We always try and figure out what’s going on in someone’s head and you just never know. Being more sympathetic towards people and how they are feeling would do a lot of good
I first heard Velvet Bloom at the Listen Up music charity songwriting event we were both performing at, and was captured by Maddy’s emotion-filled, soulful voice. We met up at Aunty Pegs in Collingwood- a black-coffee bar with the afternoon sun pouring in
So I’ve been listening to all of your tracks, you’ve released quite a lot just in this year?
Yeah, yeah we have! We had an EP- the one that’s on Spotify is a re-release of an EP I released ages ago- like just out of high school when I just released it on Bandcamp. Didn’t really know much about the industry, so I went overseas for 5 months. When I came back I started playing music, like actually playing it. The first release after that was last year, and then we released another single at the end of last year, and then yeah we just did the re-release, a live session, one more single, and then we’re about to release another single!
The train does not stop! So is that live one ‘Isobel’s song’ at Box Hill? That track is really special
Thank you! I connected to it a lot- I didn’t think it would have the reception that it’s been given. When I wrote it I was living in a share house with these three other girls who had just broken up with their boyfriends, and I had just broken up with my boyfriend. It just became this really feminine, loving household, we were all so supportive of each other- I’m still best friends with those girls, we just don’t all live in the same space anymore- we’re all happy now, but at the time it was like ‘man, boys suck!’ and we were all getting hurt , ‘there’s no point to it’, all that stuff. I wrote ‘Isobel’s Song’ after a really bad experience I had with someone who is still a friend of mine- we dabbled in almost-being-in-a-relationship-but-not-really, and after I broke up with my boyfriend. It was just this very drawn out thing that never eventuated, and he wasn’t very good at being a significant other. Then I wrote that song as a I’m so done with this! And as soon as I let go of that I feel like my life just got so much better
Sometimes that can be the best and only way to even commemorate a relationship like that, especially when it’s so long and drawn out and it ends without any closure, it can be so frustrating
Especially when the whole experience is so extended
But, good music can come out of it!
I saw the video that recently came out, so good! Was that fun to organise?
It was soo much fun to organise! Maggie and I had been talking about that idea for months, it’s kind of been in the works since before the song was released. It was a really really long process because it started to become more of a collaborative piece, it ended up being incredible and exactly what we both wanted, we were so stoked
Yeah! Do you find that you have a vision for film as well as music?
Yeah usually! Whenever I write a song I think ‘oh this will be a sick video’. That being said, I haven’t got a vision for the next song going to be released so I might wait for a bit
It’s nice to know what direction you want to be heading before trying to force it
I wanna talk about ‘Melt’ it’s such a beautiful song, especially with the reverse synth at the beginning with your voice kind of floating above it, was that the initial vision or did it develop into that?
Ummm it was an experimental song that I had written about my dad passing away. It’s not the style of music I’m into, but I wanted to experiment with it- when I first started music I didn’t really have a vision for where I wanted to go or what style I wanted. When I made that first EP with ‘Melt’, ‘Bitter Sweet’ and ‘Capture’, it was kind of folk, hip-hop, and jazz stuff. And ‘Melt’ kind of became a bit more electronic. They’re all pretty contrasting songs on that EP, but it was kind of for me to figure out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, and how I could incorporate elements of each into the next thing I was going to do
‘Melt’ I just played it on piano and just figured it all out, and figured out mainly the melody and vocal structure of the song. I used to volunteer at a studio, and the guy there said he could help me produce it, so he helped me put it together. The instrumentation developed more after that
For those three on the EP, I think it’s really nice that they have all different genres and styles, I think sometimes we can box ourselves into one style
I completely agree
Especially if you like a lot of different kinds of music. Musicians generally listen and consume a lot of different music and if you ask someone ‘what’s your favourite genre’, that question is almost impossible to answer. And then we expect that we’re able to put those boundaries on our own music and limit ourselves to one genre box
I agree, I think it restricts you when you say ‘I do this!’ when really you do this and this and this. That’s why I call the ‘band’ Velvet Bloom the Vito Collective, and when it’s me on my own it’s Velvet Bloom. When I’m solo it allows me to change up what I’m doing if I want to! Sometimes its hip-hop, sometimes it has folky undertones- having it as more of a collective means I don’t really brand myself as one style
I think the word ‘project’ is so freeing too, it doesn’t feel so locked into a style you have to commit to for the rest of your life
Exactly, and that’s why whenever someone asks me what we are for a bio or something, I say we’re a Melbourne-based music project, it feels more simple
Yeah it’s what it is! And if you want to have a new name and do a different thing then you can, there’s no rules!
