by Scott Roos
pictures by Deanna Roos
"I know people that have performed with me have called it my theme song," quipped Park Valley's Jake Vaadeland during a telephone conversation with NSMZ earlier today.
The song Vaadeland is referring to, his first official solo release as Jake Vaadeland & the Sturgeon River Boys, is called "Retro Man" and came out today. To bring you up to speed, Vaadland was formerly part of a successful bluegrass duo with his best friend Ira Amundson called Jake & Ira (you can find our previous cover story on the duo in our February edition). Unfortunately, since we last spoke to Vaadeland, Amundson and his family have moved out of the country leaving Vaadeland with no choice but to pursue music on his own. During the pandemic, Vaadeland was able to perform sporadically but, in general, also found that he had a lot of time on his hands to work out his songwriting process.
When Vaadeland first started writing solo, he was initially trying to imitate his musical heroes. He also knew that in order to be successful in what he was doing he'd need enough material to flash out a set so he wrote a series of Lester Flatt soundalike songs with tried and true subject material - love, loss, heartbreak... Over time, though, Vaadeland was able to hone in on his craft and evolve a lyrical style all his own.
"There has to be something very important to me that's come up that's bugging me for me to be able to write a good song," explained Vaadeland, "I've got lots of songs that I might not ever look at again that I wrote during the pandemic because the subject isn't strong enough. So I stopped writing as excessively as I was because it's just not worth it. It's a waste of time. They're probably not going to get played anyways because they're all about the same thing. If I just write and write and write I'm just writing to write basically. But when something that's good or bad happens and it's on my mind then I get in the writing mood."
In the case of "Retro Man" it's a reflective, introspective and cathartic piece. Vaadeland has a unique sense of fashion. He wears vintage sport coats and blazers. He slicks back his hair. He literally looks like someone out of the 1950's. He's dressed in this manner for a few years; pretty much all through high school. So you can imagine how his peers might have treated him. "Retro Man" is almost a tragic tale told by an individual that marches to the beat of his own proverbial drummer, struggling within a system that's trying to keep him down for being different. At the end of the day, however, it's Vaadeland's "devil may care" attitude, that thumbs its nose at the establishment as he rides off to the greener pastures of his own hopes and dreams.
"The kids in my class they bugged me so that's where a lot of the song comes from. These last few years have been a hard time in my life which is also why I ended up leaving school. All I'd hear from the teachers is that life is really hard, you've gotta go to university, you gotta get these benefits and stuff like that but that never interested me and so it wasn't a good place for me to be so I had to get out of there. It was scaring me and bringing me down. The message to me was that there was kinda no hope for my music career and they saw it as a hobby like it was never something you could make your living doing. So because of being pestered about my clothing, my hairstyle and stuff, I just decided I might as well leave. I'd finish school online and then from the time I had on my hands at home I started writing my own songs," said Vaadeland.
The underlying message, even though extremely personal to Vaadeland, is also meant for others of similar ilk. It's not just about being retro as much as it's a song championing those who are different. The track is almost punk rock in how it encourages people who go against the grain; who want to forge their own paths and strike out on their own in their own unique ways.
"I know it's not just about retro," says Vaadeland, "I know there's lots of people that are different in other ways too that are not part of the normal accepted set of standards that we're supposed to live up to so I was hoping it would be something that people could relate to even though it's not their story. It's still about not caring what people think and just wanting to be your own person. It's a good message to put out there - to be yourself."
Sonically, "Retro Man" is more rockabilly and "plugged in" than what Vaadeland recorded with Amundson. A lot of that has to do with the addition of producer Joel Rohs on electric guitar as part of the Sturgeon River Boys. His "meat and potatoes", bare bones approach, not unlike Johnny Cash's picker Luther Perkins, adds a dimension to Vaadeland's sound that makes him immediately accessible. Prince Albert scene stalwart Stephen Williams also lends a capable hand on the stand up bass. In turn, Vaadeland delivers his vocals with a metaphorical, rebellious, wink and a grin. If "Retro Man" by Jake Vaadeland & the Sturgeon River Boys is any indication of what is to come, the sky's the limit in terms of what Vaadeland will achieve in the near future. In fact, his "dance card" is pretty full this summer including a drive-in concert at the EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts on Wednesday, August 4th. Tickets are still available for this show but are moving quickly. Get in on the action now before they are all gone! You can find tickets here: bit.ly/EARCVaadeland
"Retro Man", in the meantime, is available on all streaming platforms! But you can also check it out here: