"I'm kind of an acoustic Romper Room!"
Since March of 2020, singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert has presented his weekly "Monday Night Acoustic Pajama Party" on YouTube. The 2-3 hour get-together features Vance's songs along with mashups of some of his favourite songs and viewer requests. Surprising in this day and age, Vance not only gets email requests but mailed-in ones too.
"It's a lot of fun to honour that", he says from his Boston home. "It's really enjoyable to be able to give people the time of day outside of singing. The people that are posting on the side (of the Facebook broadcast) have a myriad of spontaneous questions and I get to answer them spontaneously, so that's a lot of fun."
Vance's latest album, "Good Good Man", contains 12 songs whose musical styles run the gamut from R&B to Country to "Almost Celtic" to spoken word.
"I don't write enough to be really thematic as some people might", he says. "Anything you get from Vance Gilbert is going to be a bit of a mix of styles and such. I write like that all the time. I'm trying to be a Celtic guy one moment and then an R&B guy the next and then something that sounds like a jazz standard. That's just going to be my MO and I've learned to live with it. I think the most crucial thing is, me trying to get these disparate parts of music to thread together an album. I'm not sure I've always been successful in doing so and I think this album was the most successful at that. For some reason this can be a 'solid listen' top to bottom and you don't feel like this is someone who's rolling dice every time the needle gets dropped. Oh my God, did I just date myself? (laughs)"
It's not just a wide range of musical styles that is the hallmark of Vance's songs. The subject matter can be equally diverse from the reminiscing of "Cousin Shelly's Station Wagon" to "Zombie Pattycake" to "Hitman" which deals with an 83-year old still in the "profession".
"I was in a motel 35-40 minutes north of New York City because I had a gig the next night in the same area. (After) a run, I'm sitting at the room desk writing and I see a big black car drive by. There was an older guy behind the wheel and he just looked at a house across the street and then he kept on going. I was like, 'Wow, there's a story there'. Then I just wrote the movie in my head (laughs) and it came out in that song. The guy seems innocuous at first and then you realize it gets darker and darker as the song goes on! I'm pretty proud of that song. For me, it's decent storytelling at its best. That's the best you're going to get out of me (laughs)."
The genesis of "Zombie Pattycake", which is perfect for your Hallowe'en playlist, goes back to watching an obscure zombie movie.
"There was a movie about a zombie guy that falls in love with a living girl and she wanted to bring him home to meet the parents. I'm like, 'What, you what?'. What do zombies do on 'The Walking Dead'? Do they socialize? Jan, nobody said being inside my head was a safe place to be! I'm just making stuff up."
The cover of "Good Good Man" features Vance sitting with childhood photos of himself along with a photo of his father.
"That was my dad just as he was inducted into World War Two. I was focused on my legacy with that man in the Army uniform. It's complicated as a lot of things can be with our dads and moms and whoever our guardians were. When I questioned in that song the goodness of the 'Good Good Man', he came to mind because of the peace I've had to learn to make, with what was ostensibly a pretty humourous and yet violent man at the same time."
The effects of armed conflict have been felt by its participants for many years, whether it was called "shellshock", PTSD or whether it's talked about at all.
"It was a different world, particularly for African American people", he says. "It was a compoundedly different set of circumstances because of the 'double battle' as it were. My father spent a good portion of the Army years in jail and I always questioned him as to why. He said, 'Ah, I'll tell you one day I just don't feel comfortable talking about it now' and he died before he could tell me. But he was also very adamant he knew firsthand the water out of the 'White' water fountain didn't taste any different from the water out of the 'Black' water fountain. (laughs) So I was kind of putting these things together and realizing this guy was a real rabble-rouser! He didn't stand for any 'manure' as it were from anybody in authority, and that was my dad."
The struggle against social injustice continues as we all know for people of colour in North America. The hope is that some real change will finally be achieved.
"There's definitely an awakening and I think it's time", says Vance. "I think the people I would argue the most with are the ones that would say, 'the thing people are angry about has been fixed and doesn't exist anymore'. But I've been pulled over far more that you Jan, I'm sure. I've been snatched off airplanes for reading books about aviation that I'm sure other people would not have been. It's still out there. Both of our countries have ben settled on the backs of indigenous or people of colour. That is something we need to reconcile with. It's only been a couple of generations of grandmothers, that remember the other grandmother that knows slavery. That's still something we're still reconciling with. I think the (current) wake up call is appropriate. People are angry and we're just starting the conversation. So do I have hope? I do. I have big hope because I have White allies and people that would protect me without question. They would never ask why I needed what I asked for, and they happen to be people of all colours. But at the same time, it is a large 'umbrella' question to ask, 'How did we get here and how do we make the lives of people that are Brown, better?'"
For more on Vance Gilbert, his album "Good Good Man" and "Vance Gilbert's Monday Night Acoustic Pajama Party", go to: vancegilbert.com.