When local folk-rock outfit Port O'Brien disbanded in 2010 after years of relentless touring, frontman Van Pierszalowski needed to clear his head. So, naturally, he headed to Norway, which promised both the isolation necessary to reboot, and the budding romance necessary to write a batch of compelling songs. After a little R&R, it was time for a change of pace. Pierszalowski needed to rock out.
His new project Waters, allows for just that. Produced by John Congleton, who has worked with artists including St. Vincent, Bill Callahan, and R. Kelly, the debut Waters album Out in the Light lacks any pretense or vain attempts to reinvent the form. A collection of incredibly catchy and emotionally lucid songs that you can bob your head to, this is indie rock at its purest.
Straight off a European tour with Nada Surf, Waters touches home base momentarily to play a free show this Saturday, March 10, at the Clift Hotel. All you have to do is RSVP. Then it's off to SXSW for a whopping eight shows in four days, followed by a North American tour with Delta Spirit, which stops back in town May 10 at the Fillmore.
I caught up with the ever-charming Pierszalowski to find out how Waters came to fruition, what it was like to grow up on a salmon fishing boat in Alaska, and why he moved back to San Francisco. I even coaxed him into revealing the sordid details of his middle and high school bands.
What happened to Port O'Brien?
Port O'Brien broke up after touring fairly relentlessly behind our second and last studio record, Threadbare. After a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns, it was just apparent that it was time for all of us to start new musical endeavors. I really wanted a more rocking project to get my songs out, and that wasn't going to happen in Port O'Brien.
I know you spend a lot of time in Alaska fishing with your dad. Tell me about that.
Well, my dad is the captain of a commercial salmon fishing boat up on Kodiak Island in Alaska, so I've spent nearly every summer of my life up there. Once I started touring, that routine came to a bit of a halt, but I'm still able to go up every once in a while. It's a pretty brutal life in some ways, but it's balanced out by the serene amazingness of Alaska. Salmon fishing in Alaska is kind of like Deadliest Catch-lite, but it's still filled with ridiculously long hours, frequent rough swells, and being at sea for up to seven weeks at a time with no shower, toilet, or real privacy, so it does sort of drive you a little crazy. It really is the best example of a love-hate relationship I can think of. Even as I wrote that last sentence about how miserable it can get, I started craving it like crazy.
What were you doing in the interim between the end of the Port O'Brien era and the rise of the Waters era?
I was mainly living in Oslo, Norway. I met a girl there on one of the last Port O'Brien tours and fell in love, so I ended up spending a good amount of two years there, enjoying the relative solitude and the changing of the seasons, writing and rehearsing songs for the Waters record.
How did you form Waters?
The idea started as a solo sort of project, but once I finished writing the songs, it was apparent that I needed a seriously rocking band. I was briefly living in New York, trying to start a band there, but then remembered these great guys I played with in Oslo, so I went back there and put a band together to make the record. Now the band has two Norwegians (guitarist Nikolai Haukeland and keyboardist Marte Solbakken) and three Californians (myself, drummer Nicholas Wolch, and bassist Alex Margitich).
How and why did you decide to work with Congleton?
I really wanted to work with an actual producer on this record. I loved so much of the stuff he worked on, from Bill Callahan and St. Vincent to the Walkmen and Explosions in the Sky. I knew he was versatile, but still kept this sort of intense, almost punk energy to things. In addition to that general aesthetic, I really wanted to emulate the In Utero drum sound, and I knew he learned a lot from working with Steve Albini, so it just seemed like a perfect fit.
You rock out pretty hard on stage. You even cut your face open recently while thrashing. What does it feel like when the music takes over you?
Yeah, my face is all messed up. It feels amazing when the music grabs you like that, though. You can never try to make that happen. It just does. It really is one of the most wonderful feelings. It's easier for me to get there with Waters than with any other project I've been in.