Vera Blue: Creating Her Debut Album ‘Perennial’ And Experimenting With No Fear

Celia Pavey, known professionally as VERA BLUE, is a Sydney-based singer-songwriter whose folk beginnings have been morphed by her electro-pop evolution. After coming third in The Voice, Pavey released her debut LP This Music under her own name in 2013, followed by the EP Bodies in 2014. In 2016 she delivered the EP Fingertips under the new moniker, Vera Blue. Pavey is now embarking on the Mended Tour, named after the single from Perennial, the first long player to wear the Vera Blue banner. With Pavey on the move overseas, BMA ran a Q&A to learn more about the artist and her album.

The PR says the album marks the start of a new musical and personal journey for you. What did they mean by that?

I see this record as more of a healing process or a personal development and discovery piece. Perennial acknowledges vulnerability and the fact that feelings, memories and emotions can last a very long time, if not forever. I feel like I could talk forever on what this album means to me, but I am ready for the songs to speak for themselves and to have them connect to the listener and their story in their own special way. The production was an extension of the emotions, with the sounds all having purpose to each song differently reflecting the emotion. This album has taught me so much about myself and that it is okay to be vulnerable and to take pride in wearing my heart on my sleeve. That is just who I am and I truly believe it inspired and will continue to inspire the beginning of new musical and personal journeys.

“It is okay to be vulnerable and to take pride in wearing my heart on my sleeve.”

Stylistically, what are the differences between Perennial and Fingertips?

Even though Fingertips and Perennial are similar in many ways, I suppose the most obvious difference is the production on the album was taken to the next level in terms of electronica. I worked with a similar writing collective (Andy Mak, Thom Mak) and producer (Andy Mak) for both releases with Perennial written immediately after the Fingertips EP, so the album is an extension of the EP. The special thing about the Vera Blue music is that we are always creating based on emotion and experimenting with no fear.

Perennial is the start of a new emotional journey, coming out of the relationship I was in during the creation of Fingertips. The writing on Fingertips is much more metaphorical with hidden meanings, yet Perennial is much more upfront and even more honest than the EP. We also added new people to the creative process when working on the album, Jackson Barclay as engineer and Adam Anders who we worked with in the US. I think this had a positive effect on the sounds and how some of the songs were structured too.

The album is arranged into three chapters, tracing the timeline of your personal development. Is this a concept record with a strong consistent theme running through it?

I suppose so. To be completely honest I feel sometimes that I am still living this record, meaning I am going through everything that happened, the moments, memories and feelings. Coming to the end of creating this album, Andy my producer said, “we really could’ve written this album forever.” I believe this is true because the chapters represent different phases and changes we go through as emotional beings and that these phases are perennial throughout our lives. Vulnerability, strength and reminiscence will constantly come and go forever. This isn’t a bad thing though, just the way life goes.

What are the three chapters?

The three chapters represent the different phases over the duration of writing Perennial. When Andy, Thom and I first began writing this record I was going through a period of heartbreak, freshly coming out of a long-term relationship. As the months passed and the songs continued to be written, there was a shift in my personal growth. I overcame the heartbreak and became more aware of my surroundings, meeting new people and developing new feelings. Feelings of strength, empowerment and just new interests that were happening in my life other than love.

This phase was very exciting and really showed my transformation as a woman and an artist. In the final few months towards the end of writing Perennial I found new relationships and also found myself looking back and reminiscing on past relationships, and fell naturally back into my vulnerable state. Perennial was structured into three chapters later, each very different. The chapters were structured by my cowriter and close friend Thom, who saw the changes and phases of the person I was and developed into over the duration of writing the album – beginning, middle and end. I think this is unique and it is something I may not have seen myself.

Vera Blue’s debut album Perennial will be released July 21.

Why was the ‘Mended’ name chosen for your latest tour? Is this a message that you were hurting before but you are better and stronger now?

‘Mended’ was the most recent single so we thought it worked well as a tour title. ‘Mended’ isn’t about the fact that I’ve mended, it’s more the realisation that time has passed and we’d both moved on, but constantly feeling like there were words left unsaid and that the time of repair was coming close.

Songs like ‘Private’ and ‘Mended’ are real heart-on-your-sleeve songs. Do you find writing such songs painful or therapeutic?

I think when Thom and I are in the moment writing a song, we talk a lot about something real and honest. I guess sometimes it tends to be quite draining if it’s a song about heartbreak as I am reliving memories and emotions from the near or distant past. Once the song is written though there is a real sense of relief, because we’ve created a song of feelings that I may have been bottling up for quite some time. It’s a bit of both, music to me is very therapeutic.

