On his new album, Songs For The Canyon, John Vincent III documents the ups and downs of his unplanned eight-month van trip during the 2020 pandemic.
In the wake of touring to promote his celebrated self-released debut album in 2019, John Vincent III found himself craving a respite. However, instead of a typical break which customarily follows the album/tour cycle, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a different kind of vacation. He and his girlfriend embarked on an eight-month expedition in their van.
Fast forward nearly three years, and the 27-year-old singer-songwriter, based between Los Angeles and Houston, has distilled the essence of that extraordinary sojourn into his second album, the evocative and beautifully rendered Songs For The Canyon.
Collaborating with Tom Elmhirst (known for his work with Adele and David Bowie) and with additional production from Tony Berg and Ryan Hadlock, Vincent's sophomore release marks a substantial leap forward. He, a self-made artist with a devoted fanbase, has built his following on the emotive, stripped-down, folk-infused sound that distinguishes his work.
During the van expedition, Vincent endeavored to detach from the world's cacophony, yet he found solace in strumming his guitar along the way. "I found myself trying to write songs for the love of writing songs again, and not thinking about structure or intricate chords," he reflects. "I wanted to get back to just picking up a guitar and singing over it. That’s what I loved doing when I first started making music. I’d just write about what we were doing, where we were at, traveling, and living in a van."
Living in a van had its share of moments - beautiful yet challenging, particularly with a partner and a new puppy. "It was a cool contrast of beautiful and painful," Vincent confesses. His return to Los Angeles ignited an appreciation for the '60s Laurel Canyon scene and Carole King's piano ballads. It reignited his focus on song structures and pushed him towards honing his craft even more intensely than before.
This newfound mindset led him to collaborate with various producers, relishing the learning process despite the hurdles encountered in birthing certain songs. "Highway Woman," the album's opening track, is emblematic of this process. Vincent recorded multiple versions, finally finding its true form during a session with Elmhirst at New York's Electric Lady studio. The song's simplicity and its message of love mark a surprising yet fitting reintroduction to his music after a prolonged hiatus.
The remarkable new album takes listeners on a journey through Vincent's experiences. From the Nick Drake-inspired "Lincoln, NB" to tracks like "I Lit a Fire" where he harmonizes with his girlfriend, the album encapsulates emotions and reflections from different junctures of his life. Tracks like "Dandelion" mirror the classic California sound, despite their origins spanning from Houston to Los Angeles to New York during their creation.
Vincent divulges that the album's title was inspired by the richness of Laurel Canyon and its array of influential artists. Reflecting on the diversity of musical styles emanating from the area, he admires its vocal melodies, lyricism, and the serene vibe. "It's rock'n'roll, but it’s folk. It's everything I love."
As he unveils Songs For The Canyon, Vincent remains introspective about his time away from recording and performing live. He proudly claims it as a candid chronicle of that period. "There were times I felt like I was on top of the world, and others when I was crying about how the album just wasn’t coming together, and I think you can feel that in the recordings."