INTERVIEW | Christa Vi Takes on the World

Christa Vi is set to explode in the next year. The London based singer/songwriter, whose sound is unapologetically and refreshingly pop, has been featured by the likes of Kiss FM, DJ Mag, and has been remixed by some of the most respected names in dance music at the moment like Amtrac and Braxton.

It’s 7 AM and she’s on the other end of a Skype call in her flat. From the looks of her surroundings, her flat is a lot of clean lines and a blend of simplistic, but expressive details. She says that this kind of design interests her. It shows in her artwork and in her music, a marriage of warmth and surreal ideas that feels modern, but incredibly natural. Organic. This gives her an almost zen like quality which is particularly soothing at 7 AM. And that’s when the interview begins.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s Christa Vi all about?

I’m just a singer/songwriter that likes electronic music. So, I tried to combine the two, really. I started off writing songs with a guitar and took it seriously about six years ago, but I’ve been writing for forever. I decided I was going to write my own songs and get them produced. But I’ve always liked artists like Róisín Murphy from Moloko. Sia’s always been an influence because I come from the same place as her. I grew up in Adelaide. So I love pop music. I love electronic music. So I’m interested in writing a good hook for a good song, but then again I love dance music. So I want to get my songs remixed and get it out to different people who are into different sounds and it excites me to hear my songs in a different way. That’s a very long answer to a very short question, sorry.

No. It’s fine. I’ve had answers to that question from artists that have ranged from very short answers to going on long tangents about breakfast.

You get time to have breakfast? Because it’s probably quite early for you. You probably have to get to a job at some point this morning.

Orange juice. I have OJ. Thankfully, I’m a music producer and writer for the most part. So I spend a lot of time at home.

I work from home, too! Which makes a lot of stuff easier to schedule in.

So, you grew up in Australia, but you also spent a good amount of time in Germany in your childhood. You’re in London now. I can only imagine the mish-mash of different cultures you’ve consumed. How does that influence you?

My mother was a classical piano player and teacher and I grew up playing piano, and even studied opera vocals for a while but it really wasn’t my thing, and I did jazz at university for a year as well. All of my German family was very into classical music. But much to my mother’s horror, I just wanted to listen to pop music all the time. So I’ve got this CD collection of classical music, but pop music is all I wanted to listen to. I’ve been through just about every stage.

Growing up, it was all the 90s music. And I went through a little bit of hip-hop. Early on, I was listening to Massive Attack, Moloko, Morcheeba. Quite a few things that influenced me early and got me started writing. Lamb – I don’t know.

I’m not familiar with Lamb. Who’s that?

Lamb was an electronic artist in the 90s. It was a singer/production duo. I’ve always listened for female vocals, I guess, in electronic production. So, yeah. I lived in Germany. Every four years we’d go and then I went to school. I got sent to learn German at one point, so I had to go live in Germany when I was 15 and go to school. Then I moved here [in the U.K.] and I’ve been here for like 12 years now. My sister and all my relatives are in Germany and Switzerland, and I’m engaged to a Welsh guy, so I’m definitely staying here now.

But I moved to London because I love U.K. music. There’s just so much going and it always has especially with electronic music. From 90s raves to a lot of good pop. When I first came here, I realized Australia took a while to get onto things, so what I was into was in the past.

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You said you’ve been in the U.K. for 12 years. That’s well over a decade. That’s a lot of waves of U.K. music.

I definitely picked up bits and pieces along the way of the good bits.

How do you feel about the U.K.’s grasp on what’s current and trending versus everywhere else?

I think the electronic scene has been happening for much longer. That said, you can’t forget about Chicago house, Detroit techno, or hip-hop. I think what’s happened is America comes up with stuff, the U.K. gets influenced and sometimes takes that and reinvents it, and gives it back. But maybe with the rave scene, not that I’m doing rave music, but there’s this kind of electronic discussion. Maybe there’s a sense of freedom and boundaries can be broken a bit more in the U.K. than in America. Maybe people have been stuck in their genres a bit too much. Electronic music has kind of drawn a line through a lot of that. Like, Avicii can put a track out with a country singer and that’s okay whereas that wouldn’t be okay 10 years ago.

It’ll be fine. Kygo will do a song with Axl Rose and it will be great.

I love mixing genres. I’m getting electronic musicians to remix pop songs. I can’t talk.

