Ian Maleney interviews New York producer & DJ Vanese Smith aka Pursuit Grooves who’s just released her new LP ‘Franticallly Hopeful‘.
It’s always great when there’s an artist you’ve sort of been keeping an ear out for, maybe checking the odd song on Youtube or Soundcloud every now and again, maybe reading the odd piece of press about, shows up with something utterly fantastic. Frantically Hopeful is the new full-length from Brooklyn-based hip-hop innovator Vanese Smith, otherwise known as Pursuit Grooves, and it is that something special. Refining her approach from 2010’s Fox Trot Mannerisms, Frantically Hopeful is a huge step forward for an artist who is all about progression. Despite being her fourth solo album (there was also the GuShee project, where she collaborated with experimental hip hop turntablist Cheldon Paterson), the new record feels fresh and invigorating. It lives up to both sides of its title, with the glitchy, uncompromising beats and hard rhymes of ‘I Sink‘ and ‘Clueless‘ sitting happily beside the brighter elements like ‘Mars Is Rising‘ and ‘What About?‘, creating a constant current of vitality, positivity and energy throughout the album.
With the current LA beat music scene making waves all across the world thanks to the likes of Flying Lotus, Baths, etc, it is interesting to hear an artist reaching similar conclusions but from an entirely different location and mindset. Smith is a true individual and, while she no doubt has much in common with what’s happening out on the west coast, her personal voice and passion separates Frantically Hopeful from the work of her peers.
Frantically Hopeful is your fourth solo full-length, how do you feel you’ve developed your sound on this release? I’m just comfortable with what I do. I know what I like and I’m not trying to fit into any particular category. As an artist I just try to go with what feels good and not worry about bpm and all that stuff. I think I’ve always been that way but I’m much more willing to just create and not worry about definitions. I pay more attention to technicalities now, like mixing etc. Which in the early days I didn’t really care or know so much about.
There seems to be a more politically, or at maybe socially, aware edge to the lyrics on the new album, is there a reason for this? I write about the things that interest me. My lyrics are definitely commentaries on what I see and read on the daily. I can’t help it really. It’s my duty I feel.
How does it feel to have a label like Tectonic behind you on this (and the last) release? Pinch has been extremely supportive. He gives me lots of freedom. It’s been great and I’ve been very fortunate. Especially since I’m coming from a different angle.
Did making the GuSHee album have an impact on how you made this album? I started working on Frantically Hopeful before the GuSHee album, but there was definitely some crossover time wise. The GuSHee project definitely helped me to open up and experiment more.
You point out the lack of attention given to female producers on your website, why do you think this is? It’s not so much a lack of attention. I’m not saying that we need to be pointed out. I’m just saying we’re definitely the minority in the industry when speaking of music producers. I think it’s inspiring to younger females when they see more female producers making things happen. It’s like wanting to be an engineer and discovering that there’s a crew of kickass female engineers out there. It’s just good to see more females making cool music across the genres. It’s just really encouraging.
How do you approach live performance and how does it differ from studio creation for you? I just try to have fun and reinterpret my tracks. Also some remixes as well. I vibe off the crowd and if they’re hype it pushes me even more. It gives me the chance to connect on a deeper level.
Do you feel the increased exposure given to the beat music scene in LA at the minute has been useful to you commercially or inspirational artistically? Funnily enough even though I’m from the States, I feel more of a connection or support from Europe. LA has their own thing happening which is great.
You attended the Red Bull Music academy in 2008, do you think this impacted on the way you’ve made music since? I left the Academy feeling really energized and inspired. After listening to lectures and making music with people from around the world who were just as passionate as I was, was an amazing experience. There’s nothing like it for the electronic spectrum. Modern music education has decreased in schools in the States but has seemed to pop up more in outside/private institutions and virtual reality. Out of all of the performing arts, it’s the one that has experienced the most change in the last 10 years I believe. Some ways good, some ways not so good. I attended a performing arts school for nine years as a kid and it totally shaped who I am today.
Do you think that independently releasing your early albums has influenced the way you look at music and the music business now? Perhaps. But honestly at the end of the day there are no rules…or rather there are always exceptions, hence my label name What Rules. I released the first album Fun Like Passion in 2006. It was the beginning of tools being made available to market and easily release independent music. At the time I was just excited to share my music and not wait for any other parties to get involved. It was the first step to me introducing myself to the world… or whoever was listening!