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Viji: A SXSW Conversation

Interview by Giliann Karon

Photo by Nicole Ngai

Austrian-born, London-based Viji brings a sleek and innovative sound to a booming and eclectic South London alternative scene. Heavily influenced by glamorous nightlife and the next day’s fate, her debut album So Vanilla came out last year on taste-making label Speedy Wunderground. I caught up with her at SXSW before she played her first show in the States, where we discussed her worldly upbringing, partnership made in heaven with Dan Carey, and decision to let vulnerability peek through an album that was made for grungy club nights and blurry Ubers home.

Dan Carey, who produced Black Midi’s Schlagenheim and Fontaines D.C.’s Dogrel, founded the label Speedy Wunderground, which has become synonymous with the next generation of post-punk and indie rock. Viji has a legendary producer and dedicated fanbase at her disposal. Born and raised in Vienna with family in Rio de Janeiro, Viji craved a city with a vibrant alternative music community that attracted English-speaking artists. Given visa constraints, London just made sense. “The scene is wonderful and everyone supports each other,” she gushes.

Her close relationship with Carey bloomed from a writing session, where they wrote “Ambien,” the last track on the record. “I was tired and wanted to write something slow,” she explained. She perks up when describing his playground-like studio, full of analog devices that mirror the music she listens to. She entered the studio buzzing with ideas, which Carey, who she now calls a close friend, helped materialize. Carey co-wrote five songs on the album and the rest are mostly from bedroom demos. Signing to Speedy was a natural fit.

So Vanilla channels the “indie sleaze” moniker, which she laughs and calls a “trigger,” because “no one uses that term properly!” What once alluded to LCD Soundsystem’s breakthrough self-titled album and James Murphy’s legendary DFA parties has become a catch-all for NYC rich kids who nurture a feedback loop of milquetoast art and nose drugs. The next day’s photo dumps are never anyone’s entire lives, nor should they be. Viji is one of the cool kids, but doesn’t pretend like she’s devoid of empathy or experiences outside nightlife. In fact, she embraces her softness. Her “misery makes her holy,” she belts on “Down.” By speckling in slow and vulnerable tracks about romantic betrayal and self-sabotage, she documents what happens outside a cryptic 3 am Instagram story.

“When we got to around nine tracks, I asked myself ‘what’s missing? What am I craving?’ I really wanted to add variety.” She prefers to listen to albums all the way through, so she ensured each track on So Vanilla flows into the next, starting with soft 90s indie pop before cruising into futuristic city pop, all with a guitar-driven underbelly of wistfulness and rage. She continues stuffing her toolkit with slick pop and hints of fuzzy shoegaze, all while remaining impressively cohesive. The 40-minute album oscillates from hook-laden party anthems to hungover reckonings and back again. No matter what, “guitar is my roots and I wanted to stay authentic to that.”

Like the never-ending party nights she sings about, she similarly maintains the impossibly high energy on tour. “I asked my bandmates, ‘can we do this for half a year now?’ I’m surrounded with people I genuinely really like and that keeps me from burning out.” She craves the ambitious work and travel schedule but admits she sometimes wishes she could “record an album, promote the shit out of it, tour, and then disappear for a year.”

She’s too busy living the life she sings about to catalog it on social media, apart from some light-hearted Instagram stories and fit pics here and there. Her TikTok and Instagram profiles are a mall goth jumble of dancing videos, fit pics, and snippets from tour. “I try not to take TikTok too seriously. I won’t look at what’s trending, I’ll just post videos to promote my music or just anything I find funny.” We briefly discuss the merits and pitfalls of social media as an artist before embarking on a tangent about when she skinny dipped with her band after playing a festival in France. When far too many musicians chase fleeting internet trends, authenticity is a gift.

Energetic dance tracks and soulful soliloquies steer Viji far away from monotony. Instead of riding anyone’s coattails, her genre-defying hits carve out a new space in an energetic scene. She’s already made waves in UK alternative spaces and it’s only a matter of time before she does the same stateside.

Listen to So Vanilla out now on Speedy Wunderground and keep up with her on Instagram @vijiwater.


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