Choosing exile over conformity to the unjust, VEiiLA speaks with ReGen about finding hope in the midst of darkness.
An InterView with Vif Nüte & Bes Eirid of VEiiLA
By Edgar Lorre (ErrolAM)
Projekt Records act VEiiLA has just released their haunting second studio album, Sentimental Craving For Beauty, submerging the listener in a calming sea of electronic downtempo rhythms and smart melancholic female vocals. Pronounced “Vay-la,” the band is named after a mythological Baltic mountain-dwelling demon that lures men into her cave by singing before devouring them. VEiiLA was originally from Russia, then migrated to Armenia after being repulsed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Creating beauty and passion out of harrowing despair comes easy for these Russians-in-exile, as they continue to beautifully express themselves, which ultimately brought them to the attention of the Portland-based Projekt Records. With a new stark video for “I Had a Dream,” the duo of Vif Nüte on vocals and guitar and Bes Eirid handling all synthesizers spoke to ReGen about their art, struggle, and their lives in Armenia.
I’ve read that you left Russia and settled in Armenia because you could not accept Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Can you talk about the thoughts that led you to this choice?
Eirid: It’s been about 18 months since we left, but I don’t know if ‘settled’ is the right term. It’s a big word with certain implications. I’m not sure we are the type of people to whom this word can be applied ever. But yes, we’ve been living in Vanadzor for some time now after the first several months of moving through places.
The reasons for leaving were many and they were growing for a while. It’s just after February 2022 it became too clear, too apparent that there was no place for us there. I don’t know how to explain it without getting too philosophical. Here’s the thing – many people have relative value systems, their views can be adjusted, specifically their views of morality, the right and wrong. Our perception of morality is absolute. We see the world in plain, simple concepts, and the most prominent of these concepts is that one mustn’t take what’s not theirs, be it someone else’s time, property, land, freedom, or life. Russian rulers (along with their monstrous brainwashing propaganda machine) took this concept and mutilated it. If you want to live in Russia and be at peace with yourself, you’ll need to align with this mutilated, distorted view of morality; otherwise, you’ll end up prosecuted or insane. The state’s authority there can’t be challenged. Anyone with a different point of view either ends up in jail or otherwise oppressed or squeezed out of the country. We chose our self-imposed exile because it felt right. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t pretend to be martyrs. Our reasons were just as selfish as the next emigrant’s. Yet much of it was rooted in our moral choice first, and we feel that we’ve made the right choice. Of course, we understand that it doesn’t change anything, that nobody really gives a shit about a couple of underground freaks making some meaningless statement. It won’t stop the war or slow down the oppression a notch. Yet it has a meaning for us. At least we can live our lives knowing that we aren’t trading in morality. I sincerely think that if more people made their life decisions out of absolute moral choice, not allowing any compromise, the world would be a better place. Maybe I’m a fool, but what else is there to believe in?
Is there a music scene in Armenia?
Nüte: If you walk in downtown Yerevan on a summer eve, you will definitely immerse yourself in a large pool of diverse music bursting in your ears. It seems to me that people like rock and folk music primarily.
Eirid: True about folk. There is a very strong local scene of Armenian music with traditional roots. You can hear it in the melodies, the rhythms, the style of it. As for the underground scene, you have to take into account that Armenia is a rather small country. It’s just not many people here, and there has to be a lot of people to make a thriving underground movement. There are talented underground artists in different genres. Can you call this a scene? But we’ve been outsiders for as long as I can remember. We never had any strong connection to any scene or niche. We’re always too electronic for rockers, too moody for mainstream, not electronic enough for synth crowd, too goth for downtempo, too chill for goths. By now we’re quite at home not having a home, if you know what I mean.
Could you tell us about recording the new album Sentimental Craving For Beauty?
