From Pursuit Grooves to 91 Fellows: Vanese Smith's Musical Journey
"It was first and foremost a project for myself, to challenge me and to try different techniques for creating. And it was a perfect way to give tribute to my grandfather.
Though primarily known for the smoky, soulful electronic funk of Pursuit Grooves or the tripped-out dub-hop of GuSHee, Vanese Smith thrives, it seems, on continually evolving her musical persona, deftly sidestepping any splash of linearity that may come her way. 91 Fellows is her latest project, and though it shares some similarities with Pursuit Grooves’ hazy vibe and GuSHee’s dreamy symbolism, it’s a very different approach. The self-titled 91 Fellows album is bubbling over with experimental musings, off-kilter samples and huge, colourful, abstract soundscapes. We caught up with Smith to chat about her newest musical identity.
What’s the concept behind 91 Fellows?
Vanese Smith: The alias is named after my grandfather, who passed away last year. I was unable to attend his funeral because I was on tour in Europe. I literally found out the day after I arrived in Europe, a few hours after playing at Fabric in London. Fellows is part of his last name. I thought at the time he was 91 but he had turned 92 a few months before.
How does it differ from your other projects?
I had been thinking about having another alias in order to separate my more dance-oriented stuff with my more experimental productions. I was putting it all under Pursuit Grooves before, and perhaps it was a bit much to classify. I didnt want to feel like I couldn’t really stretch out, musically, so I figured another alias would let me get as far away from structure as I wanted. Future PG stuff will probably be more straightforward house or hip-hop – my way, of course.
Did you use samples or found sounds on the album?
A bit of both of those. Some samples, some found-sounds, original synth arrangements. I was going for a particular mood. Haunting echoes, kind of industrial, but still soft and caring. I recorded most of it while I was on tour in Europe for three weeks and did the finishing touches when I got back home. I was so inspired and driven by emotion that it all just came out.
It’s quite an abstract and experimental record in places – was this more an album for you and for personal satisfaction rather than for others?
It was first and foremost a project for myself, to challenge me and to try different techniques for creating. And it was a perfect way to give tribute to my grandfather.
Some moments seemed to me to have a Flying Lotus tinge to them. Were you listening to any particular artists while making the album?
I wasn’t listening to anything particular at the time. Probably just watching lots of movies! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of lots of FlyLo’s work, but I am older than him and was inspired by lots of electronic music from the '90s. Portishead, Björk, Massive Attack, Tricky. The whole trip-hop era was big to me. Especially since hip hop was changing and losing a bit of creativity.
You seem to enjoy making different moods of music under different monikers. Do you feel that one project represents you more than the others?
It’s all equal. I just like writing music.
91 Fellows is released on August 28 on Deepblak Recordings.