By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Vhvl
Veronica Lauren has a dark side. The Harlem-based beat-maker (also known as Vhvl) is the first one to admit it. You can hear it thrumming beneath the atmospheric lull of her songs, often swirling in minor key tonalities and loops that seem capable of casting shadows of their own. But there is an undeniable beauty too, an undercurrent of serenity that belies the music’s emotional storms. It’s music you can lose yourself to; in meditation, in memories, in motion. She released a collaboration with Ras G earlier this year, a cassette titled Seat of the Soul, featuring original material evenly divided between the artists and spanning both sides. BTR catches up with Vhvl to talk about the inspiration behind her music, and how to triumph in the face of despair.
What’s your creative process like? Do you find yourself returning to a recurring headspace, or is it something more sporadic?
I have to be affected by something–it’s really hard to explain. Music is ritualistic, and you find yourself going through cycles, but I have to be emotionally affected. It’s usually negative (laughs). I’m a water sign. It has to be negative, but transmutive to chaotic. The inspiration usually comes from a pretty dark place before it can be turned to light.
How do you make it lighter?
I’m pretty cerebral, and I find myself experiencing rebirths of emotion. There’s a big thing in our culture with colloquial death and rebirth; we’re always falling apart and holding something together. In order for me to make something audible, I have to have moments where I don’t make any sense. The music is what helps make sense.
How about some of your biggest creative influences—both musically and otherwise?
Susumu Yokota is definitely one of my favorites ever. I try not to listen to anything inside the realm of what I make. To be honest I’m not really sure what influences what I make. Being out in the world influences me. I don’t want to listen to stuff in the same genre as me, to have some sort of subconscious association or process stick to the songs. If I want to make something I’ll go to the mountain, listen to the water, the birds and the wind. I’m pulled to what I feel out there. I don’t want to be associated with someone else’s emotions. It has to be reflective of me.
You’re from Harlem, how do you get that natural influence in such an urban environment?
New York City makes me crazy. The speed of it drives me nuts. Being in Harlem, I’m lucky that it’s easy to get out of the city on the Metro North, so I leave. Very frequently I leave. There’s a necessary balance between calm and the daily riot.
Do you ever envision yourself leaving the city permanently?
I actually think about it a lot, but I can’t make up my mind. The flexibility of the city is good, and I don’t know how to drive so that’s another factor. I have no clue. I haven’t gone past a four to six hour radius of here in almost a decade. I can’t think about permanently going anywhere until I finish school.
I’ve noticed that the majority of your songs are missing vowels. Was that a conscious effort, and if so why?
It’s making me want to use vowels now (laughs). People are starting to comment too much on it, and it’s becoming too much of a thing. The random letters started out from a phase I was going through. I had a really good friend, and when we were upset with one another we wouldn’t use vowels in our written exchanges. It helped establish distance and left room for interpretation. One of us would receive a message, and we’d have to stop and ask, “What do you mean?” It leads your mind to wander.
I figured it was a great way to pay homage, but also to maintain that sense of distance. I’m very shy; I keep my hair in my face when I play live. Love is so dangerous. I’m very sensitive. I think also part of it has to do with me being a woman. But I’m not angry at the world.
Love is dangerous?
Every song that I’ve ever made is about a guy. There might be a few that aren’t, but usually that’s the case. I haven’t had the best experiences when it comes to relationships. There was one good one and a lot of creative things came from that, but that was more of the exception. You can be shattered and make your best work, and feel good and not be able to do that. My experience is that danger plays a part in it.
So if you were in a great relationship you’d make bad music?
I have enough psychologically to draw from for the rest of my life. I can always revisit them, it’s hard to forget. In healthy situations my music is in a major key, over 100bpm, shouting, “hey guys, I’m not dead!” (Laughs) It sucks. I can revisit some spiritual stuff, when it’s been healthier, but I’m just not that kind of person. It’s music nobody is ever going to hear.
Album artwork for Seat of the Soul
Earlier this year you released a split cassette album with Ras G called Seat of the Soul. What was that collaboration like?
That was really hard. There are three versions of my side. The other two versions only two or three people have heard. That was one of my darkest moments in adult life. I was a mess when Ras hit me up. I sat there and literally made 45 minutes worth of music and put these things down. A lot of what people hear is cut out of something where there is 60 minutes more of.
I didn’t hear Ras’ side before it came out; I didn’t want to be affected too much beforehand. I felt really grateful and shocked that one of my favorite artists would contact me. I kept second guessing myself, so Ras would say make another one, and I was finally like “I like this one.” Him and Matthew really believed in me. When they asked me I didn’t think I would be able to.
What was particularly dark about this period, if you don’t mind me asking?
Everything. This year has been the darkest, but I’ve made it through. There was a lot of depression I was battling. There were a few good days, but thinking back I was literally walking around relying only on faith and hope that things would stop. Everything fell apart in every aspect–I felt completely defeated and crushed. I had no air. I didn’t know what it was, I couldn’t rationalize it. I felt like anything I tried would be horrible, that it would just burn, because everything else was at a dead end. I was still trying to get out, slowly moving forward and making music.
What words of advice would you give to artists battling depression?
Don’t fall deeper in the ditch. If you’re in it, well that’s fine. Things are rooted in soil: trees, plants–they come up and branch out. Don’t get stuck between the subterranean and being on earth. Make sure you remember to breathe. Some people don’t come out of it, but the only way out is to want to not to be stuck. Everything is in a constant state of change, and it’s meant to be that way. If something bad happens, you’ll never know if it can happen again. You need to believe the bad things will stop, even if something bad does happen it won’t hit as hard. But don’t lose your level of sensitivity, keep awareness but change perspective. It gets hard for everyone, but anyone can make it through, you need to believe you have something to give the world. You need to keep exploring, you’ll find something hidden you didn’t know you had.