Big news today from ESO Strap Ambassador, VAVÁ (Vanessa Wheeler). Through the breathy sonics (and visuals) of her video for lead single The Other Side, VAVÁ makes a strong introduction as THE new artist to watch.
In celebration of the new single and upcoming EP, we caught up with VAVÁ and discussed everything under the sun, from the adjustment of going from a band to becoming a solo artist, to what we at ESO Strap consider to be the greatest and most complete gear list ever compiled in the course of an interview when simply asked what her favorite gear is at the moment, LOL... Dig in!
ESO: This time last year, you were still part of the twosome LeoLeo with Sarah. What made you decide to start performing and recording as a solo act?
VAVÁ: As often happens with any relationship, we both had shifting interests and priorities. It was also an exciting idea for me to try to go about making music as a solo artist, as I had only ever really been in bands or making instrumental music for my entire life.
ESO: Did it take some getting used to?
VAVÁ: It did. I think I was scared for a long time to go it alone. But as many will tell you, if it makes you scared, then you should definitely do it.
ESO: Going from LEOLEO to VAVÁ, is there something about symmetrical sounding band names that you really like?
VAVÁ: HA! Yes and no. I think it’s more that I can be extremely literal. Both Sarah and I are Leo’s, astrologically, so the symmetry of the name is certainly what attracted us to it.
VAVÁ just happens to be a nickname my cousins call me in Brazil, and as a logo, I was attracted to the visual symmetry of the logo.
ESO: So when can we expect your new EP?
VAVÁ: It will be released within the month!
ESO: What’s it gonna be called?
VAVÁ: “The Other Side”
ESO: What binds this particular set of songs together?I
VAVÁ: All of these songs were were started and finished (or resurrected in the case of “Heavy”) during a very prolific time in my life. I think I shed a lot of baggage as to what makes “good music”, and it’s generally been a time of self-reflection through music.
ESO: How does this group of songs feel up against your work with your former band (emotionally, stylistically, etc.)
VAVÁ: In LeoLeo, the music was very big and much more about the production.
Conversely, I think this EP is much more about what I do as both a songwriter and guitarist. The production exists to elevate and punctuate what I’ve been doing for the past year or so on Instagram, which has basically been me singing and playing guitar to a beat. There’s something very honest and revealing about it.
ESO: Who directed your new video for The Other Side?
VAVÁ: Spencer Balliet - he also directed a video for LeoLeo called “Iowa”. Spencer is a the kind of guy that’s good at everything. He’ll often shoot, produce, direct, AND do the music to his other film work. He’s really an absolute visionary that you can trust implicitly.
ESO: What was the inspiration for the song?
VAVÁ: “The Other Side” is about the various ways ghosts, or the idea of them, manifest in our lives. It’s a song about living a life of fear, and ultimately asking for help. The chorus calls to mind imagery of a seance or prayer - a joining of hands to collectively deal with our baggage.
ESO: What was the process of making the video like? How was it made?
VAVÁ: Easy breezy. We rented a tiny cyclorama in Downtown LA. Spencer and our mutual friend, Laura Smalec (coordinator and second camera operator extraordinaire) filmed for about 3.5 hrs, and then we packed up and went home. After that, Spencer and Laura drove all over LA, which makes up the inner footage. Spencer did his magic, and here we are.
The video is very much a play on the idea of what exactly makes up “The Other Side” of someone’s life.
ESO: How do you feel about music videos in general as they relate to your songs?
VAVÁ: I love additional imagery, and I welcome outside perspectives on my music because it helps to expand my own perspective.
ESO: Is there a particular approach to adding visuals to your music? Literal vs. abstract interpretation?
VAVÁ: Like I said, I can be terribly literal. I enjoy the exercise and implementation of abstraction, but it isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind for my music, which is probably due to how personal my songs are to my own life. I appreciate how abstraction can hold meaning for a broader audience’s interpretation, but I also love how literal storytelling makes for some very humorous and deliberate music videos.
ESO: Recently, perhaps even more since you’ve started recording as VAVÁ, Instagram has seemed to be your go-to vehicle for connecting and sharing with your fans. I may be presupposing something here, but do you ever feel like sharing these raw performances is in a way the most intimate way of sharing your music? It just seems to me that the audience is often seeing you amidst your creative process, imperfections and all. Is it tough for you to share, or does the performer within you just see it as another way to play in front of (virtual) people?
