Vera Vice is a combination audiovisual duo formed by Helen Västrik and Ave Vellesalu. Starting out as an analogue synthesizer workshop at the Estonian Academy of Arts workshop, the two built a music-making machine out of a cigar box. In order to enhance their sonic self-expression possibilities, they have significantly expanded their machine park, which now includes both analogue synthesizers and drum machines. Only last year, the duo released their debut album Vera Versa, a phantasmagorical fusion of hypnagogic pop and sonic architecture. At the moment, they are working on a new album, due for release in autumn 2021. The first single from their upcoming LP Eyes Closed was released in January with a music video by Ivar Murd and Zbanski Kino
So lovely to meet both of you! Can you tell us a bit more about how the two of you first meet?
We both went to the Estonian Academy of Arts to study New Media, which consists of sound art theory and practical exercises, such as creating and programming sound-based installations and building modular synthesizers. After building our very own first synthesizers in old cigarette boxes, we shared the same excitement and wanted to try more. We borrowed equipment from friends and teachers and started experimenting with more regulated music pieces from sounds. After a while, it was clear that the interest was lasting, so we started to collect our personal instruments.
That sounds very interesting. What instruments do you use? Do you use synthesizers you built yourself to produce?
In the very beginning, we used our self-built modular synthesizers, but since our cigarette boxes weren’t that capable nor emotionally fulfilling, we soon started to include other instruments. We started off with simpler, more basic equipment such as midi controllers, loopers, and microphones. Most of the „instrumental“ parts of our songs were made out of different sound loops, for example, water moving in a bowl or wind blowing in a certain rhythm. We also used our own voices as instruments by playing with the loop pedals.
Now, for a couple of years, we’ve been using more and more hardware since we’ve had time to experiment with many opportunities. We both play keyboards and we also use drum machines, analog synths, effect pedals, etc. .
This is pretty impressive. What is your musical education?
We agreed by default that the music we create together is experimental, abstract, and somehow more sound art-like, based on field recordings and sound effects. Understandably, since the only musical background for both of us was singing in choirs a long time ago, there was a lack of knowledge and skills. We also just enjoyed the idea of unsystematic freedom and possible accidental success. The most important factor was a pleasant pleasure – like a long-awaited gift that had finally arrived. We are self-made, hard-working enthusiasts.
It’s really nice to read that your hard work paid off! When did both of you start to be musically engaged? What was your first musical encounter? and how did you end up in experimental music, was it always your goal to produce such music?
Helen: I sang in the choir from kindergarten to high school. Meanwhile, I also had guitar lessons, maybe about 2 years. When I went to university to study photography, I hung out a lot with music school students, which was very inspiring.
I really admired (still do) people, who were capable of communicating through music. But as I didn’t have a strong musical background, I never had enough courage to start creating music myself. At this point let’s ignore how I secretly recorded self-made songs into a digital camera (the only recording equipment I had) at the age of ~8.
Meeting with Ave was such a blessing, as we both shared the same level of knowledge and the same strength of will to start creating music. Besides that, we knew intuitively the direction of the genre. Meaning we never had a passionate discussion where we wanted to belong to, rather the development has come to us very smoothly.
Ave: I actually feel like our paths in finding music-making are very similar. I also sang in choirs when I was younger and I’ve always been secretly singing karaokes when home alone.
Around three years ago, right before Vera Vice happened, I went to exchange studies in Finland where I got a chance to take courses in the Sibelius Music Academy. I quickly realized how mesmerized I was by the studies and that I definitely wanted to continue with music after the studies.
I had been back in Estonia for a couple of weeks when I met Helen for the first time. We bonded immediately and soon after that started to come together in the evenings after studies to experiment with sounds.
Do you have any plans for upcoming festivals?
We were supposed to have a few gigs in May, but all of them got postponed or canceled due to the pandemics. With summer festivals and events, it seems like none of us know if anything is going to take place or not, so we just have to wait and see.
How is the scene in Estonia? Why don’t you sing in Estonian?
We actually have made some songs with Estonian lyrics too, although these haven’t been recorded properly. When we started creating our debut album, we wanted to challenge ourselves by using more English but didn’t want the album to have mixed languages. So we went for English. Still, we don’t rule out that at some point we would sing in Estonian again. To be honest, it’s really hard to tell what genre we belong to, it seems to be somewhere between the experimental music scene and maybe the lower edge of pop. There are quite a few festivals in Estonia that support more ambient, avant-garde, and experimental music. It seems to us that both in Estonia and elsewhere, experimental music has begun to take on larger dimensions, as there are more and more opportunities to create music and soundscapes despite the level of your skills.
Can you explore a little bit about the message behind your music?
Because we both have a visual art background (BA in Photography) we often approach the situation through pictorial language. For example, when writing lyrics, we first imagine a visual situation and then we try to create a verbal message of it. We are inevitably affected by everyday life and situations in the global world, although the way we express our feelings is often more covert and figurative. Since we have used field recordings as the basis of many of our songs, we tend to be inspired by natural sounds and nature.
Thank you so much for this lovely interview. Maybe let us know what your future plans are?
Our debut album “Vera Versa” is turning one on June 9th and we are going to celebrate with a tape release. Meanwhile, our second LP is in the making and will be released this Autumn and its second single is coming out with a new music video in Summer.
We’ve also been collaborating with some visual artists by making music for their works and hopefully, we can use our skills in that area more often too.