I first encountered Vardo at TeslaCon, and seeing as how they are from Wisconsin, this should come as no surprise. I was supposed to catch up with Chad at the 2019 event, but I was so beat from my whirlwind, overseas trip that I missed out. Luckily, he was more than happy to answer my questions via e-mail. So without further ado, here’s the interview!
How do you describe Vardo’s music to people? How does it fit into Steampunk music as a whole? (As eclectic and amazing as that label is!)
CC: “If I were to describe Vardo’s music, I’d have to say that it is traditionalist-inspired, original, folk music, with a ‘crank and a twist.’
I compose with many different instruments: some of which may seem unorthodox, some are homemade contraptions, and some are what could be considered to fit into the foley category. When it comes to Vardo, I refrain from using any synthetic instruments, or pre-programmed sounds. I like for the final recording to be as organic as possible.
For example: while recording ‘Once Upon A Time In The Midwest,’ I used many film and radio foley instruments/techniques to immerse the listener into the soundscape of an old western film; the song ‘Curio’ features an antique typewriter, and the song ‘Charivari’ features a menagerie of antique toys. ‘Charivari’ also features the iconic ‘Big Ori’ – the 1914 Barnum & Bailey Air Calliope, located at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I am very grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to play and record this incredible, historic instrument, and I would especially like to thank Ringmaster David SaLoutos for allowing me to do so.”
What was the first instrument you learned to play? Do you still play it?
CC: “I’d honestly have to say that the first instrument I ever learned to play was my voice. I would imitate the sounds I heard around me and do impressions of my favorite characters. Although Vardo’s music doesn’t include a lot of singing, I would still consider myself to be a vocalist. My interest in learning to play musical instruments manifested mostly because no one I knew was creating the type of music that I dreamed of singing. As a very energetic child, I would often get into trouble for tapping my feet, hands, and my fingers on my school desk. I would make ‘music’ with anything I could get my hands on. The way I see it, anything can be a drum.
As for conventional instruments, I first began to teach myself to play the piano by figuring out simple melodies with a Casio keyboard (which I still own to this day) that I received as a birthday gift in my youth. My mother’s side of the family is quite musical, and I was often around the family piano, guitars, and tape machines. I still play and use the piano as a reference for nearly every piece of music I compose. MIDI technology has made using a keyboard controller an amazing tool for experimenting with many different sounds for demo purposes.
I later taught myself to play the guitar and drum set, and I continue to play both of them nearly everyday. I now play a multitude of instruments from all over the word. I consider each instrument to be a tool to utilize: to achieve a desired result (although, not every layer or instrument may make it into the final arrangement).”
Have you played with other groups before Vardo?
CC: “I have performed and recorded with many groups since the late-nineties, most notably: Richard Cranium (circa 2002-2014) and TΩMA (2008-current). I have been writing and experimenting with recording sounds since my early teens. I have also worked/am working on on many film and game soundtracks.
Richard Cranium disbanded in 2014 following the passing of drummer, Marc Eaton.
Both of these groups (Richard Cranium and TΩMA) also feature what could be considered ‘steampunk’ elements.”
How did Vardo come together both as a group and as a musical style?
CC: “After Richard Cranium disbanded, I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go musically. Vardo began as a recording project, and our debut, ‘Once Upon A Time In The Midwest’ was released in May of 2018.
While recording this EP, I was introduced to TeslaCon founder, Eric Larson, and he had asked to hear the demos. He fell in love with what he heard, and invited Vardo to perform as TeslaCon’s ‘Official Steampunk Orchestra’ for TeslaCon 6: The Wild Wild West (2015). Unfortunately, it was just too short of a period to be able to prepare a group that wasn’t fully-formed, so he insisted that I put together a group to perform for the following year.
After hand-picking the musicians to complete the recordings and perform them live, Vardo was to take the stage. Our first official live performance was held at TeslaCon 7: La Grande Exposition Scientifique in 2016.”
Where have you been performing so far? What are your plans for the future?
CC: “Vardo has performed several renaissance fairs and venues over the last few years. We have also performed annually at TeslaCon since 2016, with our final performance in 2019. We are retiring as TeslaCon’s ‘Official Steampunk Orchestra’ to focus on completing our many upcoming releases and to prepare for touring. Our plan is to perform at several steampunk conventions, renaissance fairs, and music festivals; both national and internationally over the next few years.
We’re also planning to create a series of music videos for Vardo. We have some really great ideas to visually accompany our music and are hoping to complete them all throughout 2020.”
Vardo created the first “Steampunk folk dance” song, right? How did that come about?
CC: “For TeslaCon 8: The Bucharest Bungle (2017), Vardo enlisted the help of the incredibly talented, Dance Master Jason Ottmann to teach traditional folk dances from the Transylvanian region.
Everyone had such a great time (including Vardo) that I decided that the steampunk community needed its own official folk dance. I collaborated with Dance Master Ottmann to choreograph ’The Dance of the Clock’ to accompany Vardo’s, ‘The Cog Song.’ The dance is rooted in Eastern-European folk dancing: based on the movements of cogs and clockwork.
“The Cog Song”
We had such a good time creating this dance, that we decided to create another to Vardo’s ‘Dizzy Devil Dance,’ which we debuted last year at TeslaCon (2019). The music is currently available for pre-order on our Bandcamp page and scheduled for release in March of 2020, along with an official dance instructional video (currently in pre-production).”
That’s so cool! Tell us about your newest release.
CC: “In December of 2019, Vardo released both ‘Curio’ and ‘Duende.’
‘Curio’ is an antique-circus-inspired, two-song release that features elements of both Eastern-European and Western-European influences. This release features the songs, ‘Curio’ and ‘Charivari.’
‘Duende’ features the songs, ‘Theta’ and ‘Duende,’ which were inspired by Middle-Eastern and Eastern-European belly dance music. These songs and dances debuted at TeslaCon 8: The Bucharest Bungle in 2017. For these dances, I enlisted the assistance from several of my colleagues from Bristol Renaissance Faire (Danielle Hall, Stacey Johnson, Leah Jurgens, and Shana Michonski) to aid in choreography. Some of these lovely ladies often perform regularly with Vardo (as Davai Dance), which adds a wonderfully unique element to our stage show.
There are several Vardo releases scheduled for 2020: ‘Dizzy Devil Dance’ and ‘No Borders’ are currently available for pre-order on our Bandcamp page, and the official follow-up sequel to ‘Once Upon A Time In The Midwest,’ titled ‘The Devil Rides Again’, is currently in production along with the eclectic, ‘Arcadia Infierno.’”
Where can people find Vardo around the web?
CC: “Vardo’s entire, current music catalog (including pre-orders and merchandise) is available for purchase on our Bandcamp page with some releases also available on iTunes, Spotify, and other streaming services. We are also active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Our online home base is located on our record label, Kenebula Records’ website.
For a behind-the-scenes look into creating Vardo’s music and to support in its creation, you can join me on Patreon.
Vardo has also performed, and continues to perform, many compositions from several of my musical groups.”
Here are a few more places you can find Vardo and its members making music.
Thanks so much for joining us, Chad! And good luck on your new releases and tour.