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In 1998 the screenwriter Lyn Vaus and director Brad Anderson sold their low-budget romantic comedy Next Stop Wonderland, starring Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to Miramax for $6 million after generating significant buzz at the Sundance Film Festival.
This month Vaus is releasing a psych-rock record, The Floating Celebration.
So it’s no stretch to say that Vaus has led one of those blessed hipster existences: He made post-punk in Boston as part of the band Carnal Garage; worked in film development in Los Angeles; starred, in a fit of Cassavetean inspiration, in Anderson’s 1996 film The Darien Gap; penned and acted in several indies (and soundtracked one); and moved to D.C. several years ago, where he’s been working on a long-simmering project he won’t talk about for fear of jinxing it.
Not long after he made The Floating Celebration, Vaus and Anderson (who is best known for The Machinist) took a camera behind the Cabin John, Md. house of producer Philip Stevenson where Vaus recorded the album, and shot a trippy, patchwork music video—-one teeming with bizarro stock footage and featuring the great niece of the Bond girl Ursula Andress. (The actress, who had responded to a Craigslist ad, even made her own bikini, just as her great aunt did for her iconic beach scene in Dr. No.)
The Floating Celebration has little to do with the music Vaus, 50, made in his post-punk days. “Carnal Garage sort of sounded like Jesus Lizard being mugged by Pere Ubu or something,” he says. “This is completely different…It hearkens back to what I listened to when I was a kid, like Sunset Strip from ’65 to ’68.”
What it’s not is a nostalgia record, even as its sound—-hazy yet hyperchromatic, druggy yet astute—-pegs at the ’60s psychedelia of Love and the Brazilian Tropicalia bands. Vaus, often singing in a benevolent deadpan, explores a sound suggesting both the Summer of Love and the Manson murders. “The lyrics are actually—-they’re designed to be what they seem to be, and exactly the opposite,” he says. “So they could be taken as a criticism of the ’60s or a reimagining of the possibilities of that time.” Indeed, for every song suggestive of lazy, stoned afternoons (“Felicity’s Shell”), there’s a bad acid trip like “Prime,” in which Vaus laments a “love-starved orgy of sound” over a menacing, metallic organ swirl.
Part of what convinced Vaus that his songs had currency was active psychedelic bands like Dead Meadow and the Skygreen Leopards, as well as the freak-folk movement of the mid-2000s. “I used to live in Santa Cruz, where Grateful Dead followers went to die,” Vaus says. “You have to reinvent that stuff, and not sit around lighting incense and waiting for the sky to open.”
Vaus’ The Floating Celebration is out this month on Night World Records.