Five years have passed since the release of Vera Sola’s breath-taking and disarming debut record Shades . And in that intervening time the world has become a seemingly crueller and darker place, something that is captured in the gothic undertones and foreboding nature of its follow-up Peacemaker. A majestically orchestrated affair, the record does nothing to diminish the free spirited nature of her debut; with dead ends, about turns and a multitude of musical oddities keeping you guessing throughout. A master of spaghetti-western Americana Vera Sola is never afraid to question and challenge both herself and the world around her, and in doing so creates music that is devilishly inviting, daring you to cross the threshold with her. To celebrate the records release Vera Sola invited us into her weird and wonderful world of inspirations, sharing her Sound and Vision choices.
Three favourite albums:
This is ever changing, and there’re so many, so I’ll give you the three that come to mind quickest.
This one comes up immediately. It’s the record that really changed the way I thought about music. I was a grumpy punk kid growing up, and when I was around 14, swayed by the tastes of people I was hanging with, I’d gotten into this habit of only listening to music I thought fit the genre. Then I heard Skip James and I was like…woah this is way more hardcore than any of the stuff in my duct taped little cd wallet. Crow Jane was the song that did it, and of course Hard Time Killin’ Floor. If you wanna get really hardcore—checkout the original recording of that song from 1931.
Various – Prison Songs: Historical Recordings From Parchman Farm 1947-48 Volume One: Murderous Home
Anyone who knows me well knows this is on my list.
This record, in my opinion, might be the most important ever. With these songs you get closer to the uninfluenced origins of the work songs that preceded the blues and thereby, arguably, laid the foundation for all popular music. And if you’re gonna say that’s a stretch—Parchman once held incarcerated the likes of Son House and Bukka White. And even Elvis Presley’s dad.
So in here is just the most potent example of Black genius and joy and sorrow and humour on full display amidst the despicable horrors of the plantation-prison industrial complex (read the New Jim Crow), and specifically the Mississippi Correctional System (which has changed very little some 80 years on). See these men are singing, here, not just for morale but for safety. Some of the work they’re doing is so dangerous they’ve got to keep in rhythm so that they don’t misstep and get hurt. So the insane percussion you hear is all the work tools.
But they’re also just amazing songs. They’re wildly modern. Any one of them would make an insane hip hop beat (and some have). And the lyricism is just wonderful—funny and moving and dirty and brilliant.
The group songs Rosie and Early in the Morning are two of my all time favourites. And the solo a cappella version of Stackerlee is far and away the most haunting, gorgeous rendition of that song ever recorded.
Various – Soundway Presents Afro-Tropical Soundz Vol 1.
I love to dance, and for my sanity’s sake spend at least a few minutes every day with moving to either Latin music or African music. Since we’ve got such limited space in this list, this compilation is—clearly—the perfect blend of the two, with a mix of Afrobeat, funk, calypso, highlife from Nigeria, Ghana, Panama, Colombia…and on. A favourite is Okwukwe Na Nchekwube by Celestine Okwu and his Philosophers National. Such a strange, beautiful, danceable, haunted song.
A favourite film:
The Third Man – Carol Reed
It is far and away, The Third Man, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, directed by Carol Reed, produced by David O. Selznick, with a screenplay by GRAHAM GREENE (!) and a GOD DAMN ZITHER SOUNDTRACK by Anton Karas. It is an absolute masterpiece of noir expressionism. Some of the greatest shots in cinema. I don’t want to write too much about it because I won’t do it justice. Just go watch it. I don’t know why it only gets a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It deserves 100%.
A favourite book:
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
My favourite books are those that leave me with a contradictory fullness and emptiness at the end. It’s hard to describe because it’s such a unique feeling. One that lives at the centre, the solar plexus, between the heart and the gut. It’s a sort of sense of confusion and heartbreak, not even necessarily because the story is sad or finishes sadly, but more because my heart has been cracked open, the confusion because of a warp in the very fabric of what made up my self. There are many books I love, and many books that I’ve found important in my life, but are few that affect me so.
I’ve said it often that most of the time the works of art that do this to me are those that have me question my sense of morality, my idea of good and evil (you didn’t ask me about TV shows here but ‘the Wire’ is the most profound of all in this category—trumping the very best of literature.)
Master and Margarita is one of those. Best known now, probably, as the inspiration for the Stones’ song Sympathy for the Devil—it’s a wicked satire of the Soviet Union, a glorious reimagination of the story of Christ and Pontius Pilate, a pagan-brushed surrealist romp, a hilarious and moving Faustian modernist horror-comedy…and a spectacular example of non-dualist philosophy.
I read it for the first time in high school and remember where I was when I closed the book. The way the light came through the window, what the last line did to my body, and looking back how my world shifted on its axis from the very first chapter.
It’s also a very musical text—it introduced me to so many of the classical pieces that would go on to influence my music now.
A song that means a lot to you:
Where Did You Sleep Last Night? – Nirvana Unplugged
The first song I taught myself how to play and sing when I was a teenager. And then the song I returned to again when I picked the guitar back up in my 20’s after giving up shortly after that first time. So much of what I love in here. Nirvana meant everything to me as a kid (my first reciprocated crush and I bonded over In Bloom), and so did the early blues (obviously…see above). I moved on to Leadbelly’s version soon after that second go ‘round, but it’s this recording that brings me back to my childhood—the difficulty and pain of it, and the fertile ground for creativity that it would prove to be.
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