We did do two shows there. One was at a college when we visited in 2013. An American professor had us come in for his English class. We did another one for friends who just opened a coffee shop.

Eric: That’s also the first and only time we ever had cops called on us. After I played a few songs, a cop pulled up to tell us to quiet down. I totally forgot about that, so I guess we did play two shows in South Korea. Also before this gets asked, if one of the questions is “what inspires you” skip that. That’s just not a good question because it's such an open ended question and it gets asked all too often by interviewers in general. Just never ask a band that and be more specific.

How do you think your music has evolved in the last 5 years from when you started?

Elizabeth: I feel like Eric has definitely gotten better at it skill-wise, but with this new album it’s really changed a lot. He started moving more towards storytelling and changed the entire pace of all of the songs. He used to deal with mostly very loud, screaming sounds.

Eric: Here’s a really, really oversimplified summary of the first three albums. I learned that I liked to sing loudly and I liked to hit the piano very hard. We ended up calling it piano slam rock and we refined that sound with each album. The first two albums specifically were just a collection of songs we had at the time. Then “Death Anxiety” and “Tin” are much more lyric focused, which is one thing I think I’ve improved on over the years. I get bored when a band comes out with the same album over and over. So with our new album, I wanted to change the focus and instead of being very loud, I was playing very soft, while still trying to focus and capture the same intensity. I want people to stay interested in Pocket Vinyl. I’m always afraid that people will lose interest. I want to keep making new albums to show that we can do different things, and I’m sure we’re going to fail. I’ll probably put out really terrible albums that I think are great at the time, but I find those artists and musicians the most interesting.

I want to ask the same question to Elizabeth about how your style of art has evolved since you guys have been performing together.

Eliza: The first year and a half when we were performing, I specifically tried not to think at all about what I was going to paint. I would go up and use inspiration in the moment. I found after a while I was almost getting stage fright where I would have an idea to do something more ambitious but would be afraid that I wouldn’t be able to execute it properly. I’d paint the same subject matter over and over again and got bored with it. Now I carry a notebook with me all the time and jot down ideas throughout the days or weeks. Then if it’s something that I think would be a little complicated, I would go online to look at reference photos and do some sketching beforehand. That way I can get everything laid out beforehand and actually spend more time painting.

Are the ideas for music videos such as the puppet video mostly thought up by Elizabeth?

Elizabeth: That one wasn't even ours actually. A friend of ours has a band where he uses puppets and sometimes he'll do puppet plays in Broadway styles. We became good friends after playing a show that he also played at. He made these puppets of us and asked if he could make a music video with them. I think it's funny because it's a really serious, quiet song but then there are these goofy puppets that are singing and it confuses people on whether or not we’re being serious. It's our own personal joke.

Do you have any plans for the band in the future?

Elizabeth: Just to be getting better and playing bigger rooms, but I think it's better to stay in the moment and do the best we can. There are times when we’ll play a show where we get kind of bummed out because there's not that many people. We still try to keep in mind that if we do the best we can, these people could go on to help us down the road or just become friends.

Eric: You never know who you're playing for either. You have to keep the big picture in mind and plan months ahead but also we just love doing it and we just want to keep going. Sure you always want to improve and get bigger, but getting too specific is also bad. You have to get this middle ground because I’ve seen bands we love and bands we meet on the road that are one or the other and they just fall apart. We love doing it and we love hanging out with each other and we just want to continue doing it. I think that's the best answer to your question.

Musically what kind of style would you want to experiment with in the future?

Eric: I'd really like to make an album like Joanna Newsom’s “Ys,” just four or five songs with 10 to 15 minutes each. At the same time, I'd love to do an album like “Illinois” by Sufjan Stevens or “New Magnetic Wonder” by The Apples in Stereo where it's an album of 20 to 25 tracks but in between songs there are little interludes. We sort of did that with our second album “Monsters Talking.”

Have you ever listened to “69 Love Songs” by the Magnetic Fields? Would you be interested in making that big of a collection of songs?

Eric: I don't know about that, or any double or triple album. Even Joanna Newsom came out with a triple album and that seems to fly in the face of self-editing. Then again maybe I will and go through some crazy writing period. I always try to stay with what interests me. A few years ago when we made our album it was all songs about death. I wanted to make an album where we looked at death from almost an academic point of view. I like concept albums and I like having a goal like that. I'm thinking about writing an album about sex and the way sex is viewed, but not in a sexual way.

Do you have any sort of process for songwriting and do you take any influence from Elizabeth when you're writing?

Eric: Well I don't really know my process either.

Elizabeth: I know when we're at home he tries to play piano every morning before everything else. We work at home when we're not touring so it's easy to just waste time. I really admired that before he even turns his computer on, he'll just go in and play a bunch and try to write.

Eric: Yeah well I heard somewhere about getting up and starting your day consuming. It's almost like how they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I think it's the same concept as turning on a screen and starting to look at something in the morning. Your body just gets used to consuming so then later in the day if you try to create and produce, it's not as easy for your brain to get into that mindset.

Are the concepts for your albums just things that you wanted to talk about or were they not inspired by specific events throughout your life?

Eric: The best way to describe it is I try to keep my eye out for feelings that I find very specific that I hadn't heard from other songs. Any song about death I usually have heard is very depressing and it's always about someone you lost. I just wanted to talk about death from a curious point of view without getting depressed. There's all these ideas that I haven't heard songs about. I want to be a unique band where people know they're getting something different when they come to listen to us. But I know every band tries to do the same. I just like to pay attention for things that I feel like aren't common in music in terms of lyrics.