Post-‘Perennial’: Vera Blue Opens Up About Her “Next Phase” & The Importance Of Self-Care For Artists

Sydney’s enchanting singer/songwriter Vera Blue (aka Celia Pavey) should be chilling after finally fulfilling the promotional cycle for her acclaimed album, Perennial. But instead, she’s issuing fresh music ahead of a busy summer festival season. Indeed, Pavey has just released a single, ‘All The Pretty Girls’, which premiered on triple j. That’s not all. She’s likewise presenting a concert album, Lady Powers Live At The Forum, immortalising last June’s ultimate sold-out evening in Melbourne – a rare concept in the digital era. Pavey will be sharing live clips on YouTube, week by week, starting with ‘Magazine’.

Hailing from the regional town of Forbes, Pavey introduced herself as ‘Celia Pavey’ to the public as a contestant on The Voice Australia in 2013. The vocalist, and acoustic guitarist, swiftly unveiled a successful debut, This Music. Two years on, Pavey reinvented herself with a new “project”, Vera Blue, revealing an electronic influence. Teaming with studio brothers Andy and Thom Mak, she dropped the EP Fingertips. Mid-2017, Pavey delivered Perennial. The album – encompassing popular singles like ‘Regular Touch’ – chronicled Pavey’s experience with romantic despair and coming out on the other side. It received an ARIA nomination for ‘Best Pop Release’. This year, Pavey selected another single, ‘Lady Powers’ – a feminist anthem. There was even a hip-hop rendition featuring Atlanta rap princess Kodie Shane, plus a clubby remix EP highlighting female producers such as Cali glitch-hopper TOKiMONSTA and the Aussie, Alice Ivy.

Pavey has long pursued collabs – famously liaising with Melbourne rapper Illy (‘Papercuts’) but also the EDM Slumberjack. Having previously vibed with Nick Littlemore on his The 2 Leaves Project, Pavey guested on Pnau’s comeback, Changa – which is now up for multiple ARIAs, including Album Of The Year. Meanwhile, she’s cultivating a profile internationally. In 2017, Pavey played SXSW and she’s gigged across North America and Europe.

Pavey is artistically restless. ‘All The Pretty Girls’ contrasts her intimate folktronica, being more upbeat – and band-oriented. She references her beloved Fleetwood Mac, while ushering in a post-disco breeze. Like ‘Lady Powers’, this bop promotes female selfhood. Pavey penned ‘All The Pretty Girls’ in July during writing sessions in Los Angeles, connecting with Chelsea Lena (Chromeo) and Steve Solomon (who co-wrote James Arthur’s 2016 mega-hit ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’). Andy Mak produced it. The question is: what’s next for Vera Blue?

Music Feeds: Your label has called ‘All The Pretty Girls’ a “summer jam” and, in the presser, you describe it as “a self-protection song”. What can you tell us about it?

Vera Blue: I’m really excited about it, actually. It was one of those songs where, as soon as it was written, it was kinda like, I couldn’t wait to get it out. So I’m really excited for people to be able to hear it and embrace it and feel it in whatever way they want to. Yeah!

MF: It’s definitely got a different mood to anything off Perennial. What were you feeling when you sat down to write this song?

VB: I guess the song isn’t about anyone in particular. It’s just about dudes in general and also about us and girls in general going through stuff with this kind of meaning. But, the song, at the time – I was listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, I always listen to a lot of folk and all that kind of stuff. So it was nice to write something with melodies that were inspired by music like that. The song in itself is a little play on a stereotype and about, I’ll say, if you’re walking down the street and you see someone there that you think is attractive, you kind of go, “Oh, look – you know what, maybe I might not approach that person because I wanna protect myself. They look like they might be a kind of player, heartbreaker guy.” It’s not right, really, to judge a book by its cover, but we do it. We all kinda do it, in a way, and think it’s someone [who’s] gonna make all the girls cry, ’cause all the girls are pretty! (laughs).

