Like many up-and-coming bands, Vast Canvas has experienced their fair share of band members; a year of lineup changes that have settled to include drummer Taylor Kreemer, bassist Parker Langvardt, lead guitarist Justin Doebert and the only original member, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Chelsea Foss-Ralston. In October, the four members worked with engineer Josh Stanley to record their 3-song EP Fck Around, out August 14 via Bandcamp, just in time for their August 17 show at Beat Kitchen.
Vast Canvas falls somewhere on the spectrum of DIY. While their sound is more fit for a conventional music venue, they took a hands-on approach to their latest EP, recording it in Foss-Ralston’s Pilsen home, just blocks from The DoJo, one of Chicago’s top DIY houses. It’s in the bright and open living space of this home where Kreemer, Langvardt and Foss-Ralston gather, (along with Uncka, the band’s polar bear pup), to discuss their new music and the ultimate struggle of responding to emails.
LLL: Let’s talk a bit about the new EP Fck Around.
Chelsea Foss-Ralston: We had a different lineup with different band members [for our previous EP], so this EP that’s dropping on Monday [will be the first to] involve all of the current members of Vast Canvas. The thing too about this new EP, it’s actually not that new to us.
Taylor Kreemer: We recorded this last October, so the material is pretty old now. I think it’s “Bb” that we decided is probably the best cross section between all of our influences and the direction that the band is going in. We call it the banger. It’s heavy but still’s got pop sensibility behind it.
Parker Langvardt: That’s probably my favorite one as well. It’s more minor key. A lot of our songs are not as dark and it’s got varying dynamics with some cool buildups and stuff. The stuff we [currently] have online, it’s not an exact representation [of our sound now]. Those are just various documents of specific things that happened. Our songs change from show to show, and that’s why we haven’t locked a lot of songs in recordings because they’re still in the works. I would say when this EP comes out, it’s going to sound different than how we’re going to sound [at any upcoming live show].
LLL: What is the writing process like when putting together new music?
Langvardt: It all starts with Chelsea generally. We help push the vibe. There’s a bunch of songs where we could have taken in so many different moods, but we end up aiming toward a specific mood and pushing the song toward that for as long as it works. Sometimes we go back and try to figure it out again. I think our songs reflect stuff that we go through or people our age go through.
Kreemer: [Chelsea will] bring a good song structure and it’s our job to thicken it up, but the songs are pretty much done when Chelsea brings it to us.
Foss-Ralston: I think we’ve just been giving ourselves the space to write with each other and create with each other whereas before when we all met, it was like, “Okay, here are these songs I have already. What’s your take on it?” Now, it’s like, “Okay we’re over that stuff. We want to make things new.” Usually, I’ll get an idea at home that’s super minimal. I’m not the greatest musician out there. I’m really not open and honest, but I enjoy writing songs. Writing songs and vocal melodies is very therapeutic to me. I just happen to have made friends who are receptive to me telling these stories and bringing it to the band, and then we work it in the space. But it’s not like I make anything cemented. Everything is up for change. I think lyrically, they’re all about different people. It’s weird because when I’m going to write a song or at least start to write the lyrics, it’ll all seem like it’s from my point of view, but it’s really not my story. It’s a friend of mine or something like that and I just put it in my point of view. It kind of keeps it vague so the listener can piece it together however they want.
LLL: How would you describe the band dynamic?
Langvardt: Well Justin, who’s not here, he’s the most recent member of the band and he brings a lot of positivity to the group, which was lacking before. He’s always so nice. I think it helps us all communicate with each other to have someone who’s really go-with-the-flow and positive. Before [Justin joined the band] we could get frustrated with each other. [Chelsea, Taylor and I] are especially blunt. The one thing that I think brought us together the most was when we did the [fundraiser show] here in the basement. We had a bunch of bands and we had to organize it all together. It was kind of like a team building exercise.
Kreemer: I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but whether I’m doing music or working in any other compacity, it’s important for me to be close with the people I’m working with. It [not only] helps with getting the job done but it also helps the chemistry. We’re all really opinionated, but I think we understand that even if somebody comes across as aggressive, we’re close enough where we don’t take it personally anymore.
Foss-Ralston: We are definitely friends now. We totally and completely trusted each other. This project is something that we choose to show up at the same time and try to do every week at the same place so we can create new things together and continue to do this on top of trying to handle all of these other projects. I met Parker through a DIY Chicago Facebook post, so now we’re at the point where we can have open communication even if we are maybe a little salty about how the communication is delivered to each other.
LLL: As a self-managed band, how do you balance the business side of music?
Foss-Ralston: It’s not easy. Parker, go ahead. I know you want to say something about it.
Langvardt: At first we just trusted Chelsea to do it, and that was good. But then it started to get to the point where we were getting a lot of emails. When we started getting an influx of communication online, I think that’s when we started sharing it more. Some of the things like who handles the emails and stuff get complicated cause you can be like, “Chelsea’s the one who writes the songs, maybe she should do it”, but like “I haven’t answered an email in six months, maybe it’s my turn.” Answering people takes a lot of energy. I’m pretty introverted and it really sucks my energy to talk to people. I’ll run into days where I’m like, “I’ve talked to too many people today.”
Foss-Ralston: There’s been this unspoken hierarchy of situations where I’m probably going to be the one who does all the social media stuff. If there’s anything involving any kind of projections or stage plot or what have you, Parker’s better to answer those types of things. For the most part, we try to just keep it simple. I am one of those introverted extroverts. When we started getting lots of emails, I would get a little social anxiety sometimes. Just one of them answering an email is a huge relief.
LLL: What have been some milestone moments so far?
Foss-Ralston: I think that for me, there’s a DIY house about a block away from here called The Dojo. We seem to play out a lot in bars or venues on a regular basis, but I think it would be kind of cool for us to try to get back into [the DIY scene]. The first round of members of Vast Canvas was the first band to play the first show at The Dojo. I went to play with my other band a couple weeks ago over there. I was just walking through the house and I looked at the wall and they had the original poster with our band name right in the middle of this collage of a ton of things that had happened since. That to me was really fucking awesome. There are so many different kinds of people that go through that house and put on work for the first time or are aspiring musicians that have never played anywhere yet, or who play all the time and are just passing through Chicago. Just that fact that that is in there and they can just look at that and see Vast Canvas and know that that’s a band that came through, I think is really cool.
Photo Credit: Alexus Mclane