Edward Burnett chats to Boston born singer VIA about her first ever guitar, what it's like to live in the bustling streets of Brooklyn and the importance of identity in musical production.
RnRR: Hi VIA, would you mind introducing yourself and your genre of music to the readers who are unfamiliar with your work?
VIA: Sure! I'm a singer/songwriter and I go by VIA. I describe my music as sad folk-pop. My songs center around significant moments or feelings that I'm having trouble articulating in regular life and want to process artistically. My most recent EP covers lost friendships and loneliness, experiences with depression, and a breakup.
RnRR: So let’s focus in on the songwriting aspect in particular. When did you first realise that creating your own music was the way to articulate your feelings in their clearest form and was there anything in particular that acted as a jumpstart, prompting you to produce your own songs?
VIA: It took me some time to figure out how cathartic songwriting could be for me. I wrote a couple of songs before I learned guitar at age 12, but once I was able to combine lyrics, vocals, and guitar, that became the magic combination for me to fully express myself. I started performing and recording original songs at age 14, and released an EP called ‘Taking You Away From Pain’ when I had enough material.
RnRR: What was your first ever guitar and what made you choose to learn that instrument in particular? Did you have many musical inspirations at that young age which you wished to follow in the footsteps of?
VIA: It was a cheap, off-brand electric guitar I bought with money I made from an MRI study. I became obsessed with rock music as a preteen after going to Creation Festival in Pennsylvania, and listening to the radio on my boombox every day. I had enjoyed music as a kid, but it was seeing live music for the first time and tuning into stations like WAAF that made me want to create my own songs. I never originally planned on being a solo artist - my first dream was to write for and be in a band. Good Charlotte was one of my biggest influences because the twins who front the band had a troubled, absent father like I did, so I related to that and saw the ways they channeled their pain through music.
RnRR: What acts did you see while at Creation and to further that, who was the best act you’ve seen live? Since you’ve brought Good Charlotte up I have to ask what your favourite song of theirs is?
VIA: Two Creation acts that impacted me a lot were Switchfoot and Relient K. They were huge in the Christian music scene and also ended up having radio hits. Even though I don't identify as a Christian anymore, I appreciate the impact some of those artists had in terms of providing people to look up to that inspired me to write. Twin Atlantic was my favorite act to see live. I saw them at TT The Bear's when they came to Boston in 2011. Even though there was a low turnout because they weren't well-known in the states then (they're from Scotland), they rocked the shit out of their set and sounded incredible. There's nothing like being a few feet away from your favorite artist and singing their lyrics back to them while you look in their eyes. There are a ton of great Good Charlotte songs, but I'm partial to ‘The Motivation Proclamation’. I'm a huge vocals person, and the harmonies on that track are stunning and were pretty unique for that genre at the time. Song elements like that definitely influenced my own writing.
RnRR: So with your own writing in mind, let’s talk about your music itself. So you recently released the music video for your song, ‘Glitter’ which features calming yet powerful vocals with a soft, melodic tune. How did the idea for ‘Glitter’ come about? What’s the song mean to you?
VIA: ‘Glitter’ was one of only two songs I've written that came to me in a dreamlike state. I was falling asleep, and a melody with words popped into my head. I immediately got up and started writing it down, and the song was finished within a day or two. This is rare since it usually takes me weeks or months to finish a song. The song is about what it's like to experience depression when you're around other people. Even happy occasions can lose their luster and meaning because your internal state is so dark due to what you're going through. This song gives permission to that state of being and validates it.
RnRR: So ‘Glitter’ conceals a very realistic and darker subject at its core. Do you find that most things you write have to reflect on serious topics or do you ever find yourself writing a song for a different meaning or perhaps more for the tune itself rather than the words which accompany it?
VIA: I do tend to write serious songs. There's a huge satisfaction and relief in being able to translate the most gut-wrenching, traumatic experiences into something beautiful. But melody, harmony, chords, and arrangements are a huge part of what I love about writing music beyond lyrics. One of my goals is to start creating instrumental songs, specifically lofi hip-hop. It's a genre I listen to all the time, and a song can say and make you feel so much without any words. I want to flex that muscle a bit more and familiarize myself with sampling and synths.
RnRR: Would you want to release a full project focused around the genral theme of synthetic hip-hop or just release a few singles and see the reception. With a voice as clear, tuneful and powerful as yours surely the sky is the limit when it comes to trying out other genres. Many artists change their musical style throughout their careers. Do you feel that delving into alternating themes in music is a way of proving your talent or more a form of self discovery?
VIA: Thank you for the kind words! The motive is definitely discovery for me, but it's about discovering other artists and what I can learn from them as much as it is discovering what I can make. I could see myself releasing an EP if I had a body of work I was excited about and my production was up to par. Production is still an area I struggle with and want to get better at. I think there are areas I haven't reached yet in my artistry because I can hear something in my head but can't quite bring it to life. Lofi would be a good space totally separate from my regular music to practice and experiment with that.
