Martin Van Ruin

Martin Van Ruin (Mike Hari / Fadeout Foto / February 7, 2014)

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.
The Wicker Park band’s debut, “Every Man a King,” is also a folk-rock monster worthy of its majestic title, swinging from prettier acoustic laments (“Give Me Flowers (While I’m Living)”) to stormier numbers that conjure images of Neil Young shredding alongside Crazy Horse (“Wilderness”). All of these facets and more will be on full display when the seven-piece performs Feb. 21 at the Hideout.
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.