Existing in a Vákoum: The word “experimental” is a tad overused when describing music, almost as much as “alternative” and not least by we journos. When attempting to nail down the un-nail-downable sounds of San Diego-based duo Vákoum, it serves as a solid starting off point. But one run through the videos for “Spark” and “Airotic,” and it’s clear that we’re only scratching the surface.
Vákoum is Lynchian in its contrast of the beautiful with the utterly uncomfortable. The pair (Natalia Padilla and Kelli Rudick) harmonize so effectively that it sounds less like a classic vocal duo and more like a bona fide instrumental tool. The tones reach Kate Bush heights – emotional and operatic. But there are two of them, working seamlessly and perpetually complimenting each other. It really is something to behold, and something genuinely experimental.
The duo formed in 2014 in New York. They had been working separately, but knew they’d found their match upon meeting.
“We both like similar music, we think similarly composition-wise,” says Rudick. “So yeah, it started then, and then one day we just decided to form a duo. I basically left New York and Natalia was still there. We were doing this back-and-forth thing, then Natalia ended up moving to the west coast, and that’s when Vákoum really took off.”
Both women understandably struggle to describe their sound, with Rudick cryptically offering that it’s a combination of organic sounds.
“It has a lot of elements,” says Padilla. “It’s experimental in the sense that things don’t sound conventional. It is electronica blended with vocals. It’s a hard question, because we aim to do things that just come from anywhere. We don’t really try to sound like anything else.”
The new single is “Golden Love,” a beautiful and emotive piece of work. It’s semi-representative of the forthcoming debut album, a record Padilla says is hard to speak about because the lyrics are so personal.
“I think structurally [‘Golden Love’ is] different because it’s transitional but not as transitional as the rest of the songs,” says Rudick. “It’s not heavily layered as the rest of the songs. It was the last song that was created. It’s like going through something really intense and then at the end, you arrive at this cathartic moment. ‘Golden Love’ is calmer in that sense because it’s more of a resolution than anything. It resolved the album.”
The album was a challenging endeavor. Besides the deeply personal lyrics, it of course overlapped the global pandemic. Padilla says that they had the album recorded, though not mixed and mastered, before the lockdown.
“As far as musically, if anything, the pandemic was mentally challenging,” says Rudick. “For me personally, because I’m terrified of diseases – I’m a hypochondriac – it was this heightened level of anxiety. I think as far as the music goes, it hasn’t affected the album because we had already finished it, but we’re writing new music during this pandemic and I think that a lot of the energy that we’ve been processing during this time feels more collective than ever because this is a global thing. You’re tapping into a whole other thing. Musically, this year will be interesting for all musicians, not just us, but it does feel like there’s this charge that’s going to be coming out in the music.”
Padilla admits that she’s finding it hard to write music during these insane circumstances.
“I find it a little bit difficult to compose, even though I am composing,” she says. “It’s a little bit difficult to experience every day. There are barely any new experiences that are personal that are happening. Nothing is shifting. Everything’s the same, and I find it a little bit harder to find the depth that I personally need to begin something that speaks to me.”
They still had to get the thing finished though. Working remotely with a friend in Mexico, Testa Estudio’s Kabe, it took two months to complete the mixing process.
“We took a long time because we were trying to find the times and then he would mix it from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” says Padilla. “Then he wouldn’t have any availability for another week. That fluid process. I think that was hard on me and in my head I was stressed out. I wanted to work at it in a consistent way and it was impossible. It ended up being amazing.”
It truly did but, again, it wasn’t easy. Padilla says that they’re very personable people and working with people from different cities and/or countries was challenging. The name of the band is the Hebrew word for “vacuum,” and that’s particularly appropriate here. But the work has been worthwhile.
They at least were working in a sunnier climate rather than their former New York home. Padilla followed Rudick to San Diego (begrudgingly).
“I lived in New York for about 10 years,” Rudick says. “I love New York but it’s one of those places where I’ve always found myself struggling. The highs are super high and then the lows are super low. I found that just messed up my adrenal glands. I was going through a breakup and I decided to just go out west. Try to relax for three months. Those three months turned into a year, and it became suddenly ok not to suffer all the time.”
While Padilla says that she finds San Diego a “little bit too comfortable,” they chose that city as opposed to L.A. or S.F. because of the location of Rudick’s family.
“At the end this became a comfortable spot to have an actual place where we could have our studio, a garden and a dog,” Rudick says. “Do these things that in New York would be extremely difficult. I’ll always have an insane amount of love for New York. That’s the city I would always want to live in, just not at the moment.”
What you’re hearing from Padilla and Rudick, that odd disconnect with how they’re supposed to feel about comfort, is entirely cohesive with their sound. It’s the dichotomy they’re working with, expertly. Looking ahead to this year, they’ll continue working on it.
“Anything that we can create during this time to obviously prepare ourselves for live shows when that can happen,” says Rudick. “Write new songs obviously, and use any kind of medium that we can during the pandemic to bring out music to share with people.”
Existing in a Vákoum: Vákoum’s Linchpin album is out now.
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