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Vandolah: Walking Back into the Spotlight

By Sean Smith

Fort Wayne Reader


Mark Hutchins, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist for Vandolah, is reminiscent of Sean Penn. When Penn grew frustrated with the scripts he was receiving and the films he saw getting made, he started making the kind of films he wanted to see. Hutchins also grew tired of hearing enough of the same thing and sought to create something altogether different. The dream is realized and for proof look no further than Vandolah’s second album, Walk it Off.

Vandolah started out in the late nineties as a simple and satisfying way for Hutchins to realize his songwriting using a four-track recorder. It was enough for him to compile two separate collections of songs, Sateen Dura Luxe and The Conrad, respectively. The name “Vandolah” was chosen because of a simple mistake — it looked like a combination of Van Halen and Sebadoh, which is every musician’s dream quite frankly.
By 2002, Hutchins recruited guitarist Dan Greunke and drummer Kyle Stevenson to provide a vehicle for live shows. Hutchins soon added Kevin Hambrick and Adam Atherton to the fold to help enhance the sound and presentation while playing live.

When it came time to record, the group was reduced to a trio of Hutchins, Greunke, and Stevenson. The group set out to record an EP, but there was such an excess of tunes that an album was soon assembled and released under the name Please. Part power pop, part Americana, part Roger McGuinn jangle, the album included an instantly hummable tune entitled “Hovercraft,” which was released on a local compilation. But soon the trio was diminished to a duo. With Hutchins and Stevenson unable to properly promote the album, Please went practically unnoticed.

Greunke returned to the fold in 2004, and Darren Monroe joined on bass. The band spent time playing in both Fort Wayne and Toledo, Ohio and soon developed a more muscular sound than was recorded on “Please”.

In late 2004 work began on a follow-up to Please. The result is the entirely self-produced Walk It Off. The album will appeal to fans of well-crafted pop music as well as fans of smart, if sometimes oblique, lyrics — ‘Remote-toting vandals / Deactivate the handle’, reads like Dylan for the iPod generation. Musically, it is similar in vein to several top-notch (read: underrated) bands, like Grandaddy, Sparklehorse, and Pernice Brothers. Hutchins is aware of the influence the music he listens to while recording has on him. Wilco was a band that he listened to continuously during the recording of Walk it Off and it might not be evident save for the musical themes that run throughout the album.

Walk it Off picks up where Please left off and also blazes its own trail. Songs of all different types share space on the album. Everything from summertime pop (‘A Little Incentive”) to quiet and pensive (‘Put a Smile on My Face’) and miffed rockers (‘Enough About Me’). ‘Thank You All’ may or may not be about a geriatric who’s ashamed that his loved ones still make a big deal about his presence in their lives. That is the great thing regarding these songs. They are about very specific and very general things all at once. The best songs are. Which is probably why you won’t hear them on the radio anytime soon. Which is why they were written in the first place.

“If you listen to the radio, you’re really only hearing one song. It gets played over and over and over again. Sure it might be ‘performed’ by different singers. But it’s essentially the same song,’ says Hutchins.

Those that they consider to be writing ‘different’ songs include the previously mentioned influences, along with Mojave 3, Neutral Milk Hotel, and American Music Club. Left Lane Cruiser and Legendary Trainhoppers are a few local bands that Vandolah consider to be doing their part in the fight against stagnation.

Speaking of which, in order to get all of their ideas across and musical abilities exercised, the four members all split their time with other bands. Hutchins has released two self-recorded albums under the moniker The New Pale Swimmers (not to be confused with the Great Lake Swimmers), Stevenson drums for The Swingin’ Angels, Monroe is featured in I, Wombat and Greunke plays in Sangsara, a band based out of Toledo.

An album release party for “Walk it Off” at Columbia Street West is planned for May 5th at 8:30 p.m. The celebration will take place in the Underground and, musical blood brothers, Orange Opera will open the show. For more details please point your internet in the direction of vandolah.net… and be ready to sing a new song.

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