Vulva Culture’s In Vain is Duality in Motion
“I think humanity is just weighing on me. Last night I had to protect this homeless man on Gottingen and it was really sad. And I had just watched My Girl and was crying. And I was at my friend’s mom’s house for lunch today being grilled about what I should do with my life.” Bianca Palmer explained.
“Then last night I was at the North house [where Palmer’s band The Everywheres were recording in Harley Alexander’s studio]. And I realized how much I love our musical family in Halifax. There’s so many good buds.”
Though she was describing her last 24 hours, Palmer also incidentally described the mood of her band Vulva Culture: sorrowful and introspective. Emotionally vulnerable and emphatically transparent. I spoke to Palmer and Vulva Culture’s lead singer Amy V on a rain-soaked Halifax afternoon. A week of beautiful weather and humidity was being karmically rebalanced by torrential storms on a muggy Sunday. Vulva Culture is the band in Halifax most likely to soundtrack a day like today. On Amy V’s upper arm a tattoo reads “Gloomy Sunday”. These were fitting coincidences.
Vulva Culture is the culmination of personal trauma, interpersonal upheaval, and the small struggles that bring peace within the self. Amy V writes songs that are admittedly ripped straight from her journal. On August 21st the band released In Vain, the first of two planned EP’s this year.
UPDATE: In Vain is now available for full stream. Listen to it here:
The EP is Vulva Culture’s first release since last winter’s split with Halifax’s Mauno. The recordings were done with Jeremy Costello of Special Costello, and videos for each song are being released by Heather Rappard (she made the video for CROSSS’ “Spectre”). The four song document is a testament to the pain and beauty of the band’s drowned-out live show.
As a foursome Vulva Culture is a maelstrom of devotional melancholy. Amy V describes her job as “cutting herself open in front of the crowd”. Her lyrics project a palpable catharsis that secures the emotional connection between Vulva Culture and its audience. But the band’s real strength lies in the talent and restraint of all four players.
“I was really selective in my brain, because this was who I wanted from the beginning,” explained Amy V. Between the steadily confident rhythm section made up of Hannah Guinan (Old and Weird) on bass and Palmer on drums, Kayla Stevens’ (Crossed Wires) rattling lead guitar, and the gentle power of Amy V’s voice, the band obviously has chops. But they straddle a delicate line, between tastefulness and boiled-over visceral emotion. To watch Vulva Culture perform is to see duality in motion.
“It’s such a fucking smoothie of a thing,” Palmer said about the band’s sound. Describing the band’s influences she added, “we’ve got doo-wop, opera, classical, and then there’s shoegaze, art-rock, dream pop, swing.” Even though the songs are basically Amy V’s journal entries made public “there’s so many sparkles on top of it, and hopefulness too.”
When speaking with Amy V and Palmer, you can actually see a stronger sense of the balancing act that buoys the band’s dynamic. They punctuate each other’s ideas with mutual compliments and introspection. They make each other laugh. They interrupt each other to agree but also to share sometimes diametrically opposed attitudes. When Amy V’s personality dips into self-conscious levity, Palmer bounces the mood back up with the ease of a naturally extroverted entertainer. She drops in and out of accents and cartoonish voices throughout the conversation. Where Amy’s art is an opportunity to confront her anxieties, you get the sense Palmer plays the drums because she might actually explode if she doesn’t move all her limbs at once. Together they are bubbly and serious, thoughtful and hilarious.
“It’s the yin and the yang,” Palmer pointed out, describing the duality of Amy V’s songwriting. “It’s appreciating the best and worst of yourself.” Last year Amy’s life went through drastic change. The end of a relationship led to the dissolution of other bands and friendships. But like most great art, Vulva Culture sprang up through the cracks of that turmoil.
“That’s usually when I do things the best, is when I’m super depressed and feeling really weird and anxious,” Amy V explained. “Everything I write is so 100% happening around me, so that’s when I verbalize a lot of it.”
While Vulva Culture began as a backlash to the negativity in Amy V’s personal life, it has come to create a few internal contradictions. “There’s definitely been some good things that have come out of (starting the band), there’s songs people like,” she said. “It’s like I’m super depressed about one thing and then I verbalize it and I get a bunch of accolades about it and it makes me feel nice.”
Amy V’s writing style seems like it has an emotional limit. Songs she started writing a year ago are still being worked out. She doesn’t envision Vulva Culture releasing any albums because she thinks these stark blasts of emotion work better in smaller batches. “I write music that’s all slow and sad because those are always my favorite songs on albums and the ones I listen to all the time,” she said. “So I want to make entire records of the slow, sad songs.”
Tours with Mauno and Boyhood from Ottawa led Vulva Culture to a level of notoriety and success, and a buzz among Canadian indie heads. They wowed at Obey Festival last spring, and have a gig at Halifax Pop Explosion this fall. For Amy V, whose best art comes out of unhappiness, the band’s modest success began to interfere with her process. “During this super happy blissful bubble period I couldn’t write shit,” she said.
More recently she’s entered a “more confusing period” that has been better for artistic inspiration. It’s an odd tension to observe: someone whose happiness depends on mining their own unhappiness. “I just had this vision of you texting me being like “I have writer’s block!” And I run to your house and kill your cat and you write an epic,” Palmer said.
She was mostly joking. I think.