The Vanjacks present Seven Of Everyone


Lawyers, as a rule, don’t seem like the type that would rock out on the weekends and record an album that blends the influences of classic rock, indie rock and British Invasion sounds. The idea that four lawyers who met in law school at ASU would play in this type of outfit and release and impressive album seems pretty preposterous, if not remotely improbable.  Yet, somehow that is just who The Vanjacks are and that is just what they’ve done on Seven of Everyone. Across nine songs and forty-four minutes, The Vanjacks compile a sound collage that best represents what these four lawyers have been writing and performing together for the last six years.

The Vanjacks are Ben Tietgen (Bass and Vocals), Shanks Leonhardt (Guitar and No Heavy Lifting), Daniel Zebelman (Guitar and Moderate Lifting) and Denis DaSilva on drums. Before they were known as the Vanjacks, in the days of ASU Law School, they were known as Turkey Cave and held the esteemed position of being the “Number Three Turkey Related Band Name on MySpace.” Their current name was chosen by three rounds of group voting. “It came from a Wikipedia hole I was in one night,” Tietgen said. “I was reading about the 1840 presidential election, there’s a famous campaign song that has it in there, it’s a derogatory term for supporters of Martin Van Buren.” When Tietgen said that I had to laugh at the idea of a famous campaign song from the 1840 presidential election, “Unless it was ‘Tippecanoe And Tyler Too’,” I said.  Which it turns out it was:

“Now you hear The Vanjacks talking, talking, talking,
Things look quite blue,
For all the world seems turning round
    For Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

“Cider based insults,” Zebelman laughed. “Tyler was an interesting president, our name is a history lesson reaching out to the youth of America.”

“But it’s not as obviously hilarious as Turkey Cave,” Leonhardt added.

Their sound is built on the sphere of influences they enjoy: Queens of the Stone Age, Built to Spill, Black Crowes and bluesy rock stuff. “We had more of that [bluesy rock stuff] when we started,” Leonhardt said, “We decided we would write our own stuff, some were quite derivative, but not covers. Our first gig was a Law prom.” Zebelman maintains that law school was significantly more like high school than college was and so in a sense this is their high school band, just much later. There sound combines the sensibility of its members: Tietgen bringing in the alternative influence, Zebelman with classic rock and Leonhardt’s interest in the British rock of the Kinks, Pulp and Blur—add DaSilva’s interest in jam bands and it all adds up to The Vanjacks. The mathematical equation they summed it up as was as follows: Built To Spill+Bad Company+Mid-Period Kinks, which is fairly accurate. “The album is the result of our lack of direction,” Tietgen said. “It’s representative of how we conduct our band.” Produced mostly by Rob Kroehler of Ladylike, the band credits him with bringing it all together to a cohesive unit. Jamie Woolford worked on the record as well and both producers contributed instruments and vocals where needed.

Seven Of Everyone starts with what should be a bar band jukebox classic , “Mercy.”  It’s a hell of an opener, which is odd since it is what they often close their sets with, nevertheless, it’s a straight out a rock number that immediately invites the listener to stick around for the next hour and just enjoy. “It’s a love song that sounds nothing like how we play it live,” Tietgen said. “The recording has affected the way we play it live, it’s affected the way I sing it.” “It’s definitely one of the most fun to play live,” Leonhardt added.  While Leonhardt and Zebelman wrote the music, it was Tietgen who wrote the lyrics for his wife with the beautiful: “Heart is a quality and you’ve got it in spades, no sense in giving it all away.”

Photo by Tyler Randall Riggs

“TV” is very nearly THE indie rock triumph of the entire album. From the thunderous sound of drums and dual guitars, Tietgen’s punk vocals and the pure passion that they really mean it when they are knocking this number out.  This is an anthemic number that shines as a standalone classic. “We were listening to Songs For the Deaf and we wrote a song,” Tietgen said. “it’s just about not wasting your time on television.” It’s a fan favorite and a band favorite, though Tietgen feels otherwise. “We forced B en to keep it in the setlist,” Zebelman said.  “The song ‘TV’ is just like televsion,” DaSilva added. “You want to get rid of it,” Zebelman added. “But it is a part of your life,” Tietgen finished.  There is something sleazy and brilliant about “Smell The Gold,” which follows, first of all the guitar hook Is amazing, but also Tietgens vocals are raw from screaming during an Iowa v. Missouri game and it works perfectly for the sound they needed.  “I woke up really hungover and wrote the first stanza of the song,” Leonhardt said. “Ben came up with the rest.” It has a different feel from the rest of the album, but it’s brilliant as it explores the psyche of a male gold digger an Tietgen’s hoarse, hiccuping vocals are the icing on the cake.

