Drown it all in a dreamy wash of sound
— Sat, 13/02/2016 - 11:45
If you’re looking to get out this weekend and do something decidedly un-Valentine’s day you must check out gloom pop band Vulva Culture who play Happy Goat Coffee Sunday night. With Lynch-like eeriness, gothic darkness and a tendency towards the tragic Vulva Culture is pretty much a perfect antidote to all things V-Day.
On their latest EP In Vain the Halifax four piece offers up a sound all their own – dreamy, melancholic atmospherics, ethereal vocals, winding guitar lines and a love for waltzy 6/8 time. doo wop, psychedelia and shoegaze. An anonymous fan said it best when they described the band’s sound as "like a lot of drugs on a rocking chair underwater." I can speak from experience it’s a mysterious sound that pulls you in unexpectedly. Even with a band bio introducing them as “a corpse of truly devastated Haligonian souls, who’ve together found beauty in their tears and wickedness in their blood” their music is more pop thank punk and really great to chill too.
I got the chance to chat with Vulva Culture’s Amy Vinnedge ahead of their Ottawa show. An excerpt from our conversation can be found below.
Vulva Culture began as the name for any music Amy Vinnedge was making as a solo artist in the Halifax music scene. Though playing music has been a constant since she moved to the city ten years ago she admits that her solo project tended to hang out on the backburner while she played in other bands. Vulva Culture’s metamorphosis into the band it is today was born from the wreckage of great upheaval in Amy’s life. “A lot of things changed really drastically in my personal life,” she says. “I kind of lived one life for almost a decade and then stopped and then it was almost a complete difference and that always stirs up a lot of deep stuff.” She began writing new music to exorcise the emotions that came with these changes. “I kind of just felt compelled to write it in music. That’s where it came out.” Then she joined forces with some of the best female musicians on the Halifax scene. Guitarist Kayla Stevens stood out for her love for experimentation and effect pedals in the band Crossed Wires. Bassist Hannah Guinan’s quirkiness seemed like a good balance to Amy’s insistence on structure and Bianca Palmer was a wild drummer who could give any song just what it needs. “I saw what I wanted in all of them and it just so happened they were already my best friends,” Amy says.
Though coming all the way from Halifax Vulva Culture is no stranger to Ottawa. They’ve toured and hung out with local band Boyhood, played Mugshots while it was still running and found a slice of “creep heaven” at the Jail Hostel.
Here is an excerpt from my conversation with Amy on darkness, feminism and the joys of touring in the wintertime.
What goes into shaping your dark, dreamy sound?
That sound is I guess the result of how I’ve become a songwriter so far. It’s just been me feeling really intensely about something. I sit in the shadows in my room by myself. I kind of just puke it out whenever I’m really sad or intensely happy or whatever. Then I drown it in as much sound as possible trying to do a sadder version of the wall of sound, I guess that’s kind of what I’m going for.
What are some of your influences?
When I was growing up I was a classically trained pianist and vocalist so I sang opera and I played piano for years when I was really, really young. Then started smoking when I was a preteen so that kind of killed any kind of operatic career I had but I still really loved it. Talking about expression you can’t really get any more expressive than opera because that's what it is - it’s acting with your voice. So that is the first thing I ever did. My parents always listened to ‘60s music and doo wop. The Ink Spots are probably my favorite band. They’re brilliant, really early doo wop. They’re very simple songs but very profound and just the words they say are very tragic and wonderful, expressing so much love for someone or something. Those are pretty big influences. Just the sound the whole atmospheric thing has come from wanting to replicate the wall of sound from the ‘60s where you don’t know exactly what’s happening because there’s so much washed over and then add in some elements of shoegaze from the 80s. I always try to pick out the tragic parts of the music even if it’s really happy. There’s always something there leaning towards sad and sorrowful. That’s what I’m always influenced by the most.