MF: ‘All The Pretty Girls’ came out of sessions in LA from earlier in the year. What can you tell us about those sessions – because you worked with Chelsea Lena and Steve Solomon?

VB: Yeah, it was really cool. I’ve done a few writing sessions in LA but, at the time, I was doing a bunch of sessions with a few different writers. This was one of those sessions that just clicked. I’d written with Chelsea before. She’s such a legend and just gets me – it’s nice to work with writers who you can connect to and they understand what you’re going through and they can help you bring that out through lyric and melody and a song. So it was really cool. I hadn’t worked with Steve before, but it was nice to have him in the session as well. He really contributed to a lot of the lyrical ideas and feel and all that kind of stuff. But it was nice to bring the song back to Australia, and bring it back to my producer Andy, who did the whole [Vera Blue] project, basically – he did the first Fingertips EP and he did Perennial. It was nice to bring him back to reproduce it and make it sound how it was supposed to sound, really. Steve wrote the guitar part when we did the session in LA and I fell in love with the sound of that particular stem. So we just wanted to keep that part very, very similar to the demo. It’s hard sometimes. You get demo-itis and you really freak out over the way something sounds when it’s initially produced, but it was nice to explore different production and really go for it.

MF: I’m curious as to whether you are actively working towards another album or whether these are more exploratory sessions?

VB:  Well, with these, I guess, as soon we released Perennial, it was out and about, it was kinda like, “OK, we’re finished that, that was a phase that’s now done,” I had to figure out what’s next. That’s the part that’s super nerve-wracking as to what’s gonna be the next phase of Vera Blue. So I think it was just about collaborating with people, getting into the studio, just experimenting with new sounds – ’cause it has to evolve and it has to move forward and still be connecting with people, but also for it to be something that is still super-true to what I’m trying to say and all that kinda stuff. So who knows? There’ll definitely be a record down the line. I think at the moment I just wanna put songs out that I love and hope that people will like them straight back. Yeah, we’ll see what happens. I’m excited, though, either way.

MF: This song is very hummable – it’s really that melodic…

VB: It’s one of those songs that’s super-simple as well. When we were writing it, we kind of stuck to a lot of rhythmic stuff, which was fun, experimenting with rhythm – which is what we did a lot for ‘Lady Powers’ as well. A lot of the melodies and the verses and stuff like that were very rhythmic. I love rhythm and all those kinds of things. So I’m excited for people to have a little bit of a bop to it. It feels very summery, which is what I love.

MF: You’re so stylistically fluid. When you first came out, people were saying “folk artist”. But now they’d struggle to actually put a label on you – which I think most artists want; they want that freedom to move. How do you feel you are evolving? What things are picking up your ears?

VB: With the new music, all the stuff that we’ve done for the project has been super-experimental. [But] all the songs, when they are first written, they’re written in a very folky way – they’re always with an acoustic guitar or a piano. It’s a nice way of writing. Once the song’s produced, and it’s got everything in it, it’s nice to always bring the song back to its acoustic, stripped-back beginnings – it’s nice to perform as well. So there’s lots of different ways you can perform the songs. But, yeah, I think at the moment the style is very band-like. There’s lots of live sounds in the music. We like to always put live drums within the electronica as well, but definitely keeping all the cool synths. We use a lot of [Roland] Juno [-106] and a lot of other little synthy sounds as well; heaps of vocal samples, which is always really fun, ’cause I like doing that live… But I guess it sometimes depends on what I’m listening to at the time and how we can put that into the songs.

MF: It’s interesting that you name-checked Fleetwood Mac, because they’re one band who really have a cross-generational fanbase. What’s your favourite era of theirs?

VB: Oh, gosh, I don’t know – it’s hard. I think I love all their stuff! A lot of their music, and a lot of the music from that time, is super timeless. I love when I hear young people listening to old school folk or old school rock and stuff like that. I think it’s such a great thing. People need to listen to all kinds of music that was around when they weren’t around.

