Veroníque Vaka – our very special interview on the day of her new album release

„Erlendis” is the new album from Veroníque Vaka, which has been released today by Moderna Records. To celebrate that we have a very special interview with Veroníque. She told us about her music, inspirations, working in the studio and… Iceland that stole her heart.

Bartek Wilk: Hello Veronique. I’m really pleased talking to you. How are you doing?

Veroníque Vaka: Hi Bartek, happy to talk to you too!

Many things are happening with ‚Erlendis’ and it is very exciting. At the moment we are preparing the release and I am also teaming up with Bertrand Sallé, artist from France, who is creating a music video for ‚Minning um himinn’. It feels  really amazing to bring this project into life!

Bartek: I know you come from Canada and only a few years ago you studied electro-acoustic composition at the University of Montreal. Now you live, compose and record your beautiful music in Iceland… I just have to ask you how did it happened?

©Veroníque Vaka, Iceland 2015
©Veroníque Vaka, Iceland 2015

Veroníque Vaka: How it happenned, I think it is something that happenned gradually over many years. I studied classical performance, and then I wanted to be more in touch with modern composition including electronic music. By studying in electro-acoustic composition I’ve discovered the beauty of recorded sounds, field recording and the acoustic of classical instruments. I attended an amazing class at University about the history of english pop music with Philip Tagg. One of my essay was about the influence of english pop music in the 80′ and how it influences the Icelandic music scene. I got really passionate about it. Then I got in touch with a few Icelandic musicians and did some interviews and at the same time was in touch with the German musician Hannes Smith who was living in Iceland at the time. I started an amazing collaboration with him, which is still going on today. This is mostly how I got to know better the Icelandic music scene.

In 2012 I got a grant from The Canada Council of the Art (CCA) for a ten months mentorship in instrumental and electronic composition in Iceland, and things just happened from there. I started to collaborate with M-Band for few a songs and then we worked on music for a short film together. Followed by collaborations with Biggi Hilmars, Nóra, Tonik ensemble, Futuregrapher, Árni2 and a few performances at the Iceland Academy of the Arts for graduation students. It was also the first time that I’ve got the chance and the support to focus on my own music, researching for my sound and exploring/creating in a new musical environment.

Bartek: So now you are based in Iceland. But looking through your works from 2012-2013 I can see you’ve been traveling a lot. There are tracks recorded in Reykjavik, Montreal (and Berlin between). Your first record was called Project: Rvk-Mtl. It looks like you’ve been literally and lyrically torn between those two worlds. Is this why your EP was called „Tveir Heimar”?

Veroníque Vaka: I did not travel a lot before. The grant from CCA was a beautiful opportunity to travel with my art and it was so inspiring! My project Rvk/Mtl was experimentations involving what I learned during my studies in Montreal and what I was learning here in Reykjavik during the mentorship. Tveir Heimar was definitely inspired by those two world- two contrasting cities but also around mixed music. At this time, I explained this project as Reykjavik being the electro-acoustic music: these sounds represent the violence of the turbulent Northern winds juxtaposed by the captivating beauty of the perfectly static landscapes. And Montreal was represented by acoustic instrumentations, more structural and traditional – my comfort zone.

Bartek: I think „Tveir Heimar” is an excellent record and I’m quite ashamed that I discovered this EP so late. Great compositions, featured artists, four fantastic remixes. All the music inspirated by two cities, but could you tell me more about your other inspirations?

Veroníque Vaka: I am very inspired by classical and new music. There is something about Bach, Brahms, Prokofiev, Arvo Pärt, Daníel Bjarnason and Bryce Dressner that brings me into a state of calmness and helps me to focus or simply to think. It is a little bit difficult to explain how it inspires me, but it has a great effect on me. And other things which inspire me is to walk, there is nothing better than fresh air to put your mind together!

Bartek: And now it’s time for Erlendis. We could hear only the first track and I have to tell you, that after publishing the teaser on our site we got many questions about you and your music. People just loved your sublime, delicate, ambient sounds. What could we expect from the rest of the album?

