It has been said by many people that one of the greatest aspects of the Austin music scene is how communal it is, with artists regularly coming together to collaborate, boost each other and admire each other’s work. In the spirit of that, we decided to launch a series inviting artists to interview other artists from the scene. In the latest installment, two of our favorite multi-talented indie pop artists, Vonne and Mobley, discuss journeying to Austin for musical freedom, getting picky with their instruments and how Austin can better support Black creators. Vonne’s most recent release is the jazzy and meditative “Elders?” which can be heard now on Bandcamp, and be sure to also go pre-order Mobley’s upcoming album Young and Dying in the Occident Supreme.
Mobley for Ovrld: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I have recently become a big fan of your music. You’re making forward-thinking, eminently appealing pop music that deserves to be heard. Can you tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to where you are now?
Vonne: Thank you! I’ve been singing, performing, and writing music for as long as I can remember. I would do little solos in church choir plays as a toddler and performed and sang in the church up until I was 16 (the age I left the church and decided I did not want to be Christian). I released Foreign Affairs a few months after I left the church.
My dad taught me when I was very young–like first or second grade, maybe kindergarten–how to record the radio with cassette tapes. I would make mixtapes that way and dance and sing along in my room to them. I think that was the earliest sign of my interest in audio engineering. I asked for a guitar for Christmas in kindergarten–there’s a whole story about that because I didn’t actually seriously pick up guitar until 2018.
I started learning piano and music theory in 3rd grade once my family could afford lessons. I took lessons for a very short while, like less than a year, but I got a great foundation from my instructor, Karen Diaz, and started writing my own songs almost immediately…
M: That’s quite a journey. It’s interesting to see the ways in which musicians’ stories are unique, but share so many similarities. Why such a big gap between getting a guitar and picking it up seriously?
Vonne: I remember guitar being challenging for me when I tried to pick it up in middle school. I could not really connect with it musically just yet–It didn’t make sense to me like it does today. I still had a strong desire to learn though. As for receiving a guitar in Kindergarten: When my parents told me I could have one thing for Christmas I imagined an electric guitar in my head, wrote “guitar” on my “list” and they gifted me a Wal-mart brand acoustic guitar that was sea foam green. It wasn’t what I imagined so I never played it and my parents returned it. To this day, I’m still pretty picky about my instruments, and finally picked guitar up seriously once I moved to Austin, heard blues, befriended, and sat next to other femmes and queer people who played guitar really well.
M: What kind of guitar did you end up getting when you finally picked it up?
Vonne: For my first guitar, I bought a custom guitar from a man named James in Chula Vista. I found him on Reverb. I technically got a bass first at the Pawn Shop that closed on Barton Springs and South Lamar [?]. It’s a MTD double- p bass. It’s cool – I would call Michael Tobais and ask him questions about the guitar and setting it up. I later bought a classical nylon string that I still can’t figure out the make. I love playing that one a lot. More recently, I bought a semi-hollow DeArmond.
M: So, what was your trajectory like? How did you go from writing songs as a child to making some of the most self-assured, well-built pop records I’ve heard out of Austin since…ever?
Vonne: I feel like I’m experiencing my trajectory now and will be experiencing it for the next few years that I keep writing and releasing music. Music has always been the medium that I gravitate to and feel my best in. Music just occurs naturally on my person, in my mind, and as of this year, in my dreams. My come up in Austin felt natural, but fairly quick. I had a gig at the Mohawk within the first month I was living here. That was 2016; I started college, and I lived in between Eden House Co-op and Helios Co-op. I always heard and saw their house shows on the weekend, so I would walk up and talk to the bands and musicians and guests and members in the houses.
Mobley: Is there anything about Austin that makes it right for you as a creative home and a place to develop yourself as an artist?
Vonne: It’s home, it’s Texas. Music and art is embedded in this city’s identity and that makes it attractive for budding artists like me to arrive and start something. I really do love the music scene and specifically the DIY community here. I love that it’s not New York City or LA, and still has real enthusiasm for the arts. I will say that: enthusiasm isn’t enough. I would like to see and create more sustainable opportunities for artists in the city. I know and see so many people intentionally imagining and building that infrastructure every day.
Mobley: Trying to create more opportunities and build power for artists (especially Black artist) is something I spend a lot of time on. Are there any areas that are particularly important to you, or ones that you think are really lacking right now?
Vonne: Direct support is important to me. So is having a comfy place to gather, perform, and be in direct community with everyone. When I think about the Music Industry™️, it feels like everyone finally understands what equity means, but is also taking their sweet time to give dark skinned black artists real opportunities that aren’t based upon the clout the artist already has or whether or not they can gain something from their proximity to the artist. It’s been time to let go of and think outside of predatory, capitalist structures that harm artists. I’m constantly researching ways I can thrive and sustain myself outside of the traditional album campaign and merch line. A friend recently told me “Make art but don’t be a part of this industry anymore.” I really appreciated that reminder.
M: Can you talk to me about the inspiration behind your record Foreign Affairs and what the writing/record/production process looked like?
Vonne: I started writing songs for what would be Foreign Affairs in my early teens. It’s a lost journal entry from the past filled with pep talks to myself and formative memories that felt special. I was really excited about growing up and exploring my independence and my desires.
I had a couple e-pianos and that snowballed into me crafting those arrangements and teaching myself StudioOne and Logic in the guest room I used as a studio in my childhood home. During my freshman year of high school, I told my friends in gym class I wanted to release a single and it turned into Foriegn Affairs. I feel like my producer’s ear really developed just from spending all day studying the songs on the radio and making cassette mixtapes.