Hinting at More
New release by Cleveland local Kevin Bianchi brings honesty, heart to solo effort Vanishing Shores
By Christopher White
Recently, I sat down with Cleveland musician Kevin Bianchi to discuss his new effort, Vanishing Shores and the new EP of the same name. The six-song collection is full of beautiful, layered melodies with honest considerations of the connections we seek and the distances we often encounter. We dig into the roots of the project, along with the style of songwriting that hatched the new songs.
You've been on the Cleveland music scene for some time, including the still-very-much-alive effort, The Chestertons. How did this new project come about?
The idea to start another project and name it Vanishing Shores came about through conversations with my friend (and mastermind), Cassy Plicka. She has been a major advocate for The Chestertons and all of my songwriting over the past two years, and she suggested recording some songs on my own, just to be able to get more songs released and to play some solo shows. This sounded like a good idea, but I didn't want to be a 'singer/songwriter' type. I don't like the idea, personally, of going out under just my own name. I like the idea of being in a band. I like the community aspect of it and the shared purpose that being in a band brings. However, I also wanted to do something that was completely apart from The Chestertons so that it did not take away from the music of that band, which still remains my main focus. So even though Vanishing Shores is a solo project, I view it more as a musical collective where I can have friends come and go in their participation while still feeling intimately connected to the songs.
Vanishing Shores, for me, is all about connection or the attempt at least to connect with the listener in an honest and vulnerable way. The name itself is meant to evoke the image of the boundaries and the things that keep us apart disappearing. Our very moment in history is one that is in desperate need of relationship, with each other and so much more.
What ideas helped forge this EP?
The one rule I had going into this project was that I could not use any songs associated with The Chestertons, even if I had only sent the guys in the band a demo of it. I already had a backlog of unreleased songs that I could have drawn from for this collection, yet I wrote an entirely new set of songs just for this EP. Without thinking thematically, I think they just started to develop that way. The order of the songs on the album is the order in which they were written, except for 'Always' which was added at the very last minute because I thought it was a good 'pop' song for local radio. However, even that song seems to fit into the larger context in a way that I would not have been able to plan if I had tried it from a more logical and less emotional standpoint.
One of the earliest sources of inspiration for this album came from me finally, after years of protest, listening to David Bazan and his very large catalogue of songs. He can be a bit frustrating for me - he seems to both court and reject ideas of faith and the people who ascribe to them. However, his songwriting gift is driven by his willingness to be confessional at all costs. This is where the verses of 'In Between' really started and then the rest of the song came easily from that initial idea. After this beginning, however, the songs really had nothing to do with Bazan and everything to do with the endless desire for connection, both to the human and the Divine. My songwriting never follows a narrative style. A lot of songwriters are really good at this, deftly describing a scene or event in great detail. I can only say how something 'feels' to me, whether in the moment or thinking about it from a later date. So even though I may be inspired by a situation or event, I am never singing directly about it in any way other than how it affects me emotionally. I only feel my way through the songwriting process. This has its positives and negatives, but I think ultimately it makes it honest and approachable. I'm not telling you what to think or even what to feel, but simply saying how it moves me. Hopefully on some level it will move the listener as well, as they respond to it in whatever situation they may be in at the time.
Another source of inspiration for this album was the death of the singer for The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie. I really wasn't prepared for the effect it would have on me. In college, I had listened to the Hip because of a Canadian friend of mine, but I had lost contact with any of their more recent releases and to be honest, I had largely forgotten about them entirely. With Downie’s death, however, I really re-connected with the power of the music and the power of who he was as an artist. He was someone who pursued beauty wherever he found it and really gave of himself completely in every performance. He was smart and funny, but more importantly, humble and gracious to others with his gift. There is a line particularly that came back to me again and again where he said, "A great song's greatest attribute is how it hints at more." That is what I wanted with this collection of songs, to 'hint' at something more. I want them to make you more curious about the person across from you at the bar. I want them to make you more interested in finding out the story of the person you work with or the random guy in the line with you at the grocery store. I want them to encourage you to spend time learning to love the ones you are closest to and to not be distracted by all of the negativity that continually tries to consume us.
I also heard a lot about marriage in the EP. How did that come about?
I think you are right, but I think it is in the most basic sense of connecting with the one you love. On some level, every song I write is a love song. For example, the chorus on 'In Between' is saying that 'we won't be strangers at world's end', and that is a love song for my wife, my children, disconnected friends, Gord Downie, and even God. It is about the hope that pursues us and refuses to let go.
This is your second time working with Dave Douglas. This time you brought in a bunch of new people to play in the album. How was it working with these new folks? What were the different things they brought to the table?
When I had originally envisioned recording these songs, I thought they would be a more lo-fi, DIY kind of production. I figured that I would play the majority of the instruments and just have Dave Douglas add his drums. As the songs began to develop, I realized that I just wasn't up to the task of doing it myself and to do so would be a disservice to the songs themselves. Therefore, I asked Dave to really shepherd the whole project to completion, ensuring the best possible outcome. The musicians who graciously contributed to the project are really some of the best of the best. In addition to Dave playing drums and bass on all of the songs, Mark Lee Townsend (also of Relient K fame) added some brilliant guitar to four of the songs. A good friend of mine, Jerry Popiel, added a number of guitar parts and really encouraged me throughout the recording process, ensuring I didn't lose the plot and self-sabotage any of the songs. Also, two of Cleveland's very best, Ray Flanagan and Rob Kovacs contributed in such powerful and beautiful ways with their guitar and keyboard parts. Lastly, my partners in The Chestertons, Justin Hartman and Brian Bianchi, really brought the songs to completion with both the harmonies and percussion. I am deeply grateful for each of the contributions of these very talented musicians and friends. They really fulfilled the idea of a community forming around these songs and ensured that the songs came to life in the proper way.
The debut EP by Vanishing Shores drops on August 10th. Christopher is a freelance writer from Slippery Rock, PA.