MF: The other thing you’ve got is a live album, Lady Powers Live At The Forum. It’s such a treat to have a recording of this quality, because we’re obviously used to fans’ own footage on YouTube – grainy videos with heads… What prompted the decision to put this out?

VB: Ah, I was so excited when we came up with the idea to do it. I think it’s just gonna be really special to be able to release something for the ones that weren’t there. It’s for them: for the people that didn’t make it to that tour. It wasn’t like an incredibly huge tour – but we did as many shows as we could in the time. But for the people who never saw those shows, or never heard them, it’d be nice for them to listen to it and to be able to watch it. It was filmed so beautifully. The way they captured it was really perfect. It makes me really excited ’cause I was watching the cuts of them the other day and it just took me straight back to the moments and it was really nice to be able to feel that again! So I think it’s almost like a little treat for people who never saw the tour and maybe who never will see [a show] in real life and for the people who did see it to relive that moment. Yeah, I’m super-pumped to be doing that – it’s really cool. It’s gonna be good for my grandparents as well, ’cause my grandma didn’t get to come – so she’ll be able to watch it and know what it’s all about.

MF: What’s it like watching yourself? Some actors say they don’t like viewing themselves. But I know some music artists record their sets to critique themselves. Some of the old school DJs do that! How do you feel?

VB: Well, I guess, after the show, once it’s done, I try not to… When I first started touring, I was very obsessed with making sure that it went well and making sure that I sounded good and all that kind of stuff. But, after a while of touring, I would do the show and then I’d not wanna stay too long in that moment; try and push forward and just know that people enjoyed it. If I had fun, that show, that’s all that really mattered. I think I don’t go back and look too much on my performances (laughs). I know a lot of people add lots of Instagram videos and stuff like that and tag me in it – I’ll watch a few of them. But I don’t wanna get too fixated on it, otherwise I’ll start critiquing and all that kind of stuff. When I’m on stage, I just wanna feel it and lose myself and do what feels right in that moment – even if that means dancing like a big dork! It’s feels fun to just let go. But, yeah, the way they shot this show [at The Forum] in particular was really, really beautiful, so I’m happy to watch – they captured all kinds of stuff. I didn’t even see the band doing that stuff. They showed the visuals and the audience enjoying it as well, so there’s lots to look at other than just looking at myself dancing on stage!

MF: Well, you’ll be doing a lot of dancing on stage this festival season. You’ve got heaps of festival slots and also some standalone shows. What can we look forward to?

VB: Oh, I’m so excited! Festivals are one of my favourite things to do, I think also because there’s not as much pressure. There’s lots of other bands performing – and that’s what I enjoy doing as well, going to check out some other bands. But there’s gonna be lots of energy. We’ll have a lot of the visuals happening. We’ve got the new song as well – we’re gonna be performing that at the festivals, which is gonna really fun to feel that. I think it’ll just be a really great moment. Festivals are the best. I get to see lots of friends. So it’s a very fun time in the summer!

MF: Will you be testing out other songs? I guess the liability of doing that is that they end up on YouTube and then you’ve got the quandary of whether you can put it on a future release.

VB: I think we have in the past. For headline shows, I’ve kind of been like, “This is a new one – I hope you enjoy it.” But, most of the time, we won’t do super-new songs because of that reason, I think. Mainly because people can film it and they can put it online and we don’t wanna spoil that. So normally it’s like, if we’d just dropped a single, we’ll immediately be performing that at most shows – and that’s a good way to get the song out as well.

MF: It’s amazing how much of a profile you have overseas now. What’s happening on that front? How do you enjoy performing to audiences outside of Oz?

