Interview with Vikki Gilmore
Montreal Rocks spoke to Vikki Gilmore, a talented Montreal singer/songwriter. We spoke about what she learned from POP Montreal, her new EP, and deep dive into the process of creating songs.
Montreal Rocks: How long have you been doing this for?
Vikki: I don’t know. I started when I was 15. Now I’m 21. Math! (laughs)
<<from the background, Joey Langlois (What If Elephants) chimes in>>
Joey: She’s so talented, man. You don’t know.
Vikki: You are so nice!
<<Joey tries to remember which band Vikki opened up for…Ben Cardilli? Dull Boy? Be Astronaut? It turns out to be Backyard Dreaming EP Launch (June 2nd, 2016).>>
Joey: It was cool to see you at Light the Night.
MR: We just talked about different events you participated in. You also participated in POP MTL and Mural Fest, both Montreal institutions now. What was your favorite experience at these events?
Vikki: The first time I played at POP, I was really excited because it was my first time doing a festival. That was a great opportunity and I really appreciated that POP MTL was supporting local artists that may not have the biggest fanbase or have that many shows to back them up. That gave me the opportunity to see myself doing this in a more professional way, rather than a “this is a fun hobby”, you know? You get to meet a lot of cool artists there and get to go to a few shows. Saw Angel Olsen that year. That was fun. Going from one venue from where you were performing to another venue that was huge. It was the Rialto Theatre and she had an amazing performance. I remember seeing that comparison and thinking: Wow, this is cool.
MR: To show you my age, I remember going to the Rialto Theatre when they were showing movies! (laughs) Did you learn anything from POP MTL that helped you as an artist?
Vikki: I did it two years in a row and I found that it opened you up to different artists in different genres. When you are in your own genre and you know that community in Montreal or elsewhere, it’s hard to take off the blinders and see how other genres can help you in developing your music.
Learnt a lot about stage performance, crowd communication and things like that and how important that is. Doing festivals like that where 99% of the people in the crowd didn’t know me was a great stepping point. I think I was 18 when I played it. At that point, I was just this shy…I’m still shy…but onstage, I didn’t have that presence created yet.
MR: POP MTL, more than Mural Fest has a focus on: Just go for the experience. You will have a good time no matter who you see, but you will be exposed to something new.
MR: I would look at the POP MTL roster and I don’t know three quarters of these bands, apart from the few sprinkled here and there.
Vikki: It’s a really cool experience. If anybody wants to go, I highly recommend it.
MR: Your latest release is an EP called Someone. What song do you connect with the most on that album and why?
Vikki: My views, when I listen to my songs…I sound like an egomaniac! (laughs) My perspective always changes when I’m listening, writing or even recording my music. At each stage, I connect with one song more than the others. I feel that most bands and artists can relate to how your work can change its meaning over time. You don’t have one set meaning for a song when you write it.
As of late, I definitely would say “Forgiveness” would be the song on there that I connect with the most. It’s a song that talks about how in life, you are going through the motions. There is this imagery about a house falling apart. Then you see your memories and your life as you look back and you might not have appreciated the things that may have been bad in your life. When you are going through a bad experience in life, you can’t necessarily disassociate yourself and say: I can learn from this. In the moment, it takes you down, but after, when you reflect on it, you may not necessarily get that valuable message from it.
MR: It makes you stronger.
Vikki: It makes you stronger. But people don’t learn from that experience and it’s quite sad for people that are stuck in that cycle.
MR: I think a way to explain it is like a muscle. When you exercise, you are actually breaking down your muscle, tearing it. It’s only by tearing it and inflicting pain that it will build up and become stronger.
MR: Life experiences are like that, in that you have to suffer through them. If you can learn from them, like you said…
Vikki: It will help you grow. The song talks about following shadows in your home and ghosts in your bed. It’s not literal. It’s the idea that you take everything you live with along with you. If you keep living with those chains and if you can’t grow from that, it makes everything much more difficult.
MR: I also find it interesting that you will have an interpretation of your song, but somebody else will come at it from a whole different perspective. It may even be foreign to you.
Vikki: That’s my favorite part of it, when you hear other people tell you theirs. Once, I performed one song and had three people come to me, after the show, asking if I wrote that song about them. Did you write this song about my relationship with THIS person? Absolutely not, right? But if you take it that way, to me, it is the biggest compliment.