You have done a lot of collaborative songwriting on your releases. How do you find the collaborative experience and what comes first; theme idea, music or lyrics?

It really depends how we are feeling on the day as to how the creative process starts. Most of the time a song is inspired by how I am feeling and what is going on in my life at the time. Thom and I will always start on an acoustic instrument, so a guitar or piano. We write as though we are writing a folk song then we build the production around the emotion and message of the song. Andy is incredible at creating sounds and vibes that go really well with the mood of the song, whether it be emotional or a little more lighthearted. I really adore the collaborative experience, we have so much fun together.

How did recording the album go, split between LA and Sydney, and why was there a split? Was it hard to retain focus in the sessions with such a big geographical break, presumably in time too?

It honestly didn’t bother us at all. We were all together, whether we were working at The Grove studios on the Central Coast, at Forbes Street Studios in Sydney or in LA at Adam Anders’ home studio. These were all new adventures for us as a collective and if anything, the different locations truly inspired us and the sound of the record in so many ways.

The Grove studios is a very calming environment whereas the city has this real sense of electricity and energy, which is where we did most of our greatest electronic work too. Just being in another country enhanced everything musically for us and working so closely with Adam in his own home really gave us grounding and safety, and we didn’t hold back. We experienced everything together and loved spending time together.

It was split into different locations because, depending on where we were all working at the time, we wanted to take the opportunity to meet up and continue the writing and creative process for the album. We didn’t really have big breaks at all, only when I was touring or if the boys were away.

What is your favourite single from the new album and why?

I guess it’s hard to pick a favourite single because the way I feel about the songs is constantly changing, in a good way. One of my favourite singles to release was ‘Private’. This song opens the second chapter and at the time I was feeling so many different things having moved on from heartbreak, so every time I hear it I feel excitement – and the production is so interesting, I hear something different nearly every time. Andy spent some time experimenting with so many cool sounds including some simple vocal takes of me singing, “I just wanna”, manipulating them to create grunge and angst to suit the energy of the song. The vision he had for this song and how he brought it to life blew my mind and I had never heard anything like it. This was so exciting for us.

Previous tours have been sold out and you must have been very pleased with the crowd response? How did your Canberra visit for Spilt Milk go last year?

I am so, so over the moon about my previous tours. It’s so special to be able to perform music that I feel so passionately about to sold-out crowds. Spilt Milk has been my favourite festival to play my own set so far. The setup and the festival was so great. I just remember the feeling of performing on that stage looking out to a sea of smiling people. My band and I had so much fun and had an incredible show. One of my closest high school friends lives in Canberra, so any excuse to hang out with her and have her watching side of stage is so awesome for me.

“Vulnerability, strength and reminiscence will constantly come and go forever. This isn’t a bad thing though, just the way life goes.”

Are you likely to perform any songs from when you were writing under your own name?

It wouldn’t make sense for touring as Vera Blue to perform songs written before. They are different. I love the songs I’ve written previously to Vera Blue, and there’s no saying that I will never do a tour under my real name in the future too. Vera Blue is my focus right now and it is keeping me creatively very busy. There is no closing the door on my past releases and on starting new projects. There are so many possibilities in the music world which is why I love being part of it so much.

Lastly, why did you make the change between your own name and Vera Blue? Was it to mark the switch between your career up to The Voice and what followed?

When I met Andy and Australian singer-songwriter Gosling on a writing session with them back in December 2013, I brought to them a chorus I’d written for a folk song called ‘Fingertips’. I told Andy I’d discovered and fallen in love with electronic music and music that blended the two genres like alt-J and wanted to completely branch out and experiment with sounds.

What we created on that day blew mind and made me feel so excited. So, we continued to work together and Andy introduced his younger brother Thom to me to cowrite the EP we were working on. The sound was so different for this new project so eventually I thought it deserved its own project name. The name change really came from change in the direction of the music. I wasn’t trying to hide either, it all just made sense, felt right and fell into place so perfectly.

I am so proud of this project. I see the Vera Blue project as not just being myself, but Andy and Thom too. We are a collective, and I represent Vera Blue as the artist and performer, and as the person the music is written about. I look back on The Voice experience and it was such a positive stepping stone to where I am as an artist now.

VERA BLUE, supported by THANDI PHOENIX, plays at Academy on Friday July 28, doors at 8PM. Tickets $43 + bf through Moshtix.

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