The indie rocker talks about the Wilmington music scene ahead of her upcoming tour.
Grace Vonderkuhn—the Wilmington, DE-based indie rocker who makes what she describes as “garage/psych/dream pop for true believers”—wasn’t always Grace Vonderkuhn. She was born Grace Koon, but eventually switched to Vonderkuhn for two reasons. One: It’s believed to be an old family name. Two: It sounds “more rock & roll.”
After playing in other Delaware bands, Vonderkuhn joined forces with bassist Brian Bartling and drummer Dave Mcgrory a few years ago. The band released their home-recorded debut album, Reveries, last year. It consists of 10 tightly performed, head-banging pop tracks, which pair Vonderkuhn’s larger-than-life vocals with catchy hooks and guitar shredding.
The band is currently recording their yet-to-be announced sophomore album. This time around, they’re ditching the analog technique they used for Reveries. Following their recent tour with Thin Lips, we caught up with Grace Vonderkuhn about the Wilmington music scene, the band’s origin story, and their decision to record their sophomore album digitally. Catch Grace Vonderkuhn on tour later this month. Dates below.
AdHoc: You’re from Wilmington, Delaware. Is that where you grew up? What’s it like?
Grace Vonderkuhn: Well, I’m a little bit south of Wilmington in Newark, but I’ve lived in Wilmington for several years. There’s a little scene. I mean, it’s definitely small and tight-knit, but it’s a cool spot because we’re between Philly and DC and Baltimore and New York. Pretty centralized location, so we do get some bands coming through. I’m from Delaware, and I’ve been here most of my life.
Did you grow up going to shows in the local scene?
It took me a while. I was in a band in high school, and we did high school-age shows. I grew up pretty religious—which I’m not anymore—so [I did] a lot of church and youth group stuff until I was probably 17, and then started getting more into the scene, music-wise.
Any Wilmington area bands that you follow?
Oh yeah. Hoochi Coochi—we just played with them on Friday, at our hometown show after our tour. This band called Eyebawl—they’re really good. Dolphin Hotel is cool. There’s definitely an indie rock influence to a lot of bands around here.
You’ve described your music as a blend of garage and psych rock, with some pop in there in too. Who are some current or recent influences?
I’ve been really into new wave stuff like Gang of Four and Wire, and post-punk. DEVO, Chameleons, New Order… stuff like that. Also Pile and Preoccupations. I really like Idles. I tend to like heavier guitar rock. There’s this band Lala Lala. And Caroline Rose, and some of the more pop-y stuff that’s been coming out. Illuminati Hotties.
You currently play alongside bassist Brian Bartling and drummer Dave Mcgrory. How’d you meet them?
Just through Delaware, because it’s such a small scene. We were all playing in other bands for a while, and it just came together. I was starting this new thing under my name, and I was like, “Who is good? Who should I get?” Someone had suggested Brian to me, and I knew the band he was in and they were really good. It was called Troubled Hips. So we just started playing, and that was a couple years ago. The first time we practiced together, it was like, “Okay, I guess we’re a band now.”
Dave was a little later. We tried some other people, and Dave was in this band called Thunder Hank. They were really great too. [He] kept coming up to me at shows and being like, “I want to be your drummer.” After a couple months I was like, “Alright.” Then he played with us, and I was like, “Wow, he’s ridiculously good.” It just kind of worked out.
You were born Grace Koon. What prompted the switch to Grace Vonderkuhn?
It’s supposedly what my last name used to be originally, generations ago. It’s more rock & roll. I started using that as my name before I was even playing music under [it], just on social media. It stuck.
Does it better reflect you? Did you want to become that?
I think in some sense, it was just like, “I don’t really like my actual name that much, so I want to pick something different.” But it does feel like an alter ego in a way—lightly. Kind of like, “Oh, I can get into this character and be this crazy rock & roll person.”
I read that before you were Grace Vonderkuhn, you were in a band called Kind of Creatures, and before that you were in a band called A New Dakota. How did your music evolve with each of these projects?
Lately, I’ve been trying to find people that [are] on the same page as me. I feel like I have that now, more than ever before, so that helps a lot in songwriting. I know that whatever I bring to the table, we’re going to make something from it. I think I was a little bit more straightforward punk before, at least in A New Dakota, and I’ve been exploring other music and trying to write better stuff.
It’s been about a year since the release of your debut album, Reveries. What has the last year looked like for you? What do you do when you’re not playing music?
It’s been a good year. We got more attention than I was expecting, which is cool. And we got to go to SXSW officially. That was fun. We’ve been playing a lot of shows and meeting a lot of people, traveling around.
When I’m not playing music, I work as a bartender and hang out with my dog Arrow. She’s a pitbull mix. We’re actually not totally sure what she is; we just go with that. I just painted my office in my house. I like projects. I like gardening. I’m looking out the window, and it’s, like, blizzarding outside, so not too much of that lately.
You’re getting ready to record a new record. When did you write the songs?
Most of the songs were probably written around or after when Reveries came out. So it’s been over the past year. We’re starting to record this Friday, [February 15th].
Am I right that you record yourself?
We have done that in the past. That’s what we did with Reveries. It was all [recorded] into tape machines, so it was an analog recording. Then we ran it into the computer. I love the sound of that and how that turned out, but it’s [a] very [difficult process]. It was like a recording studio in my living room for weeks and weeks, and constant mixing. You have to make all your decisions as you’re recording, because it’s on tape. It was a long process, which was really cool, but I think this time around we’re trying something a little bit different. Digitally, [we will be able to] open up some more options as far as recording goes. So it should be exciting.
I know you guys are going on tour soon. Any places you’re excited to go, or anyone you’re excited to play with?
We’re going south—sort of Atlanta and Gainesville and those areas. We’ve never toured in that part of the country before. It’s going to be in April, so I was hoping it would be warm. That’s one thing we’re really looking forward to.
On the tour that we just went on, we had to cancel three dates because we were going to Chicago in the middle of the polar vortex, and it was like negative 20 degrees, and our shows got cancelled, and I got sick immediately. I was like, “Oh, this is really hard.” It was lots of fun, but at the same time I’m looking forward to nicer weather. It’s always fun playing new places and making new connections.
4/19 Washington, DC @ Slash Run
4/20 Raleigh, NC @ Slim’s
4/22 Gainesville, FL @ CMC
4/24 Birmingham, AL @ Mom’s
4/25 Greenville, SC @ Radio Room
4/26 Athens, GA @ Flicker
4/27 Wilmington, NC @ Gravity Records