Vera Sola tells stories. Her debut full length record released November 9, 2018; named Shades, the work traverses a smoky expanse defined by a twist on our existence. She draws stories from all around her, turning her experiences with empathy into her ever growing collection of “ghost folk” songs.
The songs, she explains, essentially all maintain a one-to-one relationship with the “real world.”
“I feel very deeply as a person, not only my own feelings, but other people’s feelings, and I’m an empath, so it’s very hard to untangle my own feelings from those of others,” she explains. “So when I do hear a story, I sort of put myself in the shoes of the person who’s speaking. All of it can be stripped down bare to very literal things. I could go through song by song and translate them for you, based on the story, what each line means. Pretty much every word has a reason, and has a place, and a meaning.”
She charts an exploratory vision of songwriting, taking the listener along for a tour of the darkness enveloped house we sometimes ignore metaphorically sits right there in front of us as we make our ways through our lives. She faces reality with her work, but the version presented proves a rich, expansive one, illuminating our paths.
Throughout the whole process, she’s been able to accomplish such a feat through mirroring the work in her own life. She’s crafted something synthesizing threads of our time here because she’s right in the middle of them. “For me, every line is something that’s been run through my blood,” she says.
Background in Songwriting
She’s poured out the immense swells of emotion she takes in via songwriting for some time, eventually working as a musician in Elvis Perkins’ band. Only now has she moved forward on her own artistic strength. “It wasn’t until I had this period of time when a lot of things were going wrong and I didn’t really know what to do with myself that I booked the studio time and decided to bring this song bag of 40 to 50 songs that I had into the studio and just see what happened,” she explains.
She originally imagined that friends — including Perkins — would play on the songs that ended up on Shades, but that didn’t materialize. Instead, she set out nearly entirely on her own, assisted only on a base technical level with recording.
The solo work manifests some personal relevance for Vera, who proved to herself — and anyone taking in her story, she adds — that “anybody has it in them.”
“When I got in there, I realized.that it was important to me to do it all myself,” she adds. “I think that was a big hurdle to get over in the appreciation of myself as a person who could make music that I could really do it all. Also, for me, it’s kind of like an all or nothing in anything in life. I don’t really do anything halfway — that was that. It was a series of small steps that ended up at this giant hurdle.”
The freedom associated with striking out nearly alone let her stick to an artistic direction that was most relevant for her personally, too.
“I think these songs are ones that were personal and spoke to me in a certain way at a certain time, and I sort of wanted to achieve the urgency and energy that you get when there’s just one person doing it all themselves,” she explains. “But they definitely are all themed. It’s important to me to tell people — its not like a breakup record or anything, although there are a lot of broken heart songs on there, and they’re not all about me. There’s one song on there that’s based on my own experience when it comes to love, but otherwise, it’s all other people. They’re all stories, often told in the first person, because I find that I can inhabit that character if I sing from the space of them instead of singing about them.”
Storytelling and Songwriting Coming Together
Indeed — as previously discussed, Vera experiences significant empathy, experiencing inspiration as all encompassing instead of isolated.
In that light, storytelling persists as an important aspect to her work. She’s aiming for a craft that’s more than just sonic.
Discussing the interplay she experiences between storytelling and songwriting, she explains: “For me, it depends on the song and it depends on what I’m doing honestly. I’ve always been a writer. I started off as a writer and a storyteller, and I was a poet before I ever considered myself to be a musician. I was reluctantly cast as a musician. I didn’t even really call myself one, even though I’d been playing professionally for many years in other bands, and only now that I’ve taken on this role as sort of a solo artist have I had to introduce myself as a musician. But I really do consider myself a writer. And it depends on the song. Some songs, I hear with great musicality to them, and others, the music is just a vessel for the lyrics.”
Those lyrics can paint grand pictures of the sort warranting the house metaphor from earlier. She’s aware of the aesthetic and emotionally complex direction her work takes, and she’s embraced it.
“I feel very deeply,” she reiterates. “I’m drawn to things that are dramatic and expansive and intense, and then at the same time, when it comes to my language, I can’t really help it. It’s just the way that I am. I mean, I just love classical literature, and ornate overwrought poetry, and I’m pretty well aware of how pretentious that can be, but I do get as much influence from tabloids and bad television that I do from Dylan Thomas.”
“I don’t discriminate at all,” she insists. “I don’t need to be like alone in the cabin in the woods to write something. I find the more that surrounds me and the more that I feel and experience and see, the more I’m able to write.”
This broad sense that she lives with leads to some curious situations.
“One of my favorite songs isn’t on the record there, because I decided I wanted to do it with the whole band and it wasn’t the right time, but it’s a song called ‘Honey,’ which comes out of a conversation I had with a woman at a bar in Mississippi. And then I’ve got some in the works from what I’ve overheard in conversations at CVS when picking up prescriptions, and I definitely have a couple of songs from tabloid lines out there. Actually, “Small Minds,” the song that was my first single — the first couple of lines of that came from a fight that I overheard between a couple, and that just sort of swiftly came out from there. But, you know, I’m influenced by that.”
Through the middle of the web of songs she’s crafted, Vera remains herself.
“For me, this record serves as a way of sort of cracking a shell or bringing down walls, and becoming more of myself,” she explains. “I mean, I’d sort of hidden away for so long and denied myself what I knew was true, which is that I wanted to sing, and I wanted to write, and I wanted to play music, but so many factors held me back. So this record did that for me.”
Her artistry proves human, one might say, transcending boundaries.
“It’s proof… just how powerful it is to let go of fear, because that’s ultimately what this whole thing was for me — letting go of fear — fear of stepping into myself, or fear of failure, or fear of what could be. That was the biggest thing for me. As soon as I stepped in there and was like who cares? Who cares how it sounds? Then suddenly I could sing in ways that I’d never sang before.”
She remains conscious of the broader environment she persists in even through that personal undertaking, adding: “There are people out there who connect to what I do, and that brings me joy in a tough world, and if I can bring anybody inspiration and joy in a way that it brings me joy when someone connects to my music, then, that’s all the work that I can ask for.”
Photo via Mark Lemoine. Preorders are at this link.
Listen to Vera Sola below, via Spotify.