Never mind who killed Laura Palmer, who on Earth is Coco Varda? In this interview the ‘cave pop’ transatlantic innovator reveals their love of existentialism, Motown and Jean Paul Sarte. These and many other reasons to discover their EP (‘There are Worse Things on the Internet) await the bored and the restless.
‘I guess ultimately the pace of my music would be best for listening alone, however you like, and allowing the spaces and wandering nature of my sound to invite personal reflection.’
Did you slowly progress towards the signature form of your music or has it always been so?
Coco Varda: This release is made up of the first music I ever recorded and produced, so it is actually where the Cave Pop aesthetic comes from.
That’s a pretty impressive start to self production. Curious as to your route toward the sound and how being a multidisciplinary artist impacted the work. What other medium affected the writing process for the new EP?
Coco Varda: Most of the writing came from the research I did in my studies. A lot of which was centered around philosophy. I was quite lost at the time and weirdly found comfort in Existentialist literature. I came across the novel ‘Nausea’ by Jean-Paul Sartre which directly inspired the track, ‘Pulp’.
This comfort I found in Existentialism, wandering aimlessly, meaninglessness, the questioning of myself in relation to other people, places and objects is also brought up in my track ‘Airplane Mode’.
In terms of my artistic practice, I was mainly creating sonic art installations at the time, using vocal improvisation and electronics in churches, stairwells, and gallery cellars. I was interested in how sound affirms our sense of being in relation to space and context, as sound is defined by space. Reverb is a great example of this! Going back to the Cave Pop sound, I actually sought out real places in my artistic practice that had a natural reverb for my installations.
Ultimately, I feel my music creation influenced my artistic practice more than the other way around to be honest.
Your sonic art installations presumably operate without the constraints of pop music economy. Was the switch to a different discipline a steep learning curve, or is this a non issue?
Coco Varda: It wasn’t a difficult transition, as it furthered my interest in music into my art. But the installations did operate within the constraints of the art world. Because I was working with sonic art and it was close to music, a lot of my work faced criticism from a few other artists who claimed it wasn’t really art and was music. But, in my opinion, good art should have some controversy.
At the time I was very interested in performance art, which brings movement, bodies and action into artistic discourse. Sound and vocal performance was just an extension of this to me. When you look at performance art, it has always received a lot of public criticism, and I am not a frontier in sonic arts or vocal performance within performance art, you have people like Meredith Monk, or Laurie Anderson for example who walk the line between music and art very well.
For me the division between my art and my music was simply the context of the work. Freely investigating the shapes of sound with a focus behind the specific meaning of each space I performed in.
The mention of your performance art does give us an opportunity to discuss your drag personas (as highlighted in our video interview). Do you see your various drag personas featuring more prominently in future releases?
Coco Varda: So, when I started performing my music live, and this is where the songs of my EP first really existed, I ended up playing drag nights, and other queer spaces. During that time I was performing under my alias Taz Cobalt. Taz was a blue, cave-dwelling sound demon that possessed people with their voice.
Other personas I have investigated have played into masculinity, femininity, and cyborg beings.
I decided to release music under Coco Varda instead of the various aliases I have created, because I realized that all of these personas were a part of me, and can continue to exist in flux under one name, Coco Varda.
I definitely will continue to bring drag elements into my live performance, but I am unsure if I will deliberately feature or distinguish the part of myself I wish to perform.
What particular incident or thought process helped you reach the conclusion that your personas could exist under one brand name?
Coco Varda: I think it’s because I started doing lots of different projects with different names and personas and it ended up a little taxing to constantly compartmentalize into different aliases.
Coco Varda encompasses everything. So in a way it allows freer expression, because every aspect can exist simultaneously or in flux.
Following on from our video interview’s inquiry about production, what is it about a used or worn down aesthetic that enthralled you to begin with, and has your understanding of that sound design grown over time? If so, tell us how.
Coco Varda: I think when I first started making music, I was just doing it the way I wanted to. I didn’t know the “correct” studio methods. When I decided to learn, I thought there was one magic answer to production. And that I just needed the code to become a good producer. I quickly learned that there is no code or “correct” method for music production. There are definitely certain things that a lot of people do that are important and I am glad I learned the basics, but I still think my purest expression came from my novice days when I was creating more freely.
I also think there’s something in rejecting to create in a way that you’re told to. Especially in an industry that is so male dominated. I feel it’s almost a feminist rebellion to ignore all the mansplaining in the studio and make your music sound the way you want it to because it’s your art at the end of the day.
In terms of this release the lo-fi aesthetic was a nod to that. It also furthers its nostalgic feel, which I really felt revisiting it for release. I feel as though the songs have aged, and aging can be beautiful.
