Insight Interview: Vela

We caught up recently with UK-based producer and artist Vela to talk about life and music. Check out his story below…

Hey Vela, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview. Where are you based? Do you tend to travel a lot, or are you firmly rooted at home?

Hey Antony. No worries – thanks for inviting me! I’m currently based in west London. In the past I travelled a fair bit, and lived in Canada for a while, however not so much recently as I’m settled into a PhD here in the UK. Still get away when I can, though.

Can you recall your first real exposure to music?

At a young age, I was broadly introduced to classical music by my parents (think Bach, Vivaldi etc) and Italian/Spanish guitarists by my various music teachers. I might not have appreciated it so much at the time, but it’s something I find myself playing quite often nowadays – the intricate keys and strings are mesmerising. I suppose my first real exposure to alternative and electronic music was during my teen years though. I went to a lot of gigs and festivals to see bands such as The Cure, The Black Keys and Marmaduke Duke. It’s amazing how music tastes can evolve over time.

How and when did you first begin writing and creating music?

I’ve been practicing classical guitar since I was 7 years old. I suppose I didn’t start creating electronic music until around 5-6 years ago though (time flies!). I started out messing around with the polyphonic synth sounds on my dad’s ancient Roland XP-60, and gradually moved over to DAWs to experiment with samples and VSTs. Eventually the project Vela came out…

How did you decide upon the name Vela?

Great question, and one I don’t really have an interesting answer for. I suppose I just thought it was catchy and sounded cool at the time, and have stuck with it ever since. Incidentally, it also translates to ‘machines’ in Icelandic…

Have you made or released music under any other name?

Before Vela, I was known under the alias ‘Ce Mondial’…a project I could only describe as an electronic adaptation of world music…let’s not go there. Most of the work I’ve since lost, though you might be able to find it lurking somewhere in the depths of the internet if you try hard enough!

Can you describe your music for us? Is there one particular track or album which you think encapsulates who you are as an artist?

I’d describe my work as ambient, with various elements of glitch and “bass music”. To quote my overly-pretentious SoundCloud bio: “Vela melds soft dreamy waves with organic percussion to produce sounds that could complement a brew in a coffee shop”. 😉

Have you played live recently? Would you like to do more shows or tours in future? Anything coming up soon you’d like to tell us about?

Unfortunately I haven’t my electronic work live before, only a few DJ sets. It’s definitely something I’d be keen on doing in the future though once I’ve established a live setup. Watch this space…

What have been your biggest influences?

I don’t think all the names would fit on this page! That being said, I’ve been influenced by quite a few of the artists on Erased Tapes Records. Two names really stick out for me in particular – Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm. Their musical styles don’t necessarily reflect my own, but I find the community-driven and experimental approach they take to their music really inspirational. In fact, a good friend of mine and I were fortunate enough to watch them in all-night collaboration under the iconic Louvre Pyramid in Paris. Experiencing their delicate piano during the sunrise was absolutely beautiful and something that I’ll never forget!

Do you think producing electronic music requires technical or creative skill? Or both?

Elements of both, in my opinion. I believe that creativity comes first, as it’s this that allows you to meld original ideas/melodies that really engage with the listener. Without this, I don’t think you could define your own sound and make your music stand out from other artists! The technical aspects, mixing and so forth, is something that is necessary to translate those ideas into a sound quality that you’re happy with.

Do you tend to find the creative process a cathartic or therapeutic experience? Has creating music helped you cope with difficult times in your life?

Writing and producing music has been always a great outlet for me to channel my emotion and escape from the so-called ‘real world’. There’s something really therapeutic about ambient music in particular, where you can just float away with the wavy and textured sounds…only to then realise that it’s 5 AM and you’ve got to head off to work in 3 hours’ time haha. Can’t personally say that I’ve used it as a medium to deal with difficult times in my life, but I can totally understand why people would.

Any collaborations, remixes or joint projects on the horizon?

Not too much at the moment. Although, Gold Falls and I have been bouncing ideas off each other for a while so I’m excited to see if that’ll develop into anything! Collaborations are definitely something I’d be keen on doing more of in the future; it helps bring people together and adds a nice community feel to music production. It’s always really interesting to see the workflow of other artists too.

Any new genres or musical styles you’d like to explore in future?

I’d like to drift a bit more into an acoustic, organic type of sound. At the moment, my guitar and piano music is completely separate to my electronic work, but I’m hoping to incorporate the two later down the line. I’ll probably need to learn more about microphone dynamics and positioning first, though.

Any new releases coming our way?

No plans for the immediate future! As is the case with many artists I’m sure, I have a countless amount of tracks that I’m not 100% satisfied with and probably won’t see the light of release. Unfortunately I was the victim of theft last year which saw the loss of a substantial amount of work and samples. Hence, I’m currently focused on rebuilding my sound archive so I start producing once again. It’s a brief hiatus from releasing, but I see this more as an exciting opportunity go out and do some field recording and discover new music! Stay tuned…

Any artists or other individuals / collectives you’ve not worked with yet that you’d like to work with in future?

Project: Mooncircle would be a collective I’d be especially keen to work with at some point. They’ve put out some fantastic electronica/downtempo releases in the past (I have submerse’s album ‘Slow Waves’ practically on repeat), and I’d like to think that my style is somewhat complementary!

Do you have a favourite track / song of all time? Favourite artist?

There are so many different artists and tracks I could name from their respective genres. However, alongside Ólafur and Nils whom I previously mentioned I’d have to pick Brian Eno, who is often regarded as the godfather of ambient music. Not sure I could choose a particular track, but I’m a massive fan of his early works including Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978) and Thursday Afternoon (1985). Definitely worth a listen if you haven’t already.

It’s been said that a life in music can be a hard one. Would you agree with that?

I write music purely for leisure so I can’t comment much from personal experience. However, I can say that establishing a big enough audience to earn a living is pretty tough. There’s a lot of competition out there, so it’s absolutely essential that your music is unique in order to stand out from the crowd! Promoting your music can take a lot of time and energy too. That being said, life in music is definitely a rewarding experience and I believe that so long as it makes you happy, it’s worth it.

Do you have any words of advice for aspiring young producers?

Be patient, and take breaks. Music production can be a frustrating process at times. Sometimes we’re unable to mix sounds to our liking, and sometimes we have lull periods when we’re lacking any original ideas…and that’s totally OK. Try not to let it demotivate you – I find it helps to take a step back at times and start a new project! You can always return to a track with a fresh mind another time. I often have multiple projects on-the-go…

Any other projects on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?

Not a project per se, but I’ve recently started to design/create my own visuals to add a new perspective to my music. Visual art is often used as a source of inspiration in the song-writing process (and vice versa of course), so it’s been fun to explore the other side of things! It’s pretty experimental at the moment, and just consists of me messing around with the lighting conditions in various environments. So, there’s no way I can claim to be a visual artist, but it’s still early days – perhaps there’s the potential for Vela to evolve into an audio-visual project? We’ll see!

My latest work is titled ‘Experiments in minimalism’, which you can find here.

And finally – are there any tracks / artists that are relatively unknown that you’d like people to know about?

Yes, many. I think artists such as Cass., Gold Falls, Swimming TV, Itsuki and Notuv deserve some more recognition. They’re all really talented and produce some fantastic music that ranges from ambient to hip-hop. Please go check them out and show some support, it really helps us smaller artists out!

Thanks so much Vela!

Thank you for having me, all the best!

Check out Vela’s music here and here.