Miss Velvet has a voice made for the poetry of her songs. The ascendant artist fuses high lyricism with powerful vocals to create tunes that are full of feeling, yet remain exciting. She sings in the tradition of iconic rockers Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin, and has the high voltage stage presence to match.
We caught up with the born and bred New Yorker before her first ticketed gig at the Lower East Side’s Mercury Lounge to get the lowdown on who Miss Velvet is, what she was doing out in LA with her producer and Empire of the Sun’s Nick Littlemore and why the best performers do leave their hearts onstage.
Miss Velvet, this is a big night for you?
It’s funny. It feels like this is just the beginning, but there’s been ten years of fighting to get to this. This is my first ticketed show, so I’m like, ‘Let’s go!’
Right on, and congratulations. What does your pre-show routine look like on a night like tonight?
So, I go and warm up for an hour, vocalize for an hour. Then I go down and have another rehearsal with my band where we’ll sing basically the whole set for another hour. Then we’ll do a sound check. I’ve basically already done three versions of my show throughout the day. For me, this is like an athlete going to the ring. You want everything warm, you don’t want to just jump onstage while your muscles are cold.
Respect, but that’s pretty exhaustive…
Maybe it’s a little bit obsessive but everyone in the band digs it now. It’s not so quick- everything moves so fast in this day and age- but we just had an awesome day because we jammed out all day. And then we get to go perform, which is like icing on the cake.
It’s cool to see someone so amped up to perform. Even though this is Miss Velvet’s first ticketed show, you’ve been on stage in other contexts before. What can you tell us about that experience of performing live?
You really feed off the audience. It’s this call and response, or give and take, and that’s what I really love. You’re going into this arena where it’s the unknown.
And you enjoy that sensation?
Going into the unknown? Yes, I really like to be standing on the edge-the best part is the no control. The stimulation of noises, sounds, energies and vibes: I feed off that. I absolutely love that. That’s why I go through all these things all day, warming up, so I can feel fee when I’m up on stage. That’s what my songs are about, finally reaching that pinnacle of freedom.
That’s awesome. What does it feel like when you’re gearing up to enter that space? Do you get the jitters at all? Or does all that rehearsing help ease your nerves?
I’m like the thoroughbred at the gate waiting to go. Mostly, a calm wave comes over and it’s very silent. I yawn a lot on purpose before I go in front of the crowd because yawning makes me calm down. I try to take that moment of calmness and step back and picture the whole room, see Miss Velvet and the band from this whole third perspective.
What about onstage, when you’re out there belting lyrics into the unknown? Can you describe that feeling?
The music is such an intricate part of who I am. It’s coming out from my fingertips down to my toes. It’s not just coming out vocally; it’s coming out of every part of my body. You’re actually leaving a part of yourself on stage. The best performers leave their heart onstage.
Your presence is so large onstage, and I feel like some of that has to do with your outfits. Is there a logic to the way you dress for a show?
There’ll usually be something tight on the bottom- like pants- but on the top, I like a little flow. Some of the songs enter into somewhere romantic and I want to be able to go from a side that’s very androgynous or masculine, to a side that can be very ethereal that can be very beautiful. It’s gender bending a little bit. The power can be masculine and raw, but the movement can be soft and ethereal.
That aesthetic seems to tie in with your music. What themes would you say that your songs touch upon?
A lot of them are based around understanding what loss is, and coming of age.
What defines that coming of age experience to you?
Going from a girl to a woman. You realize what relationships are poisonous and can kill parts of yourself. A lot of these songs are about being a woman and being empowered and putting your best foot forward, no matter what. About being strong and not caring if a person doesn’t want to accept you, because that doesn’t matter. You can be who you are: authentic, truthful, and you don’t have to be afraid because there are no barriers. Who makes up the barriers? Who makes up the boundaries in life? Nobody does.
That is an honest, badass way to look at things. What is this album about, specifically?
These ten songs spoke the truth about exactly what I went through-the loss of my father, different relationships, falling into that New York nightlife and downward spiral and how those things accumulate to form something that’s really truthful. You’re going to feel it in different songs. The deeper we go lyrically, the more it touches some uncomfortable personal places.
What part does New York play in that story?
New York’s part is just that it’s that place that sometimes is going to bite you in the ass. It’s going to tear you down, it’s going to pick you back up, it’s beautiful, it’s romantic… You drive over that bridge and see all those sparkling lights and you’re like, ‘I want to make it in New York’.
You went out to LA and worked with Nick Littlemore, from Aussie electronic duo Empire of the Sun, for this album. What was that like?
It was really special and organic because I went out there and we had this really relaxed setting in his garden. We’d listen to hundreds of vinyls and he’d read stuff from his journal- really personal things- and I’d read things from mine and we’d cut and paste. It’s taken us three years to get this off the ground.
Seeing the Miss Velvet project come to life must be so rewarding for both of you.
The concept character of Miss Velvet is not even a character anymore. I’m living every word we wrote in every single performance.