Would you say there is a direct correlation between patriarchal outlook and lifeless production? Also, do we fear the seemingly rough for a sheen which we associate with the sleek sportscar and the late teen fashion model? If we cite that music has been used as a complimentary aid to men attracting and in many cases, controlling women perhaps, philosophically men in studio environments are subconsciously opposed to anything that might effect that subroutine, and in identifying such opposition in working with those outside the CiS Het paradigm, they might react with negativity and fear?
Coco Varda: That’s an interesting question! I think any male dominated industry in the patriarchal society we live in will always pose unique challenges stemming from male privilege. I think feminine voices have definitely been extracted in many ways from the feminine body. Especially in EDM you get a lot of male producers sampling and working with vocals where the vocalist is often uncredited for their work.
I think women and people outside the Cis Het are more tokenised in the industry rather than feared. As we have in recent years felt a shift as a society. I think a lot of cis male producers will work with people to intentionally seem more current. But even if they do appear ‘inclusive’ on the outside, I have heard stories and experienced situations where these relationships are closer to extortion.
The monitisation and the folding in of feminist ideals into the machine occur across multiple mediums, most notably music and television. Perhaps this is due to both those areas being able to take advantage of the many agents involved seeking validation and mistaking adoration for love.
A few more questions for you in what has been a most fascinating interview. Branches is a standout track on the EP and could easily fit on a soundtrack or TV show. Tell us about the track and its particular place on the track listing.
Coco Varda: Definitely! Good point
Sure! So Branches is the third track. The whole EP actually is in order of how I wrote them so it’s placement is really just chronological. I do feel the energy builds sequentially as well.
The track itself was inspired by an experience of dissociation where my thoughts felt separated from my body. The repetitive lyrics, looped backings and beat further this sense of vertigo.
I really wanted to write a song that questioned what consciousness actually is in relation to the physical body.
… And what answer(s) did Branches bestow?
Coco Varda: There’s no way of ever really knowing for sure. But I imagine they are separate, but symbiotic entities based on the experience I had that inspired Branches.
Intriguing, and it’s so valuable in our egotistical culture (let alone industry), to value and exclaim that we don’t have all the answers. Being closed to that often means ignoring deeper questions. So, thank you.
Penultimate question time: You have a history of listening to old school R&B. Have you ever been tempted into producing a traditional record in that genre?
Coco Varda: Definitely! I think knowing you don’t know everything is much better than thinking you do. Because then you’re more open to learning which can be an exciting and infinite experience.
Interesting question! I used to perform as a jazz vocalist in high school. I listened to a lot of old R&B and motown singers for inspiration to be a better vocalist. For me personally though, I’ve never been drawn to create in that realm. I still like to sing it though!
I think my music is an accumulation of lots of genres. I like to take all the elements that inspire me and combine them.
It’s a method that everyone does with music! I’m not unique there at all. We situate ourselves as creators after many great creators. Music is always growing and changing based on an influence. Be that genre inspired, or contextually in relation to cultural scenes and technology.
If this EP is anything to go by then your explorations have given your expression the appearance of effortlessness and yet large in scope. This is quite a balance to strike, especially since being open to many genres isn’t always so profitable for an artist’s experience. Quite often, an unseemly jukebox of a sound presents itself from audiophiles who are less self investigative and are more interested in ticking off multiple checkpoints on music they consider culturally valuable (and use to improve their own brand or lack of culture). A big topic there to converse on in future, for sure.
So, finally, although I wish we had more time to continue this interview, where do you imagine your music works best? As creatives we must make peace with the fact that what we create takes on a whole new life when placed in the public ownership, but, if you could, detail where your EP works best? A chill out room in a club? During a desert drive? On headphones in a study hall? Illuminate us all!
Coco Varda: Ah thank you so much! Definitely! Good point! You do see large artists in mainstream music using trends from smaller artists. Often extorting cultures and underground aesthetics to appear more current or benefit their sound if it’s not as relevant any more.
Also a great question! Perhaps on a spelunking adventure? Cave pop in a cave would be a dream!
To be honest though, I think it is up to the listener! This is the beauty in releasing music because you relinquish your control over its meaning. People can listen how they like, interpret and create new meanings for themselves. I guess ultimately the pace of my music would be best for listening alone, however you like, and allowing the spaces and wandering nature of my sound to invite personal reflection.
Absolutely appreciate your vibe and openness in this conversation. May many fans old and new get lost in the EP as much as I have. Until next time.
Coco Varda: Ah thank you so much! I really enjoyed this discussion. Some really interesting themes were brought up. Really appreciate your time and ideas!
Live video for ‘Airplane Mode’ is out now:
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