An Interview with Chad Canfield of the Band Vardo
Vardo is a group based in Wisconsin and formed by Chad Canfield. Since the late 1990’s, Chad’s been creating steampunk music with a Victorian/folk feel. Victoria L. Szulc, the Countess, had a quick chat with Chad Canfield about their new release and an exciting event premiering at Teslacon this November.
Hi Chad, tell me a bit about the history of the band, how it was formed, your members, and music?
Honestly, Vardo was a happy accident. We began as a recording project to capture some compositions that had been haunting me for years. I have been a fan of Westerns since my youth, having watched them with my grandfather. It had always been a dream of mine to score a Western film.
Once I began arranging and recording demos for the compositions featured in our debut record, “Once Upon A Time in the Midwest”, I quickly realized that I would need some incredible players to be able to pull them off live, if I ever decided to perform them at all. I started calling on the best musicians I know from around the country. They had heard some of the demos and instantly agreed to join me in the studio. I flew some musicians in from out-of-state, some drove long-distance to studios in Wisconsin, and I traveled many hours to capture the others. This project had become a labor of love that took nearly three years to complete.
Some artists simply require the sound of a violin, or trumpet on their recordings, but for these compositions, I needed to capture the passion, the soul, the duende of the performers. I had to find the right talent. This record features: Chad Canfield: Guitars, Percussion, Vocals, Piano, Mandolin, Harmonica, Foley; Aileen De Jesus: Piano, Kagura Suzu; Brian Grimm: Cello, Guzheng, Guqin, Gaohu, Pipa; Kimberly Hetelle: Flute; Ian Stewart: Violin, Jaw Harp; Nate Tatem: Drums, Percussion, Whistle; Valerie Usalis: Trumpet; Victoria Vazquez: Clarinet; and Professor Pinkerton Xyloma: Piano.
As “Once Upon A Time in the Midwest” started coming together, I was introduced to Eric Larson, the organizer of the nation’s longest-running, fully-immersive steampunk convention known as TeslaCon. Eric loved the music and invited Vardo to perform for a special event during his 2015 convention appropriately titled, “The Wild Wild West”. Unfortunately, things didn’t line up for some of our members that year, but Eric and I have grown close, and he has since dubbed Vardo “The Official Steampunk Orchestra of TeslaCon”. Vardo has performed the event annually since 2016, and is planning to return this coming November 17th at the Madison Marriott West in Middleton, Wisconsin. Vardo is currently offering a deal for weekend passes purchased directly from the band.
How did you find out about Steampunk?
I believe the first time I came across the term “steampunk”, was while searching the web as a teenager in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, and I found the subject fascinating. I am a lover of history and fantasy; combining the two was very intriguing to me. In the late 1990’s I began composing for my first group, Richard Cranium, who would oftentimes incorporate circus and steampunk elements into our shows and music. Richard Cranium disbanded in 2014 after the sudden loss of drummer, Marc Eaton.
What about your music makes it Steampunk?
I like to think of Vardo’s music as “an immersive listening experience.” Yes, some of my compositions feature crank sounds and other mechanical elements, but I’d consider our music to be much more than that.
The way by which “Once Upon A Time In The Midwest” was produced is artistically “steampunk”: the packaging was created by Sooper Dooper in Madison, WI with a letterpress machine from the 1890’s, the artwork was hand-drawn by the amazing artist, Kevin Loesch, and designed by Atoxicdream Design in order to look like a “wanted” poster on one side and a Western film promotional poster on the opposite side.
I am really looking forward to sharing Vardo’s follow-up record, “Curio”, with our fans as well. It will have somewhat of a “steampunk-circus” feel. In fact, I had the honor to be able to play and record Circus World Museum’s iconic Ringling Bros. calliope for the record’s finale track, “Charivari”.
Vardo has recently teamed up with TeslaCon, Dance Master Jason Ottmann, and Kenebula Records, to create “The Cog Song”. This release will feature “The Dance of the Clock” (The Cog Song), which will accompany the world’s first official steampunk folk dance. This “Official TeslaCon Music” release is now available via Vardo’s Bandcamp, with the dance’s world premier during Vardo’s performance at TeslaCon on November 17th.
“The Cog Song” is available now at:
What other bands or performers influenced your sound, Steampunk or non-Steampunk?
My uncle worked for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus for over thirty years, and I attended annually until I was in my teens. I absolutely loved the circus band and music, but as a teenager, I fell for punk rock. When I was around fifteen years old, I was introduced to the group, Mr. Bungle, and they opened my mind to new possibilities. It was like a punk rock circus. It was then that I realized what kind of music I wanted to create, something different… something special.
I have since followed many of the groups that the members of Mr. Bungle have formed over the years. Secret Chiefs 3 is extremely influential to me, along with the many Mike Patton projects. These musicians think outside of the box, and utilize their talents and tools to create truly amazing soundscapes.
Tell me about the best AND the worst venues/experiences you’ve played?
Well, I will say this, every venue has its pros and cons. Playing TeslaCon has been an amazing and pleasurable experience. Steampunk fans really know how to have fun; they immerse themselves within the music, and they dance beautifully.
The worst? Outdoor events in the Midwest Spring, Autumn, and Winter seasons. Cold fingers and metal strings do not mix well.
What do you like about Steampunk?
I adore the creativity of the steampunk community. I have always considered steampunk to represent what could have been, given an artistic outlook of the technology available during the Victorian era. Some of these folks are incredibly talented and inspiring.
Vardo’s “The Cog Song” and the band’s debut record, “Once Upon A Time In The Midwest” are available for purchase via iTunes, and Bandcamp. Vardo is currently performing events in Central and South-Eastern Wisconsin. For special deals on tickets, contact Kenebula Records: firstname.lastname@example.org
Victoria L. Szulc, “The Countess”, is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer working on her fourth Steampunk novel, “Lafayette to London” and is the resident artist and a tour guide for Haunted STL Tours. You can follow her works, social media links, and shop links at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com.