The Vaad
Gig Seeker Pro

The Vaad

St. Louis, Missouri, United States | SELF

St. Louis, Missouri, United States | SELF
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter

Calendar

This band hasn't logged any future gigs

This band hasn't logged any past gigs

This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos

Music

Press


In some respects, the story of The Vaad’s new album doesn’t differ from those of countless new records. It’s grounded in the story of a songwriter, in this case Ben Kaplan, who takes time crafting his work, using all the new technology tools available to independent producers today. Capturing a little bit of time here, a touch more time there, our subject makes the most of his surroundings, grabbing session time while on the road, even cutting tracks while on the plane to conferences, the ultimate in mixing work with pleasure.

The end result for Kaplan’s alter-ego The Vaad is a record called Kissing the Sea on the Lips, a nine-song work that incorporates a host of different influences, recording styles and uses of both electronically-generated sounds alongside live musicians. Featuring a lyrical approach that’s a more serious-minded than the average release, Kissing is the classic labor of love, an eight-year project that only reached Kaplan’s feeling of full completion this spring.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Kaplan’s memories of his earliest bands run like so: “I was a recording geek, already, but I didn’t know it at the time. The stuff I’d enjoy doing was being the guy who’d string microphones from the ceiling, in order to record the band. The rest of my time was spent in my bedroom, creating avant-garde bass records. One was ‘Lasagna on the Wall.’ I can still, to this day, sit down and draw the cover of that album. I’m sure the tape’s still in a box somewhere.”

Music for Kaplan began, in earnest, with the selection of the French horn during fourth-grade band’s instrument selection process. Perhaps presaging an interest in the visual arts, it was nothing more than the look of that instrument that hooked him. Though he achieved a bit of skill with the horn, he migrated over to the bass by his tweens, using his bar mitzvah money to secure a headless Cort bass, the kind that approximated the look and feel of Duran Duran’s trendsetting John Taylor.

“I was never able to achieve that popping style that he used, but I found out later that a lot of that came from overdubs,” Kaplan remembers, with a smile. “I’m a child of the ’80s. You can quote me as saying that John Taylor’s one of the people that got me interested in playing the bass.”

Another ah-ha moment, and maybe the key one, came when listening to the music of Suzanne Vega. He felt that his sister’s choice in music was a simple one: Vega’s a folkie, little more. But in listening to the work, he came to appreciate the role played by producer Mitchell Froom. If Taylor held sway as an influence before then, it was now Froom that was informing the young musician.

“I realized there was this person called a producer,” he says. “And that’s really how I see myself.”

That mindset could certainly be applied to his painstaking work on Kissing, which not only covers a lot of lyrical territory—focusing as much on history, geography and “other kinds places” as it does on relationships—it frequently features cuts that run up to, and over, the five-minute mark. These aren’t pop trifles.

While all the songs are based in he calls “sketches”—sometimes shared in unfinished form on his Soundcloud page—he was motivated to bring in a host of different musical voices to the final mix, like top local players John Horton (The Bottle Rockets, Karate Bikini) and Jack Petracek (The Painkillers). As a true family affair, he also had his sisters guest on some cuts, adding backing vocals. In fact, in one case, the experience didn’t wind up on the final product, but does show the lengths to which Kaplan attempted to capture sound.

“My sister was eight months pregnant with twins,” he says. “She wanted to sing, but she was at the point where she’d gotten really big. And when we started recording, she wasn’t able to get what she wanted, as the babies were pressuring her diaphragm. We had her laying in bed, on her side, setting up the mics in such a way as to record her that way, running the mics into my laptop. I wish that I’d taken a photo of that recording setup.”

Admittedly, most of the work took part in these unusual environments. At home, recording means working in a second bedroom. He’s also got a multi-media studio on The Hill, where his visual storytelling company, act3, is located; there he’s able to indulge in all his passions, as the space is set up for everything from video editing to still photography.

And, as you one might guess, spending time with the visuals of the project is a part of his approach, too. His site, vaadmusic.com, is a layered affair, with links out to his presences on YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and iTunes. He figures that these days, “you meet people where they are,” though he’s still not sure which pieces of the puzzle will wind up reaching the most possible listeners. A self-professed “record store nerd,” he’s also toying with bringing the project to vinyl.

“As a DIY musician—and so many have said this that it’s become cliché—these new tools allow me to serve as my own record company,” he says. “And my own distribution arm. They’re central to the framework of any independent musician.”

Kaplan admits to a sense of relief that the album’s in the state that’s in today. That it’s out in a public context, yes. But also that its release allows for a bit of breathing room for other projects.

“In recording, I need space,” he figures. “I pull away for awhile, work on other things, and then come back to the songs with fresh eyes. I would agree that there was a level of finally having to let go. I will freely commit to that. Maybe it’s not exactly the work ‘perfectionism,’ but the album wasn’t done until I felt it was done.”

Today, then, there’s room for not only introducing the new work to the public, there’s mental space to start working on a new album featuring primarily acoustic instrumentation, as well as a hip-hop album on which he’ll primarily be a producer, rather than songwriter. A while back he began collaborating with Brothers Lazaroff, attempting to bring focus to Jewish musicians playing in settings outside of the cultural norm. He’ll keep adding to his “sketches” via Soundcloud, along the way.

Overlaying all of these projects are more workaday concerns. There’s the matter of running his company, an 11-year old partnership between himself and his former college roommate Eric Ratinoff, who lives in New Hampshire. (Lots of Skyping is done.) He’s also married, with two young children, aged two and five, “who share a room and never sleep. It’s a slumber party in there every night.” Add in a variety of other creative projects and collaborations and it’s obvious that Kaplan’s next Vaad outing might not come out for a while. Or it might. Genius can work that way.

