Published on Il Mucchio Selvaggio n. 763 / February 2018 (print and digital)
GZ: I know you still live in Berlin. Has your relationship with the city evolved? Do you feel at home now?
LV: It never really felt like home, actually. It’s been a good place for inspiration. The city is very free. There’s a lot of freedom, yeah a lot of freedom… you can do whatever you want pretty much, very relaxed. If you want to party you can party, if you want to be an artist of course you can. It’s a cool place to be inspired. I’ve been here for three and a half, four years. Maybe [I’ll stay] another year, and then maybe I’m ready to move on to the next place.
GZ: In the past you said that while working on a record, you are already thinking about the next. When talking about Deeper in interviews you said that your next one was going to sound more aggressive. Did that urge to make something more aggressive continue into the writing process of Criminal?
LV: It’s interesting that you mention that, ‘cause I’d forgot that I had predicted that. I had forgotten! When I started writing Criminal, in the whole process I was a lot angrier for sure, there’s definitely more aggression in the record. It’s probably my most angry album… still quite dark and whatever, but yeah.
GZ: Did you find yourself experimenting in new ways production-wise?
LV: Actually… nothing really changed. I still pretty much have the same system or the same formula, whatever you want to call it. Yeah, I mean in terms of the process I still write at home in my flat and then what I do is… I was flying to Italy, to Bassano del Grappa, I was flying there one or twice a month over the span of eight or nine months – going to an actual recording studio. The only thing that really changed is I think I went a little bit… slightly more high fidelity, production-wise on this one, that’s about it. For my records I started out pretty lo-fi, I think with each record I sort of want to enhance the production so… not too much, ‘cause I don’t want to go completely hi-fi, not like a pop record or something like Katy Perry, but something in between that still has some character, but that has still some value in its production.
GZ: Your work with lyrics and the voice slowly evolved over time, with your lyrics sort of stretching in length, for example. I get the feeling that on this album there’s much more of an explicitly personal element than in the past. Do you see Criminal as a culmination of this process of ‘opening up’?
LV: Definitely. With this record, especially with the lyrics… I’m definitely talking about my problems or the experiences in my life, my emotions and I’m being more specific this time. With Deeper I would say: “Ok, this song is about sadness” or depression or whatever, but it was more… vague. With this one I’m literally like: “This song is going to be about my father”, it’s very specific: “This song is going to be about drugs”, you know, bam! Yeah, I think that’s something that’s changed a lot. I have to mention that I am very proud of myself with the lyric content on this one, because that’s something I’ve never been so good at, you know? I really wanted to focus more on lyrics and writing something that’s important with words. I usually stay away with words, I’m not the best with words, so…
GZ: In tracks like Choke, The Pain and Criminal, there’s a sort of masochistic undercurrent in your lyrics and delivery. Who is this criminal figure that inspired the record and the album title?
LV: It’s definitely me. I’m definitely the criminal, which is the reason why for the first time I put myself on the cover. It’s just I wanted to show that, you know, that I’m very honest, very sincere. It’s a very sincere and very personal record: I’m calling myself criminal and I’m putting myself on the cover… I’m definitely the criminal in the whole story.
GZ: It could pass like a cliché, but I get the impression that this album was sort of therapeutic for you to make. When it was announced, you said: “guilt is my biggest demon”. I was wondering if working on Criminal made you discover something about how to understand or even manage guilt.
LV: It’s a big question. I still feel like I’m in the same situation emotionally, personally, but this record is like… desperation, you know? I’m going to confess to everything that I’m so guilty about. It’s my last step to try to get to happiness, to try to feel peaceful inside. That’s the purpose. Sometimes the pain will go away for moments, but, you know, it always comes back, it always comes back. Like you said, it is kind of a cliché thing, music being therapeutic – when I make the music it’s hard, it’s like it’s torture, but then when I’m listening [back] to a song I feel peace in those few minutes that the song lasts. That’s my attempt at least for those moments, those few minutes of each song.
