Vera Blue’s artistry has always been centred around the intimate moments of vulnerability that trigger a genuine exploration of your own emotions. Her debut album ‘Perennial’ was a beautiful collection of tracks that detailed the three stages of a breakup; grief, anger, and reflection. From there she’s further experimented with a bolder side of her artistry while still maintaining a directed approach to her vulnerability with songs like ‘Lie To Me’, ‘Like I Remember You’ and recent Flume collaboration ‘Rushing Back’.
As she closes the chapter on ‘Perennial’ and heads towards the release of more new music, the Sydney based singer-songwriter has stepped out of her comfort zone and created a show that highlights her storytelling in a heightened emotional capacity. Collaborating with orchestras across the East Coast for the ‘Everything Is Wonderful’ show, she has transformed her discography into these cinematic pieces that will leave you in a constant state of awe.
After her first night at The Fortitude Music Hall with the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra, I chatted with Vera Blue about the journey behind ‘Everything Is Wonderful’ from collaborating with symphony orchestras in each state, to adapting her discography into these new arrangements, and exploring the inclusion of unreleased music into the show. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: The ‘Everything Is Wonderful’ show is a beautiful art piece that brings your music together with an orchestra. When you’ve been working with the Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras, what has the structure of the rehearsals and collaboration been like?
VERA BLUE: It’s been really interesting seeing how orchestras work and how they get it all together. I work really closely with Ross James who is actually in my band I tour with all the time, and he helped me put together this vision. During COVID I really wanted to put together a show that I could bring to a stage where people could sit down and relax, and for it to be a nice hybrid of electronics and orchestral. I really wanted something with a different storyline, and a different kind of perspective on the songs.
I was watching a lot of Bjork, and I just got really obsessed with how she would perform with her Icelandic orchestras, and the way she would do shows. I just thought that I really wanted to do it but considered if it was too early to do it with my music. But in the end I just decided to give it a go, so I spoke to Ross about it and started playing with ideas.
It’s been a really special experience. I didn’t actually think I would get to work with an orchestra this soon. That was the ultimate dream when I was first coming up with this idea. The first time we performed the show was in Sydney in November last year with a string quartet and Ross, and my team loved it so much that so they were like “we have to do an orchestra run”. So it’s been really cool to see how they work, and get the music scores for them and now have them behind me.
TB: Has the show structurally changed that much from November?
VB: The skeleton of the show was already there with the concept, the flow into the songs, and the intro music that I made to suit the them of the show. That was already there during November, so all we had to do was add more. Ross worked with an arranger called Nick Buck on helping him put together the other parts like the trumpets, and all those bits and bobs to get them onto sheet music so they could be read. So it was really cool suddenly giving these musicians the music right in front of them, and they can read it immediately. It blows my mind the talent is sitting there, it’s really cool.
TB: With each city you’ve obviously worked with a different orchestra, so how long do they spend on the songs before you get together?
VB: Most of them have been given the music around a week before, and they’ll do a couple rehearsals by themselves. And then in Melbourne and Brisbane we’ve done a rehearsal all together the day before which has been really nice as I can make a connection with conductor, and go through what the show is about and what moments I can have a chat to the audience.
But in Sydney tomorrow we are doing a rehearsal on the day of the show which is quite daunting just because of time, and the fact that it’s so expensive to get an orchestra together. So it’s one of those situations where we’ve had to give and take to make it work. Its also really cool because I like a challenge, and I also have a lot of trust in an orchestra and the team that I work with.
TB: One of the coolest things about seeing the show last night was how confident and comfortable you seemed on stage. Like I would say it’s probably the most comfortable I’ve seen you on a stage before.
VB: Thank you! I think that came from… I wouldn’t say I took for granted what I did before, but I think now not being able to play a show for almost a year because of COVID it was one of those things where I’ve just loved every second I was up there and felt really present and could take it in. With these shows in particular I’m not jumping around and doing all those crazy things which I still love doing, but instead I can just stay in one spot or float across the stage gently and have a bit more control over my voice and breath. So it is a really different experience for me as an artist and vocally, which is quite nice for a change.
TB: The show opens with the cinematic unreleased track ‘Everything Is Wonderful’ which includes a spoken word intro that gave me goosebumps. So what was the messaging behind ‘Everything Is Wonderful’ that you wanted to spotlight by naming the show after it?
VB: ‘Everything Is Wonderful’ is a really interesting song because it’s about how you are trying to hide your emotions from people. If you are going through a tough period you will sometimes just hide that and say that everything is wonderful and that you’re fine. On the flip side sometimes everything really is wonderful, so it is a song with two meanings which leant itself to the show really nicely. I have quite a few songs that are really beautiful and positive, and then there are some that have that darkness. So I really wanted to create an experience for the audience that harnessed all of that.
TB: What was the hardest song or the one that took the longest for you to bring together into this new arrangement?
VB: That’s a good question! I think the most exciting thing about the songs was the fact that we took a different approach instead of them just being classical. We kinda went for a cinematic approach where it feels magical and like it came from a Tim Burton film or something similar. The most difficult one to perform that has taken a lot of time to practice is ‘Lady Powers’ because of the really interesting rhythm section. But also ‘Lie To Me’ has been difficult as the rhythm in the original track is a little different as my producer created some intricate and interesting rhythms for it which has been hard to understand what beat things are falling on. So I would say those two songs have taken us a little while to settle into.
