VAI // Interview

There was a time when I held the opinion that an Australian accent in singing just sounded out of place. It seemed that in most cases, it was as if the accent was meant for something different – like no one had found the right combination of music and vocals to bring it out in the best way.

And so, as you can understand, I was quite excited to have finally come across the right combination – allow me the pleasure of introducing you to Kyle Gutterson and Vee Bull, who make up VAI, your new favourite electronic indie duo.

How did VAI form?

Kyle: So, I was recording a band, whose manager was friends with Vee at the time. I went over to record the band – Mona Bay – and Vee was there with the manager and we just started talking about being Vegan.

Vee: Yeah, we were in the garage and they were recording, and I went to go get a snack and the whole band started roasting me about how the snack was going to be vegan, and Kyle goes ‘Oh, you’re vegan? Me too!’ and we just hit it off.

V: After that, we met up to just hang out, and at the time, I was at a point where I decided I needed someone to help me [with making music] and so I decided “well, okay, maybe I’ll give Kyle a go”

K: and you didn’t even know that I made electronic music at the time.

V: I didn’t even know! I messaged him saying, “hey, you don’t happen to make music, do you?”

K: And I was like “Well, actually, I’ve been making music since I was 13.”

V: Then we spent our whole first day together playing on a playground and became best mates, and here we are.

K: [Nightmares] was the first song we ever made together, not only the first release, but the first thing we played together. Overall, I think it came easily: it was her side and my side coming together. Now we write a bit differently, we’re both more involved in the production and everything, whereas with Nightmares, it was really me and you.

V: Exactly. I know the moment I started to realize that we’re a good team was a time when I tried to say “I want it to sound like this” and I’m really bad at theory, I’m not technical, so I didn’t know how to explain it. Kyle was just like “Oh, you mean like this?” and he typed a few things and it was exactly what I’d spelt out. That was when I thought “Jesus, this dude just gets me.”

What was the ideal vision for VAI music when you first started? Did you have a concrete plan or did it develop?

K: I would say it definitely developed. All of our songs have a certain feel to them. We’ve made six or seven songs at this point, only two released, and all of them feel like they’ve come from a specific place that just happened to come about when we were writing them.

Kyle – you’re obviously a talented producer. What’s your background with music? Have you always been into the electronic production side?

K: Yeah – I’ve actually done almost a full circle. In high school I started messing around with this software that Skrillex used because I read a couple of Skrillex interviews and I was like ‘I need to get that!’ and so I pretty much started making dubstep. I kept producing throughout high school - I had this name, Arizon, that I used for my electronic music then. That was a huge part of my upbringing from about 14 to 20: Arizon was my thing. When I started going to uni, I got into recording all sorts of bands. Now that I have that knowledge from working with all these bands and electronic music too, it’s kind of a cool balance. It feels like I’ve seen both sides of the music industry, and I think that’s part of why we have such a unique sound.

Vee - same question. What’s your timeline been as a singer?

V: Actually, when I was younger I was really into drama and theatre as well as music, but I was always more into the drama side. I went to school for music from year 10 and I guess because music and drama go hand in hand, I just found that music started to align more with my interests. I preferred writing music at first, but I didn’t have anyone to sing the songs, so I just started doing it myself. I guess that singing my own crappy songs since I was five helped me learn how to hold a tune and one day I thought ‘hey, this is pretty good.’

So, did either of you actually have a formal musical education?

K: Uh… I’ve had one vocal lesson and I think I studied to play the drums in year 7 because I couldn’t get my hands on a drumkit, so lessons were the only option. I can’t remember anything from the lessons, but I still play.

V: You’re good at drums!

K: I think so. I hope so.

V: For me, I did piano lessons when I was a kid for like 7 years, retained absolutely nothing of the theory. Later on, I went to Box Hill Secondary for music and you had to have lessons in what you were assessed on, and because I was hopeless at piano theory, I decided to be assessed as a singer. I took vocal lessons for that and they were great. I did VCE music as a subject, and that was about it in terms of education.

K: Yeah, I did the same.

V: I did tech but I failed, so then I did prac.

K: Dumbass.

