At this year’s SXSW conference, we had a chance to chat with some of our favorite artists to find out what sparks their creative process and how they collaborate on music, comedy, and storytelling. Here’s what we learned from Australian singer/songwriter Vera Blue about letting the vibe of your environment—and chemistry with your collaborators—shape the sound of your songs.
Who are your favorite musical collaborators right now?
Andy Mack. He’s amazing. He’s got a lot of people that he works with. And he also helped me find some band members. My guitar player is a family friend of his, Sam, and they’re very similar in a way. I think they’ve grown up with the same kind of qualities and stuff, so yeah, we get along. I meet a lot of people through those people as well. So they’re all very special and I find I connect with people that are quite similar, very down to earth.
A lot of the songs that I co-wrote with Andy Mack and Tom Mack, his younger brother… I think of us as Vera Blue sometimes because we stuck together from the beginning and now we are continuing to work together on the new record. So that EP was us and I think it’s continuing. It’s kind of a very special project with a soul part of it. Developing into the Vera Blue stuff was something that surprised me… as a person and as an artist.
How did you meet and begin working together?
I met Andy Mack at a songwriting camp. Normally with songwriting camps, you kind of (walk) up, you meet the person, you start writing, and it either works or it doesn’t. But I love doing those sessions. On that particular day, it worked and I loved the fact that he was open to experimenting. At the time, I was listening to a lot of electronic music and I write folk music myself, so I said to him, “I have this idea, this chorus, and I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic music. Let’s just experiment and see what we get.” And he was just like, “Yep, let’s do it,” and yeah, that’s how that came across.
Where was the songwriting camp?
The songwriting camp was out in the country in Australia. It was out kind of in the bush you know, really beautiful. It was like a house and there were lots of other little studios surrounding the house, so it was really, really special. And I think that’s also what created a magical vibe with my organic side of the music. And then experimenting with the electronic just created such a really cool, cool vibe and a cool song.
Does your environment often influence your songwriting that way?
I grew up in the country in Australia in a little town called Forbes. So I think that also, growing up in the country has that massive influence on the folk music in my music. Also, sometimes when we work in different places, like, for example, when we worked on the record recently in the city, I feel like it adds a bit more of an electric vibe with the electronic stuff. So I feel like it depends where I am, what kind of vibe it adds to the music.
How do you usually kick off a collaboration?
I’m in very close contact with my co-writer Tom. We are texting all the time. We’re really close friends. So if I have an idea, sometimes I’ll send it to him without even saying what it is and he’ll be like, “Is that a lyric?” (laughs) And then we’ll kind of just start and keep working on an idea. We’ve got a very fun and uplifting kind of energy, so we’re always feeding off each other.
How do your live performances influence your creative process?
Performing live is my favorite part of doing the music. I think it’s very special. There’s something about stepping out on stage and just kind of being vulnerable with the crowd and giving the energies and emotions that you’ve been feeling at the time, which I find is quite intense as an artist as well. It’s quite a cool thing. You learn a lot about what you can do as well, performing. And you learn what the other band members can do, so you’re kind of learning a lot more. So when you go into the studio, you can take things that have happened on stage and put them into them into the recording process.
When I go out on stage, I can’t really control how I feel. It just happens. But I find every performance I do, I feel like I have to be vulnerable with the crowd in order to make them feel what I’m feeling, and for them to connect to the music that I’m performing to them. That’s the risk I think—just kind of giving it all in the moment.
I find performing quite adrenaline-rushing. You get a bit of a hit from performing. So I think part of that—and having the confidence to be able to let yourself go while you’re performing—when I go back into songwriting, I feel like I’m a little bit more confident with what I say, or maybe my melodies and how they move. When the audience reacts to you, you kind of know what’s good and what’s not.