So Vanilla is the debut album by FM4’s Soundpark Act of the Month, Austrian-Brazilian musician Viji: twelve songs about living with – and next to – one another.
Viji’s debut album doesn’t make you wait long. There’s no intro, just a chord from the guitar, the drums, and one line: “I hope you’re watching – am I mysterious?” And then it’s there: the hook, the suspense, the moment when you realize that it’s good, and it’s going to get better.
The album is called So Vanilla. It’s a play on her first name (Vanilla), and a joke made by someone who knows they’ve made a very special album, nothing basic or vanilla about it. Viji’s got a sense of humor, she knows the score, and she comes from a musical family: her father is an instrument maker, her grandfather was a pianist, her cousin played in a band, and Viji herself played classical guitar…at least until she discovered Avril Lavigne.
“I think one of the main reasons was my first album. I bought it at a school party; it was Avril Lavigne,” she remembers. She learned the bar chords to “Sk8er Boi” on the guitar, and she knew what direction she wanted to go: Viji makes music that can be described as fuzzy, shoegazey, a little emo. Her press bio offers the evocative description “indie sleaze”.
The best musicians are multifaceted. Born in Vienna, Viji spent time in the USA before continuing on to her family in Brazil. Now she lives in London and works with people like producer Dan Carey, twice nominated for a Mercury Prize (for his work on albums by Black Midi and Fontaines D.C.). The headliners on Viji’s dream festival would be Elliott Smith, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Frank Ocean – if you know these artists, you know what Viji’s music sounds like. That’s right: really good. During the recording process she was listening to Bikini Kill and Totally Crushed Out! by that dog.
The songs on So Vanilla are about life with – and next to – one another. They’re about missing people, about wanting to be in love, about who you are and who you’d like to be. Ennui is the key word: being tired of the mundane. “It’s something that I realized in retrospect that I had written about.” Lyric examples: “Now that I’m happier / I never say a thing” and “Maybe now I’m here / it’s time to get down and roll”. “Days can be so beautiful in a dream / I can keep my mind from waking” and “a world mundane / impossible to understand”.
Good rock’n’roll isn’t just about what you sing, it’s about how you sing it. A single word can mean a lot, depending on how it comes out of the headphones or the radio. “When I truly love something, I love it partly because of the lyrics and the voice; that’s really important to me.” And the things you want to hear in great music, you often want to play yourself. It’s about the feeling: “You often don’t get that euphoric feeling this song is special until you play it – and then you look at each other and the feeling is there, in the room. It’s the human element; you have to have someone that reflects the feeling back at you, too.” Feedback from one to the other, and back again. So Vanilla is out now on Speedy Wunderground, and Viji will no doubt be playing a venue near you soon.
Christoph Sepin, translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger