Q&A with Phantasmic Vocalist, Vera Sola

by Morgan Vickery

Photo by Mark Lemoine

Photo by Mark Lemoine

Danielle Aykroyd is Vera Sola, the dark poet crafting phantasmic vocals. Reminiscent of a young and moody Nancy Sinatra, Vera’s sonic focus surrounds pure self-expression. With tremulous vibrato and haunting melodies, Sola stimulates coexistence for both light and dark, good and evil, and night and day; A voice self-proclaimed as a “cross between a mid-century radio broadcaster and a low-rate phone-sex operator.” Whether she’s strumming the autoharp or her black Bigsby guitar, Vera’s ethereal sound is trance-like. Last month, Danielle released her debut album, Shades, where she unleashed her creative suppression to lullaby the lunar goddesses. This month, we caught up with the singer/songwriter to understand the interworking and psyche of her persona:

Tell us about your recent LP, ‘Shades,’ and your inspiration for the album. 

To make a very long story short, this record came out of personal apocalypse combined with 27 years of creative suppression. I’d been too shy to make my own songs outside of the privacy of my bathroom until a series of horrible events made it clear that there’d be no loss in opening the door and letting the sound out.

So mostly as a distraction, I booked time at a friend’s studio in St. Louis. I fully intended to bring in other people to help me make a record that was, at that point, never to be heard by anyone else. But when I arrived, I realized I wanted to—in many ways had to—make it alone. From there the kind gentlemen at Native Sound Recordings set mics to my neuroses, where the album grew into an epic monstrosity. And here we are now, where it’s out of my hands and in others’ ears.

At its core though—private hell and minor redemption aside—it’s just a book of stories. 

How does your gothic style translate into your sound?

I’ve always skewed toward the dark when it’s come to my aesthetic. I’m such a strong personality that it’s almost impossible not to smudge my fingerprints over whatever it is that I’ve done. In making that record, I wasn’t going for any particular sound or statement other than the music I’d heard for so long in my head.

Photo by Damon James Duke

Photo by Damon James Duke

If you had to name your vocal aesthetic, what would it be and why?

The hallmark is probably my vibrato: a sort of fluttering, CD skipping that I can do with my voice. That was something I discovered in the studio. Someone online asked if Chewbacca was my singing instructor. The answer, from a Star Wars fanatic, is an emphatic yes.

Otherwise, it’s just me, I guess. The voice I was given, inflected by my experiences and emotional state. To be honest, I only became capable of actually singing when I figured out I didn’t need to sound like anyone or anything to be “good enough.” 

A pure expression of self without any conscious imitation—I find that to be one of the most compelling qualities in the artists I admire. There’s so much talent, so much music out there, but at the risk of sounding like Mr. Rogers—there’s only one “you.” To me, confidently inhabiting one’s self is endlessly more moving than technical skill. I’m generally not drawn in when I feel like an artist is trying to “put on” someone else’s sound. 

Now, this is coming from someone who was born with a speaking voice that’s a clichéd cross between a mid-century radio broadcaster and a low-rate phone-sex operator. So you’ll find people who will call me a hypocrite here and say my singing voice is a hoax. But I promise, however you categorize whatever this is, it’s just what happens when I open my mouth to music. 

Infamous for your use of the autoharp; When did you first pick it up and how did you decide to implement it in your music?

Sometime in 2014, I purchased one for around $50 from a pawn shop. I liked working to make it ring darker and more resonant, more organ-like. I bloodied up my fingers quite bad, finding that. Since then I’ve written quite a few songs on it. 

It’s a wonderful instrument because it’s as easy or as difficult as you want it to be—I think uniquely so. For a beginner, the way it’s laid out, it’s very hard to go wrong. But once you reach a certain level, it becomes very challenging. It’s awesome. Go get one! 

Photo by Damon James Duke

Photo by Damon James Duke

Walk us through your self-directed and co-edited video for "The Colony.”
That video was a co-edit with the Director of Photography on that project, Damon James Duke. (I didn’t know how to use editing software at that point, so we edited together. I’ve since learned and am hooked now—I edited the other two videos.) 

The visual elements of that one came along with the music. When it came time to make the video, I reached out to a number of potential collaborators but was alternately insulted and humored by the prices I was being quoted for its execution. Meeting Damon was a pretty clear deus ex machina moment.

We crossed paths after he wandered into the gig I was playing at a bar in Bombay Beach, California. It's a town on the Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of water, a former resort playground for the rich, now best known as one of the nation's most critical environmental disasters. It’s staggering in its apocalyptic beauty—both natural and industrial. As the song's about anthropogenic destruction--I figured there wouldn't be a better place to shoot it.

So a couple of months after that show, the two of us, in 101-degrees-in-the-shade dry heat, shot it in just a little bit over one day. Damon manned three cameras and a drone. I stitched together my dress, blocked the shots, staged the sets, climbed trees and train tracks, and hauled my body over sand that's—no joke—entirely crushed bone. Aside from a couple of friends generously lending their homes and a parasol, Damon and I did it just the two of us.

What project has been the most influential to you thus far?

I take influence from everywhere; it’d be hard to pinpoint just one thing. But I have to tip my little phantom hat to Elvis Perkins. Without his music and our collaboration, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Photo by Laura Lynn Petrick

Photo by Laura Lynn Petrick

Any plans for the next full-moon cycle?

I have a west coast run with my band from 12/12-12/18, and then a little bit of time off. The latter is both wonderful and profoundly nerve-wracking. I’ve been so busy for so long that I’ve barely had a moment to breathe, and I’m not so good at just breathing. So I’m hoping to spend the time caring for myself and seeing friends I’ve missed dearly and writing and making more music.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

More of all of it. 

Photo by Damon James Duke

Photo by Damon James Duke

To see more by Vera Sola click here.