Artist of the Month: Vonne
written and photographed by Jason Ikpatt
Yvonne Goodwynne is a vocalist, instrumentalist, and human sponge who writes and performs with her main project, Vonne, as well as another musical project called Hip Modus.
Jason met with Vonne in the hallway on a bench outside of the always bustling Brew and Brew on a cold February evening. We talked about her time in the Middle East, self-study, and that time that Jon Bap followed her on Instagram.
Vonne: I feel like everyone [in Austin] does a lot of things though.
Jason: Do you think it’s because everyone is trying to get “on” in different ways?
V: Mhmm. (exaggerated nods)
J: What was it like in Katy?
V: What was it like in Katy growing up?
J: (laughs) Why are you shaking your head?
V: How do I not shit-talk my hometown? Well, um… it was nice little suburban town, I don’t know, you know? Same shit. It was fine! I was just a little suburban kid. I went to a high school called Cinco Ranch High School, but I didn’t graduate there. I graduated at a school called Bahrain School, in Bahrain.
J: So why did you move to… I can’t say it correctly – Bah-rain?
V: Bahrain! Bah-rain! Barrain! Doesn’t really matter! But you know, I was in high school at the time so I just moved with my family. My Dad got a job in an area in Saudi Arabia, so we just moved there and I ended up going to a school on a nearby island called Bahrain.
J: I’m sure that was a huge culture shock!
V: Yeah, that’s really all it was!
V: Just a huge one-eighty.
J: So, in Saudi Arabia, is everything in Arabic?
V: Well not everything is in Arabic, its actually in Arabic and English, but yeah they do speak Arabic there. There are a lot of different kinds of people in Saudi which is funny because it’s a very hard country to enter, technically. But there are a lot of different kinds of people. Expats, but also people who are working in Saudi, people who are from Southeast Asian countries who come to Saudi to work
J: So when did you move back?
V: Umm… I think it was June… 2016. I was there about a year and a half.
J: Oh, so not too long!
V: Just long enough!
J: Were you making music while you were abroad?
V: It’s funny, I released my first EP when I arrived in Saudi. I had moved in December of 2014 and I released an EP in February of 2015. It was already done by the time I moved, but I had spilled lemonade all over my computer. (laughs)
J: Oh no! (laughs)
V: It was like, as I was sending it to my mixer as well!
V: Yeah, my friend Tyler Hulbert, he mixed the project for me and as I was sending it to him on Dropbox, I just annihilated my computer with lemonade. I had to redo some songs – I had to redo like 60% of [the EP] I think.
But yeah, I started making music my freshman year of high school. I got grounded for some reason…
J: (laughs) for some reason?
V: I really don’t remember! It was probably something stupid like, I don’t know, maybe I just said something to my Mom. Real quick to respond to my Mom or something. But I was grounded and she wanted to take my phone and I was like “But if I’m grounded and take my phone, then I can’t record things that I’m creating!” and so she said “How do I get you something you can record with without using your phone?”
J: That’s cool!
V: And so she took me to Guitar Center.
J: No way!
V: Uh-huh! And she got me my first little studio kit! It was like this, stupid little interface, and microphone, and cords, and then I started reproducing stuff I heard on the radio and making my own tracks from there.
J: So you had instruments with you in the room?
V: I had a digital piano. I also had this portable keyboard that just had a bunch of bank sounds, but it also had MIDI capabilities so I could plug it up into my interface and I could then use any kind of software to edit sound or, you know, to make whatever patch I wanted to, and incorporate it into my music. And I played ukulele. I had gotten an electric ukulele…
J: Electric ukulele?
V: I mean, it’s not like you would think. It was acoustic electric, it was just that it had a pickup. It was still a ukulele, but it wasn’t like an electric guitar like you would think (laughs)
J: (laughs) got it.
V: I play with that live, actually!
That was really the main instrument I would use. Otherwise, I would just play the keyboard and edit sound. I sequenced my drums that way, on the keyboard.
J: That’s wild, did you have Logic or Reason?
V: So when I first started, I was using PreSonos? Studio 1? I think that’s what it was called. But basically it came with the kit that I got. But I eventually got Logic. Logic is so clutch! I use Logic still but as I’ve been studying audio engineering I’ve started getting into ProTools. I don’t love it as much as Logic but it’s cool. I have to learn it I guess, because it’s the industry standard.
J: I’m sure there are people who have given you examples of other artists who you sound like…
J: (laughs) How do you feel about that?
J: Can I tell you who I think you sound like?
