Chicago musician Vivian McConnell has been a fixture of the local indie-rock community for the better part of a decade, splitting time between fronting the avant-pop outfit Grandkids and playing in the scrappy rock band Santah, which is led by her brother Stanton. But with her solo project, V.V. Lightbody, McConnell is making some of the most gorgeous and affecting music of her career. Her new album Bathing Peach, which is out now, boasts lush, orchestral, Joni Mitchell-inspired folk, backed by local acts like Ohmme as well as several players from Chicago’s jazz community. Following the release, McConnell, a Bridgeport resident, grabbed a beer with Chicago magazine to talk about taking charge of her own music, recording with jazz players, and bringing back the flute in 2018.
On going solo
I first realized that these songs should be used for my own solo project because of lot of them were rejects for my other band Grandkids. I was really into the ideas but they were way too personal and way too soft for that group, which was going in a more scattered and experimental direction. I just love writing quiet songs in my bedroom and listening to artists like Jessica Pratt and Joni Mitchell. I was also going through a breakup at the time so I used all those things to do something really new and exciting that was also for myself. This project is a combination of the freedom and weirdness I felt by making really accessible songs.
On being in charge of her own music
The whole process of making Bathing Peach was pretty purposeful because this project just feels like literally what’s coming out of my body and isn’t being adjusted by anyone else. If any changes are made, they’re by me. I love having that but on the flipside I’m the only person making decisions and that gets overwhelming. Questions like “Does this sound good?” or “What font should I use on the cassette” have taken over my life and hopefully made me a stronger person. It’s a big difference than me being in Santah, which was led by my brother, and Grandkids, which made decisions democratically.
On recording Bathing Peach
My engineer Dan Pierson is a classical and jazz pianist who just got the recording bug. He asked me to be his guinea pig for his home studio. We’d record, realize a song needed shaker or something and call our favorite jazz players like Peter Manheim to add on parts. It was another example of Chicago music feeling like its own tiny neighborhood.
On Chicago music in 2018
I wish the rest of the country paid more attention to this city. I always talk about this with Ohmme’s Sima Cunningham but I feel like Chicago is this big stirring pot of so many talented artists who are making really good music. It feels really good here. We have so many excellent albums out now like [ones by] Dos Santos and Paul Cherry, and now there are albums like Gia Margaret’s coming out that are so good as well.
On putting the flute in a rock record
I played all the flutes on the record, which were recorded on top of each other so they have this crazy layered effect. It was a really fun thing for me because I played flute in high school band. I want to send my album to my band teacher.
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