Veroníque Vaka: Erlendis is an ambient/classical album. It has five tracks where string ensemble, piano solo and soundscapes are at the core of my research. I explored the use of theses elements, working with them as a living organism and experiencing them as a whole. During one year I captured the sounds of my environment and I started composing around these field recordings. In this project I try to focus closely on the sound and texture of the instruments.

The melodies I use are short and chord progressions slow, perhaps I think of them more like a combination of little sounds than a group of notes.

Bartek: Could you tell us what does the title „Erlendis” mean?

Erlendis - Veroníque Vaka. Artwork by Urban9
Erlendis – Veroníque Vaka. Artwork by Urban9

Veroníque Vaka: Erlendis is an Icelandic word and would translate to English as a place that is foreign to you. Moving to a different country made me rethink the relationship between classical music and soundscape. To be in a foreign country has an effect on your perception. I think being out of my comfort zone made me re-evaluate things I took for granted.

Bartek: The album was recorded by Paul Evans in Greenhouse Studios with great musicians playing with you (f.e. Karl Pestka from Arstidir or Unnur Jónsdottir). And of course mixed by Alex Somers. How did you like working with them?

Veroníque Vaka: Recording with Paul Evans at the Greenhouse Studios was amazing. The way I work in the studio might be a little bit different from the standard. As Paul suggested: I am like a painter, when I go for a recording session. I have my contour ready, my music sketches and scores. And then I am making my pallet of colors by recording small melodic patterns and textures with acoustic instruments. I was very lucky to get all those talented musicians to record with me. I love collaborating and it interests me to get the color of each musician in my work. Working with Alex Somers was so great, we had a beautiful collaboration. I like the way he kept in mind the purity and breathing of acoustic instruments and their sensibility.

Bartek: Greenhouse is very significant, influential studio. And I think Alex also gives his unique touch to all the records he’s been working on. Do you think Erlendis with all your personal compositions sounds just like you wanted it to be?

Veroníque Vaka: At a certain point you have to let go of your composition and let them live their own life. What I mean is that I’ve been working a lot on this project and to work with someone else definitely brings different colors, but this is the beauty! It sounds like I wanted it to sound and I am proud of the final result. Indeed, we could go on forever always changing something because it can be difficult to say „ok, now its  finished”. I try to find a balance so that I can reach a point where I have said everything I want to say with this particular project and its time to go on to the next one. Never feeling like you have said everything you have to say does not necessarily need to be a bad thing but it can motivate you and push you to go further in new projects.

Bartek: Personally I think that cover art is also very important. You can feel atmoshpere of the album before you even open the box. I have to ask you about Erlendis beautiful cover art. Could you tell more about it?

Veroníque Vaka: Yes sure! Urban9 is a photographer and graphic designer from Montreal ( I’ve been in touch with him after seeing the artwork he did for musicians like Olivier Girouard and Orla Wren. Then we met for a coffee and talked about Erlendis. During the process of composing the music I sent him drafts to give him inspiration for the art work. He came up with this beautiful artwork! At the moment the album will be released digitally but later this year I will do a few physical copies because the artwork is really connected to the music.

Bartek: Your album will be released by Moderna Records. It’s a new label focusing on instrumental music (from classical to contemporary, ambient). And – what shouldn’t be surprise – Moderna is based in Montreal. I guess you didn’t have any doubts choosing your record label?

Veroníque Vaka: Exactly, I had no doubt about choosing Moderna Records as my label. The first time I’ve been in touch with Évolène, I knew that it will be a beautiful collaboration. There is also the fact that it is a label from Montreal… I feel just like home in a way. There is a lot going on with Moderna, for instance, as connected to your blog’s provenance, Polish musicians Bartosz Dziadosk aka Pleq is part of Moderna Records’ forthcoming release schedule.

Bartek: And the final question – do you think that Iceland have stolen your heart? :)

Veroníque Vaka: Haha! Yes.

Photo: ©Veroníque Vaka, Iceland 2015

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