VOX: WHAT ARE MY TRUTHS?
Vōx’s piety-purging new I Am Not a God EP feels like the Resurrection. It’s a harrowing Passion Play about love-starved years and the bloodletting one does just to get by, stigmata in plain sight. It sounds like a death, production wise: ominous and low and lurching, like some fantastic creature in its final throes. Lyrically, though, it’s a testament to resilience. Her malevolent-meets-magnificent persona has grown scarier. She’s replaced her lace-whites with curdling reds, her questions with declarations, her hymn with HIM. It’s all so dramatic and so fierce. We talked about the EP, her recent extended stay in Europe, and her multidimensional approach. This interview by Tolliver.
You were just in London for like what, a month?
Vōx: For like two and a half weeks.
Vōx: It was pretty fire.
I’m sure there was a lot of Roro’s Chicken. I know you don’t eat chicken. That’s the one thing I know about London.
Vōx: There was no chicken. No chicken at all. I’d never spent that amount of time in London before. I’d always only come in, played a show and left. I fell in love with city a little bit.I played like four different shows of varying sizes. I did some things for London fashion week, met some people, did some shoots. Y’know, the general riff raff of life.
Did you have all that booked before you got there?
Vōx: A lot of it wasn’t. To be honest, London … is my city. I think I should move there.
Honestly? I’m tryna get out of here, too.
Vōx: It really was far too easy. I felt bad about how easy it was. Like, ‘Oh wow, I think London gets what I’m doing.” I only had one gig like a week and a half out—the one at Jazz Cafe. And then Gabby and I set up the show. And then everything else lined up like right before I got there. I ended up modeling in a presentation for London Fashion Week, which was very much something that happened a week before I got to London. The Muna show was amazing and that was very last-minute. I ended up playing this fancy gala for something called the Sarabande Foundation, which is a foundation that Alexander McQueen started to support all kinds of visual artists. They’ll give scholarships so artists can have free spaces to work or deeply discounted spaces to work. They’ve got fashion designers and sculptors, metal workers, painters—like every medium is represented. So they did a fundraising thing and I got to sing a few songs at it, which is wild.
Damn. How are they contacting you? I’m just getting intel.
Vōx: So that one, someone submitted for that. Someone found me and submitted me for that, and then my agent kind of arranged it at the last minute. Yeah—so when I was in Europe I got a European agent. It was so cool!
Whenever I go anywhere it’s like, I know that I should work ahead of time and reach out, but I just don’t.
Vōx: You’re not into the planning thing.
But then you’re there and it’s like, ‘Well, I met you, I met you, I met you.’ It’s like a little adventure.
Vōx: Basically every single day of the two and a half weeks was full of stuff, except for the last two days where I got quite ill. My body was like, ‘You have to stop now.’ So it made me stop.
Honestly to go two and a half weeks before you get there … that’s pretty good.
Vōx: I know! It’s because I’m vegan, I’m sure of it.
Could’ve been like five days. I feel like I’ve got a good five days in me.
Vōx: It was a lot of stuff every single day. And London is so spread out. So it was hours and hours of just training and bussing and ubering.
Where I wanna live is Berlin.Everyday I’m like, ‘I should just go!’
Vōx: I love Berlin.I spent a couple weeks there at the very beginning of the whole adventure, the whole shebang. The beginning of July. It was awesome.I love Berlin. It’s got a good energy. I’m not a late night, nightlife person at all. I’m way too introverted, and I have way too much social anxiety for that shit.But I like the energy in the city where if you’re doing your weird introverted nighttime thing where you’re just up until 4 AM, you look out your window and a bunch of other people are also up at 4 AM. There’s just a good energy to the city.
It doesn’t feel like that here.
Vōx: Yeah, no. People are like, ‘Gotta go to bed at midnight. Gotta get my sleep and have my shake in the morning.’
I dunno—it’s nice. We’re both from the midwest. Coming from Chicago it felt more like an … alcoholic energy.
Vōx: Minneapolis as well.
Right? Was your process different in Minneapolis? Were you even writing in Minneapolis?
Vōx: I mean … I was writing in Minneapolis but dang. It was so long ago. I had no idea what I was doing. I was an amoeba.
You were like playing acoustic guitar.
Vōx: I was playing piano. I was playing keys. That was my whole project. Go onstage with my keyboard and play sad songs while looking down at it cuz I was too shy to look out at the audience.
Honestly—who wants to look out, though?
Vōx: I don’t know—obviously there are other factors that have made me more able to perform a real show now. But it’s so hard to be yourself onstage. And it’s not that Vox is not me. But there’s a barrier of a bigger purpose that comes from having a character. You decide who you want to mold that to be. Those are the best parts of me that I want to share with people. And also just like … the ones that make the most sense. So not even the best parts but like, ‘Let’s get vulnerable and talk about deep anxiety and depression because if I talk about that, that could help someone else.’ So there’s more purpose to it than Sarah going onstage with her keyboard just like, ‘Ah, I’m so fucking shy!’
I see a link between ‘I’ve Never Been So Happy to Be Bleeding,’ and ‘I Still Care.’ I feel like ‘I Still Care’ is the person wanting to be here. And ‘I’ve Never Been So Happy to Be Bleeding’ feels like an arrival. Is that how you perceive it?