TB: Was there a song that you tried to adapt that didn’t really work?
VB: I was thinking about this the other day, and I didn’t end up trying ‘The Way That You Love Me’ and I think it could’ve been a really cool arrangement like ‘Private’ in the way that it was unexpected. So I’m a bit bummed about that, but sadly we didn’t have enough time as orchestras have a time limit, otherwise we would’ve been playing for hours *laughs*
TB: I was expecting ‘First Week’ or ‘Fingertips’ to be on the setlist too as I think they would be amazing with an orchestra.
VB: Yeah, definitely! ‘First Week’ kinda already has that sound and would’ve worked beautifully, but I kinda had to pick carefully and think about what songs would really lend themselves to an orchestra and bring something different too. On top of the old songs that everyone knows, I wanted to include some new unreleased ones like ‘Everything Is Wonderful’, Red Rose’ and a favourite of mine ‘The Curse’.
TB: ’Like I Remember You’ is one of the shows most emotional moments and you confessed last night that the ending of the arrangement makes you extra emotional. What was it about that adaption that hit an extra nerve?
VB: I think it was a moment personally for me to not be singing and for it to be all about the orchestra. Ross kinda based some elements of this show on Sigur Ros, and there’s something really emotional about his music if you’ve ever listened to it. So there are different elements of that in this arrangement, and there’s just the way the chords move and the strings harmonies work together that is quite euphoric but melancholic at the same time.
TB: A song that had a really unique arrangement that was quite different to the original was ‘Private’. So can you talk me through the creative process of envisioning and adapting that one?
VB: That one was really fun! The thing that I love about ‘Private’ already is that it’s quite theatrical, so I wanted to create another theatrical form of this song. I grew up playing the violin, and COVID made me want to play it again so I incorporated it into this arrangement in an electronic way. So the violin that I play is an electric violin, and I run it through my peddle board and you can add all of these different effects and change the tone of it which I thought was a really fun thing to be able to do.
The chorus for ‘Private’ took a really interesting turn when Ross was arranging it. Instead of it going into the exact same rhythm section as the studio version, it instead has this opposite take which is really hard to explain. I also really love the tambourine in that song as it’s really fun. It’s an element that was added very recently into the score as there was something missing in the rhythm section and the tambourine brings that.
TB: A special strings moment in the show was the addition of the harp during ‘Hold’. That was stunning!
VB: Yeah it’s so stunning! I just love the Harp so much, and she’s an incredible harpist as well. I’m really obsessed with that instrument as it’s so beautiful.
TB: With a range of upbeat fun songs like ‘Rushing Back’, ‘Lady Powers’ and ‘Regular Touch’ sprinkled through the set alongside the hyper emotional songs like ‘Mended’, ‘The Curse’ and ‘Hold’, was there a pattern in a style of song that was more challenging to adapt?
VB: The emotional ones easily fell into place as you could kinda already hear what they were going to do. So we had to think of other ways for them to be super emotional but not sound like the originals, so we experiment a bit with the ones that you’d expect to sound a particular way. But Ross and I found the upbeat ones a little bit more challenging until I was like “how about we make the string sections do the synth bass rhythm”. We also didn’t want to shy away from putting electronica within the soundscapes, so we still have that element of electronic beats and synths that are very Vera Blue within the show. It was a really fun hybrid we were creating.
TB: One of the new songs that really stood out in the live set is ‘The Curse’ which is a beautiful song about falling in love with a friend and the complications of unrequited love in that situation. So can you tell me a bit more about the creative process of that song and bringing it to the stage for people to hear it for the first ever time?
VB: It’s one of those songs that just flowed and poured out of me in October last year. My best friend and I were talking about it and how she liked him for a long time and she was like “I don’t know whether I love him deeply as a friend, or I’m actually in love with him. But I think I’m just going to have to tell him. It’s just going to ruin it, isn’t it?”. I’ve been through that before, and I think a lot of people have. It can really be hit or miss. It can either work in your favour, or it can just be embarrassing and uncomfortable until you can both laugh about it and be like “remember that time you told me that you loved me, lol” *laughs*
I just sat down at my piano one day and started writing this song. I was listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey at the time, and I love Lana and the way she writes. That old school folk had a real impact on me and this song. I ended up showing my boyfriend when he got home and bounced it off him as I wasn’t sure if I was losing my mind and he was like “wow, that is incredible” and then we finished it together. It’s one of those ones that everyone seems to like and connect to, and it’s really beautiful to play with the orchestra.
TB: The stage for the show was showered with flowers, and flowers and roses are something that have always been an important part of imagery for you. So what is your emotional and creative connection to flowers?
VB: My dad is a horticulturalist, and he owned a nursery when we were growing up as kids so I was always surrounded by beautiful gardens and my dad talking about plants and flowers, and my grandma has an incredible garden too. It’s kind of just embedded into our making, so it’s something I’ve always connected to and probably will always connect to. I love being surrounded by florals and I wanted to have a backdrop that could interact with the lights and change the mood. I think there is something so special about plants, flowers and colours, and how they make you feel.
Photos supplied by Curdin Photo
Check out the live review and gallery from Vera Blue’s ‘Everything Is Wonderful’ show with the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra HERE