A Conversation with LES VONDERLIN About Her New CD Les is More

By Jess Hayden AKA Folkmama

Les Vonderlin, half of the popular Central Pennsylvania group Voxology has recently released a solo CD Les is More. The CD, recorded and produced by Paul Wegmann (owner of Keystone Studios in Mechanicsburg) features covers by some of Vonderlin’s favorite songwriters plus four originals.

Vonderlin has selected a talented group of musical friends (Paul Wegmann on guitars, bass, keyboards and shakers, John McHenry on drums and percussion, Beth Trez on piano, Charles Marks on piano, and her nephew, Matthew Vonderlin, who co-wrote Vowels on the “meow”) to accompany her stellar vocal work.  To get a copy of this exquisite CD visit Les’ site at http://www.lesvonderlin.com

Back in January I had a conversation with Les about what inspired her to make the new CD and the songs and musicians that it features.

Folkmama: There is a lot of beautiful vocal work on the CD. Is it all your voice? And the harmonies are lovely. Do you write them out ahead of time?

Les: Yes, it’s all me…through the wonders of the recording studio. You know, I don’t write music, I learn and compose by ear. When we were working on all those different harmonies Paul Wegmann, who is a real wizard would say, “Well, let’s maybe try this.” And he’d sing it to me and I’d sing it back.  And it worked! So the process was all by ear.

Folkmama: I have to say that I loved your vocal work on Hallelujah.  That piece worked very well with your voice. There is such simplicity to that song that I feel it really requires a voice with your kind of depth.  I also loved how you created the choir effect.  I’m curious to know if that what you were going after? Also, I wondered which version of the song influenced you the most.

Les: Yes, we were absolutely going after a “choir” sound. Using many, many tracks during the recording process gave it that big, full sound.  I like the Rufus Wainwright version the most. That was the first one that I heard—it just absolutely did something to my heart and I’ve adored that song ever since.

Folkmama: I was also impressed by the guitar work on the CD. Paul Wegmann sure seems like a versatile musician!

Les: Yes he is. He did all the guitar work and the bass tracks too. He plays everything from classical to acoustic to electric guitar. He used to run the Good Life Café in Carlisle with David Ison, but since it closed now just the studio is there.  Paul is very active with recording and producing and he teaches as well. It was kind of David’s idea that started me on this journey to record a solo CD. He had said to me, “You know, you need to do something that showcases Les Vonderlin”.  It really has been a really exciting journey. I am so proud of this disc!

Folkmama: I’ve known John McHenry for awhile. He’s a terrific percussionist.

Les: Yes. I met John when Paul and David were producing a radio show for WITF called The Good Life Café.  They asked Voxology to be part of the house band and they pulled folks together and made this virtual house band for this radio show and John was the drummer.

Folkmama: And the acoustic piano is quite nice too.

Les: Yes, my dear friend Charlie Marks, who actually delivers babies for a living in Gettysburg, plays piano on Vowels and Hallelujah. And Beth Trez, who has a music studio in Mechanicsburg plays on Stories, and If She Waits.

Folkmama:  Four of the songs on the CD are originals. Can you tell me a bit about them?

Les: I wrote Stories for a very good friend of mine who just got married this past fall. I wanted to redo the song with a whole different treatment with a piano. Stories and If She Waits have been recorded with Voxology, but Vowels and The Struggle are brand new.

Folkmama: The rest of the selections are written by songwriters that you admire; ones that you say really mean a lot to you personally. There’s Mahala by Darrell Scott, Junk by Paul McCartney, Looking for Space by John Denver and Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. What lead you to select these songs?

Les: They are all songs that I find really striking. Mahala has got to be my favorite Darrell Scott song. And he is my favorite singer-songwriter. I just can’t get enough of him. There is just something about that song—about his little girl being so wise and his love for her. And my first memories of music were The Beatles and John Denver who were huge in our house. And that Denver song in particular really spoke to me—looking for space to figure out who you are and what’s going on. And Junk was written by Paul McCartney, but people don’t know that. It’s just a really strange, random song. And Simple, the KD Lang song is just so fun. All these songs are wonderful to sing. So I just wanted to include them to pay homage to the folks that I look up to and love to emulate.

Folkmama: Did you have a theme in mind when you were putting together the CD?

Les: Not really. But as it all came together, it really started to be about finding myself. This was my first CD on my own, apart from the bands that I have been involved in for a million years. So it really became a sort of coming of age. Finding what I am outside of that. Voxology is 15 years old, almost. And that’s wonderful and I love it, but this was an opportunity to do something completely different

Folkmama: One of the most intriguing songs on the CD for me was the one called The Struggle. It had some really cool background noises on it and at one point I could hear a clock. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Les: It was the last song that we recorded and we didn’t rehearse it together beforehand because we wanted it to sound a little raw. We were toying with different ways to do it and Paul said, “You know what, why don’t do it on the roof?” So we recorded it on the roof of his studio in downtown Carlisle.  That’s what you are hearing. It just happened to be 6 o’clock in the evening and the clock downtown chimed and we just looked at each other and said, “Oh, my goodness!” It was just perfect.

Folkmama: Anything that you want to add?

Les: Just that I’m really pleased with it. I’m so grateful for everyone that was involved!

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