In a world that moves at the speed of technology (and a music culture that reflects this), we can’t help but stop and notice when something fresh comes along.
Vera Sola captured our hearts from the Irving Plaza stage. We didn’t know what to expect when the budding songstress and her band emerged with an arsenal of chordophones from the upright bass to the viola. The drummer took his seat and all eyes shifted to the two ladies draped in opulent vintage gowns.
Vera Sola’s sound is classified as gothic-folk. She is often compared to the greats like Nancy Sinatra for her sandpaper voice and Leonard Cohen for her witty, poetic lyrics. She doesn’t always perform with a band, but when she does, that doesn’t stop her from displaying her self-taught skills as a multi-instrumentalist, alternating from guitar to violin, delivering each song with grace and power. By the end of the hour-long set, we were feeling the hypnotic sensations that fans and critics have raved about online.
But what is perhaps even more interesting than gushing about how talented she is, is her unconventional journey to success. Two years ago, Vera Sola, now 29, recorded Shades, her first ever solo album completely, well… solo.
Still, somewhat of a novice in the studio, she decided to throw herself completely into the challenge. From songwriting to composing, playing (every instrument), arranging and finally production, Vera Sola locked herself in the studio until it was perfect. The result was an intricate, lyrically profound, all-around phenomenal album.
We had the chance to catch up with the artist on her journey home to LA off the heels of a long international tour. Tired from the road, she still carries herself with a coolness that cannot be taught.
Culture COLLiDE: We would like to hear more about your decision to start a band that most would consider later in life. What inspired your gutsy career pivot from more BTS music-industry jobs to that of a refined frontperson?
Vera Sola: “Well, it was never really a decision for me. I sort of fell into it and sometimes still feel like I’m stumbling
through. My [career as a performer] began a few years ago, working at a radio station. A friend of mine asked me to join his band; actually, it was a total con job” she laughs. “I was told I could play autoharp and some stuff on keyboard, but when I showed up for practice the first time, he handed me a bass guitar. I let him know that I had never really played music live, in front of an audience before, nor had I touched a bass guitar. So, I really applied myself and learned how to play bass on the road, which ended up being really wonderful. But in the beginning, no, I never, ever, ever thought that I would be a singer. Much-less with my own band!”
CC: Was the spotlight intimidating at first? Or are you naturally comfortable working the stage?
VS: “Yea, it was different. I had always been really comfortable when it came to theatre or public speaking growing up, but I was terrified of singing in front of people. I did little things now and then at open mics under my little pseudonyms, but it wasn’t real performance. So it wasn’t until I released my debut record [Shades] that I finally realized I could do it.” “It was sort of this catharsis for myself that people encouraged me to keep going. And you know, if you’re [dropping albums] you’re going to have to perform live eventually. So, while the first show felt like a trick, I pulled it off and here I am. It’s pretty wild.”
CC: Perhaps one of the most consistent notes of praise that you have received on Shades was fascination over the in-depth recording process. Why did you decide to make an album completely on your own?
VS: “In the beginning, I intended for other people to play on it. I didn’t even think about a producer. Initially, it was just for me to track my songs and growth. But I certainly planned on getting a real drummer and all that. But, when I got to the studio, I realized that I wanted to and needed to do it alone — I could do it alone. Shades was a way of breaking down walls for me. I never thought that I was a musician or singer or really anything at all. So, in doing it by myself, it was a way of putting myself entirely into something and proving to myself that I could. And, at the same time, encapsulating this moment in time for me that was very tumultuous and very inspiring at the same time. It really is a ‘record’ in the sense… as in ‘to record’ or to write down a history. It’s a documentation of a certain point in time for me, which is very interesting.”
CC: We want to know more about the evolution of your sound. Newer songs like “Crooked Houses” and “Loving, Loving” offer a more simple, raw and as the press is saying, “stripped back” side of Vera Sola than we experienced on Shades. Can you elaborate on this?
VS: “I think the main difference is that I just didn’t have as much time to tear myself to pieces. I am very proud of Shades but it’s been two years since then. It’s been the most impactful and expansive two years of my whole life. I mean, my whole life has changed dramatically since that record came out. There is nothing in my life that is the same. It’s mind-boggling. I mean, I cannot tell you… it’s so confusing to me that this is happening. It really is surreal. But on the first album, I was finding my voice. You can hear the exact moment [on “Loving, Loving”] where I heard myself sing for the very first time. The very moment that the fear stripped away and I was able to sing. But since then, I’ve been growing into it. And, even though I stripped all that fear away with that recording process, I’m still growing and becoming more confident in it.”
“For example, there are very few moments on that record where I am not harmonizing with myself or doubling my vocal. Or moments where there aren’t many voices coming at you. And, on the new stuff, its just one voice. It’s just me singing in a single take and that’s a huge departure from the old recordings. Not to say that I wouldn’t go back to building the choirs and the multi-part harmonies, but I feel more confident in my voice and my abilities. And with these two recordings, I think I put that forward.”
CC: I know you are wrapping an international tour right now and we want to hear about life on the road. How do you stay inspired and is it difficult to deliver the “hypnotic femininity” that fans have come to expect?
VS: ”Well, I mean, being on stage is very energizing, that comes really easily to me now. Performing is great, it’s often getting from one place to the next that is often the struggle. I spend a lot of time like I am right now, lying on the floor of a car, laying in funny positions and then, it’s basically about how much self-care you can get going. What’s important to me is to keep writing, So I carry my guitar and make sure that I have enough space or rather alone time. And then I have my jump rope, which I use in gas stations.”