Following the release of her fantastic new album, Zumbo Waxes, we spoke to gothic-folk artist, Vanessa Anne Redd about 17th century sculptors, recording the old-fashioned way, and the Italian city of Florence.
The sculptor, Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, inspired your new album, Zumbo Waxes. How and why did he and his work inspire this album and in what way can we hear that inspiration on this record?
I saw his still life waxworks in a crazy museum in Florence called La Specola. I kept thinking about the feeling in the room, the look of his macabre works in glass cases, and got obsessed by the sound of the phrase ‘Zumbo Waxes’. If anything’s going to be life affirming, it’s looking at waxwork bodies in states of decomposition from the Plague! Songwriting’s a combination of what flows in your psyche at the time, and he seemed to be there in the background all the time. You can hear it in the distortions, the tape effects, in the way it was recorded straight to tape, the songs becoming their own still lives. It’s also in the being happy to be alive and fragility of life feelings that run through it all. When you listen to the record with the accompanying film the idea of altered states of being become more obvious too. I made a series of visual still lives to go with each song in its own glass case.
Some of the works of Gaetano Giulio Zumbo depicted the corruption of the body after death. Given the rate at which the human race consumes corrupting materials today – be it alcohol, fast food, drugs, cigarettes, or even social media – do you think Gaetano would be equally as inspired if he was a sculptor today?
I’m sure he’d make some enormous decomposing heap of old TVs, phones, fast food and all kinds of 21st century waste then cover it in melting wax. Then put it in a glass case.
‘Nightbirds’ is an ode to escapism. How do you personally achieve escapism?
Ah watching films, preferably on a plane going somewhere hot.
What is your favourite track on the album and why?
Aw you can’t say that, it’s like saying which is your favourite child!
How did being in Florence, Italy lead to the conception of the album?
I got a list of places to go in Florence from a friend of a friend who had lived there, an artist, and top of the list was that fantastic museum La Specola. Chance is a strange thing.
The album was recorded live and straight to tape in Gizzard Analogue Studio, London. What do you believe you achieve from recording in this way, compared to recording digitally, and why did you decide to record in this way?
When you record onto analogue tape, it’s a snapshot of the moment. It’s a challenge as you have to create something in its entirety, more like playing live and you have to learn to live with yourself even more strongly which is always a good thing. If I’d gone in the next day the record would’ve been different. Plus I read somewhere that they played analogue recordings to birds versus digital ones and the birds chirped back at the analogue ones.
How does Zumbo Waxes differ from your debut record and did you learn anything between records that altered the way you approached the writing and recording process of your second album?
I think I understand the idea of a creative process more. If you‘re recording analogue you really need to play the songs through a lot to craft them before you go into the studio. So, there was a lot of rehearsal time and making recordings on the phone, it’s a real process of uncovering what’s the best way for the song to go as there are so many options. Also I learnt some more about writing the string and brass arrangements that are on the record. I decided to mix and record this record in the analogue studio this time too, to get the old style space echoes, tape effects and plate reverbs you can’t get in the same way when you mix digitally on the computer. For example, a plate reverb is a massive piece of equipment that is housed in its own room and Ed at Gizzard has one in the loft.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you composed the soundtrack for the short film, Journey Men. Is this something you would like to do more of and how would you say the process of writing music for yourself as a soloist differs from the process of writing music for film?
The track came first and the film was inspired by the track. It was wonderful to see what Vee Vimolmal did with that track. Her film was so beautiful, a great collaboration of seeing the two mediums work together to create something new. Yes, I would love to do more of this – you get stimulated by visual images in certain ways that can produce something you would never have come up with without them. For the Zumbo Waxes film I created with Cassandra Tyler, we made separate worlds that I jump into for each track and it was fascinating seeing the musical and visual ideas become their own new colourful worlds portraying feelings and emotions visually in a way you can’t do musically.
The album is said to, in places, sound and feel inspired by David Bowie, Regina Spector, Scott Walker, PJ Harvey and many more. But who really inspires you as a person and as a musician?
Patti Smith’s a good example of who inspires me, she’s a total Shaman.
You’ve also created a film to accompany the album. How will this enhance the listener’s experience of the album or what are you hoping the listener obtains from consuming the record and visuals as a single entity?
I hope it’ll be like having Synaesthesia, when you see colours when you listen to music and the other way round. I hope the senses will be merged in some way. You get to see what it’s really like in my brain.
What are your plans for the remainder of the year?
I’ve recorded most of album three, so I’ll be working on finishing that, a Spring tour in Germany and I’ll make some more films too as I’m a sucker for punishment.
Zumbo Waxes it out now via Sharp Attack Records.
Catch Vanessa live at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London on 7th Feb.
Featured image by Paul Dixon.