Vita and the Woolf Discuss the Making of Their Latest LP, Tunnels

by | Apr 12, 2017 | Interviews and Features

“I always had a ‘thing’ about music,” Jennifer Pague, frontwoman of Vita and the Woolf, says as she is trying to explain her development as a musician from childhood.  “My grandmother plays piano, and my great grandmother played piano, and they both had pianos in their house,” she continues.  “I would always go over there and play.  It just comes naturally to me, if I really apply myself.”

Singing would follow next.  The Philadelphia-based artist was classically trained as a singer – “which is really good because it teaches you how to sing correctly so you don’t destroy your vocal cords” – and she found herself listening to R&B as she approached adolescence.  “I got into Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys when I was in middle school.  They were using that really big, belty voice to grab people’s attention, which I thought was really cool, and I was able to do it.”

Vita and the Woolf’s new album, Tunnels, out in digital form on June 16th via Believe Digital, features Pague’s “big, belty voice” and her unique synthesizer sounds paired with her lively drummer Adam Shumski.  She uses almost exclusively the Nord Lead 2, which, according to Pague “is now considered a vintage synthesizer.  It was popular in the early 2000s.”  This is part of the draw to the piece.  “Not a lot of people have it anymore, so I’m not hearing a lot of the same synth patches.”

Vita and the Woolf (Photo by Jessica Flynn)

Vita and the Woolf (Photo by Jessica Flynn)

In addition, Pague says the Nord Lead 2 has “great tones that are really bass-y” and an easily customized sound.  “You can do a lot with it because it goes off of basic synthesis and synth patterns,” she says.  “Sorry, I get a little nerdy about it,” she adds, laughing.  As much as she loves the Nord Lead 2, she’d like to try some new synth sounds.  “As far as the factory pre-sets and sounds, I’d like to find some new sounds that I can manipulate and use.”

Her agility with manipulating and using not just the synth but her dynamic vocal range is apparent on Tunnels, which she says took 6-7 months from start to finish to record.  The band’s successful Kickstarter campaign helped them launch the recording process, though Pague notes that she was lucky in the process.  “It costs a lot of money to record.  I found the right people who wanted to do it and believed in the project and they wanted to donate their time to producing and recording the record.”

She notes that the band spent a great deal of time creating on-the-fly during recording, but says that was “really expensive,” to the extent that they were not able to record the album-opener “Feline.”   “Long story short is that we ran out of money and time,” Pague says.  Pague recorded the song herself and used the demo because she wanted to include the track at all costs, which she says is a “great sincere song” that she wrote at a “really dark time in [her] life.”

Which shouldn’t be terribly surprising, as Pague indicates that she isn’t “really interested in making music that is happy.”  She pauses and continues as she describes her songwriting process.  “[My music] is more melancholy and sad, because when I write a song, I’m sitting down and thinking about all the things that have been bothering me, or confusing me.”  She says thinking up lyrics to describe her thoughts helps her to process her emotions.  “I’m inside my head – I could sit for 30 minutes by myself just thinking, getting stuck in my own brain.  I think that helps me figure out lyrics.  What am I thinking about, what is going on in my head?”

Vita and the Woolf (Photo by Jessica Flynn)

Vita and the Woolf (Photo by Jessica Flynn)

Pague has had plenty going on in her head since she started Vita and the Woolf in 2012.  The group was originally a 7-piece band that included both Pague’s ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend.  “That might have caused a few issues,” she says, noting that she quickly learned the value of keeping her personal life separate from her professional aspirations.  She says she learned other important lessons when the group fell apart a year later.  “It was my first band.  I had never known how to lead a band, which is a thing.”  She says that once the band members quit, she sought out a drummer and went through several before meeting up with Shumski, her “angel.”

In 2014, Vita and the Woolf released their first EP Fang Song, which vaulted them to attention in Philadelphia and beyond.  They have opened for and/or toured with Milk & Bone, Christina Perri, Colbie Caillat, Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) and The Parlour Tricks.  Pague says she’s hoping the duo may be able to take their act to Europe to promote Tunnels.  “I really want to get to Europe in 2017.  The response has been really, really positive and really solid over there.  I feel like it’s more up our alley – it’s kind of more of a central genre.”  But she is quick to center herself, noting “I don’t have a lot of expectations, because that’s really bad.  Having high expectations tends to get me in trouble, especially in the music industry.  So, I’m just trying to let everything fall into place.”

Pague is likely able to be grounded by the work she does part time with SpArc Services in Philadelphia, where she teaches music to individuals with intellectual and development disabilities aged 18 and older.  Noting that she’s worked with some of the participants for years, she says her work is an artistic outlet for her “because I have to come up with ways to encourage people to play music or try to create ways to make it fun and exciting and cool for them.”

In turn, she says her music is an opportunity to process feelings – the process of creating music helps her to have a resolution of sorts to her emotions.  “I feel like no matter what happens, I have that song, and I wrote it, and it expresses what I was feeling and if the person who’s fucking me over right now fucked me over, then…whatever.  At least I have this song and maybe something will come of it.  It’s like having hope.”


Vita and the Woolf – Tunnels

Standout Track: “Feline”

Follow on Twitter @Vitaandwoolf