By Paul Quinn
Last week, I had the chance to virtually hang out with Vivian McConnell and talk about her excellent new record: Make a Shrine or Burn It.
The new album out Friday, how are you feeling about it?
I feel very excited. I haven’t been able to sleep very well. I wake up in the morning and pretty early earlier than normal and I just start the daily tasks. There’s a lot of loose ends to tie up and a lot of just kind of pacing around my house. But, I’m really excited. It’s been a long time coming and I can’t believe it’s already may and obviously everything’s shifted with the pandemic, but I’m, I’m still feeling really excited about it.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve had with this record?
I think this record felt in a way, a lot easier than the first record Bathing Peach. It was more intentional and more direct. I had a vision and an idea. I mean, some of it still completely shifted with the recording process. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to make a record that was a lot bolder and, I guess maybe more of a statement record than Bathing Peach. I think there’s always the challenges of releasing a record: like getting all of it together, planning the tour, getting logistics. The logistical side is always difficult. I’ve already put out a bunch of records, it just kind of felt like in a way a clockwork, and I was working with a small label and a booking agent this time around, which was honestly amazing, even though the tour has been canceled or postponed or re being rebooked.
It’s kind of a bummer that the whole tour and everything was postponed with everything going on but looking forward to the rescheduled dates for sure.
Yeah, I mean, I think that it’s almost a blessing in disguise. And I know that this is kind of a common talking point, but in the music industry you’re always going. Especially as like an independent musician. Even though I am working with a label, I still do most of all my own emailing and a lot of the business side. It just felt like I could never turn off from that. And in a way it’s kind of nice to get a break and start to remember what I like about music. It’s looking like it’s to be rescheduled till or for October, but fingers crossed. We’ll see about that.
Fingers crossed and everything starts returning to normal and the tour picks back up and then you get to go play all these wonderful new songs to fans. What are you looking for to most when that all happens?
I think on the positive side, hopefully more people will have time to listen to the record and really absorb the songs, make connections, and build relationships with the songs. So I think just going out and playing the songs to an audience who has hopefully heard the record, and maybe they’ve listened to the record multiple times. I think that’s going to be really exciting and I’m just excited to be in venue spaces again and I feel like everybody’s going to be really excited to go out and hear live music.
You collaborated with a lot of other musicians, especially local Chicago musicians on the record. How did those collaborations influence the sound of the record?
They are super. I have this band that I’ve been playing with, I guess since my first record came out, on and off. The core band is just my drummer, Nate Friedman, the bass is Mike Harmen and keyboard player is my friend Dan Pierson who also mastered the record. They’ve kind of been the core and they come from the jazz scene in Chicago. And so I think that they just add this really musical touch to everything. And a lot of those players introduced me to the saxophone player (Wills Mckenna). And sax was something that I never really, I honestly like didn’t like saxophone for a while, but I think my association with the saxophone was like smooth jazz or elevator music when I was a kid. I was listening to a lot of Cate le Bon and saxophone just became something that I just started to hear differently. Wills added so much with his sax playing. On this record, I let some more musical ideas be. For example, my keyboard player, at the end of Horse on Fire, I just had him do two crazy solos and that was something that I feel like I would have never done before. And so it’s fun. You could just hear little bits of my band’s personality come out on this record a little bit more. Also, one more important mention is Macy Stewart doing all the string arrangements, which she added so much and she had such a mood. It was so fun to collaborate with everybody on this record.
I feel like the songwriting from the last record to the singles that you’ve released so far on this one has really improved. And I just think you’re just growing as an artist. How has the process changed in your songwriting from Bathing Peach to Make a Shrine or Burn It?
My last record, a lot of those songs were written over a larger span of time. think that they’re fine songs and they’re good and they hold their own. But I think I was not really sure what I wanted V.V. Lightbody to sound like, even though I think that’s always changing and I don’t think that artists should necessarily put themselves in a box. With the new songs I had a couple of mantras or ideas that I wanted them, how of how I wanted them to be. One of them is I wanted more direct lyrics. Because I think that writing metaphorically is beautiful. And I, some of my favorite songwriters are just like, I have no idea what they’re singing about, but I’m like “cool”.
I just really wanted to be more direct and I find that I’m relating more with songwriters who are speaking a little more bluntly. Julia Jacklin is a huge inspiration. I love that she’s saying really simple things. But in ways that are just like, Oh, I’ve never thought about it that way, but I can totally relate to that.A huge growth for me is just being able to put things a little more simply and more directly. And also sonically I wanted things to be a little more, not necessarily bigger, but like tighter and more composed. And I did most of the arranging on the record as far as like what goes here and I produced the whole record. I think those are like kind of the main differences is just sonically.
Social distancing has really opened up more time for artists to create. Have you been working on anything?
Honestly, no. I mean, I’ve been playing music a lot, which has been great, but I honestly just been learning covers. Sometimes I’ll jam and I’ll maybe write a little bit. It’s a really fun activity and it also makes me a better musician and it makes me realize like; I love music again. I love to just play and sing. I haven’t really been writing, but I think that I’ve been getting the itch a little bit more and I just got my little home studio set up.
I think the pizza collaboration you’re doing with the record is a really fun way to promote it and also to show support to a local business. How did that whole promotional process come to be?
So Middlebrow is one of my favorite spots in Chicago. I go there a lot. It’s a really nice place to just be like: “Hey, let’s grab a pizza”. Or like they have awesome beer: they’re a brewery also. And I was there one day, and I started talking with the owner, Pete, about, doing an album listening party there. And so, there was actually going to be a physical event. And so, then when everything hit the fan, he emailed and was like, “okay, what do we do? Should we do a beer? Should we do a pizza?” We didn’t have time to do the beer, but we decided on the pizza. So, it was cool cause it was actually going to be a in person event and now it’s still an event and I’m so excited for it.
What is the best setting to listen to Make a Shrine or Burn It?
Ooh, I would say like walking with headphones. I think for me that’s how I like to listen to music. I think it’s a pretty self-reflective record. And I think if people are just like walking around and listening, listening on headphones, like a close listen with headphones, I think that is the best way to do it. I think that people can focus more when they’re when they’re walking around.
Make a Shrine or Burn It is out now on Acrophase Records.