Music with a Message Captures Imagination
By DONNA BALANCIA – Andrew Vladeck is a retro-style musician. Like the folk balladeers of the 1960s, Vladeck has a lot to say, and with his band Fireships, he’s getting the message across.
Vladeck’s a rare breed: His songs have a message and they make you think. And if you know him, it’s easy to understand why this park ranger-turned musician is having success. He’s fun. We caught his show at the Hotel Cafe recently and asked him to give us answers to some burning questions.
When did you first start playing music, at what age?
I started playing at age 15. Aimlessly first, learning pop songs and guitar solos like so many of my peers. It was when I heard Dylan and Guthrie I found my joy in songwriting and communicating – with a focus on words and message.
Why did you leave the park ranger career — or did you?
I started to be farmed out to citywide events as “The Singing Ranger,” and that made me want to go further with music. I still lead friends and family on private tours of the parks; I recently led one on the Battle of Brooklyn, which became a personal obsession last year.
Do you approach songwriting from a naturalist background, like which of your songs do you think were influenced by your previous career or your outlook on life?
My backround was as a historian-naturalist – and to that extent, yes, my music is influenced by these interests: It’s generally organic, rootsy, and filled with observations of the world around me. You might hear this in songs of the new record such as “Come Back to Me,” or “Living the Dream.”
What made you go into music?
Growing up listening to highly-produced Pop music, it blew my mind to hear the old folk recordings of the 1940s through the 1960s – how people could be so honest and direct and expressive, without hiding behind any production filter. What you heard was what you got. I found that astonishing compared to the other things I was hearing. I wanted to do that.
What is your favorite sound?
Lately my favorite sound is the song of my little parakeet. I rescued her from a local park – she was starving and little kids were throwing a soccer ball at her. I took her in and fed her and tried to find her owners. But no one stepped forward. So now I have this hilarious little chirp machine in my apartment.
What is your favorite animal?
We went to the Brooklyn Zoo the other day – right in the middle of winter. (I highly recommend this – there were barely a handful of people there!) Afterwards we discussed our favorite parts and there were too many to mention. The monkeys monkeying around and grooming each other, the toucans wiping their bills on tree limbs after eating fruit, and the peacocks in full plumage strutting their stuff, strange Amazonian fish sparkling and floating by …
How do you feel about genetically modified organisms — how about corn?
They creep me out though I understand certain applications can be very useful and keep people from starving, and others are highly troubling, perhaps leading to an dangerous monoculture. Some scientists are figuring out better ways to accomplish this.
What do you think the human race will be like 100 years from now?
I really hope we’re wiser. We’re going to have to be if we’re going to confront dwindling resources, population growth, climate change, and all the haters.
Of the candidates who are running for president, which is most closely aligned to your beliefs?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which is to say Bernie Sanders is closest. The New Deal ended the depression and ushered in a more universal prosperity and federal humanism that lasted decades. We have a critical chance to revisit this type of policy. Please read up on the platforms everybody and pay a little less attention to which personality feels best.
Are there any songs of yours you consider controversial?
I definitely have songs that cheekily controvert various subjects in their own way. “Fantasy” takes on our celebrity-obsessed culture. “Chasing the Sun” takes on despots. “Countdown Time,” takes a look at alcoholism with drinking astronauts.
Fireships’ self titled album is available at the Fireships web site