VAVÁ: I’m not sure what imperfection you’re referencing! ;)
Well, I initially began sharing my songwriting process on Instagram because I had moved back to LA, started a big girl job, and wasn’t really making music, or having much contact with music or musicians in general. I felt like I was disappearing in a way. It initially began with sharing the sounds of some guitars and effects I had acquired (thanks new job!), and evolved into what it is today.
I’m quite introverted, but the internet has allowed me to make connections with people of like mind and interests who I probably never would have, and I feel fortunate that people are responding to what I do. It’s not easy when you’re shy, but I am driven, and social media has proved to be an ideal way for folks like me to reach a wider audience.
ESO: Your guitar playing and tone is a distinctive and essential element of your overall sound. It’s rich, often wet with effects, and always busy rhythmically. Where do you think this sound comes from? And how long did it take for you to develop/ find it?
VAVÁ: Mmmm - I think I’ve gravitated towards that reverberated, top-boost sound because the added sustain and ambience provide a bed for vocals and additional ghosty guitar parts. I suppose it’s my way of avoiding the use of a loop pedal, although I should probably get one of those…
ESO: It’s strange to say, but female guitar players still feel disproportionally represented in 2018, especially in the mainstream. Can you tell me what it means to be a such a strong female voice and musician in 2018 compared to even 5 years ago? Do you think the world is more and more ready for you, LOL?
VAVÁ: I don’t think it’s strange to say that - it’s the unfortunately reality.
I’m not sure what it feels like because this is all I’ve known, but I can only hope that my contribution aids the visibility of females in music, so that it one day isn’t some sort of anomaly that we are capable of doing whatever is that we want to, and doing it well.
I definitely think the creative world craves new voices in it’s landscape. The more diversity we have in our music making peoples, the richer we all become, the more colorful our palettes, and the broader our collective scope of what is possible. This might be a strange comparison, but a lot of businesses have realized that they are thriving because of increased diversity in the work place, which is again in large part due to the companies' new found, expanded perspective.
ESO: I love your particular collection of guitars. They’re colorful, and I think they fit you and your style very well. Do you mind giving a quick rundown of your favorite gear at the moment?
VAVÁ: This is a really tough one! Let’s see…
- My number one guitar for songwriting is my Fender Pawn Shop Offset Special. It’s crazy lightweight (I have a bad shoulder so this is an absolute necessity), resonant, and the neck is beautiful. I’ve made some mods to it, but its out-of-the-box a really special guitar.
- My Squier Super Sonic is also super lightweight (ever so slightly heavier that the Offset Special), and is my go to guitar for live performance because of the the angle at which is sits, and for how very comfortable it is on the body. It’s an oddly ergonomic instrument, and the neck is angled upward like I classical guitar would be (which is what I learned on).
- I have a very small travel guitar made by Island Instrument in Montreal, Canada. It’s 23.5 scale, headless, is a profoundly well made guitar, regardless of size. I can bring this anywhere, and the tone is clear and almost acoustic.
- Vox AC15 with Celestial Greenback was my first amp that I ever fell in love with. The reverb is perfect and the top boost circuit is very much a part of my sound, especially when songwriting.
- The Supro Comet has been my go-to amp for live use. It’s portable, takes pedals extremely well, and has a brilliant attack and texture that I can feel. Plus, I can switch between 6 and 14 watts when I need to - very handy tonal option.
- The Benson Amps Dizzy Bird is just an amp I’ve been lusting over because I love Chris’ Tall Bird Reverb and I love small, low watt amps! It has a number of useful functions, so hopefully I’ll get my hands on one soon!
Pedals - (in no particular order)
- Chase Bliss Audio “Warped Vinyl HiFi" and “Brothers” pedals
- Strymon “Big Sky” and "Deco”
- Earthquaker Devices “Space Spiral”
- Old Blood Noise Endevours “Excess”
- Foxpedals Magnifica Deluxe
- Eventide H9
Falls under the category, “Things I Want”: Dave Smith Prophet REV2 and Elektron Digitone
Fall under the category, “Things I Can Not Live Without”:
- Sinasoid cables - they never fail me
- Mastery bridges and vibratos for my offsets
- ESO straps for my bad shoulder, guitar slinging needs
- Gotoh SD91 MG-T locking tuners (because I loath changing strings but I still have that vintage vibe need…)
ESO: What else should we expect in the coming months? Tour dates? Any interest in recording a full length album?
VAVÁ: Oh yes - that has always been the plan and is in the works! Keeping up with me on social media is the best way to find out about my next steps. If you want earlier access, you can sign up for my mailing list at email@example.com