MK: I wanted to ask about the meaning behind the colors you name throughout the album. In “Two Roads” for example, you sing, ‘Green hearts they may surround you / Gray clouds might fill the sky / Black thoughts might come to bury you.’ “
VJ: Well, with “Two Roads,” green hearts – that would be jealous people, and grey clouds is the darkness that exists. It’s always going to be there, negativity, but do you want to live in it? Or do you want to just realize it’s there and know you have another road that you can take? You don’t have to take that road if you don’t want to. And you don’t have to take the road of the green, heavy hearts. And you don’t have to take the road of the black thoughts. You can take the other paths. … Joseph Campbell, who is one of my favorite philosophers, says if you’re following a path that’s totally clear, then you’re not on your path. You should be following the path that’s got a bunch of things you need to clear out, that’s your path, the untrodden one. That’s the colors of that song “Two Roads.”
MK: And “Colors?”
VJ: When I wrote it, I was in a dark room and you know, peering into the darkness to visit the light. I was feeling pretty heavy. In that room, I reached in and was with the light. I was so sad. From that single color of clear light, I started seeing all these explosions of colors swirling around me. Within the dark space. And it was orange, red, black and green swirling around together. And then my heart started exploding, and I was opening to the beauty of the colors of the world. After I wrote the song, I wasn’t in a dark place anymore, because that’s what happens. The song helps you to transform, it’s like alchemy. You move to the next phase and transform that negative energy into something that’s more healthy for you, or a way to process.
When I am back on the Earth and not in the song anymore, I look around at the world and I see that the colors are all there. They’re always there, always around us, even when the world seems like it’s never going to reach a place of stillness or peace or calmness and that there’s always war and tumultuousness. You can touch a few tree trunks or you can just go sit somewhere and look at a single rose or something blooming and be able to get in touch with those colors of life. “Colors” definitely came from sitting in a dark place and seeing through it. Not being able to get through it, but seeing through it. And allowing the colors to surround you.
MK: How did you decide to include the mbira in the song “Stardust Scattering?”
VJ: Jack Splash, the producer of the album, wanted to use the mbira because I sent him links to African music that I love and told him that I wanted to bring in the feeling of Ali Farka Touré, Les Filles de Illighadad and Fela. He said, if we’re going to do that we need to invite my friend who plays the talking drum, we need mbira, we need some beautiful percussion and things of that sort. He was the genius and brilliance of bringing the right musicians to the room to help sculpt the sound that I was hearing.
MK: Is it hard to put your visions into words?
VJ It’s definitely difficult to articulate it to another person. They have to be living in that mindspace. I knew over a cup of tea with Jack that he was living in that realm of the mindspace I needed him to go. So from there, in order to fully see what I was trying to do, I wrote him this huge paper that was the overall goal of what I was trying to achieve. I said, “I want to use dreamy odd sounds like birds, chimes, trains, planes, harps, bells, buzzing things. What happens when we mix this twangy voice with storytelling songs, modern beats, symphonic ethereal elements and hypnotic drone?” I sent him a bunch of poets I like to read who raise consciousness. People like Rumi, Frost, The Dao. It’s got to be that we’re creating this magical realm and it’s more like an iridescent constellation multi-era colorful spirited heart-soulful piece. He got all of that.
MK: Let’s go back to this idea of dreaming. We talked about how to inspire the youth, but let’s take another moment to think about what you would say to someone who feels like they don’t have the privilege to dream.
VJ: When you are a dreamer, you have to break it down into small bits and pieces. I had this vision when I first started, that I wanted to be a singer – I loved people like Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton, but thought I will never be able to do that. But if you just break it down and say okay, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, of working toward your dream. Even though you don’t have the privilege or the space. But you got 10 minutes? Or five minutes? To read something that’s enriching or actually sit to do it, like paint, draw, whatever it is. Just carve out 5-10 minutes a day to do that. Don’t let anything stop you from taking those minutes. And, if you have to work 24 jobs seven days a week and you’re busy all day, try to figure out how your art can be worked within your work.
For example, when I was cleaning houses all day, working at the herb and the coffee shop, my mind was in the space of the creator even though my body had to do what it had to do to get paid and pay the bills. And so that realm, live there, don’t ever leave it. Live there as much as you can and make it your goal because everything we see in this life, is first created in that realm. If that’s true, then there are endless possibilities. And I just wonder, if we encourage that spot for our youth, what kind of miracles and dreams we could see in this world that we haven’t even imagined. We always think there’s not enough resources for everyone to have healthcare and food and shelter and the things they need. But if we let people dream, maybe we could dream up a way that there would be. The more you live in that creative space, you begin to go there more. It will take over your whole life and day. You could be walking down the street and you’re in a magic garden in your mind. [Laughs]. You got to live in the world you wish to see in your mind.
Mira Kaplan is a Philadelphia-based writer who regularly contributes to the Boston music blog Allston Pudding.