Il Neige: I love weird noises and happy songs that sound sad
|Photo by Daniel Claessens|
Before their release show at Honey on Sunday, Gimme Noise spoke with Vanessa about how her past played such a big role on the new album.
Band Members: Vanessa Walrath, James Duke, Corwin Johnson, Joe Riley, Jeanie Riley
Gimme Noise: What does the name Il Neige mean?
Vanessa Walrath: It means "it's snowing" or "it snows" in French.
Gimme Noise: How do you feel your family's musical background has influenced your music? Did anyone ever discourage or encourage you to pursue music as a musical career?
Vanessa Walrath: My music is absolutely influenced by my family's musical background, but maybe not in the way I guess you could assume because my dad is a music professor now. I was never forced to pursue music -- well, other than piano lessons...okay, so maybe a bit forced -- but it was always available to me. One of my first memories as a kid is playing with my dad's synthesizer in the basement and writing sad songs with my sister. We were so dramatic! So, if that hadn't been available in the basement for us to play with, maybe I wouldn't have expressed myself that way? I can't say.
Everyone in my family sings. We frequently sing grace before meals. My mom is always singing when she's at home, and my grandparents, also singers, have been influential in that, too. Everyone on that side of the family sings, too -- cousins, aunts, uncles. We sing four-part harmony for "grace" before extended family meals. I used to assume that was normal.
But given that history, my parents were actually sort of hands off with music. I never felt pressured to pursue it, and in fact, when I finally started taking voice lessons in high school and college, they remained very nonchalant about the whole thing to such a degree that I wondered if I maybe didn't have a good voice, and they just felt like they couldn't tell me.
Gimme Noise: What did you do before Il Neige, and how would you define your current music?
Vanessa Walrath: I was in a band with Danielle Lewis (from the Chord and the Fawn) before she and her cousin started the Chord and the Fawn. Our band only lasted, maybe a year? It was called My Oh My, but along a similar vein, it was pretty, whimsical pop. Vocals were central to that band; Dani and I had a lot of fun with harmonies, and I played random percussive instruments -- glockenspiel, tambourine, shaker.
While I still categorize my music in the "indie pop" category, my style is a bit darker around the edges. I tend to write melancholy lyrics, and I love weird noises and happy songs that sound sad.
Gimme Noise: You have a song called "Darkside." What is the song about?
Vanessa Walrath: "Darkside" is about a lot of things, but I think the thing that motivated the writing of the song was a bit of a spiritual crisis.
I've struggled with depression for the last eight plus years, and as a culture, religious or not, I think we see that as a weakness. But rather than be ashamed of that, somehow I started reading this tiny little book called Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. Parker Palmer is a Quaker author and speaker who went through a profoundly debilitating depression, and through processing that realized a lot about himself and his faith. My take-home from that book was the sense that rather than be ashamed of depression, I needed to give it a voice. I don't know why, but I had this sense that through doing so, I would also somehow be giving the life in me a voice, too.
It's interesting because this may be one of the first songs where I started to use different sounds in my writing process -- bolder than '80s electronic piano stuff. That Hammond B organ echoes a bit of that sort of typically religious sound, but with an overtone of gospel or blues, which is maybe the perfect fit for the lyrics. It also led to me approaching this song different vocally, straying from the soft, breathy pop stuff and moving more toward something a little bit bolder and sure of itself. It felt really good and really honest.
Gimme Noise: How do you feel your progress with depression flavored this album?
Vanessa Walrath: My progress with my own depression has given me a sense of profound gratitude for little moments that are really beautiful in life and also a sense that, on the days I can choose, I'm going to choose hope. Some of the songs reflect that, for sure. "Invisible," for example. I have a line, "There's times I feel invisible...but I will not eat the darkness." "Small Miracle" was inspired by one conversation with a friend when it was as though time stood still, and I was really overwhelmed by the miracle of friendship and, it sounds cliche, but how unique each of us really is.
But I think mainly it's given me a sense that, weird or just plain normal pop, I need to express what I need to express, and it's led me to continue exploring new sounds -- which I hope to keep doing as I write for my full-length album this winter.
Gimme Noise: How do you handle depression these days? Is it something you ever get over?
Vanessa Walrath: I don't think I have the authority to say whether or not people ever fully recover from depression, but for me, I went through a time when I could barely get out of bed in the morning, and then things shifted and I felt like I could.
Parker Palmer uses the analogy of depression as the last-ditch act of a caring friend who's been trying to get you to be honest with yourself for years, but whom you've ignored. In my case, I think this was true, and depression really called me to re-evaluate how I had been viewing myself and my life.
Part of that process for me is trying to make friends with my true self. Rather than listening to all the voices in my head about what my life should or could look like, I'm trying to make small choices toward the kind of life that resonates with my heart. Music is part of that pursuit. I've written songs all my life, and there's all kinds of insecurities inherent in the creative process, but, hey, they may be cheezy, I may not be able to sing like Adele or the real divas of our time, but I'm going to keep writing and singing because it's part of the truest part of who I believe God has made me to be.
Gimme Noise: What was the story you wanted to tell with the album?
Vanessa Walrath: I don't know if I intentionally set out to tell a story with this album, but the theme that weaves through it is this journey through darkness to light and hope.
Gimme Noise: Any favorite tracks?
Vanessa Walrath: I actually really like "Be Near." This is one of those songs that just sort of popped up in my mind one day when I was driving, and I pulled over and sang it to my phone's voice recorder. I feel like there's something a bit old about it, like I wonder how many other people have said or sung similar things. It has a folk flavor, in the sense of folk being the music that is native to a culture, and it feels earthy but with a touch of electronic/synth pop. I really like how it turned out in the recording. Thanks, Knol.
Gimme Noise: What can we expect to see at the album release show?
Vanessa Walrath: You can expect to see my current band (different from the band I recorded with), and me, and maybe some costumes. I hope to share a little of the light and hope stuff that I have experienced with my audience. My acting professor in college was adamant about "communing with your audience," and that performance is an opportunity for connecting with people and engaging in this weird, temporal community. I believe that; I try to perform that way, so come be part of the community for a night. Also, you could take home a balloon.
Il Neige will release their self-titled album at Honey on Sunday, October 13, 2013 with Coax from Chuckanut and Ottoman Empire Hour.
AA, $5, 8:30 pm