Best of the Day: John Vanderslice

click to enlarge ONE OF THE CROWD: John Vanderslice with Rec Center's Susie Ulrey at his CL Space show in 2011. - Nicole Kibert
Nicole Kibert
ONE OF THE CROWD: John Vanderslice with Rec Center's Susie Ulrey at his CL Space show in 2011.

click to enlarge ONE OF THE CROWD: John Vanderslice with Rec Center's Susie Ulrey at his CL Space show in 2011. - Nicole Kibert
Nicole Kibert
ONE OF THE CROWD: John Vanderslice with Rec Center's Susie Ulrey at his CL Space show in 2011.
  • Nicole Kibert
  • ONE OF THE CROWD: John Vanderslice with Rec Center's Susie Ulrey at his CL Space show in 2011.

Those unacquainted with John Vanderslice might have newcomers surprised by the numerous associations he's made over the years. He has hosted Death Cab for Cutie, Mike Watt, Deerhoof, Spoon and many others at his Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco. Musicians have deferred to him for his "shaman-like knowledge of tone."

When he played the CL Space in 2011, he jumped down into the crowd like a merry troubadour. He instructed the audience to form a circle around him and his guest players, creating a cozy scene that provided the perfect complement to the singer-songwriter's uniquely descriptive and intimate narratives.

Vanderslice grew up in North Florida and spent a few years in Georgia and Maryland. He made the big move to San Francisco in the early '90s, where he got his start playing guitar, singing and writing lyrics for the experimental band MK Ultra (named for the infamous CIA covert operations that involved psychedelic drugs).

In his solo career, he's gone from electric to acoustic, sometimes layering both. His lyrics are like dramatic monologues, giving voice to a variety of characters on life, love, war and politics.

In conversation, he's cheerful and laid-back, not at all the artiste one might come to expect from a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist.

"One reason I'm so approachable," he explained in an interview with CL, "is that I really don't like pretension — when people have different personas. I think if someone is going to have a different persona, they should go completely crazy and put on a show like Bowie, instead of being somewhat insecure and relying on affectation."

Click here for Leilani Polk's preview of Vanderslice's show with Alexander and the Grapes at New World Brewery tonight.