Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Q&A: Violetness

Photo by Justin James

If you follow the indie music scene in a city as big as Chicago, it’s inevitable that you’re going to come across musicians who don’t sound very unique. A lot of them, probably. These artists aren’t necessarily untalented, but there’s little about them that makes you surrender your undivided attention or that warrants repeat plays. That’s why it’s such a thrill to discover an artist like Violetness (a.k.a. Vanessa Upson) - a California native currently based in Chicago - who is anything but run-of-the-mill. She’s been performing under that name for less than a year and to date has only two songs up for listening online, but those two songs captivate from start to finish with exotic, sultry vocals, commanding tribal percussion and very effective electronic touches. You can download the two tracks, “Nazca” and “Perfect Love Flow,” here:

Download mp3: Violetness - "Nazca"

Download mp3: Violetness - "Perfect Love Flow"

Violetness will play live at the Bottom Lounge on Thursday, October 29 with The Very Best and The New Collisions (more info and tickets available here). She’s also planning to release more music in the coming months, and recently took some time out for a Q&A with WCR about both her future plans and experiences recording and performing so far:

First off, tell us what brought you to Chicago and how and when you began performing as Violetness.

My initial plan was to come to Chicago, record an EP, and leave. But Chicago has been good to me and has opened up a lot of opportunities, so I think I will stick around here for a bit. It’s actually only been about five or six months since I started performing as Violetness so it’s a relatively new project, but to me a lifetime in the making. I’ve been singing and performing since I can remember and as for performing my own material - that I’m actually proud of - I’m young to the stage.

People can currently check out two of your songs, "Nazca" and "Perfect Love Flow," on your MySpace page (also available as downloads in this article). Are there others in the works? Can we expect an EP or album in the near future?

Yes, there are more songs churning right now. It takes time to get things right and exactly how I want them. For better or for worse I’m a perfectionist, so until I have a song how I want it, it won’t travel into anyone’s ears. Fingers crossed the EP will be out by January, and if all goes as planned an album will be out mid-t0-late 2010.

There's a distinct exotic, tribal feel to those two songs. Tell us about the inspiration behind them and how they came together.

When I came to Chicago we did a lot of pre-production before going into the studio. At that time I was kind of lost in the sense where I didn’t know the exact sound I was going for. All I knew was that I wanted to try everything and anything, from micing the sound of pages turning in a book to banging some pots and pans. I had a lot of ideas and visions on what I wanted, but I did not know how to tie it all together. I wrote “Perfect Love Flow” on the piano and “Nazca” on hand claps. I essentially laid down the foundation and with the help of some amazing musicians and a producer, it became a collaborative project. I had worked so long on my own that working with others was definitely a new and beneficial experience for me. Through the right collaboration I found what I was looking for. What was and is most important for me as an artist is to create something honest and real to the moment. And for me I can really hear that in those two recordings.

One of the first things that stands out when listening to your music is your unique vocal style. Are there any other singers in particular you take inspiration from?

There are many singers I get inspiration from, but it would be misleading just to mention a few because through all the stages I’ve gone through musically, they have changed. I guess somewhere in between trial and error the sound just formed itself, probably because of the ever changing vocal inspiration. I think any singer can choose the way they sing or sound, and for a long time I sang the way I thought I should sing. I had grown up singing soul and jazz music, and though I loved it, something never sat right with me. I sang with a big, full voice because I could, but it didn’t feel natural. It has taken years to figure out what feels natural when I sing, but I finally found it. You can still hear the jazz inflections in my voice, it's just not overtly jazzy. I like to think of my styling as a universal vocal sound.

So far you've played shows both here in Chicago and also New York. How do you think the two cities compare musically?

I think both cities are great for musicians because they offer what the other one doesn’t. And for certain stages in an artist's career, one city might be more beneficial than the other. I mean, New York has everything an artist can imagine, which is wonderful, but at the same time it can be overwhelming. For an up-and-coming artist like myself, Chicago is the perfect place to be given a chance to develop at my own pace. I think once a musician has established themselves in a city like Chicago they will be ready to take on New York and at least be able to take with them a city under their belt. Chicago is a great place to build up confidence, get your music heard and build a local fan base. Of course, you can do that in New York - it’s just harder.

What's been your best gig so far and why?

Sound-wise I love The Empty Bottle. It’s definitely one of my favorite venues in Chicago. For overall vibe I would say Pianos in NYC. We played in the upstairs lounge and there was no stage, it was this area in the middle of everything. Some people might have looked at it and been like, "what the fuck," but to me it was perfect. I like to be physically close to my audience. I feel too much of a disconnect when I’m on a stage. I should just start performing in the middle of venues now. I think I might do that at my next show, why not.

If you could play a show with anyone - local or beyond - who would it be?

It would probably be Bjork or Micachu and The Shapes

What's next?

My personal list:
1. Make my live show as strong and fun as possible
2. Have a hit record
3. Have a hit record
4. Have a hit record
5. Have a hit record


  1. Wow, these songs sound fantastic. Looking forward to hearing more from her.

  2. Great interview. I've been addicted to Violetness' music since my friend showed me her myspace page earlier this year. Definitely looking forward to EP!

  3. Great songs and interview! Very creative and soulful sounds! / Johan Paulson.

  4. I Love it, i will post on my facebook wal
    cheers )