Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Winter Vacation: A retrospective and interview with David Yourdon

In the 1990s-2000s, a kind of brainy, ramshackle American indiepop music existed that doesn't seem to be around anymore. Or if it is, I'm not finding it. David Yourdon's one-man band, Winter Vacation, is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. 

Some of the hallmarks of this music are thoughtful and earnest lyrics, boy-next-door vocals, and no-frills production values. Other artists in a similar vein are Pants Yell!, Wimp Factor 14, the Gazetteers, Vehicle Flips, and sometimes Tullycraft. 

Yourdon is probably better known for his recordings with the Pathways than with Winter Vacation, but Winter Vacation has a passionate following too. He released three Winter Vacation albums from 2001-2008, and all of them are good. A commenter on Discogs praised the Winter Vacation album Detectives as "one of my favourite albums of all time." Reviewer David Greenwald described The Netherlands, 1980 as "sincere, catchy and completely adorable." And the blog Doom & Gloom from the Tomb described Blue Coaching as "dreamy, slightly lo-fi bedroom pop, filled with sharp songwriting, clever arrangements and wistful lyrics." All true.

Winter Vacation and the Pathways have been quiet for some time, so Music Weird caught up with Yourdon on Oct. 3, 2015, to see what's happening, and to see what happened.

Did Winter Vacation have any releases other than Detectives; The Netherlands, 1980; and Blue Coaching?

Those are the only albums I would consider "real." I made a handful of album-like thingies before Detectives, but they were only distributed to a few friends. Then again, Blue Coaching was only distributed to a few friends, so perhaps if it's to be considered an album, those other ones should be considered albums too. For your records, the early ones were called: Winter Vacation (self-titled), Winter Vacation Strikes Again!, and Old Friends.

Where are you from and what did you do before Winter Vacation?

I'm from New York City originally. Before Winter Vacation, I was a senior in my first semester of high school, so I guess I was taking midterms!

When did you start recording/performing as Winter Vacation, and what was the inspiration behind the name?

The first recordings under the name Winter Vacation happened during winter vacation of my senior year. I was in a couple bands at the time, but they were both dormant, and I had nothing to do for a few weeks, so I recorded a dozen songs and put them on a cassette.

Who else played on the Winter Vacation records? It is described as your solo project, but was it a band?

The recordings are mostly just me. A couple friends play on songs that appear on the Asaurus compilation (You Already Have Way Too Many CD-Rs), but that might be it for guest stars. I almost got a guest accordion player for the song "The Greenest Age," but that fell through, so I artlessly stabbed a toy accordion instead.

Did Winter Vacation perform live? If so, how often did you perform and how far (distance-wise) did you go? How did the shows go?

Winter Vacation shows have been few and far between. There was one tour back in 2001, which had Evan from the Pathways on guitar and the entirely-new-to-drumming Keith on drums. (Way to go, Keith!) The best show of that tour was in Cleveland. We played with Wolfie and Churchbuilder, which had Patrick Carney, now of the Black Keys, on guitar. The worst show was in New Orleans. We played with a band called Swamp Witch. It was not a match.

There was also a show at a house in Portland in 2009 (featuring my friends Mike and Dan, and a ragtag cover of "Dancing in the Dark"), a show at a bar in Brooklyn, and a solo show at the University of Chicago. Oh, and there was a one-off show in Sweden, at a festival called Mitt Nasta Liv. That was a good one.

The fact that I can list most of the shows tells you how few there were.

How did the first album end up on Dutch Courage Records?

Cory [McClure], who ran Dutch Courage, was a DJ at WHPK, as was I, and he somehow heard my music and offered to put out my next album. To save money, we printed only the CDs and the artwork, and we used the jewel cases from discarded radio station CDs.

Cory also got a song of mine on a Swedish compilation, which led to the Mitt Nasta Liv festival, so I owe him for that experience!

The Pathways' recordings seem different to me from the Winter Vacation recordings. Did you approach the two projects differently? If so, in what way?

The Pathways was an actual band, and the songs, especially on the last two albums, were true collaborations. My friend Evan, who was the other principal songwriter, and I would exchange tapes with song fragments—generally just a guitar riff or a keyboard part over a drum machine—and the other person would fill out the song. So if you hear me singing a Pathways song, it probably began as an Evan riff, and vice versa. That process forced us to merge our sensibilities.

You said that you don't like Detectives anymore. Were you happy with it when it was new? What changed?

I'm sure I was happy enough with it when it was new, but in hindsight, it seems simultaneously precious and not too thought out for a "concept album." On a technical level, I had just bought a fancy new microphone, and I didn't know how to use it, so the recordings are super trebly, most notably my voice. I think I managed to fix the technical issues by the time the Pathways made Boat of Confidence, which was recorded with the same equipment. And I think the early Pathways "fragments" experiments helped my attempts at self-collaboration on The Netherlands, 1980 and made that album less stuffy than Detectives.

Are all of the Winter Vacation albums concept albums? If so, how would you describe the thread that ties each album together?

No, not really. The Netherlands, 1980 might be a "theme album" about travel, but it probably doesn't merit the label "concept album." I don't recall if Blue Coaching had an explicit theme. All I really remember about the approach to that album is wanting each song to have a single, simple idea that was summarized by its title and articulated cleanly in the lyrics. Sort of like Shirelles songs.

Will you ever make new Winter Vacation recordings?

Yes! Making a new album is looking like it will top my New Year's resolutions for 2016. I already have one guitar part. 99 to go.

Would you like to add anything else?

How about some relevant recommendations? I mentioned Churchbuilder above. Their song "Snow in April" is pretty great. And I really like the album Notion Free by Ever Ending Kicks.

Winter Vacation discography

Winter Vacation (no label)

Winter Vacation Strikes Again! (no label)

Old Friends (no label)

Detectives (Dutch Courage Records DCR-10, 2001)
  • Goodbye Big City/Driving into Town/Stranger Things Have Happened/Most Afternoons/All I See Is Mary/It's Snowing!/The Great Rainstorm/An Arsonist/Red Jacket/When the World Ends/Northern Settlers/Search Party

The Netherlands, 1980 (Asaurus Records, 2005)
  • Sightseeing/The Greenest Age/On a Ski Slope/My Country Friends/Denver Diner/Fake Swim/Rained on Together/Life Imitates Arthur/Upstate Estate/Balloon Township/Walk Signs/Aimless/World Color War/The Alps

Blue Coaching (no label, 2008)
  • Fates/First Night/The Girl With Only Guy Friends/Arm's Length/Jeanette Wants Manhattan/Widow's Walk/Letter to Carter/Elsewhere/My Best Friend's Wedding

Compilation appearances

Hit Music Only (Heavenly Pop Hits POPH01, 2002)
  • Includes the Winter Vacation song "Weekend Travel"

You Already Have Way Too Many CD-Rs: Three Years of Asaurus Records (Asaurus Records, 2005)
  • Includes the Winter Vacation songs "Should I Get a Dog and Move to Pittsburgh?," "Rain on Our Parade," "Little Liam," and "Kate"


  1. I have a copy of The Netherlands, 1980, and I think is a very good álbum of that year, one of the best