Well, you’re in a long line of women who’ve experimented with that. You mentioned Sia. I’d argue Björk.

I love her. She’s my queen. I don’t even want to say her name because she’s so out there. I think if I actually got to meet her, I’d just fall into a heap.

Do you think if you saw Björk tomorrow, you would just “bless up?”

Yeah. Probably get straight on the ground.

Prayer hands. All day.

She’s just amazing.

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Do you feel like there’s some kind of legacy to live up to?

I think any artist wants to make their mark. It takes some time. I’m a bit light in the game, but it’s taken me a long time to find my voice and my sound. When I listen to old things, there’s a cringe factor because it sounds like I’m trying to sing like someone else or be someone else. I’m really comfortable now with where I’m at. People will always compare you to other people, especially female artists because there seems to be less of us. The key thing for me is songwriting and I’m interested in writing and collaborating for other people as well as developing my own thing. I’m interested in writing a good song in the same way that Sia has written for other people. That interests me just as much.

In the same way, I don’t forget what these other artists have done because they’ve definitely influenced me and shown me the way. I remember in school, I was one of two girls that decided to learn guitar. All the rest were boys. All the other girls had a chance to learn dance or singing and I was like, “Guitar.” So, I was in this group of like 20 boys all strumming on their nylon string guitars. And it’s like, “Why can’t a girl play guitar?” It’s okay for a girl to play piano somehow, but a girl can’t play guitar. It’s the same thing. Women should be doing this.

That’s actually incredibly interesting. I never thought about that disconnect between instruments. That is so true.

It’s ridiculous. It’s a societal thing. I’ve had this discussion with a friend who’s an electronic artist as well and he’s always saying how women DJs need to step up. And he’s not wrong. You shouldn’t just use the woman thing to get on [a line-up], but there are a lot of DJs who get overlooked because it’s really hard. At the same time, it’s like “Why can’t a woman be a DJ?” DJ Mag recently had all men on the cover. And I’m sure there are some women DJs out there that are doing well.

I’m not going to blame anyone, but I think women just need to decide to do it and do it. If I could have produced myself, I would have, but I guess I realize my limitations. I know what sounds I want and I know what I want things to sound like, so I go into a studio with an engineer and work with different producers and boss them around. So I try to be as involved as I can and do the old school producer role. I’m definitely present for the whole thing. I would love to learn how to produce as well.

Any dream producers you’d like to work with on a list on your fridge?

One producer who stands out to me is Blood Orange. I think he’s awesome. I guess producers that understand pop music in an indie kind of way that have a real aesthetic. So he’s one. I’m really happy with my current producer. He’s in a band called Suns. Andrew McDonnell. He mixes a ton different styles and can play every instrument from saxophone to bass. I’m really happy to work him.

A lot of producers seem to have a really great grasp on multi-instrumentation. Do you feel like that’s a very important fragment when it comes to being a musician? Having that ability to look at instruments, being around them, mess around with them, be around people who like to play those instruments?

Definitely. I think you grow up as a child with opportunities and you absorb sounds and I think people who don’t have that have it harder in some ways. It’s harder to write a song with a chord structure that makes sense. But you can also have too much education and you lose your ability to hear what’s good. I did jazz for a year and I made a decision not to continue and to keep with what I was doing because I felt like I would become a jazz musician and lose my ability to write pop without thinking about whether a 7th chord would sound good over this bass line. It becomes very intellectual.

There’s people like Prince. Prince didn’t have any musical training. He had an amazing ear.

Prince was a God. We’re mere mortals.

I guess what I’m saying is if you can hear and you can listen, you can do a lot with that. I’m grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had, but when I write a song, I try to do a bit of both. I use my ability to play chords and I try to do what feels right.

In terms of your specific music, you’re very artistic. There’s certain values. You said you’re into art and design. As far as your image, how would you describe what you’ve created for yourself? Like, in a tweet. 140 characters or something.

What I’ve said a lot in the past is I try to create something beautiful out of something ordinary. That is what I look for in simple design as well as what I strive for in my music: it’s something beautiful, but it doesn’t require a ton of effort. Not that there’s no effort. Creating something good out of what you’ve got. And that’s why I use origami as my image for my music because you can create something extraordinary out of paper. Yeah – you can put that into 140 characters.

