If Mark Charles Heidinger's kids can grow up to like The Kinks, The Beatles and Vandaveer, Heidinger will be a happy man. The Vandaveer founder is a full-time stay-at-home dad when he's not on the road. Just as he balances time with his two sons — one is 15-months old, one is 5-years old — he balances the excitement of getting back on the road with his band and the sadness of leaving his two little ones.
"It's a different kind of crazy at home versus on the road," Heidinger says. "You get used to the crazy cacophony of parenthood — the weird jealousy, the 5-year old hugs the toddler a little too hard. They have no concept of time — which is great and terrible. They're also getting into music though."
Like any parent, Heidinger loves to talk about his children. They've also become an integral part of his music on Vandaveer's fifth album, The Wild Mercury, which was released on Feb. 19. While Vandaveer prepares to hit the road in support of the release — including a Feb. 25 show at the Evening Muse — Heidinger's kids won't be physically with him, but their presence is felt in the new songs.
"Unequivocally. I think it's a fairly common human experience to have a professional or creative about-face when you enter into parenthood," Heidinger says. "I feel the new record is very much a reflection of that. It's very more direct with autobiographical content. It's sort of a direct response to that sea change of perspective."
The album's first single, "But Enough on That for Now," is a reflection of that. Heidinger lives across the street from a cemetery and tried to explain the cycle of life to his son. It was much easier when he could put it against a melody.
Heidinger says a lot of the album has a more domestic feel because he found it difficult not to write from an autobiographical perspective.
While past albums have had Heidinger dressing his lyrics in metaphors, he felt compelled to be more straight forward on The Wild Mercury. Sure, some of the darker undertones from the band's fourth album, Oh, Willie, Please..., soaked into Mercury, but Heidinger feels it's all a natural progression.
"I think the arc of a creative career — each thing that you do informs the next or whatever is on deck," Heidinger says. "This album will inform what we do next. I think we've always had a juxtaposition of hopefulness and darkness in what we do. It also puts mortality front and center for you, having two little ones. I'm acutely aware of time and your own mortality and how ephemeral everything is. Nothing is permanent."
Vandaveer started as Heidinger's solo project. Shortly after he started it in 2006, he paired his vocals with those of singer Rose Guerin. While the band often plays as a trio, the upcoming tour will have Vandaveer performing as a quintet or even sextet at some tour stops.
It's not easy for everyone in the band to get together when people live in different areas of the country — Heidinger recently moved to Kentucky to be closer to family who can help with child rearing.
But, being 2016, Heidinger doesn't feel it's necessary for band members to live in the same town.
Since Vandaveer has been playing together for a handful of years, it's easier for them together and hit the ground running.
"There's financial things to consider. There's a lot of planning. There's a lot of communication," Heidinger says of getting the band together before a tour. "There's a lot of practicing from afar. We all show up and have all done our homework though."
Heidinger likes that the band has the ability to "contract and swell." They can go out as a trio to perform living room sets and blow up to a sextet for bigger venues. At this point, he's just glad his band has made a fifth album and continues to perform. It might not have been so easy 20 years ago, he says.
"Everything middle class in the music industry — I'm not saying it didn't exist, but I don't know how prevalent it was because I'm not sure a band of our size and stature could have made it to a fifth record with the old model," he says. "We have a fan base — not a huge fan base, but we're incredibly lucky and fortunate and I'm trying to appreciate that."
While indie folk music on the new album continues to provide the backdrop for Heidinger's lyrics on The Wild Mercury, his change in approach to his lyrics hasn't been completely upended. Sure, there's more of a direct approach to his storytelling, but he still loves a good metaphor.
"I just really love playing with words," Heidinger says. "I think of John Lennon's 'Dig a Pony.' That's one of the perfect wordplay pop songs of all time. You can listen to it 300 times and take a different thing out of it each time. Metaphors are fun because you can be saying three different things at once or you can be saying one thing that you masked in a riddle. Writing on a more direct manner — it feels more personal. I feel more invested in it."
While Heidinger admires the honest that comes from his children and wishes adults could maintain some of the biting honesty they have, he laughs when asked if his kids understand what dad does for a living yet.
"My little one just tries to beat the shit out of my guitar," Heidinger says with a laugh. "The 5-year-old loves to sing and dance. We played an outdoor show for a radio station once and he came running up to me afterward and said, 'Papa! Papa! I recognized you from the crowd. I recognized your big head with your ridiculous hair!' So, that was his entire takeaway from the show."
Heidinger knows they're too young to fully appreciate his music, but hopes that day might come, perhaps in 10 to 15 years. He says if he exposes them to a dozen albums by a variety of artists and the kids like two, he's content. And he's patient enough to wait for his their honest opinion of Vandaveer.
"If my kids reach their teenage years and they find dad's records and they enjoy them and think it's good music and it's cool — that'll be the high-water mark of validation for me," Heidinger says. "I'd rather get my kids' thumbs up than a 9.5 on Pitchfork."