With her surreal and unique take on the music industry, Vanessa Anne Redd has finally released her long awaited album, Zumo Waxes, and it is all the great indie, folk and fairy-tale Goth it was expected to be. We spoke to Vanessa about breaking into the industry and doing what you want in life for you and no-one else. Here is what she had to say:
So, tell us a bit about yourself and your music?
I still remember the eureka moment when I went “hey I play piano, write poetry why don’t I put them together and write songs ?!” It was so simple and basic but the way it brought everything together was very pleasing and complete it’s made me happy ever since and I can’t stop doing it.
How did you get into the music scene?
Gigging and recording… lots. I worked in studios in the beginning, worked out where I fitted in to things and replied to an ad for a keyboard player for a band and met Ed Deegan (who now runs Gizzard Studios where we worked on my new record ‘Zumbo Waxes’). He was working at Toerag Studios then where the White Stripes recorded, and I got my analogue love from seeing heroines like Holly Golightly record there. I met my long-time collaborator Marc Makarov after a gig he’d played in a London club and we ended up making 3 albums together, toured as ‘Rubicks’ and ‘Six Years’ and got some very good advice form Gary Numan who said set up your own label which we did.
What have been the high and low lights of your career so far?
Highs are shopping with Gary Numan for mascara before a gig, rolling ‘cigarettes’ for Shaun Ryder, playing SXSW and sleeping in a graveyard in a keyboard case is probably a low but I laugh about it so much it can’t have been that bad!
Where did you grow up and what was that like?
I was a South London suburb teen via Southend and Belfast, living a classic suburban-vacuum and escapee life where you have to let your imagination run wild. I read, wrote and practised the piano lots and did a lot of smoking on park benches and trying to get into pubs! Centre of town was just a short train ride away (and a long night bus back) so it was great to be so near all that culture. Saturdays I’d go to Royal College of Music for music lessons then me and my Dad would roam the museums, looking at amazing things from around the world.
Although based in London, you are also half German. How do the different cultures make a difference to your work?
Mm, good question and it’s quite difficult to say which bits come from which! I’ve got the Bavarian versus Lancashire genes fighting inside me all the time though. I’ve never lived in Germany but having spent more time there recently there’s a sense of linearity in the autobahn and some of the geography that inspires me. I’m a big fan of minimalism, Kraftwerk, Can, the passion of the German Expressionists and the German Classical composers I heard my mum play over and over as a child. Then the English side rock and roller in me just wants to mess all those neat lines up.
Your music has been described as sounding like anything from PJ Harvey to David Bowie. Who have you taken inspiration from musically?
So much good music out there to get inspired by. The instrumental layering and repetition of Steve Reich and Michael Nyman, the roughness of Jonathan Richman and Syd Barrett, sonics of people like Spacemen 3, Sonic Youth, the happy go lucky 60’s garage rock and general great attitude of Holly Golightly, and the take you away dulcet tones of Leonard Cohen, Hope Sandoval and Cat Power all make me go ‘let’s make music!’
Tell us about your new album Zumbo Waxes?
It’s a snapshot of the inside of my head at the time. It’s my second solo record, was recorded purely on analogue tape, no edits, onto vintage gear at Gizzard Recording studio. It’s me trying to push some light through a crack in the dark. I also made a film to go with it to create another layer to the music.
You have described your new album as a “gothic fairy tale”, why is that?
Fairy tales are there to teach you, to help you realise impossible dreams, and who doesn’t love black? Gothic because the sculptor who inspired it was from the Baroque era in Italy and created pretty gothic art which then in turn inspired me to turn that dark to light.
What is it about the dark and fantastical side of life that inspires you so much?
I get inspired by all sorts, I don’t see dark as dark often, but uplifting. As a songwriter you delve into the subconscious to try get behind the veils, there’re so many planes we operate on, it’s important to try reach all of them.
Your album is so eclectic, both musically and in what you write about. How do you choose what kind of sound you will use in each song?
I recorded lots of demos in the basement of an art gallery, Gallery 46 in Whitechapel, where the songs went lots of different ways, different types of guitars or piano, loud, soft, slow, fast, lots of swinging the pendulum to and fro. Mostly it would depend on what instrument the song was originally written on but in the end the song tells you when it’s right.
It really seems as though you can make poetry out of anything in your lyrics, how do you choose about what to write about?
Ah that’s very kind of you. The muse chooses and it comes mainlined into the brain. I heard Tom Waits tell a story about when he was driving and a song started to come and he shouts to the muse “Not now, can’t you see I don’t have a pen! I’m driving!”. I love that. I don’t sit down and go “ok what’s this song going to be about?” it usually just flows out at odd points when you’re pretty lucid and clear, for example when you’re in bed about to sleep or after a dream and you have to get it down quick or it’s lost forever.
The album name, Zumbo Waxes was named after the Italian sculptor Gaetano Guilio Zumbo. How did that connection come about?
A very lucky map I was given with a small museum La Specola circled by an artist who’d lived in Florence. I followed the red lines on the map, and it led me to the sculptor Zumbo’s waxworks and into the record.
What else in the world of culture encourages you in what you do?
Everyone out there who’s making art and music from all cultures, expressing their passions and making you perceive life differently from the usual. That’s what encourages me.
You also create your own music videos which are the perfect mix of surreal and original. How do you think of these videos?
Ah thank you! I see the scenes like little stages in my eye that go on in front on a screen and I try to recreate them. If I have a clear brain, then the images swim up and I can see them clearly. When I made the ‘Zumbo Waxes’ film, I loved the films ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’ by Sergei Parajanov for its animated live action scenes, Cluzets’ ‘L’Enfer’ for his psychedelia, the amazing 1972 version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ with Peter Sellers as the March Hare for Lewis Carroll’s idea of a journey of self-discovery and ‘The Cute Daises’ by Vêra Chytilová for the animation and fun the characters have in it. Me and Cassandra Tyler (who I worked with on it) talked about the style of the film from these references. It was a mixture of the visual scenes I wanted to portray fitting with the music or the music inspiring the visual scenes.
How do the videos connect to each other?
It’s a journey across and through those different planes we were talking about earlier. My character passes through different worlds, veils; I’m the way in.
What advice do you give to people trying to make it in any artistic realm?
Do it yourself for yourself and the rest will follow. Not only DIY but DIFY!
What is your life motto?
Enjoy the journey as you never get ‘there’.
What can we expect from you for the rest of the year?
I’m touring Germany this spring with a lovely German band called Phillip Boa and the Voodoo club, then I’m very excited to carry on with my next record that I’ve started recording. There’s a record I co-produced for ‘Phoebe Coco’ that’s coming out on my label ‘Sharp Attack Records’ later this year too. You’ll see more shows from me, and I may spend some more time in France writing this summer, as there’s a quiet spot I can go to and get stuck into putting more of those nice little muse chats together!
Thank you Guestlist network nice talking to you!
Vanessa’s album, Zumbo Waxes, is out now on Sharpe Attack Records and you can catch her live on 20th March at 26 Leake Street, London. You can also find out a little about her on her Twitter and Instagram.