V: I don’t know… I mean it’s okay. The way I learned music… I was very rebellious and I kind of went my own way. Really, my favorite way to approach music is to self-study, but the way that I learned to sing is by imitating what I heard on the radio. Imitating things that I love of course. Like literally, imitate, you know? It makes sense that there are certain artists that people say I sound like – Adele, Lorde… I’ve gotten Hayley Williams. And it’s true, when I was in middle school, I would cover Adele’s songs and I would post them on Facebook. I loved Adele’s 19. She was definitely a huge inspiration, as well as Lorde. When I first put out that EP, it was around the same time that Lorde had released Pure Heroine. It was cool to be like “Oh shit! She’s doing the same thing that I’m doing, and I can relate to her lyrics and her abstractness and her spookiness and I dig it” and so I took a lot of inspiration from her after my first project.
But yes, you can tell me.
J: It was Lorde!
V: I mean yeah! I took a lot of inspiration from her. Pure Heroine, honestly, to this day, I still love it.
J: What’s your favorite thing about the music that you make?
V: Favorite thing about the music that I make? Hmmmm. Ummmm. (taps on bench, laughs) uhhh… that it’s mine! And that I make it!
J: That’s a really good answer.
V: It’s funny, when you can sit on an idea and just kind of keep it to yourself, I mean it’s a little selfish, but its rewarding.
J: Rewarding to be sitting on an idea or rewarding to finally have shared that idea?
V: That’s the thing, I’m actually stuck in a place right now where I just sit on my ideas. I just keep them to myself. And I just kind of send them to my other musician friends who are like “Yeah it’s good! It’s whatever! It’s cool!”
It’s just the fact that I can create what I hear in my head, really. Being able to do that is really nice. And also, the pursuit of that, being able to chase it. Being able to go into tunnels.
Recently I’ve been listening to Charles Mingus, I really like his stuff! I don’t know if you’ve heard of Esperanza Spalding?
V: I mean, she’s fucking phenomenal. I’m a really big fan of her and my boyfriend was telling me that if I like Esperanza Spalding [I] should listen to Charles Mingus, that she gets a lot of inspiration from him. So I can’t wait to dig into this Charles Mingus tunnel and see how it picks up. Cause it really just rubs off, just naturally when you consume it. It just becomes a part of what you create automatically.
J: So you are listening to Charles Mingus and Esperanza Spalding with the intention of their rubbing off on your music?
V: Not with the intention, it’s because I like the music (laughs)
V: But you know, the way that I learn specifically, its very easy for me to pick up a melody and copy it or play it back on the piano. It just becomes a part of your repertoire, and then you’ll just have it you know? It’s one of those things that you can’t really grasp. For Foreign Affairs, I was like “Oh, there’s a thing that Lorde did, that I’m going to do”
J: I feel like that’s very hip-hop of you. To sample lots of different motifs and sounds. I should say it’s really jazz of you.
V: I’d agree with Hip Hop more, ‘cause you know Hip Hop borrowed from Jazz. And Rock and Roll too, and Blues. Yeah, its true.
But you know, I guess Jazz borrowed from Blues.
I’ll take it!
J: Who do you collaborate with?
V: Hmmm, honestly no one.
J: Is there a reason for that?
V: Honestly, I do want to be… kind of on this weird Prince status, where I’m able to play all of the instruments in a generic rock band. And I want to be able to write all my own parts on all those instruments.
Like Jon Bap, I don’t know if you know who that is?
J: I do! Incredible. Incredible work, that man.
V: So I know that he writes all of his parts and plays all of his parts - at least on Let It Happen I know he did that. And that’s kind of what I want to do. That’s what I did with Foreign Affairs except I didn’t play the bass or play the drums, I sequenced drums and I found bass patches that I played on the keyboard. But recently, I’ve picked up the bass – I just bought myself a guitar and I’m learning the drums.
V: I think it’s just because I can hear it in my head. I can hear the music in my head. It’s just a matter of knowing how to make it. With me, it’s just about the ownership - not really in terms of what it says on paper but you know, that it is something that I have created from start to finish.
J: That’s really cool!
V: And that’s also why I’m studying audio engineering. I really want to be able to do the whole nine yards, from start to finish! And then have someone master it! And then it’s done!
J: I feel that what I am getting from you is a lot of soaking. A lot of learning.
V: I’m a sponge!
J: And incorporating that knowledge into your craft. Have you always felt encouraged to do that?
V: It’s always been my process since I was young. Putting my ear to the radio and turning it up all the way. Consuming and copying everything that I hear that I love and changing it into something I like better. That’s just always really been my method.
Jon Bap just followed me on Instagram the other day!
J: Did he really?!
V: (squeals) Yeah! And I texted my friends and I was like “I’m retiring. I’m done. Bye. You’ll never hear from me again!” I’m just a big fan.