Van William’s Debut Album ‘Countries’ Is One Of 2018’s First Great Folk-Rock Records

Editorial Director, Music
01.09.18 2 Comments

Silvia Grav

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After well over a decade of writing music, Van Pierszalowski encountered something new. Though he’s a seasoned musician as the frontman of both his former project Port O’Brien, and his current band, WATERS, Pierszalowski’s latest set of material didn’t seem to fit with anything he’d done before. “It was pretty clear to me early on in the writing process that this was going to be a far more personal and raw record compared to anything I’ve done,” he explained in a recent interview, saying his newest songs are the product of “some intensely heavy shit,” and music was the therapeutic device that got him through it all.

In my experience, that usually leads to the best kind of record, and this one is no exception. The resulting album, Countries, will be his formal solo debut, and it’s a warm, intimate suite of songs about unbridgeable gaps and insurmountable hopes encapsulated in golden, malleable folk-rock. As for the personal circumstances that informed his writing process, Pierszalowski was mourning both the loss of his family’s encampment up in Alaska, where he’d spent every summer for most of his life, and the end of a six-year romantic relationship, or, his first substantial heartbreak.

Despite these twin sadnesses, Countries is not a gutwrenching album, quite the opposite, actually; it’s a thoughtful, tender reflection on what has been, and what is yet to come. Proceeded by the initial three-song Revolution EP late last year, the leadoff track of the same name features the Söderberg sisters, of Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit, on harmonies. That track is a perfect juxtaposition of the forces that drive all of Countries, it is full of both longing and hope, but realistic about how long the journey toward reconciliation might be, if it ever even reaches a conclusion.

Elsewhere, the album gets into a deeper kind of sadness, but the songs aren’t pointedly written about heartbreak, instead, they’re permeable enough to mourn the loss of a way of life, a place, and of a certain innocence. As Van William, Pierszalowski’s voice is always the focal point, surrounded on all sides by soft guitars, steady percussion, and occasional sweeping strings and harmonies. Deftly combining folk, rock, pop, and country, he forges ahead with a kind of glistening Americana that is sweet, succinct and sunlit.

Clearly, his California upbringing had some impact on the sound of Countries, as did Alaska, so we talked about the influence of landscape on the album, as well as his friendship with First Aid Kit, an upcoming residency at Moroccan Lounge in LA, and how his songwriting process was different on this record. Read our conversation below.

This is your debut solo album, but definitely not your first time creating music. How was the experience similar or different from work in your past bands?

The process of making this record reminded me a little of making my first record for Port O’Brien. For that, I didn’t really have a plan or any idea in terms of how it would come out. I just had these songs written, knew who I wanted to play on them, and booked time without thinking much about it. That’s how this record happened. There was no plan or label or team involved. I just knew that I needed to do it in this way. Its one of those things that you can’t force, that only comes up once in a while over the course of a career, so I knew I wanted to make the most of it.

Why did you decide to go with your given name this time around?

Of course, I’ve always drawn on personal experiences, but this was in another league. Even though my previous bands have all started as solo projects, I didn’t want to hide behind any sort of other moniker this time around. I wanted my name on it. It was the first time I have ever felt confident enough about the songs to do that.

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