What is next is the “ballad” of the album, the beautiful “Over, Wait” may be unfortunately homonymically titled, but it plays as one of the sweetest songs on the entire album. “It’s about my own personalconflicts with trying to find faith,” Tietgen said. “The album got into the hands  of a Lutheran minister in Iowa, he wants to play it at church and use it as inspiration. I don’t know what a Christian would get out of it, it’s about trying to find Jesus and failing.” The song is nearly universal, though, about reaching for anything and realizing you can’t fake it. After searching many conclusions, the song ends with the repeated, brilliant refrain “No atheists in foxholes.”  It is, perhaps, one of the albums strongest moments, both lyrically and musically.

“Shining Sands” is another brilliant number out of nowhere with a history lesson to boot.  “It’s about English Pirate Radio in the 1960s,” Tietgan said. “Oddly, before the movie came out.” It’s one of the best number s on the album and in allegory refers to its namesake as well as the  murder of Reginald Calvert and explores the themes that necessitated the urge for free broadcast in the UK and Europe in a time that seems far away, but a sensibility that is somehow close to home. If it hasn’t occurred to you yet, this band has an intellect that backs its music and after a few listens to the album, you may well find yourself in a “Wikipedia Hole.” The funeral feel of the number that follows, “Pembroke” is no mistake and while it takes on the closest to southern/country rock, that perhaps too is no mistake—the song is about the uncertainty of life and with good reason. “Pembroke is a school in Kansas City,” Tietgen said. “The song opens at my friends funeral and it blossoms into a loss of innocence.” The lyrcis wax with philosophy and the music grinds it’s meaning in quite deep. “It’s about trying to avoid grief,” Tietgen concluded.

Picking up the pace with another near-punk rock anthem, “Death Of Us All” stands out as a track as best described by Tietgen as about “Drunken weariness.”  However the band laughed it off, it was written by Shanks in his bedroom, once more influenced by Queens of the Stone Age, it was a strong enough song , after interviewing several lead singers, for Tietgen to take vocal lessons and get it right. And get it right they did. Honestly, if there was ever a song about drunken weariness and the truth behind Shanks statement that “I swear my friends will be the death of us all” this is it. “Two Tethers” is perhaps the most self-reflective number on the album. “It’s about a relationship where each person is addicted or committed to incompatible environments, “ Tietgen said. “Whatever it is, there is no compromise.” Wise words, “You’re not even admitting it to yourself, you’re doing it to yourself.”

“Reborn” is the finale of the Seven Of Everyone, which after the experience of the album the title of which becomes indicative of the psyche, intellect and analysis behind it (don’t we each all have seven of us, at least).  It’s a pretty amazing finale and it is without any hint of religiosity, just a brilliant anthem about starting over and moving on. “I think it’s the best sounding song on the album,” Zebelman said. “It’s another uncertainty song,” Tietgen added. There’s no uncertainty about how it ends the album on as much of a rocking note as it began and it’s a note that the end is only a new beginning.

I’m not going to lie, The Vanjacks are an acquired taste, but not unlike Scotch, edible delicacies or fine wine, if you take the time to immerse yourself in the album, the rewards are plenty and fulfilling. I’ve spent over a month with Seven Of Everyone and now I can’t go a week without it. Why? Because it’s intelligent, passion driven music they were forced to record for the world to hear. And that is reason enough.  This album thrills me, because it’s raw, inventive and it approaches topics no one has even thought to approach before—apparently it takes four lawyers fond of Wikipedia to do that.

If you want The Vanjacks Seven Of Everyone, all you have to do is “Like” them on Facebook between October 1st –November 1st  and they will email you with download instructions, for free. If you want to catch them live, there is a unique opportunity on November 4th at the Rogue Bar, the Second Annual Beatles Tribute Night will be held with fellow accomplices Sun Ghost, Future Loves Past, Japhy’s Descent, 88MPH and more acts to be announced. If it is anything like last year, and you may be able to find those recordings online, this year will be an out of your mind good time. The Vanjacks have their minds set on selections from the White Album and Sun Ghost is working on Abbey Road…Be there.

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(An edited version of this appeared in the October issue of JAVA Magazine)