Ahead of her return to West Michigan to play The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Local Spins catches up with the in-demand Holland native and multi-instrumentalist.
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Via Mardot plays the theremin as if she’s casting a sacred spell.
With hands suspended in a mid-air dance, she finds each seemingly invisible note with graceful dexterity. The result is a haunting melody that whistles its way into the atmosphere.
As a talented multi-instrumentalist, Mardot has spent the last few years mastering the unique electronic instrument. Functioning by way of two metal antennas, the theremin is played without any direct contact from the performer, but rather by hovering one’s hands above it to control frequency and volume.
It’s what caught the attention of legendary artists such as acclaimed singer-songwriter Glen Hansard and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who both recruited Mardot for respective tours after coming across her work online. She also recorded parts for Water’s “Dark Side of the Moon Redux,” which has created a buzz since being released in October.
In August, the Holland native released her album “Fragments,” available exclusively on vinyl.
Local Spins writer Enrique Olmos recently caught up with Via Mardot between tour dates. Answering the phone during the late morning hours on a weekday, she’s settling back in at home outside of Detroit.
Having just returned from a two-and-a-half month European tour, she battles jet lag by watching old VHS tapes on one of her many adopted tube TVs or flipping the pages of vintage comic books.
With a headlining tour on the horizon, she’s also busy rehearsing with her genre-melding, ye-ye pop and gypsy jazz band multiple times a week. Via Mardot headlines The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids for a homecoming show on Wednesday (Dec. 13). Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are $18, available online here. Stephie James and Gal Musette open the show.
Enrique Olmos: You’ve been touring with Roger Waters and Glen Hansard lately. Is there anything that you found surprising while working with those artists?
Via Mardot: I guess I’m always surprised when artists of that level are super kind and sweet people. They’re both that way. Incredibly kind, giving and just really smart, caring people.
Enrique: You mentioned in a recent Instagram post that Amsterdam was one of your favorite stops. Why is that?
Via Mardot: It might have to do with the fact that it was the only place where we had some time off and got to kind of veg out for a few days. Having lived in Holland, Michigan, for a while, it was also cool to see the actual Netherlands. I got to see windmills and eat actual Dutch black licorice, which is great. It’s a beautiful place with a canal and cute little boats going back and forth and lots of cute little buildings. Everybody’s just really calm there. But you have to avoid the bikes. There’s a ton of bikes. You’re not gonna get hit by a car there, but you will get hit by a bike.
Enrique: What are you obsessed with right now?
Via Mardot: I love watching old movies on VHS. I just watched the Robert Crumb movie (“Crumb”), which I think is my new obsession. He made a lot of very controversial comics back in the day. It’s a really good documentary. I recommend watching it for anybody who wants to be an artist themselves. It’s inspiring. I’ve also started collecting comic books. I don’t know if it’s quite made its way to an obsession yet, but it’s close.
Enrique: Why are you fond of VHS as a medium?
Via Mardot: I have a bunch of old VHS tapes. It’s a really big collection and only gets bigger. We have a Zenith TV that I picked up on the side of the road. I have a ton of TVs in the garage. All tube TVs. I’ve been collecting them for a long time. I guess that’s another obsession. I love how warm they are. So fuzzy and warm. Reminds me of my childhood. I don’t like the way new TV screens feel to my eyes. I don’t feel the need to see every crevice and pour in everybody’s skin or whatever.
Enrique: What’s a misconception you feel others have about you?
Via Mardot: I don’t really know what anybody conceives about me in the first place. I guess when I’m performing and people say things like ‘Oh, it looks so graceful or whatever.’ I’m quite the opposite of that as a person when I’m not playing. So maybe that’s one. But I’m not really sure. I try not to look at comments on the internet.
Enrique: That seems like a healthy approach for an artist.
Via Mardot: Yeah. Rarely is it helpful to look at what anybody says about you because you either grow an ego or you do the opposite and feel really bad about yourself.
Enrique: I understand you’re a fan of ‘Twin Peaks’ and recently visited a few of the filming locations in the Pacific Northwest. I was only able to watch the first couple episodes before it was removed from streaming, but I’m well aware of its artistic influence. What personally draws you to that show?
Via Mardot: I will always talk about Twin Peaks. It’s one of my favorite TV shows. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, but I’m really jealous of anybody’s first time watching. I’m not a spiritual person but for me it was kind of a weird spiritual feeling. David Lynch really made something magical with that show. It just gets weirder and weirder, but in the best way. It’s not exactly an easy watch from the beginning, but the payout is definitely worth it and seeing everything in person was the best time ever. We visited all these places that anyone else would find strange. Like obsessing over this big giant log.
Enrique: What’s something you’re currently learning?
Via Mardot: Oh, you know, I think finding balance with work, friends, and family. So much of the last several months have been mostly working. Not much of seeing my family or friends. I’d like to have a balance but also find that I’m impossibly depressed when I’m not working. I can’t stand it. When I don’t have anything to do it drives me insane. I start going down this big funnel of depression.
Enrique: I can certainly resonate with that. Why do you think that is?
Via Mardot: It’s interesting how we work that way. I mean, being on tour and on the go like that, you don’t really have time to think about anything else. You’re kind of in your own separate world from everything else. Then you come back home and you’re like “what do I do now?” You come down from that high.
Enrique: How does depression manifest for you?
Via Mardot: Well, you know, doom scrolling. Thinking about all the things I could be doing. I can’t sit down for even five minutes without feeling like I f—ing hate every minute.
Enrique: You play The Pyramid Scheme on Wednesday. What can folks expect from your live show?
Via Mardot: Well I have a full band with me that includes Adam Schreiber on drums, who’s been on tour with the Timber Timbre for the past few months. I’m so happy to play with him again. I have Libby De Camp on bass. And Vernon James gets to play all my crazy guitar parts.
Enrique: What’s a meal that you love?
Via Mardot: Hmm, well, when I was on tour in Europe there were two different dishes I loved. We had catering every day, which included a lot of vegan options. They served these roasted pumpkin slices that were so good. I have a little pumpkin in my kitchen right now and I plan on attempting to do the same thing with it. I pretty much lived off pumpkin during that tour.
Enrique: That seems pretty in character.
Via Mardot: Oh yeah. Vernon also makes this great shepherd’s pie. It’s so good. It’s a vegan vegetarian shepherd’s pie that I could live off forever. I think those are my two favorite foods right now.
Enrique: How do you view your role as an artist?
Via Mardot: I suppose I have rather selfish wants and needs as an artist. I want to create music that I would listen to myself. I feel like I’m cursed with finding music that I actually enjoy. So much so that I try to write things that I would listen to. I write it and then I hate it immediately afterwards. So it’s kind of a never-ending cycle of hating, loving and trying to amuse myself.
Vai Mardot follows up her Grand Rapids tour stop with a show Thursday (Dec. 14) at The Loving Touch in Ferndale, before mounting a December tour on the East Coast.
VIDEO: Via Mardot, “Piano and Theremin Prelude”
VIDEO: Via Mardot, “Comet Hyakutake”
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