Because your music is atmospheric and soundscapey it feels like it could be a soundtrack. Here’s a hypothetical dream project: if you could work with any director or rewrite the music for any film would there be a film or director you would write for?
Danny Elfman did a really good job in Edward Scissorhands. I think that kind of dark scary gothic thing would definitely work with Vulva Culture. Maybe The Land Before Time - kind of everything changing so drastically and losing the most beloved creature you have in a really horrible way. I think we could do a much darker scarier version of the music for The Land Before Time. On my walk to work today I was thinking about that movie and the scene where he sees a cloud and thinks it’s his Mom and he chases it. It disappears and he’s heartbroken and I’m heartbroken and one of our songs popped into my head and went along with it.
There’s a real darkness to your sound, your music videos have an eeriness about them and even your song titles like “Bloody” and “Human Garbage” are unsettling. Where does that darkness come from?
A lot of people struggle with feelings of inadequacy, especially as a female musician. For a really long time I was told by someone that everything I did was garbage and no one would ever care about what I did or no one would ever want to listen to what I did so there was that whole thing and then just females in general are pushed down as artists in any sort of scope. There’s always that feeling worrying is anyone even gonna care about what I’m doing. That’s always something in the back of my head. Then just personal tings that have happened as well.
Is that darkness meant to send a message of sorts to listeners?
I guess it’s just sort of I like people not to suppress anything and don’t be passive, that sort of a message. Just say it and do it. I have a lot of friends that I feel like they feel the need to put a happy face or fake it till they’re happy or whatever and it’s like you don’t always got to be happy, you know? You’re allowed to feel miserable and if you do feel miserable do something about it, say it, put it out there that’s the first step to makin’ it go away. Maybe just saying it out loud inspires other people to do the same thing.
You’re an all women band and you’re called Vulva Culture. I feel like a question about the intersection of feminism and music is inevitable though I don’t want to ask too closed a question. May I ask you about are your thoughts about feminism and music, how it plays into your work and what’s it like to be a woman playing music?
I think women making music is so important and it frustrates me like our drummer Bianca can take apart a drum kit and put it back together in five minutes but a guy will see her or just assume she needs help with that kind of thing. It’s just something they have ingrained in their brains. It’s really annoying and hopefully more and more people get to see that we are proficient and we are talented and we are doing something that people really like and hopefully that just makes people want to do it too. That’s how I do my part for it. I’m not super outspoken about feminism or anything. I’m just gonna really support women who are playing and women artists in general and just do a good job.
What have audience reactions been like?
Audiences, they’re coming around. Some of the people who are seeing us for the first time are kind of like ‘uggh, what is this? Are they going to play anything pop at all? Because we really don’t. I’ve seen people react to it really nicely too. When we were in Newfoundland last year at a festival we played with a surf punk band Johnny and the Cowabungas and they were wildly popular in St. Johns and they’re really great and really fun but super high energy. People were dancing and crowd surfing and moshing and I was kind of getting nervous, I was like oh jeez, how are we supposed to follow this? We’re gonna totally bring down the mood but we just went and played anyway and the reaction was pretty cool like someone started slow dancing other people were swaying, one person sat down, lots of eyes closed. It’s definitely a different feeling and that can be challenging sometimes but if you’re performing with a lot of expression and emotion you’re going to connect with people anyway sometimes even deeper than the fast danceyness. I think people react well to just how expressive we can be.
What’s it like touring Canada in the dead of winter?
I actually kind of prefer touring in the wintertime to touring in the summertime. People get a little shack wacky and want to get out and do things. In the summer you have a million things you can go do, a million festivals a million bands coming to town so it’s almost more successful to tour in the winter as well because people are dying to see anything. Last year we had really good luck weather wise. I’m pretty sure we were exactly an hour ahead of every storm if we had stuck around in the towns we were in for an extra hour we would have been terribly screwed. We had excellent luck, left right on time and made out brilliantly. Hopefully this kind of thing happens this time around.