August 14 2017

Annie O Presents: Vera

New York
Annie O’s live music series in the Penthouse of The Standard, East Village is a smart bet any time of year, but in summer it’s a must. We can’t think of anywhere we’d rather be on an early summer evening than up on the rooftop, drink in hand, listening to the live sounds curated by our East Village music maven. The vibes are very real and you should come experience them for yourself. 

On Monday, August 21st, Annie O's bringing Vera to the Penthouse for her first solo show. She's no stranger to the biz, though. She's toured with her best friend, singer-songwriter Elvis Perkins, supported many other musicians, and scored films, but it wasn't until one "strange" meditation session that she quite literally found her voice. Annie O connected with Vera to hear all about her journey to the Penthouse stage and what went into her debut album.
Annie O Presents: Vera
Monday, August 21st, 7-9PM
The Standard, East Village Penthouse
Free with an RSVP to AnnieO@StandardHotels.com

ANNIE O: Where are you based now? 

VERA: I move between New York City and Los Angeles, where when I'm not playing music, I work as a voice actor. Toothpaste commercials, true crime documentaries, I had a radio show for a very long time—that sort of thing. I’m the ghost behind your screen and in your machine!

What led you to record your debut album, Shades? And can you tell us a little bit about the recording process?
I’ve always played music and I’ve always written poetry. It was quite late in my life that I put the two together. When I did, it became second nature, and it became hard for me to write poetry without hearing music behind it. But I harbored a lot of doubt and fear—strangely surrounding singing in particular. I say strange because I work with my voice, I have zero performance anxiety when it comes to public-speaking, and I’ve only ever been encouraged to sing out. It took a very strange experience over a weekend of meditation to completely dissolve the fear and doubt. I felt a radical shift within, and basically came to a point of “Who cares?” and “If not now, when?” And it’s wild, in letting go of that fear, I unlocked sounds and octaves that I would have never been able to grasp in a state of self-doubt. Fear was choking me. I had actually already booked the studio time at a friend’s space in St. Louis and had initially planned to have friends play on the record. Elvis [singer-songwriter Elvis Perkins] was going to accompany me and take over on guitar, but almost immediately after arriving in St. Louis, I realized that I wanted to and I had to do it alone. So I arranged the whole thing and sang and played every part, including drums, which I’d only ever messed around with. (I replaced the kit for the most part with alternative, home-made percussion.) So you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting heavy metal drum fills, but you will get a sense of my unbroken energy and an approximation of what it sounds like in my skull. It’s entirely my sweat and breath, for better or worse. 

Tell us a little bit about touring and playing in Elvis Perkins' band.
Working with Elvis was wild and wonderful and challenging. He encouraged me to take up instruments I’d never played and expanded my sense of my own musicianship beyond anything I could have ever reckoned with. I owe him so very much. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have had the courage to come out of my bedroom and let go of my own songs without his support. He is also very funny and fun. I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to learn from him, and just in general, to work so closely with my best friend. We had a blast, both on stage and off. 

What are some of your fondest memories of the road?
Running out of gas on a nowhere stretch in the middle of Texas, singing to keep the engine going for dozens and dozens of miles before it finally died as we coasted into what felt like the only pump in the galaxy. Sea-swimming in a coastal Italian town where the hotel had pink walls and fuchsia sheets and seemed materialized from a David Lynch film. Pizza for every meal. The tiniest man in the world offering up a rose to kiss our supremely sweaty keyboard player Mitch after a sold-out club show on the green-lit streets of Rome just outside the Vatican walls, as Elvis played a wooden flute. In retrospect, nearly every night was magic, and every day was hilarious. We laughed and we laughed and we laughed. 

What are some of your biggest sonic influences?
I grew up on early blues, late punk, the violins of romanticism and at Wu-Tang Clan shows. I like whatever broods. My blood is tuned to some minor key, and I tend to go for thick reverb, dark harmony, twisted surf guitar. Anything that feels like fog, or sound waves through water, or better, molasses.

I listen to a lot of gospel, too. I wake up every morning to the Bright Light Quartet. I lift weights to the Sacred Harp. I think a lot about Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Tom Waits' percussion. James Jamerson's bass. Skip James' haunted guitar tuning. Field recordings captured by Harry Smith and Alan Lomax. Chopin's Nocturnes. I love Patsy Cline, James Brown, Ye-ye Pop. And popular music from the 2000’s. Britney Spears. 

Any tracks by other artists you currently have on repeat?
I’ve actually been less of a sonic wallower lately. I’ve been dancing a lot. "Gentleman" by Fela Kuti. "Claire" by Tal National. When I drive around Los Angeles late at night, it’s mostly (hilariously) the isolated bass tracks from Beyonce’s Lemonade. But when I do wallow, it’s to Elvis Presley's cover of Lonnie Johnson's "Tomorrow Night."

When will your new album be released?
The mixing has taken longer than expected, so I'm gunning for early 2018.

If Vera had a superpower, what would it be?
Raising the dead.

What can we expect from your show at The Annie O Music Series? Is this your first show with your new project?
This is the first official show under the name, yes. I'll be accompanied by a group of five supremely talented women. All strings. The Aster Quartet and an upright player. From them you can expect the closest approximation to star formation. It’s a real privilege to be able hear my music soar from their instruments. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.

What's the best part of performing live?
I trained for a long time as a dancer and initially moved to New York to work in theater, so I love everything about the stage. Balancing power and vulnerability. Edging along the cliff of potential disaster. And of course, the old cliché, the gathered energy of an audience.