Interview – Chris Leo of The Van Pelt


A tidal wave of music continues to crash into the ears of all eager summer listeners. To add onto the pleasurable bombardment of tunes, The Van Pelt are here to help. The men; Chris Leo, Brian Maryansky, Sean Greene, and Neil O’Brien, are making that magic happen yet again with the reissues of their albums, ‘Stealing From Our Favorite Thieves’ and ‘Sultans Of Sentiment’ last month. To celebrate, the men are on the road once again and are bringing more folks into the fold. Chris Leo of the crew elaborated a bit on their new adventures.

Musically, the ambitions remain strong going ahead as always. “[Our focus is on] how and why we are we as opposed to another line-up. As in, what makes the four of us different from when the four of us play with other people and how can we both be light like the feather and light like the bird with it.”

One track that sticks out lately is His Steppe is My Prairie, Chris gave his thoughts on it. “[That is] still one of the rockers I have the most fun playing. Lyrically, it’s almost like a caricature of myself, and I’m into it partially because of that.” The Van Pelt discography is full of even more pure music gold, however, Chris had specifics in his mind. “Van Pelt-wise I consider the Speeding Train both our apex and our most difficult song to revisit since it was intended to be on our third album, yet we disbanded before we could finish it. Non-Van Pelt-wise there was the Vague Angels album of mine ‘Truth Loved’ that was picked up by and subsequently dropped by Matador before it was released. Hope it too sees the light of day again.”

Despite being a musician and having the occasional live show, he does not seek the spotlight in any case. “… I’m terrified of the stage and my inter-song banter is hopelessly awkward. I like talking to like three or four people at a time max, anything more than that feels dishonest to me. My memories of touring are filled with gaping holes every night from the moment I get on stage until the moment I step off, other than that I love touring. I played only guitar, as opposed to both guitar and vox, in a couple of bands and I roadied for a few bands as well. Those were dreamy times.”

A perfect example of when the live performance went wrong was a long story for Mr. Leo. “I was on stage at Forte Prenestino in Rome in front of hundreds of people and I snapped a string on an unfamiliar borrowed guitar in a tuning I could barely remember when sober, which is to say I wasn’t sober by any stretch of the imagination. When I tried restringing I put the wrong gauge string in its stead and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get back to the tuning I needed. The crowd started booing. I figured the situation was beyond repair so I decided the only way out was to make it worse and leave them with a story. I started berating them that the real problem here was that they didn’t support independent music enough and hence musicians like me can’t even afford proper gear. Didn’t go over well. [I] kept drinking and high tailed it outta town immediately after the show. Worse yet, it was the third time I had played in Rome and every time was worse than the last. Came back a fourth time and we were great! … By that point there was no one there to see it.”

In the music atmosphere, he stays dedicated on his own work with his musical colleagues. “I’m out of the loop of the music world per se, but musically as in just the music I’m more in tune with what’s happening now than what was happening in the Aughts. Too much of an ebb and flow kind of guy to rejoice that things are getting better though. It’ll start to suck again soon.”

Beyond music, the artistic flair is powerful. “… Neil and Sean are painters. Brian is a photographer. I’m a sommelier does that count?” When asked about summer movies, he gave a great thoughtful approach to the controversial craft. “… Last year I watched the Oscars thinking the entire thing could be staged for all I know. [I] decided to test out my theory and watched Manchester by the Sea after which I was convinced the entire thing was in fact staged. That was not a movie and those were not actors. Best summer movie ever though is Black Orpheus / Orfeu Negro and Saturday Night Fever also.” When asked about Muppet choices, they were easy and quite hilarious for the musician to pick. In fact, he proclaims to be a Muppet duo through and through. “At this stage in my life Statler and Waldorf of course.” Not bad options at all.

When not performing, the man keeps himself busy. “Urban: wandering and day drinking, being the first person on the dance floor as well as the first person to bed and the first person up the next day. Rural: taking my terrible dog to the forest and allowing him to terrorize and annoy yet never kill nor maim the locals.”

The Van Pelt are keeping it going as best they can from here on out. “Against all odds, [we will make] another Van Pelt album. Half the band lives at opposite ends of Massachusetts and half  lives at opposite ends of New Jersey. We’re making it happen though, watch.” Fans will be watching and listening with obvious anticipation.

Catch these fellows live at the dates below:

07/20 – Washington DC at DC9

07/21 – Philadelphia, PA at Boot & Saddle

07/22 – Asbury Park, NJ at The Saint

07/23 – New York, NY at Saint Vitus

Jam on.