Christa Vi explains her aesthetic as “Origami. #Design.” I did want to ask you about your new single. It’s called “Loveblind.” What led you to making this song?

Though it’s a negative song about love, it’s got a romantic beginning. When I got together with my now fiance, before we were together, we were writing together. He came up with the concept and the backing track. Sounds nothing like it is now. I worked on it for about two days, sang it on my iPhone, and I sent it to him and he really liked it. So, it’d been sitting around for ages and ages and when it came to doing the album, I thought, “Let’s see if we can develop it more.” I went to another producer, Dan Brown, who’s worked with Massive Attack and did some other tracks with me for the album. We did a version, it wasn’t quite where it needed to be, so we wound up working with Andrew [McDonnell] as well. It sounds like I’m Beyoncé or something working with 3 producers on one song. She’s got like 21 writers or something.

It’s okay. If you ever read the liner notes on a Kanye album, it’s like, “Kanye would like to thank these 12,000 people.”

It’s not quite at that level, but it was interesting having the input of more than one producer on one track. Sometimes it can be a bad thing because everyone’s got their own ideas about how it should sound, but in the end, it worked. So, the words and the melody are mine, but I think Dan Brown had some input as well, so it was really a collaborative effort. And talking about Blood Orange, I think we were inspired because it was around the time his last album came out.

That kind of hazy, not quite electronic, but darker, new age aesthetic.

Washy synths, but still very pop. It’s the percussion stuff. A bit of reverby percussion. We were enjoying that at the time. Also, trying to keep it simple. Trying not to kitchen sink it. But I’m happy with it and hopefully some people will like it. We’ll see what happens. That’s all you can do, really, isn’t it?

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You do have a new album coming out. What’s the name of the album and when is it expected to come out?

It’s Makeshift Happiness and it should be at the end of October. It’s been a long time coming. But part of the process is to share tracks between now and then to see if anyone cares, really.

Nowadays with the current music community with Spotify and SoundCloud, I think it’s very rare for a lot of artists to put out a full album. Now it’s usually a ton of singles to promote themselves. 

It’s been a long time coming for me, but there will be a ton of people who are like, “Look at this brand new artist who just appeared.” I’ve been here for 6 years! I guess I realized that. And I’m doing it on my own label because I got sick of not getting much response and it’s just tough because indie labels can’t offer much these days. Everybody’s struggling to make any money out of music. And I’m not sure if I could have clicked with the major label thing. I’m just going to put it out and hopefully it will lead to more writing. That’s what I want to keep doing to generate opportunities to collaborate and create with more people. And if people like the songs, then great.

Although, I was thinking just the other day, the first time you ever get a negative review, you know you’ve achieved something. If someone cares enough to write something negative, you know they’re taking notice of you.

This is the last question. For anyone who’s trying to break into music, if there was something you wish you knew 20 years ago, what would your bit of sage advice be?

These days everyone is obsessed with social media. You can’t replace a good song or good music with a million hits on social media. You can have a career, you can be a YouTube star, whatever you want to do. But if you don’t have a good song, I don’t think its long term. You could be a fleeting, short-term famous person if that’s what you want, but if you want to write good music, there’s no real shortcuts. You just have to do you 10,000 hours of whatever you want to do. If you want to write songs, you have to write songs. You want to produce? Produce. If you want to play guitar, you have to practice. I sound like an old person going, “You whippersnappers,” but you got to work at it.

Prince didn’t become Prince by going on Instagram. He became Prince by picking up 30 different instruments and he went to Warner Bros. and demanded a record deal.

He paved the way. He owned his own recordings and that’s maybe where we’re at, in a way, because I own my recordings. It’s difficult because 20 years ago, I don’t think anyone thought you’d be able to put stuff out on the internet and get feedback because the internet was barely happening and no one had a laptop. There are opportunities now which are amazing. I hope SoundCloud continues, but I’m a bit worried that it’s changing. I’ve used everything I could, of course, but I focused on writing good songs which is why it’s taken me 6 years finish my album.

Other people may have had different experiences, but that’s just me.


Check out our premiere below of Christa Vi’s new track, “Loveblind,” off her forthcoming album, Makeshift Happiness due out in October. Be sure to pre-order the “Loveblind” single EP on iTunes which also features remixes by Rocco Raimundo and James Welsh.

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