GZ: The track ILL is the only instrumental on the record. Sonically, it has a peculiarly metallic feel to it. I was wondering if it has a particular place on the record for you, or if it acts more like an interlude, so to speak.
LV: It definitely has a place. I always have a few instrumental tracks on each record. From the beginning when I first started The Soft Moon, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to sing on this project or whether I just wanted the project to be completely instrumental. So it was kind of a way for me to have both, but then over time there were more songs with vocals and less songs that were instrumentals. So now with the new record, I only have one instrumental and all the others have vocals on them. Instrumental tracks always have a place for me. As I mentioned earlier, when I was saying that I am very bad with lyrics and whatever – singing… I still feel uncomfortable doing that – when I listen to music I always prefer just the sounds of music… that’s all I need to kind of express myself. Instrumental tracks are quite important. I feel like I just want to sing these days, now I have the urge to sing so I am just allowing myself to sing, otherwise the whole album would have been instrumental.
GZ: This is your first album for Sacred Bones, after a long partnership with Captured Tracks. I remember many journalists asking you about being one of the ‘darker’ acts on Captured Tracks in the past. I interviewed Caleb Braaten of Sacred Bones a month ago and we talked about the label’s sensibility, which is way more complex than just ‘dark’, but surely has this strong element of darkness going on. Do you think Sacred Bones’s rep and sensibility are in a way closer to what you do?
LV: Definitely, by far… This is the first time in my career with The Soft Moon that I feel like I’m really part of a label that really understands what I am doing, but I also understand what Caleb is doing with the label. I am a fan of the majority of what’s on the label and I have been over a long time. I think this was just a matter of time that I would have ended on Sacred Bones. ‘Cause also when I first started out with Captured Tracks, Captured Tracks and Sacred Bones used to share the same office together, it was the same room: Mike Sniper of Capture Tracks and Caleb used to sit next to each other but ran two different labels. So I always had this weird kind of connection with Caleb… even though I had signed with Captured Tracks. Caleb and I would always kind of look at each other… We were not friends but we were acquainted with each other. There was always something there and I would have this weird feeling we would end up working together. Seven or eight years later here we are.
GZ: One thing that always fascinates me, as a critic, is when comparisons between artists sort of fail from a historical perspective. I remember you saying that most of the artists you’ve been compared to, you hadn’t grown up listening to or were not direct influences at all. I was wondering how, as an artist, you understand these similarities, which are kind of coincidental, if you will.
LV: You know, the way I’ve always looked at it with these bands that I was compared to and like you said, that I wasn’t even aware about… I just think there are groups of different types of people that exist in the world. You have businessmen – these people don’t know each other but they all work in the same field and they all work in business. You get hip hop artists, they want to make hip hop or whatever, but they don’t [necessarily] know each other. It’s like for me, anyone who makes darker music or that wants to talk more about the darker realities of life and express anxiety or the darker emotions – anxiety, depression, things like that – I think we’re just similar kinds of people, all the people that are in the same world that I am in. There’s not so many ways you can make a sound… if you’re going to express depression or anxiety there’s only so many ways you can express that, there’s always going to be a certain key that you’d need to be in or a certain kind of sound, a darker sound and therefore it’s easy to compare. There’s always certain kinds of instruments that you can use to express certain emotions, and I think that’s where the comparisons come from.
GZ: Listening back to the record now, is there a song in particular that you think encapsulates the spirit of this album, on a personal level?
LV: Yes, I would say Give Something, the third track. It’s one of the simpler tracks, but for some reason it’s the most heartfelt for me, there’s something about that song, the way it came out of me and whenever I listen to it it’s hard for me not to feel super emotional. It’s the song with the most honesty and I think that might be the reason why for me that would be the track that encapsulates the whole album, even though the album is a lot more aggressive. All the other songs are a lot more aggressive, but for some reason it’s the message in the song and the vulnerability that I am expressing. For me it’s the track that says it all.
GZ: It reminded me of a relationship where… no matter how much you’re trying… nothing comes out of it…
LV: That’s exactly it, man [Laughs].