Eirid: It was quite a ride, now when I think about it in the retrospective. It didn’t feel like that in the process. We actually started working on this album back in Russia, and when we left, we tried to finish that work, but of course, we were quite distracted with the wicked lifestyle we had at that time. It wasn’t the most creative atmosphere. Eventually, we had about 15 songs recorded and mixed, and we even tried to convince ourselves that this was it. But we were so down in the dumps really that we didn’t have any moral strength to get on with that… I mean the organizational side of things. And then we suddenly realized that we didn’t feel right about those songs. It’s like some things must be left behind, and that version of the album felt like a thing of the past, something that wasn’t us anymore. It felt weirdly good though. It was like one of those moments when you feel some burden taken off, even though you basically have to throw away quite some work. Another factor that affected this album was Vif picking up an electric guitar. At first, we thought we’d just add a little guitar here and there, but somehow, we felt this new energy growing, some new creative path unfolding before us. We naturally focused on writing songs in this minimalist style. It’s basically based on how we sound live, in the way that we almost don’t use anything beyond what we can play with our hands. Of course, we couldn’t resist the temptation to add some strings here and there and some extra synths to spice up the sound, but the prevalent sonic theme of this album is the minimalism. In our live setup, we each have three instruments and we only can play two at a time tops (until we grow more hands of course), so that was kind of the main driving force. It also helped to clear out more space for the vocals, which in turn puts lyrics into clearer view.
You have some very interesting titles to your songs, care to tell us specifically about the lyrics to ‘I Had a Dream,’ ‘Ocean’s Breath,’ and ‘My Blues’? These tracks stood out to me, and I’d like to know more.
Nüte: ‘I Had a Dream’… when the dream is dying or already dead and a new dream hasn’t appeared yet, there’s a friction of pain and regret; this naked sorrow that you don’t know how to deal with. This song came from this feeling. You can weep or blame somebody. We wrote a song about it.
‘Ocean’s Breath’ always felt that we were together against the whole world. Now, it feels even more acute. It’s a painful process of being on the other side, so to speak. But we want to save the integrity in our spirit and our music. For this, you have to be true to yourself no matter the cost. And when it’s too much, you just ‘keep breathing, keep breathing.’
‘My Blues’… the poetry is a beautiful vessel to place the unsatisfying reality into. You dress up the pain in a metaphorical gown and it dances in a beautiful manner. The world is full of madness and people are mostly not kind to each other. But I write a song and I can live another day and feel high for a while, high with the feeling that there’s still good left for us.
I see you recently released a new black-and-white video for the song ‘I Had a Dream.’ Do you make your own videos? Can you tell us a bit about the process?
Nüte: There’s no one way of making a music video for us. Oftentimes, we just grab a camera and go filming every shadow and silhouette we meet on our way. I guess we like to create on the go, and we do like to visualize our songs in this spontaneous way. Some ideas we can imagine, others come out in an unexpected manner. I like watching black-and-white movies; some arthouse films give a lot of inspiration in the creative direction we take.
Eirid: At the very least with ‘I Had a Dream,’ we knew which song we were filming, that’s already something. I guess we just saw clouds in the weather forecast for the next day and that was our motivation – point a camera and press record whenever it feels right. The concept typically comes out of experimentation in the process of editing, and usually, it’s totally different from what we expected to see. Our music videos (I think pretty much like our songs) never tell stories. Our goal is to convey the feeling, to create the right ambiance for the song. Visuals can be very powerful and very distracting too, and we always try to augment the song without overwhelming it.
How did Projekt Records discover VEiiLA?
Eirid: Oh, we just wrote an e-mail to Sam Rosenthal after reading his interview. At that point, we didn’t even plan to work with a label. We were going to self-release the album, and I think we already had some singles scheduled. But I stumbled upon that interview where Sam was talking about Projekt’s 40th anniversary and something clicked. I think I jibber-jabbered to Vif about Sam for a day or two, and we decided to write him an e-mail. It was a weird e-mail too, not very professional, with some abstract rambling about stuff unrelated to music. But Sam answered and that’s it. We exchanged hundreds of abstract e-mails since then.
Nüte: I guess we discovered each other. Sam and Shea gave us a surge of inspiration, helped us to see that there’s hope, that some people do believe in albums, and this was a common ground for us.
Do you perform live and are you planning any tours abroad?
Any contemporary artists that you like that you would like to mention?
Nüte: Hero Fisher is amazing, I hope that they soon release something new. Emel has a beautiful voice and the spirit of liberty.
Eirid: I love Hero Fisher too. There have been some discoveries of the older stuff for me recently. Not long ago, I discovered Jeff Buckley, and this was a revelation. I have no idea how come I dismissed him all those years before.
Any future plans for VEiiLA or projects you would like to talk about?
Nüte: I quit planning. All our plans were destroyed before. What’s the point of it? I live in a moment, and I try to make it worth it.
Eirid: That’s true, our planning range shrank drastically. But we surely plan to play shows, write new songs, make new videos, as that’s the only thing worth living for.
Photography provided courtesy of VEiiLA