Not just a girl who writes loads of songs but a real musician – Interview with Antonia Vai
After getting bored of the Swedish way of life she decided to discover her roots in 2013 when she visited Hungary. Such was the swiftness of her success, however, that this stay (that would have been a couple of months long) is still ongoing. Together with her Hungarian backing musicians she regularly performs gigs as Antonia Vai Band. The formation released its debut album this September, which was actually Antonia’s third full-length. Currently Antonia Vai is a refreshing figure and inimitable presence in the night life of Budapest – and soon in the country as well.
What was your first determining musical experience like? When and how did you decide that you want to become a musician?
Since I was a kid, from the moment I learned the alphabet and I got tall enough to reach the keys on the piano, I’ve been writing songs. I can’t remember a particular moment when I literally decided to become a musician. It was always just a natural part of me. The more I wrote, the more songs I had, the more I dreamed about actually singing them on stage one day. It was a really strong urge in me but I didn’t really confess it to anyone. I guess I really wasn’t ready. And then, when I graduated from school and I started travelling, I brought the guitar with me and started meeting other musicians, like a “musician”. And I remember how good that felt. To not just look at myself as “a girl who writes loads of songs” but really as a “musician” who deserves to fill up a space somewhere in this world.
Does anyone else in your family have a close connection to music?
Everyone in my family is musical in one way or another, but I’m the only one who actually chose this as a life style and profession. There was always a kind of artistic atmosphere in my family, that’s for sure, and they’ve always supported creativity.
How has your music changed over the years? Do you feel like there are some differences between the fresh songs and the ones you wrote years ago?
I don’t think there’s a huge difference in writing them. Each and every song is a kind of reaction to something I experienced or imagined. If I think back to my older songs, I always think that how they were conceived was completely natural. If the past repeated itself, I’d probably process those experiences in the same way, like I would already have the song in my head. The only difference is that today I have an amazing band and good tools to record and make these songs real for everyone to hear. Not just real in my head.
How would you categorize your music, genre-wise?
I always say it’s dramatic folk-soul, with focus on storytelling. That’s the closest defintion I’ve been able to figure out. But sometimes the songs and the feelings in them really differ from each other. I’ve always had a hard time finding one word to describe what all of this is.
Your lyrics seem to be very personal, with an emphasis on love. What are some other topics you are interested in? What do you like to communicate with your songs?
Love is recurring.. But sometimes a man in a song can also be a metaphor for something. The love relationship can be my dialogue with myself or my dreams, or even a political system.
When and why did you decide you want to come to Hungary and live here?
A year and a half ago I got really bored of Stockholm and I was at a low point in my life. The best way to start over for me is always to change cities. It felt natural to come to Budapest. This is where my roots are, even if I haven’t uncovered all of them properly yet. It just seemed like a good opportunity to do it.
You work with Hungarian musicians whom you got to know here. How did this all happen? How was the band we now know as Antonia Vai Band formed?
I was really lucky, to be honest. I moved to Budapest with a Swedish guitarist, Felix Gröndahl. We had our first concert at Szimpla Kert where we got to know the band Bohemian Betyars. After the gig they asked whether they could cover one of my songs, Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite and, naturally, I said yes. After that we began playing as an opening act for them. I owe a lot to these guys. Gilinger Ádám, who was the cajón player of Bohemian Betyars, joined our band and later trumpet-player Muhari Krisztián did as well. And after this we just found more and more musicians to join, and it’s been a crazy ride. Today, the final Antonia Vai Band consists of Kurgyis Attila (guitar), Gilinger Ádám (cajón), Zdosek Ádám (bass guitar), Muhari Krisztián (trumpet) and Koltay Kurszán (piano).
How much input do you get from the others during the songwriting process? Is it in some way a team effort or is it still solely an Antonia Vai production?
I still write alone. I like to collaborate with others when it’s not my own music but the Antonia Vai songs are much too intimate for that. They are my secrets put into melodies, so it’s important for me to create the songs alone, to begin with. But when I have a completely finished song, I am always very happy and excited to show it to the band! They put their own changes, rhythms and dynamical style into it. You know, I’m not a bassplayer or a drummer. I always know what feeling and sphere I want to create. And then they really complete the songs in ways I couldn’t.
If you could, who would you thank out of the people who have helped in your musical career or just in general? Who would these crucial people be?
That would be a pretty long list! We just released our album Stories After Bedtime where I wrote all the names into the liner notes. A lot of people made it there: family, friends, fellow musicians. Basically everyone whom I feel indebted to and thankful for.