Thursday, April 18, 2013 Leave a Comment
Exciting news: Vienna will be releasing her fifth studio album this fall! Release date is set for Tuesday, September 24, 2013.
Three years after stepping away from a full-time music career to attend graduate school, Vienna returns to the studio with a new sound, a new producer, and a new approach to songwriting and recording. What’s emerging from that process is her most uptempo, pop-influenced album yet—and full of surprises, even to its creators.
“I have all these songs in various stages of completion,” Vienna explains. “Some are just fragments of melody set to a beat I recorded on my phone. Some are a verse and chorus with no lyrics. I’ve never been a prolific writer, and then I got really involved in school, so my songwriting pace just went glacial,” she says with a laugh. “It’s sort of terrifying to have so little figured out as we start recording, but it also opens up a lot of possibilities.”
At the same time, she’s been thinking more like a producer from the outset, often sketching out percussion and vocal arrangements in demo recordings. “This album began with restlessness,” Vienna says. “I wanted the songs to have movement; I wanted to be on my feet. So I started writing more on guitar while walking around the house. I’d make rhythmic patterns on the looper and dance around to them. That’s probably part of why these songs are taking so long to find their shape. Nothing about this is familiar.”
Last fall, she sought out producer Cason Cooley as a collaborator. “I absolutely loved the album he made with Katie Herzig, The Waking Sleep, and I knew Katie had a lot of songs that weren’t fully written when they started,” Vienna recalls. “I wanted to work with a producer who thrived on that kind of scenario, who would discover these songs with me. And I wanted someone I hadn’t worked with before, so we could make up our creative process as we went along.”
Cason immediately jumped on board. “Vienna has a great sense of adventure and fun,” he says. “She holds her identity with an open hand.” The two exchanged ideas and recordings online for several months. Then in February—fresh off the premiere of another collaboration, the new musical The Fourth Messenger, written with playwright Tanya Shaffer—Vienna flew to Nashville for three weeks of intensive pre-production in Cason’s studio. “It’s like we’re starting at the top of a mountain and running down,” Cason says, “taking whatever paths open up along the way, with no preconceived notion of how we’re going to get to the bottom.”
And what are the songs about, at least so far? “Rekindling my love affair with music, and with the world, really,” says Vienna. “After Inland Territory came out in 2009, I found myself at a loss. I was making music just because it was my job, not because I had anything to say, and that was a terrible feeling. Here I had the luckiest life imaginable, and it felt like work.” Meanwhile, she felt the insistent pull of another calling. “I’ve always known that a big part of me lives in very un-artistic, unromantic places, like spreadsheets and computer code, nerdy conversations about policy. I didn’t just want to write songs about the problems we face as human beings. I wanted to actually work on those problems.”
So she applied to the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at Michigan, a dual masters program she’d had in her “someday” file for years; she graduates in May. Academia was a heady experience, and not always an easy one, especially at the environmental school. “It was emotionally debilitating sometimes,” she admits. “It’s hard to learn about things like climate change and extinction rates, and how difficult our systems make it for anyone to do the right thing. It’s hard to stare straight at the facts and think, ‘I don’t know how we can solve this, or even how much we care to.'”
Ultimately, it was music that gave her a way through. “It’s not all bad news—if school’s taught me anything, it’s that ingenuity and courage are everywhere, right along with apathy and selfishness,” Vienna says. “And that everything worth making or doing comes at a price. That’s when I finally understood why music matters, why art of any kind matters. It’s how we can take painful contradictions and make them beautiful. We can embrace what overwhelms us, and then do something about it.”
Vienna will be touring throughout fall 2013 in the U.S. and Europe following the album’s release (check this news post for more details). In the meantime, join the mailing list and follow Vienna on Facebook to get the latest updates on the album…and possibly a sneak preview or two!