Artist/Band: Carmen Villain
Hometown: Oslo, Norway
Latest Album/Release: Infinite Avenue (Smalltown Supersound)
Influences: Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under The Influence” and “Love Streams,” Richard Brautigan, Elena Ferrante, Joan Didion, Antonioni’s “Il Deserto Rosso”
TrunkSpace: How do you describe your music?
Villain: Hmmm. A mix of ambient/electronic/folk/experimental/psychedelic?
TrunkSpace: You have lived in many different countries and experienced firsthand the people and cultures of those locations. Has that helped to shape your artistic point of view?
Villain: Yes, I believe all life experiences affect our creative output.
TrunkSpace: You wrote, recorded, and produced your new album “Infinite Avenue” on your own. Does that mean the process was entirely solitary or did you still involve others along the way, even as a possible springboard for ideas while you were creating?
Villain: It was mostly done alone, but I hired in a cello player for the string arrangements on “She’s Gone To California,” and recorded those and the pianos for that track in another studio with help from Knut Sœvik. I also had my live band mate and friend, Mona, come into the studio and recorded her making drones on a vibraphone for “Connected.” And at the end of “Quietly” there’s a very beautiful guitar melody built into the landscape that was done by my friend Pål Espen. Also, of course, Jenny Hval contributed with vocals on “Borders,” which was very inspiring.
TrunkSpace: Creating alone is a natural process, particularly when you’re writing from such a personal place. Does it feel natural to then share that personal experience with people in a live setting or does it take some getting used to with certain tracks and/or specific lyrics?
Villain: Yes, it’s a very personal album, and sometimes it can feel a little embarrassing or kind of scary, but I have more trouble singing something live that isn’t true. When I play live there’s a lot of work to do other than sing, and so I try not to think about the content of the words TOO much and concentrate more on the performance and not messing up too much.
TrunkSpace: In working primarily on your own, did it open the door for self-discovery throughout the process, and if so, what did you learn about yourself that caught you by surprise?
Villain: Mainly, working alone is a practice in patience. So, I guess the main thing I have learned about myself is that I can be very patient when needed. I have also learned, that despite doubting myself and getting frustrated from time to time, that I can do it – that I can make an album. There’s of course a whole bunch of soul-searching for the lyrics, and trying to find ways to formulate feelings and experiences that can be a complete mess inside my head, so there’s that. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: What is it that you hope draws people to what you create? What do you want them to discover within the songs themselves?
Villain: I make music for the love of music and sound, so I hope it will draw people towards it by just being what it is. It is not made with a particular goal or ambition in mind (although, I am ambitious, but it doesn’t affect the way I make the music), so it might not be the immediate and easiest music to discover. If the listeners can project their own experiences into the songs, that would be amazing. I think there’s quite a few layers in there for people to discover, depending on how and why they listen. But music is so subjective and a personal experience, so I can’t really expect anything!
TrunkSpace: What were you hoping to accomplish with “Infinite Avenue” that perhaps you didn’t achieve with your debut album? Did you approach it from a different mindset?
Villain: Yes, I started this album with a different approach. I wanted it to be less “rock” and real drums-based, to be easier to tour, and also to have plenty of time and room for me to get to the soundscapes that I didn’t feel I got to do as much on the previous album. I wanted this album to be a lot more personal. Other that that, most of it happened via intuition and lots and lots of experimenting and trying and failing.
TrunkSpace: You started your career as a fashion model. When you decided to pursue music as a career, did you have to kind of hit the reset button due to outside perceptions? Was it important for you to be seen as a singer/songwriter and not a model who was now singing and writing songs?
Villain: I knew that there would probably be a lot of prejudice, and that it would taint the way people saw me, but I could only let the music speak for itself, I guess. It’s a long, long time since my previous job, which was my way of making a living, (and it also funded the entire first album), so now it feels like another life entirely. I left that job when I felt like I couldn’t get any more out of it, when there wasn’t much left in terms of experience, mainly to focus on the music.
TrunkSpace: Why was it important for you to take up the name Carmen Villain? Was part of it reinvention of self as we discussed above? And just out of curiosity, why “Villain” in particular? It has a dubious definition, even though, when a villain is done right, they’re not inherently evil… they’re just seeing things differently than most.
Villain: It seemed like a good idea at the time. There is no real reason for the word, other than that I liked it at the time. I also did feel the need for me to not use my real name because of earlier associations.
TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself creatively?
Villain: I’m hard on myself all the time, too hard, and I’m a perfectionist and a control freak. (Laughter) But I think I’m hardest on myself for not making the progress I expect or hope for.
TrunkSpace: If music ceased to exist within your life, what would be your creative and emotional outlet? Is there anything that exists within your world that lives on the same level as songwriting
Villain: I honestly don’t know. Other than of course my daughter and family, which IS life, but in terms of creative outlets, which to me is vital… I couldn’t tell you.
TrunkSpace: What else can fans of Carmen Villain look forward to for the rest of 2017 and into the new year?
Villain: I’m constantly working on new music, and want to try to release new music more often. I also want to do more collaborations. And I’m always trying to find ways in which to travel and play live, so I will hopefully make it over to North America soon! Heading to Tokyo in October, after a few Norway dates, to play my first Japanese show, so I’m very excited about that.