Yeah, and I think it’s important to not to restrict yourself
And you don’t want to make your music something you don’t actually want it to be just to stick within the confines that you don’t even want to uphold anymore
I think as a young person and a creative, you’re always going to be evolving. It limits your growth to say you only do this, as a person and a musician
The person you are now as a twenty-something, is different to the person you’ll be in 10 or 20 years
So ‘Bitter Sweet’ feels like a really smooth song, it just sits really well, but the content isn’t the same is it?
Yeah when I wrote it I didn’t want it to be this depressing song. I was in a pretty shit relationship- so much unnecessary drama, and the song is about the decision to move on from it. But if you make it negative, then you’re gonna feel negative when you sing it. With ‘Isobel’s Song’, it sounds moody and sad, but when I sing it I can scream it out!
This is how I feel!
Yeah! But with ‘Bitter Sweet’, I wanted it to be a bit more like I’m moving on and it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a decision
It’s kind of playful as well, the song is kinda smooth and easy going but the lyrics are about how complicated things can be when you end them. It’s kind of nice that they don’t really represent each other. I think you’re voice across a lot of your song is really representative of what parts have big emotions behind them- you sing with a lot more story-telling character than someone who might be looking for a more consistent tone through their song. You can yell at some words, and it’s such a good way to help a song develop
It really helps you execute the vision I think
It’s more fun to sing as well! When you’re playing guitar with your music, I’m sure you find that it helps you kind of direct the band better too?
Occasionally I don’t play guitar which is also fun. I feel like I can sometimes get a bit scared when I don’t have an instrument between me and the crowd, I feel like I’m learning that it’s also okay to not have something there. I think it’s more of a safety thing. Even just learning what to do with your hands like- I’m not a dancer or anything
Do you find it’s something you have to think about a lot when you perform without a guitar?
I think I’ve eased myself into it a lot more these days. At the start I was kind of like what do I do with my hands!
Just keep looking at the band!!! Talk to the band!!
Yeah! But you kind of want to have that connection with the crowd, and it’s easier for them to be able to connect with you when you don’t have this wall between you if that’s what you’re using it for. I think I’ve definitely eased into it
It was nice though seeing you play guitar the other night, it felt really connected with the band especially in the guitar solo when you’re not singing anymore. I find I can feel kind of awkward in an instrument solo
Yeah that’s true. I think it’s really good to give your band a chance to have their limelight as well. For Alex (the guitarist) he does a lot for the band, especially with chord writing- I write everything and bring it to him and he’s like ‘maybe just change it a little!’ and it’s so helpful
It’s great that you have him for that direction, the chords in your songs are really fun and interesting. I think ‘You’ especially had great chords, a great change in the sections
Yeah that was the first song I wrote with barre chords, I used to just do folky kind of music, but I think that song definitely evolved our sound. From ‘You’ onwards it felt like a bit of a progression
I think a lot of songwriters start from a folk background, maybe because it’s because a lot of writers start with strumming the guitar
Yeah, I think starting with folk does help with a story telling element- I don’t regret starting like that because I’ve always written story like lyrics with that folky undertone, that’s the thing that people resonate with. I think if you just start with jazz then it can lose a connection sometimes- there’s definitely a crowd of people who resonate with that which is great, but it doesn’t reach the amount it neccesarily could if it crossed over a bit. Someone like Amy Winehouse is jazz/pop, it crosses over and people can resonate with her and what she’s saying
And when you allow yourself to experiment with a few styles you can figure out what elements you want to include in your sound. You want to represent your stories as best you can
And ‘Capture’ is the last one on that EP?
Yeah, well I think it’s the first one; ‘Capture’, ‘Bitter Sweet’, and then ‘Melt’
Right, it feels like ‘Capture’ has a different kind of tone again. We talked about not wanting to box ourselves into a single genre which I think is really represented in this EP
Yeah, and ‘Capture’ was the first one I wrote
Out of the three?
