Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'She Owns The Night: Vanessa Daou Interviewed' on The Quietus

jonny mugwump talks to the New York based songstress about speakeasies, rave culture and the poem/song divide

"A collaboration between the New York-based Vanessa and her then husband Peter with words adapted by Vanessa from Peter's aunt, the pioneering Erica Jong, Zipless is a beautiful trove of sublime erotic electronic pop with strong elements of house and jazzy melodies. And as anybody who loves pop music knows, there can be more subversiveness in the space of a three minute adrenaline shot of pop than in vast swathes of the avant-garde. The almost surreal intimacy of Vanessa's voice and delivery (like Dali's melting watches, every vocal shape seemed to take on a slight alien quality) coupled with the intense sexuality of the lyrics and the accessibility and ingenuity of the music made for an entirely unique hybrid. Vanessa and Peter had previously released the highly innovative Head Music as The Daou, had worked with NuGroove and had had a huge club hit with a Danny Tenaglia mix of 'Surrender Yourself'. Originally released independently, Zipless led to the duo being signed to MCA and Vanessa toured with the legendary recently departed Guru and Jazzmatazz.

The follow-up album Slow to Burn saw her negotiating her way out of her own big label contract for a life on the independent margins where she could retain control. Cut to 2009, with a succession of always morphing productions exploring a weird ambient hinterland between ambient pop, jazz, soul and electronica, Vanessa returned after a hiatus, polymath-like moving into multimedia production, dance, computer coding and the release of her first self-produced album Joe Sent Me. "Joe Sent Me" was the coded phrase used to gain entry to speakeasys at the height of prohibition-era America and her latest work is both more sonically sophisticated and spacious yet also more dreamy. Each album has always had a loose kind of thematic concern but Joe Sent Me is different, creating a gently strange portal between now and then, constructing a distinctive world of its own but without sacrificing the depth of insight into what makes a heartbeat.

Perhaps it's not immediately obvious but I've always thought of your music as being quite surreal, primarily (until the current album anyway) due to your vocals. The voice is so intimately placed in the mix so that's completely inside the listener's head, and it puts me in mind of the beautiful paradox of the microphone and people like Frank Sinatra where a vocal can sit clearly on top of music that would otherwise completely obliterate it.

Vanessa Daou: When I first started singing, for me, it's this weird communication between a singer and a microphone. It's this object that is conveying your voice but the experience of being in a sound proof room singing a song, it is surreal - you're cut off from the music that's being played in your headphones and singing in to this object. Right from the offset, well, I had to work out what the relationship was with this object - the microphone - so I visualise it as an ear. I'm singing into an ear and I still carry that image with me now when I sing, never forgetting that I'm not singing out to the air but that I'm singing into somebody's ear who will be receiving my...message. This relationship, I don't know if it's a metaphysical thing that every artist goes through, but it's very profound."

Link to full interview on The Quietus

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