“It used to be a matter of having a lifestyle that let me say, ‘Thursday is music day,’” he remembers. “I sneak it in now, but I’m able to do that more and more.”

For now, Kissing is a nice introduction to the man’s work. It features a smart, leveled, interesting approach of songwriting that you can sample, for free (at least for a time) at his Bandcamp page. When you do, see if you can catch an interesting reference point. Kaplan says that the Grateful Dead, in many respects, embody what he respects about music, in that the group brings so very many backgrounds and influences to its collective output. Now, “Kissing” could get played down at The Shanti on a constant loop and the house Deadheads might not make the connection. But Kaplan, it seems, likes to keep ‘em guessing a bit.

“My goal in the next few years,” he says, “is to write for a string quartet. My interests, really, are polyglot.” - St. Louis Magazine


Copies of the Vaad's debut, Kissing the Sea on the Lips, should come with a foldout map -- street names and specific locations are that important. A hapless tourist navigates Paris' Champs-Élysées in "The American," while on the next track, a streetwalker traipses up and down the titular Christopher Street. Elsewhere, we hear of a social club on Weaver Street, a brokedown philosopher dropping knowledge on Zydu Street and more names of cities, countries and Great Lakes than you can count on two hands. This level of intimate detail is fitting for multidisciplinary artist Ben Kaplan, who helms the Vaad and has been kicking around these songs, in some form, for the past seven years. Kissing isn't a one-man show, however: Local musicians John Horton, Jack Petracek and Mary Alice Wood contribute throughout the disc's nine tracks alongside Kaplan's friends and collaborators from outside of St. Louis.

The album's neatly carved-out sense of place helps Kaplan juggle the themes of disorientation and belonging that reappear in these songs. "The American" takes the stereotype of an innocent abroad and turns it into a sweet, sardonic love song. That same out-of-placeness gives "Across the Green Line" its sense of despair and hopelessness amid images of an endless Middle Eastern struggle. But those are Kaplan's global concerns; his local odes describe a private universe, as on the beautiful, bucolic mood "Back Porch Swing." Kaplan's guest musicians fill in on guitar, bass and drums, though nearly every song is carried by a drum-machine pattern, which places the album's tone somewhere between electronic, slightly experimental rock and more traditional rock and folk forms. The rhythmic patterns and pulses on a song like "Back Porch Swing," along with mutating, swarming synth chords, give the song a dreamy, amorphous quality. Only on "Niagara" does the synthetic rhythm overpower the song and push the vocals too hard and too fast. Elsewhere, though, Kaplan holds the center of this project together with a warm, worn tenor voice that's part storyteller, part tour guide and part singer. - Riverfront Times


Discography

Kissing the Sea on the Lips
Magnolia Summer - ‘Planned Obsolesence (Vaad Remix)
Currents - Sound Installation
Deeper Down (Ben Kaplan solo)

Photos

Bio

When Benjamin Kaplan was a young boy growing in Central Pennsylvania his parents wouldn't allow him to have a television in his room. Regardless of how much he begged, cajoled, his parents wouldn't relent. Instead he got a clock radio. It was pretty cool though, it was digital.

So instead of staying up and watching Silver Spoons on that fuzzy, pre-cable television, he would listen to AM radio stations. And he discovered that at night, AM radio delivered to you channels from all over the country (well, at least a state or two over). They call this phenomenon bounce, and it introduced Kaplan to the world.

There is something beautiful about the sound of monophonic AM radio coming out of a clock radio. With its compressed and scratchy sound, Kaplan could listen to what he imagined New York sounded like, or Philadelphia, or Boston. What was happening in those places, what the people sounded like. He could hear programs from Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. World Series games and call-in talk shows. News reports and Dr. Demento. Tony Bennet and Duran Duran.

Because radio has no pictures, Kaplan was forced to use his imagination. Create images in his mind of what these people looked like, what the cities looked like, what a traffic jam looked like on bridge called Throgs Neck (“1010 WINS New York, Weather and Traffic on the 9s.”) He created stories in his mind of these far-off locales.

The result is a master storyteller and sonic architect who thinks of himself as "style" agnostic - employing whatever instruments, rhythms, sounds, layers and imagery are needed to weave the tale, emotion or scene at hand. This translates to role as well, as Kaplan is equally comfortable as lyricist, composer, producer, vocalist or instrumentalist.

In 2012 Kaplan's recording and performing project, The Vaad (pronounced v-ahhhh-d and is Hebrew for 'Council of Rabbis'), released its debut record, 'Kissing the Sea of Lips,' a collection of nine songs that took close to eight years to complete.

Kaplan, a former Telluride Troubadour, recorded in studios across the U.S; in an apartment bedroom in South St. Louis; on a laptop in a corrugated garage in Central Pennsylvania during a rainstorm; a former barbershop in St. Louis' Hill neighborhood, and in an 18th-century, former Baptist meeting house in Providence, RI. The scattered geography involved in the creation of the album is deeply felt throughout its contents.

"Copies of the Vaad's debut, 'Kissing the Sea on the Lips,' should come with a foldout map--street names and specific locations are that important," Christian Schaeffer of St. Louis' Riverfront Times said. "The album's neatly carved-out sense of place helps Kaplan juggle the themes of disorientation and belonging that reappear in the songs…Kaplan holds the center of this project together with a warm, worn tenor voice that's part storyteller, part tour guide and part singer."