Her upcoming album, “Not Us” will be released in May but her single “Where Am I?” is available online right now.
I spoke to the artist about her new album, “The Michael Show" and clown school. Yes, Virginia went to clown school. In fact, clown school is where it all started.
So tell me a little bit about your upcoming album, "Not Us."
It’s my third music project. Last year, I put out my first album and then I released an EP of covers with my friend, Anna Louise, because she was in town.
This project is the thing I’m most proud of but it’s also the most personal. My history with playing music is: I feel things, then I’ll sit down, play my ukulele and write down how I feel. It helps me work through stuff.
And then I started working with a producer, my friend Lorenzo Wolff. We actually met working on this strange, independent theater project. We worked on the first album together and from there, we learned how we worked together. This is the project where I feel like we’ve figured out how we groove.
Why is the album called “Not Us?”
The initial title was “It’s Me and You, Not Us.” I was partnered for 10 years of my life, from 18 to 28. Then I found myself choosing to be alone and wanting to figure out why I needed to be with somebody.
Then also it was the result of being sexually assaulted by my landlord. You start to wonder what about me, in particular, allowed myself to feel like it was my fault or that I had done something wrong. I wanted to see how that was reflected in myself and about my relationship with other people.
Ultimately, it’s the album that I tried to write as the angry album that just turned into more of a celebration of my loneliness. I desire to be alone. And I really do struggle with being angry.
There’s one song — “Blood Runs Black” — that actually pulls the ‘screw you’ feeling but the rest of [the songs] are like ‘that’s how it is and I have to figure out what to do about it.’
It’s hard to talk about things like assault or loneliness or sadness without also wanting to make jokes about it.
Did you find writing on the subject difficult?
This is super weird, but I went to a clown school, and that’s where I started writing music. After college, I was accepted into clown school in California and we had to bring instruments with us. I brought the ukulele. And clown school ended up being this thing that broke us to pieces. You really reveal yourself to yourself.
It’s all about vulnerability but also acceptable vulnerability. So, I have this thing about me where I make something very personal about me objective and [I make] into art so that I could talk about it. That was the biggest struggle.
I had this horrible thing happen to me and I kept it to myself for a year. I didn’t know who to talk about it or how to talk about it. So, instead, I wrote about it. And that’s how this album came to be.
The first album was like ‘I like boys and the ocean and I write songs about love!” I’d go to these variety shows to perform even though I hadn’t really performed in front of people. Whereas this album I kept to myself and I didn’t play it out to see how it would be received.
Who have you been musically influenced by?
I feel like I came into the cool musical influences in life. I didn’t really listen to a lot of secular music growing up. I lived in a very conservative Oklahoma small town.
As a kid, I listened to Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. Stuff that my dad really liked a lot. And I was obsessed with The Beach Boys for five years straight. I also liked musical soundtracks.
When I was 18, I went to my first concert, which was Rilo Kiley. I fell madly in love with Jenny Lewis. I thought she was so special and incredible.
Name a girly person with an interesting voice and my heart swells. I saw Regina Spektor play in college and was like ‘that’s who I want to be when I grow up.’
I also like 1960s girl groups. I love the song “Be My Baby.” It can come on anywhere and suddenly I’m in a different world.
Earlier you spoke about working in theater. So you’re second play is coming out soon, “The Michael Show.” That’s exciting.
I’m really excited. This is my year to be like ‘alright, all the things that scare you the most...let’s talk about it in public.’ I performed the first draft of it at a workshop for this writing group that I was in. It’s coming out in April at The Tank theater [in Manhattan].
The director I’m working with just finished a run at Lincoln Center on a play that was specifically designed for autism. He was the obvious choice when it came to a play about a girl growing up with a brother who has special needs.
The play is really fun and really sad. I think it’s specific enough to feel like anyone could relate to it. Ultimately, the whole reason of why I’m doing this is so that people could feel like could talk about the special needs community.
People worry so much about being offensive when it comes to special needs that they just don’t engage at all, which is the hardest thing. So, we want to open up a dialogue while still being entertaining.
Michael is really pumped about it. He’s one of those people that either everyone knows or meets and falls in love with.
And to round it all up, you have your own society — as in the Spring Street Social Society.
It’s my ultimate, ongoing art project. My friend Patrick Janelle and I met three-and-a-half years ago and decided to put on a cabaret show. It’s grown from two kids to this really amazing creative community of 235 members.
The bulk of our members are in New York but we do have a little crowd in Los Angeles. We do anything we want, like dinners, plays and Instameets.
It’s an amazing dream job that’s almost too good to be true. I never really picked it for myself it sorta just happened to me.
Spring Street was actually where I first started playing in front of people. It was at our very first cabaret show.
Overall, it’s been great to have this little creative incubator with an audience that I could really trust to give me good feedback.