Viji on Her Debut Album “So Vanilla” and Working with Dan Carey | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, July 14th, 2024  

Viji on Her Debut Album “So Vanilla” and Working with Dan Carey

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Oct 27, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Nicole Ngai Bookmark and Share

“I definitely have the travel bug; I can never seem to stay in one place,” confesses the Vienna-born, Brazilian-Austrian artist, Vanilla Jenner, known by her stage name Viji. Thankfully, Jenner has settled in the UK to focus on her musical career. “London is now my base,” Jenner reveals. “I was born and raised in Vienna but hold dual nationality because of my father’s Brazilian heritage. I have a lot of family still living in Rio and regularly visit. I did spend a period of time in America on a student exchange too, but I’ve been in London for a few years now.”

Music has coursed through Jenner’s veins since her youth. Her grandfather was a pianist, and her father, an instrument maker. “Yes, my dad actually crafts Renaissance instruments. When we were kids, on long family journeys, Dad would encourage my brother and me to sing old folk songs and intricate four-part harmonies. I had a cousin who played in a rock band, which was more of an influence on the musical journey I wanted to take as I grew up.”

And that journey eventually led Jenner to work with award-winning producer Dan Carey, resulting in her wonderful debut album, So Vanilla, which is out today. They met when a songwriting session was set up whilst Jenner was still signed to the Dirty Hit label under her Viji moniker, and the pair hit it off immediately.

“I think we began working together around the time of my third EP,” recalls Jenner. “I was signed to Dirty Hit, but that was only to release my EPs.” As they continued to write and create, it started to become apparent that Dan’s label, Speedy Wundergrund, would be the ideal outlet for Viji’s work. “It just made perfect sense,” explains Jenner. “There’s a tight-knit group around Speedy, a whole scene going on there, and with me embracing a different sonic approach, it seemed like a very good fit. It’s a very ‘Speedy’ type of record.”

Carey has produced albums by Wet Leg, Geese, black midi, Fontaines D.C., Squid, Foals, Bat For Lashes, and many others. Artists often say, after working with him, that he’s a producer who doesn’t impose his own signature style on a record but rather respects and helps finesse the artists vision and perhaps nudges them towards sounds and effects that might work for their record. “Totally,” enthuses Jenner. “It’s been a really fun process from writing to producing with Dan. His studio is like this sprawling magical mess,” she laughs. “There are cables everywhere, but everything there makes such a beautiful sound. It’s very much a case of you go in and Dan caters for your vision. I’d never been involved in writing sessions with anybody before, but Dan seems to get what musicians hope to achieve and picks up the mood of the artist. He’s so enthusiastic—and has a sense of excitement when he finds something new—he’ll say things like, ‘Look at this, I’ve just bought it—and it makes this sound!’ It never feels like work when you go into a session with Dan.”

Amongst other things, Carey is known for his unerring ability to capture the energy and excitement of an artist’s live performance in the studio. However, with Viji being Jenner’s solo project, that wasn’t always possible, as she explains. “It was mainly me and Dan in the studio, and I had Yuri [Shibuici] from Honeyglaze on drums. And I did get my live band in for bits. My bassist did some backing vocals and also contributed the infamous screaming bit on [previous single] ‘Karaoke.’ A typical day recording with Dan would involve starting with some guitar tracking, and we’d do my vocals in the afternoon, as that’s when I prefer to sing. It’s magical watching everything come together; it was beautiful having a cello on a few tracks. I usually make sure I’m stocked up with lots of snacks so I don’t get distracted by any food cravings! And when I’m doing vocals, I usually have whiskey and honey and ready salted crisps. I don’t know if it’s a myth, but I heard that the oils in the crisps can help with your voice,” she says, referring to what Americans call potato chips.

The results speak for themselves. So Vanilla is a beautifully judged, perfectly paced album that allows Jenner’s ear for melody and her astute poetic lyrics to shine. When I ask if there’s a theme, such as dissatisfaction with modern life, or if the mention of religion is part of a wider theme she laughs before explaining, “There was never a theme, really, I just wanted to get my best songs recorded. Somebody else asked if it was about ennui, with songs like ‘Sedative,’ ‘Ambien,’ and ‘Blanket,’ but it’s a coincidence. The same with any mention of religion. I was raised an atheist and I’m not a believer in institutionalized religion, although I respect people who do. I mean I’m not a brutalist atheist in that I can see the beauty in the likes of cathedrals, but any sort of organized religion isn’t for me. I’m more interested in myths and legends and folklore from different cultures, any religious theme was certainly unintentional.”

Viji’s single, the soaring “Down,” contains the striking line “misery makes me holy,” and the song appears to beg the question: do artists have to suffer to create?

“Personally, I do find creativity that comes from a dark place much more interesting,” Jenner responds. “I think unless I was going to intentionally write a hyperactive happy pop song there’s not much to say, so darker subjects do kind of cut deeper. I can’t really write when I’m that happy. For example, I love the ocean, I always feel happy and at peace there and never feel the urge to create. I mean, I don’t intentionally make myself suffer to create. Of course, it doesn’t have to be your own struggles. It can be other people’s stories, or taking inspiration from movies and books.”

So Vanilla also fuses intimate dream pop with fuzzed-up grunge power whilst crafting a mesmerizing mixture of beauty, sadness, and rage. When Jenner mentions her influences, it makes perfect sense.

“Have you heard the band that dog. and their album Totally Crushed Out?” she asks. “Well, I remember Dan buying that record and playing it, and there’s a track called ‘Anymore,’ which is so pretty and has been on like, every playlist I’ve done recently. Elliott Smith has always been an influence, which you can probably hear in the slower songs; his vocals are so intimate. And Bikini Kill, I was going through a break-up and I kind of swapped between Elliott and Bikini Kill.”

The ubiquity of streaming and the ability to curate personalized playlists have certainly changed the way we all engage with music. However, for Jenner, the album remains her go-to format.

“I still love albums, and when I really get into one, I just play it on repeat,” she says. “Often, I know all the lyrics without even knowing the song titles. I hope people can engage and connect with So Vanilla in the same way, and listen from start to finish, because there was a lot of thought put into the track listing and the way it flows.”

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