Yeah, and ‘Capture’ was one of the first songs I wrote that I actually like to play. I’ve been writing since I was very young, that song I wrote I think when I was in year 11? And I still play it which is cool! It was meant to be about people having flaws, and choosing to love them anyway
One lyric that stood out to me was
And emotion taking a toll on my sanity and insecurity,
I cannot leave please don’t give up on me
It feels directional and honest about how you’re feeling, and even the way you sung it is great because it doesn’t follow a predictable cadence
Yeah that song was kind of a thought process for me
It comes across really poetically. Sometimes stream-of-consciousness style of writing doesn’t really translate into music and can feel a bit all over the place, but it feels like what you’re saying really fits together and it’s not until you break down what you’re actually saying do you realise it’s a big chunk of words and thinking, not just catchy one liners that I think a lot of us can be tempted to write over and over again
Thank you! I feel appreciated
Do you find songwriting generally easy?
Yeah, yeah it kind of depends on your state of mind I guess, if I choose to sit down and write a song, then I can sit down and write a song, which is really good! I’m generally not great at processing my own emotions I guess, so when I can sing about them, and write them on paper then I find it a lot easier. It feels more therapeutic in that way because you’re just like hmmmmm this is how I’m feeling
When you’re singing or writing it down you can’t hide from what you’re actually feeling, you have to put it into words
And you have to figure out what’s going on in your own mind
Do you find elements of the writing process easier than others?
I think lyrics and melody come very naturally to me, I come up with chords but I feel like Alex just knows the ones I want! He knows the ones that are right
Would you say lyric and melody writing are your favourite parts?
Umm, actually I think my favourite part is bringing it to the band and watching it evolve. Not all songs are band songs, some are just for me, but it’s so exciting to show the boys and Yara the songs and whatever I’ve been working on. They’re always so encouraging as well, and watching them put their creativity into it is really really special
Do you get surprised by the decisions and ideas they have?
Yeah! All the time. I was trained as a jazz/soul vocalist and used guitar to accompany myself. Alex was trained in theory and guitar, mainly jazz and roots. Yara is sort of folk/soul as well. Rennick does bluesy stuff, but decided to play bass but he’s also a guitarist, and then my drummer Nic is a punk drummer! He always has very weird ideas that end up working really well!
Yeah and if you were all from the same world then you might not get the flavours you want. A lot of you have the same sorts of vains in soul and RnB so it stays on track, but they bring in their extra flavours and colour as well
It’s great to have that, and with Rennick and Nic (bass and drums) they were in a punk band together and they’re really really tight and come up with ideas that are not what I would probably ever suggest, but it works!
And you don’t want people who are just going to give you ideas that you could have just made up yourself, what’s the point of having them if you can make all those decisions yourself
Exactly. They’re all so talented, I feel very lucky
Do you feel like it took you awhile to figure out the sound you wanted?
I feel like I’m still figuring it out! I’m really proud of the songs I’ve released so far. The vocals are always so essential in all of the songs, because if I’m unhappy with the vocals then nothing else will work. I always want the music to have some soul and jazz going on, but I don’t want to restrict it to just that
Who are some people who inspire you?
The people I grew up listening to like Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones. I love all of them. Freddy Mercury as well. Maybe more recently I’d say Nai Palm and 30/70 and Jaala
I was gonna say Nai Palm sounded like an influence for you
I love her song writing, I think she one of the most talented people in the world. I write a lot of music for producers as well so I’m into the electronic side of music and pop music too. Kaiit, Julia Jacklin and Stella Donnelly are all amazing. There’s been this artist lately Ari Lennox, there’s this song ‘La La La La’ which is beautiful, and her song ‘Night Drive’ makes me so happy. I think it kind of the songs that influence me more than the artists if that makes sense
Do you feel like you listen to music that has more of that story telling vibe?
Yeah definitely, I like songs more when they have nice vocals and nice lyrics. Anderson .Paak is another one. He is insane, and what he comes up with lyrically is just- seeing him live puts everything into perspective as well. I watched him and he led from a story straight into a song while doing a drum solo. He just seems like one of the most creative people ever. But yeah, I can’t get past a song if the voice doesn’t resonate with me
Do you find you resonate with more female singers?