V: Dumbass.

VAI’s first single, Nightmares, has some pretty heavy undertones. Can you talk about the conception of that song?

V: Essentially, we started writing an EP (which we graduated from) that was supposed to be four songs, all about different aspects of mental health. Nightmares was about having struggles with mental health and being on the other side of it, being ‘better’ or ‘healed’ or whatever you want to say, but then having that kind of disheartening, crushing realization that you don’t get better, you don’t just not have it anymore when you’re out of the worst. You’re gonna have to live with it and deal with it. Nightmares is about being on the other side of it and realizing that it’s going to be part of your life.

V: I think it’s not talked about. People either write about the depths of despair or this empowered moment of being out of it but no one tells the story of what happens after that moment, and after that moment is when you still have to realize that you still have to fight and work at it all the time.

Are there any artists that you feel are heavy contributors or inspiration for your work?

V: I think there’s many influences, and you’ll hear in our songs. Nightmares, our first song, and Fuck Up, our recent one, had different influences, but the sound of VAI has been influenced by Daughter, one of my all-time favourite bands. The lead singer is the most beautiful singer ever. They always have really dark themes in their songs and their lyrics can be a bit whimsical and metaphorical, which I like. Also Banks, who does electronic pop – I find her really interesting.

K: I get a lot of inspiration from a lot of places, honestly – even stuff from a lot of the bands I work with. I’ve produced for other people and for myself, and every time, it’s more about whatever comes to me naturally. I think that when I’m with Vee, I’ll tend to stick to a certain style because that’s almost the mood in the room, and it’s so easy for me to translate that [into our music]. When I’m by myself and I’m making something for just me, that mood created by being alone is something I channel into that music. Some names that spring to mind are Brockhampton, I love... I guess Skrillex, still! I wouldn’t say I still listen to him now, but I love that I did because he inspired me to get into electronic music. Who knows man, maybe I’d be a janitor if not for Skrillex.

V: Yeah, Brockhampton is a good one. They’re emotive, and they’ve got that hip-hop vibe that we sometimes try and chuck in.

With Victoria under social distancing restrictions, how have you found isolation as collaborative music creators who don’t live together?

K: It kind of wasn’t going for a bit. Vee was writing stuff on her own and I was finishing off our other tracks or working on my own stuff, that’s just how it was.

V: Yeah, for a while it was just me sending through a crappy phone video of some new stuff and I’d be like “I’ll send you the chords!” and then Kyle would send through an edit of one of our other songs like “okay, but how’s this?”, so yeah. It was a bit tough because we did get a lot of preparation stuff done, but once you’ve prepared, there’s nothing more to do but make the songs, which is much harder to do while isolating.

What’s the current goal for VAI?

K: More tracks, right now. We’ll start gigging and practicing once we have, I don’t know, five or six songs out, then we’ll start really looking into the live thing.

V: Yeah, actually, about a week before isolation started, we found a space that we wanted to use for rehearsals. We also found a place, a hall, that we wanted to start filming a music video for one of our songs that’s in the works right now, but then this whole isolation stuff happened and we just decided to try to make more new stuff.

Is there any artists that you’ve been really vibing to recently?

V: Melanie Martinez, she did that Play Date video. I heard that song a few weeks ago on Tik Tok, and she has an album from 2015 that I just started listening to and it’s really interesting!

K: I’ve been listening to a lot of Mac Miller – he’s pretty big though, so in terms for underground artists, I’ve been getting into REI AMI. She’s really good, she’s an American rapper and the production on her tracks is crazy.

Despite having only two singles out so far, VAI members Kyle and Vee display an eccentric use of synths and a hip-hop production style to illustrate varying tones within individual pieces of music. Their first song, Nightmares, does this particularly well, with sections that’ll make you want to cry, then stand up and dance - a peculiar phenomenon among songs that often speaks to the talent of the producer/s. Their lyrics are nothing to sneeze at either – what other band tackles the brutal realization of the permanence of mental health issues in their first single?

You can check out VAI on Instagram @vai_music, as well as their Triple J Unearthed page.

Their most recent single, ‘Fuck Up’ is available below.

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