Amid the comfort of books stacked floor to ceiling in one of Bondi Beach's local haunts, Celia Pavey, AKA Vera Blue, recalls how she learned to wear her heart on her sleeve. "There's definitely been a shift from the first EP. I say things I probably wouldn't have said two years ago."
Pavey's debut record, Perennial, moves beyond the tropes of a classic break-up album, sliding between ruminating on love lost and parsing emotional contradictions. Telling lyrics aren't disguised in metaphor, nor are they snuck into the ends of verses. Lines such as "Don't need nobody that much/Don't need no regular touch" and "I just wanna make you feel good" are themselves weighty hooks and land with a thud.
The record is organised into three chapters that chronicle Pavey's emergence from the ashes of a break-up. The first is cut with raw edges in songs like "First Week" and "Said Goodbye To Your Mother"; the second is a teething period of new feelings and fresh crushes ("Private", "Fools"); while the third settles into soft reminiscence. The final song, "Mended", looks back on the relationship and swings forward to where Pavey stands now.
"That's why the word 'perennial' works really well," she says, "because feelings, emotions and memories, lasting and passing, always coming back, is OK. It's OK to be vulnerable."
At 17, Pavey moved from Forbes to Sydney to pursue music. After studying at the Australian Institute of Music for six months, she caught a break, appearing on The Voice. "Television's wild, but I feel like I cruised through it without being pushed around. I didn't really think much of it. I was like, 'I'm just gonna be me, let's do this.'"
After her startling rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair", Pavey became known as the folk-siren with an old soul feel, and finished in third place. An outpouring of public attention followed, but the momentum swiftly fell away. She released an EP, Bodies, as Celia Pavey, and was left grappling with questions about the kind of artist she wanted to be.
But Pavey is endlessly optimistic. Even now, elbows perched on the coffee table, she sees levity in melancholy and speaks of heartbreak with irreverence. In those two years, she says, she learned not to shy away from vulnerability and appreciated the space to hone her craft. She challenged her single-minded folk repertoire and discovered new sounds.
"I was stuck in the Sixties. I was a little hippie. It gave me time to listen to other artists – electronic music that evoked emotion and angst. And it didn't take me away from the folky stuff, if anything it made me want to experiment."
Listening to alt-J, Banks and F.K.A. Twiggs carved a niche for Pavey to contemplate her own blends of electronica and emotional nuance. In 2015, Pavey was invited to independent music publisher Native Tongue's annual songwriting camp, where she met producer Andy Mak. In their studio sessions with Melbourne based singer-songwriter Gossling, they recorded the fragments Pavey had brought with her, with Mak moulding the production around her voice. By the end, the bones of Vera Blue's first EP, Fingertips, were in place.
Mak and Pavey continued to work together, with his brother Thom signing on as co-writer, and sound engineer Jackson Barclay joining soon after. "I feel like now I've got such an amazing team who just know who I am, and we have such an understanding of each other," says Pavey.
Perennial is an extension of Fingertips, with bolder colours and elastic rhythms. It's sophisticated, without sacrificing youthful electricity. "I think there was a lot more sadness in this record," she says. "When I made the first EP I was in love. In this album, there's such a development of strength and of who I became as a person. I want to let people feel what I'm feeling and let them make it their own."
From issue #790, available August 3rd.
Topics: Vera Blue