Travel and whiskey.
Artist Name: Logan Vath
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In the Presence of the Kingdom EP
“I’ve always been impressed with Logan and his music, but this EP is a huge step forward. It reminds me of Heartbreaker-era Ryan Adams.” — Singer-songwriter Tyler Lyle
Heritage is a funny thing. So funny, in fact, you might say sometimes it acts like a recessive gene. Growing up in Nebraska, Logan Vath didn’t acquire his passion for songwriting from his mom or dad, who split up when he was young. Excepting his own interest in grunge legends like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and the eclectic roster of nearby indie label Saddle Creek, his home environment wasn’t notable for its love of music. But then he inherited his grandfather’s guitar, a 1962 Gretsch White Falcon.
“It’s a strange item,” says the 26-year-old singer-songwriter, now based out of Portsmouth, Virginia. Vath never knew his biological grandad, a gig musician who died in a car crash before he was born. “It has so much meaning to so many people in my family, but I feel pretty distant from it, and a grief I never knew. I don’t know quite how to handle it.”
Yet Vath’s natural ability as both a vocalist and songwriter, dual talents he had been nurturing since high school, gracefully bridges that distance, stitching together past and present in a wonderful folk narrative called In the Presence of the Kingdom, his new EP.
Vath sings with the warmth of a country artist, but there’s enough smoke and gravel in his tone that suggests the genre’s folkier fringes, like the dust-caked howlings of Townes Van Zandt, and the shuffling edge of Dylan. Packing enough feeling into these five songs for albums twice as long, Vath explores a dynamic, shifting, emotional landscape where broken hearts, regret, and doubt share equal billing with wonder, joy, and the wisdom that comes with age.
“I would definitely say it’s a coming of age album,” Vath says, “as it deals with some loss of innocence.” He explains the album’s title refers to his feelings when he left the Navy after a four-year stint directly following high school. It’s lifted from the third track, “Battle Royale,” where he deals with the subject explicitly.
“I had a lot of pressure from my family, about money and what I was doing, chasing this little dream of mine. It’s about everything that’s bigger than me, my parents, the government, money, taxes, and how those things influence our ability to pursue what feels comfortable to us. For me, it’s figuring out life post-Navy, without the income I was used to, which was pretty good for a 23-year-old kid. I wrote ‘Battle Royale’ at a time when I was a little regretful about leaving this comfortable world, but at the same time understanding that comfort can be a little dangerous.”
The theme is recurring. Opening track “Nebraska,” a bittersweet nod to his home state, explores in meandering prose the tremendous influence that family and place has on a person, for better and worse. Over a languid acoustic guitar, Vath sings wistfully of his grandfather’s legacy—“My eyes/They been passed down from your hands to mine/The blue in them it seems to remind of/Summer wine and the songs of your time”—and the more mundane aspects of life in a flyover state: “That’s home/The place no one else cares to go.”
Adding to each song’s compositional heft is the delicate production of Daniel Mendez (Noah Gundersen, Dashboard Confessional, Duran Duran), who Vath contacted about the project personally. “I wanted to be pushed by someone and he’s good at that, and he’s a studious worker who could teach me about the professional recording world,” Vath says. Mendez in turn provided just that, bringing in an aces studio team eager to work with the artist in Mendez's Brooklyn studio. Gentle flourishes of electric guitar, drums, piano, and bass add a lush Americana feel while positioning Vath’s vocals and rhythm playing front and center.
As it should be. After sorting through the confusion of what other people wanted for him, Vath came to realize he was to pursue the songwriter’s life, with all its ups and downs. “I never really knew what I wanted to be until I started playing guitar,” he says. “When I was in the military, I gathered a lot of material items because that’s what you do. And they were things I liked and at the time they were milestones.” He pauses, considering the very different path he’s chosen since then. “But you don’t have to live a milestone life to be happy.”
Perhaps that’s what makes In the Presence of the Kingdom so right in time. Sonically, it doesn’t push too hard, and listeners aren’t pummeled with pedantic lyrics. Instead, Kingdom finds its way steadily, following its own instincts, ever in tune with Vath’s squarely centered heart. Surely there’s some magic here, passed along from grandfather, but there’s no question Vath’s Kingdom is all his own.