VB: Yeah, a lot of the touring and getting the music out overseas is gonna be a gradual thing; it’s gonna be a slow-burn, which is what it was for over here. The project’s been running for a couple of years, and it’s been a very slow-burn, but it’s been a really special one. So I think we’re gonna continue doing that overseas. I think it’s more important to take it easy and not kind of throw it in people’s faces and for it to be too hectic. It’s more important for it to be organic and for your music to be discovered organically. A lot of the touring I’ve done overseas has been really fun so far. We’ve done a bunch of little shows. I find the more intimate venues are really special, ’cause you feel like you’re in a moment with people who have never seen your gigs before and obviously I have never been to their country. So it’s a bizarre feeling, but it’s a really special one. You’re able to connect to people on a very intimate level and to be able to talk to them and you’re very close to them. There’s no distance – not as much distance between you on the stage and the audience, which is really cool. I love it. The shows are growing over there slightly. I’m always really excited to do the tours over there and just meet new people. Yeah, it’s really cool.

MF: You’ve done a few collabs. I wondered if you’re interested in doing more of those between album projects; if you enjoy those sort of exchanges?

VB: Yeah, totally – always. I’ve done quite a few of exciting collaborations. I did a couple in LA – hopefully something will come of them. But I think, most importantly, even if the song that you make with them doesn’t come out, it’s nice to have made that connection; to have been in the studio and to have just created art with someone. I think that’s a really important thing: to not take it too seriously and just enjoy it and enjoy the creativity in being able to explore different things. So, yeah, collaborating is super-exciting. I’m pumped to see what happens with some of the ones I’ve been working on.

MF: As a musician, how are you challenging yourself? Where would you like to be in the next few years? Do you have artistic goals?

VB: Not really. I try not to fixate too much on a specific goal or a specific thing I want to achieve, ’cause I sometimes suffer from anxious thoughts and things like that. I try not to get lost in wanting something too badly or it’s gonna become a bit difficult. So I try to project positive thoughts and just try to live in the moment of what’s happening now and also just try to approach exciting situations in a very positive headspace – ’cause all this kind of stuff is just very exciting, it’s also positive, so it’s gotta be fun. I think the main thing for me is to be able to just keep writing and keep making music that connects to other people and for it to be spread around the world organically. I think that’s really important – and to be able to have a really strong beautiful team behind me, which I’ve definitely built over the past couple of years and that’s continuing to grow, which is really, really cool and feels super-real. So to be inspired, I think I just have to do stuff, get out there and do fun things and meet people and build new relationships and all those kind of things that will spark inspiration for new music.

MF: Self-care is such a common theme in interviews now!

VB: It is super-important. It’s very important to look after yourself – especially as artists and as creatives, ’cause we’re going through so many different emotions in a cycle of touring and also being off-tour, creating. It’s difficult. It’s not easy. I think it’s something that a lot of people who don’t do music, or who aren’t in the industry, don’t understand. I think, yeah, it’s also hard for us to preach it, I guess, because we can’t really say to them, “You don’t really get” – because they don’t and they don’t have to! So it’s important for us to just look after each other and to keep our mental health pretty strong, which is difficult. But as long as we’re surrounded by the right people and we talk… You know, we lost a really close friend recently in our industry and I think the most important thing is for us to check on each other and look out for each other and keep each other close.

MF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

VB: I guess I’m just super-excited. I’m super-excited to be putting new music out and to be able to connect with people through music. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and realise that it’s a pretty damn cool thing to be able to do; to speak loads of truths through music and to realise that other people are thinking or feeling those things or whether they’ve been through that thing or they’re about to or something like that. It’s a very powerful thing to be able to connect to people through music. It’s nice to be able to talk to so many people about it as well. Sometimes it’s nice to just have a song where people can dance to it. I think a lot of people might just wanna dance to this new song, which makes me super-happy ’cause I dance to it and my friends do as well! So it’s fun.

Catch Vera Blue performing live at Melbourne Zoo Twilights, Twilight at TarongaBeyond The Valley Festival, Festival Of The Sun & more over the summer!

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