Um yes and no, I think they have more of an impact. I’ve been listening a lot lately to this artist Moses Summney, and even someone like Rex Orange County, you can always resonate with anyone. You can find aspects of a song that you resonate with. I don’t think it’s restricted to females, as far as lyrics go, I can understand the female perspective more. The things that they sing about, I can understand on a deeper level
Let’s talk about ‘Teach Ya’, this is the song I had the absolute privilege of hearing live!
I felt like I was really re-living seeing it live, and I think also having heard a bit of the back-story to this song helped me listen better too- about wanting to be there for your friends and not knowing what to say
Yeah, well the reason I wrote the song was because I felt really helpless in the face of my friends who were going through hard things. It’s something that they have to figure out themselves, and there’s only so much that I can do to help them
Yeah it really sucks. When it comes to mental health, unless someone is going to actively help themselves then they won’t get out of it, and it sucks when you’re watching your friends go through something- this emotional trauma inside themselves, and it ends up being so damaging to them and to the friendship. This song is kind of like ‘I can’t help you, but maybe you can learn to help yourself’
Yeah, and you can only hope that saying things like ‘be kinder to yourself’ is helpful for them. You can’t take on the pain that they have, or even understand it from every angle
I feel like I’ve been the kind of person for my friends where I’m the one that people come to
Sometimes that can make you cynical as well, especially if it’s a lot of the same sorts of people
Yeah, in this song I want to say like ‘you have to help yourself, I’m here to talk but I can’t fix you, you need to find that in yourself
I think it’s safe as well for you and your sense of mental health, because you can’t be someone’s therapist and someone’s friend. If they want to unload all of their stuff on you then they can’t expect you to fix them and then also have the energy to be a good friend too. It’s tricky.
I think that was a message I took out of that song after I wrote it. I’ve had a few friends who went through things and didn’t deal with it very well? And they still aren’t dealing with it. I think what I had to take out of that- I was getting so worked up about their problems and I forgot that I had my own problems too and my own life to deal with. There’s only so much you can do for someone before you need to look after yourself too
I think the main message you have in this chorus is such a good one because it says something that a lot of these friends or people who go through these things might not get to hear enough. It’s not a ‘try harder’ ‘just get better’ sort of message, it’s leaving them with the encouragement to be kinder to themselves; be nicer to yourself
It was meant to be a bit of a coping song, like you can still be a good person and still feel shitty. If you feel like you’re always upset or lost, it doesn’t change the person that you are
You gotta cut yourself some slack. This song is talking to someone else, but you can have it directed at yourself too. ‘Teach your heart to be fair’ is something we always need to remind ourselves of too
People are so caught up in their world, and there is so much going on around us. You can’t ever understand what people are going through. You aren’t in their mind and you don’t see the things that they see. This song was meant to be like something that would say ‘just be nice to people! Be nice to yourself!’
So strange that that’s a message that even needs to be told so often to others and ourselves. People deserve to be treated decently
Yeah, and we always try and figure out what’s going on in someone’s head and you just never know. Being more sympathetic towards people and how they are feeling would do a lot of good.
Feels so simple! It’s hard for us to get over our own egos. It’s nice that music is something can be given into the world, hopefully as a message for good and kindness. Sad music benefits people on a different level, it’s therapeutic and validating-
Yeah, it’s an emotion that’s so healthy to express!
Way better to cry than to not cry
Have a good cry and let things out
I basically have one more question, what do you want to stand for as a musician?
Supporting other people doesn’t tear you down! So many people are caught up in the industry side of things, when you support people you made friends and good things happen. Especially with women, we need to support each other in all walks of life, even outside of music. It’s a difficult world to be a part of! And being able to understand and sympathise with people and support people is all so important
It’s so good to make that a priority. I don’t think many writers have the priority of just getting famous, but to have it on the forefront of your mind to support other people is honestly quite a selfless pursuit
That’s a nice way of putting it!
People feel things deeply, and to validate them and support them in that is a real gift
For people who don’t write or don’t have a creative outlet, to kind of be their voice is just awesome- and when someone has that kind of connection with your music, where they feel like you’re saying what they are feeling, that’s really powerful and extremely rewarding
Sunday Morning by the Velvet Undergound very appropriately chimed in at the end of our conversation
You can find Velvet Bloom on their socials