Two years in writing, a lifetime in the making.
Ukraine-born and Auckland-raised, Veronika Bell — known onstage as VÏKÆ — has distilled her worst days, favourite sounds and lived experiences into Finelines, which drops today. Produced by long-term collaborator Abigail Knudson (MISSY), the release of this honest, intimate EP will be followed by a nationwide tour with fellow Kiwi artist, PRINS. I caught up with Veronika over the phone to talk song-writing, influences and industry.
Tell us about the inspirations behind this EP.
My music stems predominantly from my diagnosis with bipolar. A few years back, I started getting really sick, and I had a lot of time to write. The EP kind of came about a recurring theme which ties back to my poetry and those songs I wrote in my sick times. I wanted to create a body of work where I was talking about some real shit, like, drug abuse and addiction and mental health and physical illnesses. Things that I’d say — it’s getting more coverage now, but — a couple years ago, weren’t being heard on radio. I wanted more of that, more music that young people could resonate with, and be like, ‘I’m actually not alone’.
Having put such personal thoughts and feelings into your music, is there an anxiety about the way it’s going to be publically received?
There’s always a fear — it’s not even about people liking it — it’s about people thinking that I’m disingenuous or that I’m using illness of any sort of description to propel myself into metaphorical stardom. But that’s just not how it works. If I hadn’t been through these experiences, I wouldn’t be writing about it.
I’ve read that you actually take a number of steps — like making your own costumes, writing and directing your own music videos — to avoid seeming disingenuous. Can you speak more to this process and the efforts you make?
It actually stemmed from a conversation I had with another artist, where he was arguing, ‘well, people are not only themselves, they are a brand, they have a big team of people behind them’ — and are they genuine or are they not? I argued that they most definitely are. Being a little bit of a control freak and also a musician — I’ll be real, I’m not a millionaire — I thought, how could I counteract being perceived like that? I figured, if I’m the one behind the lens, and in front of it, and editing the final video, at least I can say, ‘well, yep, that’s exactly the vision I had. That’s me’.
Do you think that the music industry needs to represent mental illness and differently-abled communities more?
Absolutely! I don’t know the last time I saw, for argument’s sake, a wheelchair-bound person headlining a festival. I truly and honestly believe that ableism is very much alive in the music industry, because people are so caught up in aesthetics and performance. If it doesn’t look aesthetically conventional, people don’t really seem to care. It’s awful, and I don’t agree with it whatsoever. Just underline that.
I’ll make a note: NEEDS. TO. CHANGE.
It needs to change! It absolutely needs to change. I remember when Glee first presented their wheelchair-bound character and some people were shocked, gob-smacked, and it’s like, why? This is everyday life. Not everyone can walk around freely like you and me. Not everyone can freely get out of bed and be motivated. You have people like myself who sometimes can’t get out of bed — physically and mentally. Why is that not being represented in public? It’s reality.
Who are your greatest musical influences?
That’s a hard question because when I went to uni, I thought I was going to be an opera singer. It would be very unfair to dismiss classical music because that’s where I started my training. And as a kid — I love my parents, I’ll just put a disclaimer here — it was kind of like classical music or no music, and I’d rather music. As I grew, I began to realise ‘oh! Music has words? Fascinating. There’s upbeat music? Fascinating!’
That sounds really sarcastic, but I was absolutely enamoured — with rockers like The Rolling Stones, Eagles, The Doors, Dr. Hook. Vocal influences like Ella Fitzgerald and Astrud Gilberto. I was introduced to hip hop with Timbaland’s Shock Value, when I was 13 or 14 and I thought, ‘that is so sick! That is so dope’. Songwriter-wise, Taylor Swift is my homegirl.
It really is like this weird mish-mash — so that’s a hard question to answer.
Would you say that you, and this EP, are a mix of the things that have left an impression throughout your life?
For sure! Every sound that I’ve ever liked in my life has come full circle into this EP. You’ve got your 808s in there, you have songwriting that’s, in my opinion — not to flex — really slick. I’ve really, really worked on my craft. Then you have elements of classicism with the way the melody rises and falls, the different key changes throughout the songs. It’s all relevant. It’s all there.
Finelines is available now on most streaming platforms.