Interview: Ida Vallens

It’s like the taste of grilled cheese on a Sunday afternoon in the Czech Republic,’ is how Ida Vallens describes the music she makes.

If that account leaves you none the wiser, it might help to know that she counts the work of surrealist director David Lynch as one of her primary inspirations.

Ida Vallens is the project of Anya Gradisher, an 18-year-old singer songwriter who makes art pop in the vein of Lana Del Rey’s fifties and sixties Americana laced with elements of trip hop and trap.

She originally began releasing singles under the pseudonym Mei before reinventing herself as Ida Vallens.

Having returned in June of this year under her new moniker she released Mt. Whitney Motel, a ghostly tale of an ill-fated, anonymous sex worker.

Further establishing her aesthetic, Ida now follows that track up with Deadstock, which delves into the disturbing story of a forties starlet.

Here, we chat to Ida about the thinking behind her work, her take on women in the music industry and what she has lined up for the future…

Having released a series of singles under the pseudonym Mei, you’ve returned with a new project and name. What inspired the transition?

I was staring at a tree trunk on display in the Tate Modern for a while, Oneness of Cedar the piece was named. I thought how aptly it was named, but also how the artist must have stared at this trunk of Cedar, and how inside that tree, there must also exist a square pillar. This is exactly the encouragement I needed to change my name.

Okay so maybe that’s not quite true but the real story is boring, it’s mostly because the SEO sucked as there turned out to be way more artists named Mei coming out years after I chose that name. It was such a fight to get their music off my pages. I never even liked Mei that much, so it was time to part with it. I think choosing an artist name at such a young age that you’re going to stick with is difficult, it’s like letting a 15-year-old get a tattoo, it’s hard to make an informed decision.

How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?

It’s like the taste of grilled cheese on a Sunday afternoon in the Czech Republic. A hint of trip, a dash of pop.

What’s the thinking behind your latest single Deadstock?

The inspiration came from the story of Candy Jones, a 1940s pin-up model who was a victim of mind control through a programme of hypnosis, organised by sections of the CIA. Her traumatic childhood caused her to develop an alternate personality that she would switch into in stressful situations causing her to dissociate and not remember anything that happened. Because of this, Candy was used by the CIA as she was the perfect messenger: she would not reveal anything about the message she carried, where she came from or who had sent her, even when tortured. Deadstock follows a young starlet in a state of delusional psychosis and dissociation.

Is important for you to make a statement with your music?

I believe there always has to be a point to what you are creating. I find the things that I like to make a statement about happen to be challenging. A good story always has a good plot but also a moral and conclusion, I approach songs like I would write a book. I always used to write books when I was younger but they would never get finished, so I found compacting them in poems made more sense to me.

What’s your take on women in the music industry?

I can only tell you about my own experience. We live in a society that values women’s youth as the epitome of beauty, it’s almost as if there’s an expiration date. But the trouble with youth as a female is that it’s hard to get listened to by the people that run the industry, and there’s a lot of risk putting yourself out there as a female solo artist. As someone who hasn’t always had a team of people to work with who I can trust. I’ve had my share of unwanted encounters, with people who have lived for a lot longer than I have that used my youthful naivety as a way to gain from me. I’m at a place now where I’ve learnt that it’s okay to say no. I think that’s the most important lesson for women to learn, as we are often brought up to be pleasers and givers before putting ourselves first.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

David Lynch and his series Twin Peaks. The music, the aesthetics, the challenging subject matter, the wit and creativity.

You were selected for Audio Active’s artist development programme – what has that meant for your career?

I haven’t been able to reflect on the experience properly yet. Having people who are there like a team has really helped.

Can you tell us a bit more about your collaboration with As Described?

So far, we’ve only done two or three shows together. I help to select visual elements I want for each song and he mixes it into a brilliant cocktail of film.

Do you have any plans for a full-length release? 

Not for another year or so. I like to concentrate on singles because I put all my effort into each song I write, and I think at the moment I’m a bit scared to just let them all go at once.

What do you have lined up for the rest of the year?

Check idavallens.com and maybe you will find some clues.

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