RnRR: Yes, I would imagine that a switching of genres could help facilitate a change in itself which would allow you to express previously inexpressible thoughts. You mention discovering other artists as part of the process so what have you been listening to recently? Anything in particular that’s caught your ears?
VIA: I'm especially interested in artists that are pop-adjacent. Sky Ferreira has been one of my favorites in recent years, and I've been listening to a lot of Joji and Charli XCX recently. In terms of lofi hip-hop, I've been loving Middle School's EP The Finish Line. Looking back on the artists I listened to as a teenager, I'm very aware of how white and male most of them were. I'm glad I'm not as boxed in as I was then, though there's always more room to find artists with different backgrounds and influences. The only bands led by and including people of color that I listened to as a teen were Bloc Party and P.O.D., and those were good for me to observe, even though I wasn't very conscious of it at the time. Now I'm seeing a lot more women and queer folks at the forefront of the industry too. Nija Charles, Julia Michaels, Princess Nokia, and King Princess are all really inspiring to me, for their writing as well as their willingness to put their whole selves out into the world.
RnRR: Some great picks in there and you can never go wrong with Bloc Party! Are you more of a ‘Banquet’ fan or a ‘Helicopter’ fan? It’s a very good point you mention about diversity in music and how it’s important to hear everyone’s backgrounds both in and in the production of music. Do you find this as a vital extra motivation when making your own music? Is it integral for you to get your own story and background across as well as obviously producing quality music like you have to date?
VIA: I'm a ‘Banquet’ fan, but my favorite Bloc Party album is ‘Four’! I am a mixed-race, Black, queer woman writing music, and even though I haven't written explicitly about those identities in my songs, it's impossible to separate the art from the creator. White, straight men have been a big part of my musical influences and the people I've played, toured, and collaborated with, and a handful of them are good friends of mine. But I'm also intentionally seeking out artists in other demographics to gain musical knowledge, inspiration, and friendships with folks who share even more of my experiences.
RnRR: A good plan and the music produced surely would benefit from greater shared experience and knowledge gained from such meetings. Would you ever think of doing collaborations with other artists if you find talented friends? Have you considered being in/before been in a band or has it always been more focused on the solo venture?
VIA: Definitely! That's my hope for the new album, that I can collaborate more than I ever have before. Working with other people is invigorating to me. I was in a band called Breaking The Silence (later renamed Modern Prodigals) in high school with my best friend, and we had a short but good run. We only released one EP and played a handful of times, but I loved every minute of it. I find performing to be a lot more rewarding and less stressful when I'm sharing the stage with one or more musicians. Performing requires you to give a lot of energy out to the audience, and as an introvert that can be draining for me. When I'm with friends, we feed off of each other and can sustain that energy and grow it much more easily. If I never had to perform solo again, I'd be perfectly happy. And I'd love to be in a band again if the opportunity arises.
RnRR: Moving away from the music briefly now, would you mind telling the readers more about where you’re from and live? What’s it like to live in Brooklyn, New York City? Does the hustle and bustle all get a little too much or does the magic always remain?
VIA: I'm from Greater Boston, but I moved to NYC last February. This year and a half has had a ton of ups and downs and there's been a lot of changes in my personal life. Part of that is adjusting to the city life, since I grew up in the suburbs. My favorite thing about Brooklyn is how many different neighborhoods there are, each with their own cultures. NYC as a whole is a city you could spend a lifetime exploring and never get bored - you're always seeing something new and meeting different people. But yes, it can be tiring for sure. There's not much space physically or mentally because you're constantly receiving stimulation and bumping shoulders with other people. I don't plan to stay forever, but I'm grateful for the time I have here and especially the friends I've made. I'm enjoying the little things, like sitting on my fire escape and watching the sun set while Manhattan buildings twinkle on the horizon.
RnRR: So that leads us on to the final question and as I always say in Spotlight, the most important. If you were on a desert island for the rest of your days and you could only ever listen to one album ever again, what would it be and why?
VIA: Ooh, what a question! My first thought is to pick something with a decent amount of high-tempo songs to energize me since I presume there won't be much else going on there. I would also want something that makes me feel happy when I listen to it and brings back good memories. Thus, I'd pick Twin Atlantic's album ‘Free’. There's even a line in ‘Crash Land’ that talks about being "stuck here on this island," so it's the perfect choice.
RnRR: It seems that especially with ‘Crash Land’ you’ve managed to find the correct answer to the world’s most subjective question! Thanks for being on, it’s been an absolute pleasure and we will be sure to update the page whenever you have new music out!
(Photograph by Chi Altro)
If you'd like to find out more about VIA or listen to her music, you can find her socials down below: