Name: Vanessa Anne Redd
Occupation: Singer-songwriter / Co-founder of Sharp Attack Records
Current release: Vanessa Anne Redd's new album Sweet Way Around is out now on Sharp Attack.
Recommendations: I’m loving Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra, such a beautiful piece of music for a windswept beach and the book has to be Walk through Walls by Marina Abramovich for such great insight into such an incredible Shamanic artist.
If you enjoyed this interview with Vanessa Anne Redd, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, Souncloud, twitter, and bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
When I was about 6, I wrote a weird minimal piano thing, called ‘A Russian Winter’. I stuck a picture of a bleak Russian snowy landscape on the front of it and that was the start!
Influenced early on by classical music, mainly the German classical heavies, and a lot of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong records and later on spent a lot of time hanging around at analogue studio Toerag where the White Stripes recorded, watching loads of amazing people go through there like Holly Golightly and Billy Childish.
Learning music young means it becomes like another mouth and heart to you. No choice but to be drawn into it’s spell.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I think finding your voice is going through emotional phases in your life, each different musical phase empowering you on the journey to what you become.
I went from playing a lot of classical piano to needing to rock out on the guitar, learnt sound engineering, hung around studios watching people, toured, played in bands, played more and wrote and wrote and wrote.
Going solo was a ‘finding myself’ moment. It was very freeing, I really needed to do something purely myself. I wanted to bring everything and also bring myself together.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Creativity is all about freedom and having no boundaries. It’s best to forget who you are, or who you think you are and tune into something higher than all that.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Creativity has never challenged me. I have always felt creatively free and abundant in that way.
The challenges come more from after that point, being in charge of your own tools, means of production, distribution.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The portability of the guitar was important to me to be able to go wherever to write easily. I also enjoyed getting away from computers for a time, too, after seeing everything cut up so much and went to record onto analogue tape.
The sound of tape is obviously amazing but it has limitations in that setting - that means you have to really hone your skills and become very confident in yourself. It allows you to become comfortable with yourself. I developed a really ‘fuck it’ attitude to recording which continually makes me happy.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The transition from piano to guitar was pivotal in the way I grew as a writer, being able to write differently and express songs in a different way. I taught myself the guitar and I had to unlearn the classical methodologies to free up.
Using Logic, being able to put ideas down so easily and being so moveable, it’s an old revolution, but still a mighty one.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I haven’t done many collaborations recently as I’ve been in such a solo record state. But playing the record live meant I’ve worked with other musicians and it's been so amazing, a little bit of magic dust rubs off on each of you.
When you play with someone else the energy grows between you, the colours get a little more saturated. File sharing, too, yes, was invaluable mid pandemic to finish the strings on the new album Sweet Way Around.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Each day’s a little different. But mostly I’ll try start with a morning practice of breathing exercises, meditation or yoga, depending on how much time I have.
The rest of the day’s filled with whatever creative or admin tasks I need to get done, depending on at which point I’m at in the record making process. I work at home or I'll go to Gallery 46 in Whitechapel where I can practice things loudly. I also teach songwriting workshops for kids. It’s always fun working with them, you learn a lot about creativity from their viewpoints.
Everything is best when it feeds through and into each other. Art is life and all that.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I supported Gary Numan a few times and it often comes up in my mind as a very powerful moment. It was the largest gig I’d done at that point and being at the centre of that huge energetic synergy / dynamic between creator and audience is a very, almost shamanistic place to be.
I’m also proud of the film I made for ‘Zumbo Waxes’, my second solo record. It was a double process of creating a film alongside my music. I wanted it to be an Alice in Wonderland style journey through different states of being alone with the songs on the record. It was a real head fuck to make, a massive learning curve in filmaking and so much work. But I’m so glad I did it!
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The ideal state for me is being as mind-empty as possible, the less thinking the better.
That’s where the morning practice stuff comes in, going somewhere quiet and peaceful, stepping away from the phone and far away from other people usually helps too!
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music’s healed me my whole life, being a tool to express and making order out of the general chaos of life! Teaching music to children at a young age and giving them the skills to create music of their own can really change lives. It should be available to everyone.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Pure motivation and authenticity is key. Crossover and cultural influence is a good thing. I’m not into anything that limits us or boxes us in as creative beings. Whatever’s channeled through you - if it’s a direct link to the heart, that’s good by me.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
There’s a very symbiotic relationship between the visual and sonic senses. Putting visuals to my songs has really inspired me. Somehow when you edit and chose images, colours and film to go with the music, my brain goes to a place somewhere in-between things where everything fits together in a natural, perfect way.
Seeing colours with music is easy when you tune into that middle sense. I think we are very holistic beings, everything works together.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I always thought of myself as a musician and a writer, "artist" feels like a very honoured crown to wear. Channelling all that life throws at you into making something beautiful, to share, to illuminate, to expose the truth and your heart, is my approach.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music’s like a 3D image of consiousness captured in it’s own little sonic vial! Words are more 2D.