Vōx: Definitely. It’s so true. I’ve never thought about that, though. I think I’ve definitely in the past two years dove deeply into what unconditional love means and not really experiencing it until adulthood and what that means, and how can I show that to myself and what that means. That’s like my life theme right now. How can I figure out what that’s about?
I feel like so much of this feels connected—from the imagery of the first EP to the latest releases. Are you like charting this out?
Vōx: [laughs] No! At this point from the first EP to now it’s just happening. I’m a Capricorn so I’m always approaching every EP that I’m working on as a whole, as a story and I’m looking at it oftentimes before I start writing anything like, ‘What are my truths? What do I want to tell people? What could possibly help other people? What are the stories that make the most sense in the moment?’
Are you always writing? Is there a vault?
Vōx: I’m not always writing. I’m not the most prolific writer. I think because vulnerability still is such a new thing to me, music growing up was the only way that I expressed any emotion ever, and only recently now am I starting to express emotions as a human [laughs]. Which is very hard. So I think that forcing myself into that space of writing and that really vulnerable place is still the biggest challenge as a musician to me. It’s always worthwhile but it’s not easy.
Whenever I need to get to a certain place I listen to Katy Perry’s ‘Roar.’
Vōx: [laughs] Oh my God.
Just to shake it all up. Is there something you do? Like … jogging? Whatever people do.
Vōx: I wish I jogged. That would be very healthy.
I don’t know what people do.
Vōx: Sometimes it helps to smoke a little weed. Oftentimes it’s just forcing yourself to do it even if it’s uncomfortable. The more it’s a routine, like writing every day at the same time … that’s so much better for me. Cuz a lot of it has to be terrible. A lot of the stuff you write has to be horrible drivel that you’d never want anyone to see. You’re like pulling out pages and burning them so they don’t release them post mortem. So it’s important to have that routine. Otherwise I could go months without writing. I’d rather make some visuals or work on some business. Anything else. Socialize, whatever.
Doing other things feels so much more exciting, right? A little acting gig here, fashion and whatnot. It seems like from the first EP, there was a very clear image, and now there’s a similar construction but like, redder.
Vōx: [laughs] Definitely redder. It’s true.
Is that deliberate? It’s all very religious, right? Is that intentional?
Vōx: Yes. I didn’t really know until pretty recently why I was so focused on religion. Like this EP is the first EP where I understand moreso what I’m doing. A lot of the visual stuff for me was all gut reaction, so I would choose what I wanted to do just based on how I felt about it. It wasn’t really that I was doing it purposefully like, ‘I know what this imagery means and why I feel it.’ People would ask and I’d have to go back after the fact and be like, ‘Well why did I do this?’ But now I’m much more intentional. The cover is me sitting on a church stage on a folding chair in my full costume. All of the songs I wrote for this EP tie back to the moment I’m trying to recreate in that image, which was Confirmation for me in the Lutheran church. I was like 13. It was that time when everyone was basically plucking all of their eyebrows out, so I didn’t have any eyebrows. My hair was actually pretty similar to this, to be honest. It was like the moment where I really fell deep into anxiety and feeling like I didn’t belong and like I was a fraud. I can tie back so many of my problems as an adult to these sorts of moments in the church. So I wanted to recreate that moment and do it in a way where I’m reclaiming that space as who I am now and being like, I do belong here.
That’s of course very heavy.
Vōx: There’s a lot more purpose to what I’m doing imagery-wise now. The more purpose you put into something, the more it makes sense.
So you’re saying you want to feel like your 13-year-old self belonged in the church at that moment?
Vōx: Or just on this planet. I think it stems so much deeper than that. I just didn’t feel any self-worth at all, or any love from anything that was happening around that time. So now all these songs where I’m coming to terms with being a human and being imperfect … that’s all from that moment, basically.
I know recently you started working with a new label. Tell me about it, what’s exciting about them?
Vōx: They’re Canadian. [laughs]
Vōx: They feel like Minnesotans in that way. They’re just so supportive. I knew they were the right fit just based on how they saw the project, which was exactly how I saw the project. And the potential that they saw was where I saw it going. It was very seamless. Cuz I had already started releasing the EP when they came on board. They just were like, ‘We see that this is moving and we want to leap on to this moving vehicle and join you.’ And it’s been really special.
Are there plans to do an album with them?
Vōx: There are plans to do another EP. Probably early spring. And then who knows? Probably an album after that. Let’s be honest, it’s time right? It’s been a lot of years.
I feel like I’m never gonna put out an album. I’m not gonna do it.
Vōx: Who listens to albums?
It’s just gonna be singles, singles, singles, until I’m dead.
Vōx: I feel like I’ll make an album when I have the space to do that. It’s so hard to be an up and coming artist, especially a musician. Obviously nothing pays—we’re all broke as fuck. So I just couldn’t imagine taking off a year to make an album, which is what I feel I would need to make it conceptually what I would want.
Vōx: So I think once I have that space and the music industry says, ‘We support you enough to do that.’ … then I’m gonna make an album for sure. But it’s gonna take me a while to do it.