Martin Van Ruin might borrow its name from President Martin Van Buren--whose critics dubbed him “Van Ruin” since he presided over a long, painful economic recession--but frontman Derek Nelson, 27, insists the band’s music is rooted in the here and now.
Van Buren was the President during a long period of recession where there were problems with the banks and unemployment numbers were high. That all sounds vaguely familiar…
As unique as times can feel, I guess as a country we’ve been through these things before, and it’s good to remember that.
This idea that history repeats itself surfaces more explicitly on a song like “American Moon.”
Yeah. That’s really what it’s about. I don’t know the specific things that led me to write that song, but my grandpa was a WWII vet, and you see what’s happening abroad now and you can help but think we’re always sending 18-year-olds off [to war].
Are you a history buff?
I would say most of what I read — and it’s funny that you called me out on that — but most of what I read day-to-day is non-fiction. I like reading about history, and I think that bleeds into what I write. Right now I’m reading “The Bully Pulpit” [by Doris Kearns Goodwin], which is a book about Teddy Roosevelt and [William] Taft. Going back to a time that, again, it sounds kind of like now. Huge companies were conglomerating and people were wondering, “What’s left for us?” You can’t read a book like that and not draw parallels to now.
You seem particularly drawn to the idea of the presidency. Have you ever had political aspirations of your own?
[Laughs] No, none of that.
There seem to be a number of characters on this record who are searching for a new life or cutting ties with the past.
Yeah, and I think that’s a product of where we are as a band and where I am just being my age. You start nearing your 30s and asking questions like, “What am I doing?” Then you start thinking about your youth, and however long it might last. It wasn’t a decision. It’s just what came out on the page.