An Interview with Singer/Songwriter John Van Deusen

John Playing at the Sunset Tavern

Since John Van Deusen started writing songs as a teenager, he has created a tremendous amount of music. He is a prolific songwriter, touring performer, producer, and artist.

Recently I was able to ask John a few questions about the gear he uses to listen to and create music, as well as some of his thoughts on music-making in general.


How do you listen to music now?

I listen to music via Apple Music on my phone, on my record player at home or occasionally via Youtube.

Is there a time you remember being "blown away" by how something sounded?

I was blown away the first time I heard recorded drum sounds via the Neve (as in, “the Neve” Dave Grohl purchased for $1 million) at Sound City during a recording session.

What is your favorite place to listen to music?

My favorite “place” to listen to music is in my headphones while walking.

What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to Nic Hessler’s ‘Soft Connections’ and a bootlegged Japanese vinyl of the Mario 64 soundtrack by Koji Kondo.

Do you have a favorite sounding album?

‘Black Sea’ by XTC and ‘The Glow Pt. 2′ by The Microphones.

John with Keyboards on Tour

Tell us about your current recording setup.

My current recording setup is a minimalistic and somewhat ramshackle combination of Logic Pro X, an SM7, a Blue Bottle Mic and a Digidesign 003 interface.

However, I have an Apogee Symphony Desktop that should be arriving soon and some Rokit 8 studio monitors to add to the set up as soon as the Apogee arrives.

As someone who's not really "into" gear, what's important to you in a recording setup?

All I really want is something that sounds decent and that is streamlined; I tend to get overwhelmed with too many bells and whistles. The less knobs the better, because I’m not a person of customization. What I really need is something that is ready to go when lightning strikes.

What is your most memorable and/or endearing piece of recording gear?

My Blue Bottle mic has been with me the longest; I’ve recorded what could possibly be over 100 songs using it. I don’t own many other pieces of gear.

What is your favorite recording experience?

This is a very difficult question for me to answer because recording sessions are some of my favorite memories. Two weeks at Sound City (LA) and two weeks at Tiny Telephone (San Francisco) with producer Chris Walla are some of my favorite recording memories. Recording with Jack Endino at Soundhouse (Seattle) when I was 18 was pretty amazing. In the end, my all time favorite recording session was working alone on Orcas Island for about a month. It was the closest I’ve gotten to my fantasized “hermit recording session”; although my wife did visit me once a week. The overall experience of being somewhere quiet and lonely really helped me find my creative sweet spot.

You've recorded in a lot of different places. Studios, cabins, garages, bedrooms. What place has been your favorite?

I’ve honestly loved everywhere I’ve recorded for different reasons. I’m particularly sensitive to my aesthetic environment so I usually love recording in beautiful, cozy places. One of my favorite spots is Hope Lodge, a cabin up in the Cascade Mountains. As you can probably tell, I care more about how a recording space “feels” than how it “sounds”.

The (I Am) Origami series is quite sonically diverse. Can you tell us a bit about the recording process for each album in the series?

LP1 was recorded at the old Studio X location in Belltown, Seattle. It was a very nice recording studio and we would go in at night after Dave Matthews was finished (he recorded an LP there for 7 months or something). My friend and producer Andy Park is the only reason that album sounds any good. Overall, Part 1 was recorded rather quickly because we had to do it on the cheap. We had my forever band mate Braydn Krueger (drums) in to track and he finished his takes in a couple of days. I slept alone at Studio X and I swear that old location was haunted.

In-Wall Hifi Studio Monitors at Studio X

LP2 was mostly self recorded and produced in many different locations, most of which were cabins and small rooms. The four main locations we used were an old cabin on Fidalgo Island, WA – the old ‘Monopath Garage’ in Anacortes, WA – a house on Orcas Island, WA – and a sauna in Plain, WA. I didn’t really bother to engineer this album properly and I relied heavily on the help of friends who set up the gear for me and then basically left me alone to work. I really love the way this album sounds because it feels earthy and organic; you can hear birds and wind and the sound of my chair creaking. The only reason this album sounds any good is because you (Jonathan Keane) mixed the album for me.

LP3 was recorded at Ranchland Studios in Cisco, TX. This is a MASSIVE studio in the middle of nowhere Texas. I was there for 9 days with producer Andy Park, drummer Braydn Krueger and engineer Sam Rossen. This was a great room to record a big rock record in. We recorded 24 songs. The album was mixed by Andy Park at home in Seattle. This album sounds the most like a “radio rock” record which is what we were going for. Ranchland was the perfect place to try and capture that sound. We watched horror movies in the big room after finishing our sessions.

How do you intend to record LP4?

I’m hoping to record the bulk of LP4 in my room/office. I will most likely record the drums at a studio with Braydn Krueger. I’m hoping for an end product that feels like a “pastoral bedroom record with punk influence”. I’m not really sure how I’m going to do that yet.

Any advice for people interested in making music?

Learn to write and demo songs. If you don’t feel like you can compose or write a song, find someone who can or will and partner with them.

Any outlandish opinions on audio gear?

You could record a collection of good songs using “voice memos” and it would still be good and people would connect with it. You can record a “meh” collection of songs at Abbey Road and no one will care. Your gear is secondary.

And finally, what's the best pop song of all time?

I don’t know but I feel like ‘Stayin Alive’ by the Bee Gees is almost perfect… and maybe Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ or Miley Cyrus – ‘Party in the USA’.

About The Author

Jonathan Keane is an experienced sound engineer and record producer currently based in Alexandria, KY. He runs a small record label and has also released some music of his own. When he isn’t working on music he can be found reading old fairy tales or driving around the back roads of northern Kentucky.