On the heels of their third album, Any Such Thing, I had a chance to speak with Vicki Loveland and Van Duren – it gave us a chance to catch up and for me to ask them about the details in making such a beautifully complex album during such a difficult time.
As always, they were thoughtful and more than generous with their time, so without any further fanfare, here is my recent conversation with Loveland Duren. Infinite love, thanks and appreciation to Van and Vicki for doing this (and for being patient with yours truly):
This new album is yet again, another progression, in your canon of work. Each one of these three albums have a thread, but all sound different – Any Such Thing sounds and feels more personal. What was the genesis of writing this particular body of songs? is it the current state of affairs surrounding the world? What is your writing process?
Vicki: Well, it had been several years since our last (and second) record, NEXT, and a lot transpired since 2016. We did a major tour promoting the documentary, Waiting: The Van Duren Story, playing festivals, etc., not to mention what was going on in our political climate at the same time, and things occurring in our own personal lives and relationships. So we had some things to say about all of that. We spent an enormous amount of time flying between London, LA, Tasmania and all over Australia in the spring of 2019. It made for some interesting material, to say the least. We’d started a few songs before the tour but probably half of the new record, at least the lyrics, were written while we were on tour. When we got back to the U.S. we got really serious about getting everything to a point where we felt confident going into the studio to record. Van and I pretty much bounce everything off of each other while we’re in the process of collaborating on a song. It’s a 50/50 relationship all the way.
Van: Vicki wrote about half the new album’s lyrics in her phone while we were traveling. Once we returned home and caught our breath, we started putting music to those words. In terms of the writing process, after two albums, you’re ever more careful about not repeating yourself. Naturally, each album is a bit of a time capsule for the period of time in which it was written and recorded. So of course, each record sounds different from the other because they come from different places in time.
Talk a little bit about yourselves, for the uninitiated – your musical backgrounds and how you came to join forces in such an organic and powerful way.
Vicki: I was born into a musical family. My mom was a professional big band singer, and my dad was a DJ. All kinds of music was in my environment for as long as I can remember. When my parents divorced, we moved to Memphis to live with my grandparents, who were farmers from Mississippi. My grandparents loved country gospel and had it blaring every Sunday morning on the radio. I loved the harmonies and the soul you got from that music, and we made a regular habit of sitting on the front porch in the evening and singing those songs in 5 and 6 part harmonies. I just took it for granted that everybody could sing like that for a while. It was beautiful.
I always loved to sing and write songs, and did my first professional gig when I was 14…did my first recording at 16. It just so happens that led to playing the same circuit that Van and his bands were playing, and the two of us running into each other at studios occasionally. We first met through that path, very briefly in the early 80’s but didn’t really have the opportunity to work together in the capacity that we do now until about 10 years ago. We liked the chemistry we found as creative partners, and we’ve never looked back. It was kismet!
Van: There was a definite musical attraction between Vicki and myself for years before we ever had the opportunity to collaborate or work together. As for myself, I have been playing with bands and recording for almost 50 years. I also had the pleasure of collaborating with people like Tommy Hoehn and Billy Swan. But the work I’ve done with Ms. Loveland is right at the top.
It may sound like a pedestrian question, but for those who don’t know – is being from Memphis part of the ingredient to making these albums as soulful as they are – all three are filled with punch and life.
Vicki: Absolutely! We always have said there is something in the water here. But seriously, our city is so steeped in soul, if you were raised in it, you can’t help but absorb that spirit. So much has occurred in this region musically already that was born out of some very tumultuous times. It’s where the blues and rock and roll come from and as a result, too many great artists to name. I was incredibly fortunate to work with a good number of those artists in the studio and in live performance (Albert King, the Hi Rhythm Section). I learned a lot from them and had their support, guidance and friendship. Pretty amazing when I think about it now.
Van: When I was growing up in the early 60s, Memphis had amazing AM radio stations, and that is what we listened to. There were two incredible Soul/R&B stations and two terrific pop stations. So at my house, there was soul music during the day, and at night I would listen to the pop stations where I discovered The Beatles and the British Invasion. At that point, my course was set.
With each one of the Loveland Duren albums, there is a lushness and sophistication in the production – do you foresee doing a more stripped-down work in the future?
Vicki & Van: The material dictates the mood and direction we take. The production values follow. Sure, there are some songs we’ve done that we both knew we wanted a fat string section, horns or layered vocals from the very beginning. But most of our material tells us what we need as we go along. We try not to overthink it, and just lean on our experience through the years to let the recording be what it wants to be. We’ve also been very fortunate to work with two of the very best engineers in the business: Pete Matthews on our first record Bloody Cupid, and Adam Hill on NEXT and Any Such Thing. They both are musicians as well, great to work with and make it easy to communicate our ideas effectively. And both were trained at Ardent in their early years with some of the best in the business.
As for future projects, we have not really thought that far ahead yet, but we’ll see where our muse takes us.
Curiosity for those who may not be aware of your discography – why release as vinyl? It’s a stunning package – a wonderful throwback to gatefolds and attention to detail.
Vicki: Well, I ALWAYS wanted to produce a vinyl record. I cut my teeth on vinyl and my earliest influences in music were all on vinyl. I was never quite as satisfied with digital formats that followed. Vinyl is an entire experience from the artwork to the credits and lyrics. A new gatefold vinyl was always like opening a present at Christmas for me. With “old school” LPs like that, you can be much grander with your artwork and details. And I desperately wanted to hear our music through the warm format of a 180 gram audiophile vinyl record. I also think it inspires people to go back and look at it over and over again to find something that they had not seen before, just like I did when I first started collecting records. It’s a sound and visual experience that you just can’t get from digital. For me, vinyl records always create a more pleasurable sensory experience.
Van: We briefly discussed doing vinyl when we did our first two albums but at the time, it was cost prohibitive. In the intervening years, vinyl just got more popular and there were so many improvements in mastering and the sonic results that we decided early on this record would be released as a vinyl LP. Bottom line, vinyl sounds better than any other format. Especially if it’s mastered here in Memphis by our friend, Jeff Powell.
Given the way music (and the business) has rapidly changed, how and where do you see the music of Loveland Duren fitting in with the landscape? Is it ever a concern?
Vicki: You know, Van and I have never really thought much about “fitting in with the landscape.” We just write what we write, and since it’s a big landscape, we figure there’s room for us and an audience for what we do. We just want to get the music out there for people to hear.
Van: With great music you have to hope that it will be heard, no matter what, even if its just as a contrast to all the not so good music that’s out there.
What is coming up next for Loveland Duren, both in the aftermath of the album’s release and into the future? Live shows? Videos? Next album plans?
Vicki & Van: We already have one video for a song off the new record (“Within Crying Distance”) and we have several shows lined up in the Memphis area in connection with the release of Any Such Thing. We’re also making plans to do shows in other parts of the country as well as a few live webcasts. Stay tuned for more details as we get ‘em.
If you could offer one statement to the readers and music-loving audience at large, what would it be?
Vicki & Van: Try not to be too cynical. It’s not much fun. Open your heart and your mind to new and different experiences, in music and in life.
Any Such Thing is available as of Friday, October 1st, 2021