MR: You are able to put in words what others may have been thinking. Maybe they haven’t been able to identify that feeling, but you just brought it up and they identify with that. That’s a very strong superpower as a writer.
Vikki: It’s fun to do and to hear how others interpret it.
MR: The response you’ve gotten from this EP is along those lines. People saying this is mature songwriting, based on your age. It gives a lot of credit to when you did then, what you are doing now and what you will do in the future.
MR: Speaking of the writing process…do you write introspective songs? Where you are talking about your own life. Or do you create a fictional character that you live precariously through?
Vikki: It’s tough because my first EP, which I wrote when I was 17, was released when I was around 18 or 19. To me, it was a journal of my life going from teenagerhood to adulthood, seeing the changes and how people change in your life. Friends, family and relationships…how that goes and how you can learn from that. At that point, I did find it was much more introspective. When I wrote “Someone”, if felt, in part, that I was writing about a character, taking bits and pieces of other people’s lives and stories and how I can merge that in with my own. I don’t think there is one song that I wrote where I said: This is an event that happened to me, here’s how it translates. I think all my songs take bits and pieces of things that I hear…
MR: Like a quilt.
Vikki: Yeah, exactly. It’s one big quilt and that helps other people connect with it.
MR: Your playing February 8th(2019) at La Vitrola. Will you be performing solo or you will you have other musicians with you?
Vikki: For the first 2 years of my career, I was performing solo acoustic. I was basing it all on myself. My own pace and rhythm but that was really nerve racking. Everybody knows that if you go on stage with just your guitar, it’s just you and everything is on you. That was a great opportunity to get a handle on who I am as an artist. People will tell me all the time that I’m a different person on stage then I am in real life. It’s true. It’s an outlet for me to be a really outgoing, spontaneous person. In real life, I’m not like that at all.
For this show, I’m going to be performing solo, the first time in a little while. For the past year, I’ve been performing in an acoustic setting with a band. That was a really cool experience and I’ve enjoyed that a lot. This show, I’m going to be solo…back to my roots.
MR: Sometimes, there is a transition. Like you said, people would see you and say you are completely different on stage. There is a moment when that changes, from back stage to front stage. Do you have something that triggers that?
Vikki: I don’t know. I’m a very shy person performing, public speaking, things like that. I’ve found that literally the minute I get off stage and people start talking to me, I start feeling the nerves. It’s a weird phenomenon, but the minute I’m on stage performing, I’m pouring my heart out to people with my music. That’s the thing I’m most confident in. I’ll listen to my music and might doubt it…you are your own worst critic. Performing, for me, is an outlet. It’s almost therapeutic being able to communicate that with people. You aren’t speaking to people but still communicating in a different sort of language to them. If they can understand that, it’s a beautiful thing.
MR: There is a guy named Todd Herman. He told the story of one athlete, a tennis player. She had a very strong sense of fairness. When they analyzed her performance, they noticed that she would start strong, but then, through self-sabotage, her inner sense of fairness would let the other player catch up. She would then struggle to win.
Todd talks about Clark Kent. When he puts on those glasses, he becomes an alter-ego. This allows him to become who he needs to be for a time.
Once the tennis player used an object (it was a bracelet), she became the alter-ego she needed to be to dominate the other player.
The lesson is that as a performer, you can trigger yourself into that performance state by using an object, for instance. Once you are done, you can trigger back to your true self.
For a football player, it was the moment his heel brushed against the grass, he changed into their alter-ego.
It will be interesting to see what that will be for you.
Vikki: I’ll keep you guys posted!
<<You can learn more about the technique in this podcast: Link or in his new book.>>
MR: Like you said, when you are up there, you are performing with your whole heart, so you don’t notice the nerves.
Vikki: Right before I get on, I will be standing there with my guitar…this little old gal. You feel the nerves build up, but the minute I get into it, I don’t know, it’s a really calming experience. Maybe my experience is different from others, but it’s nice to have that opportunity to connect with people in a different way.
MR: Is there a specific physical place you go to for inspiration?
Vikki: Great question. I find myself often writing in my room, but I don’t get my inspiration from that. Sometimes I will get my inspiration from what people are talking about on the bus. Sometimes it hits at the most random times. I just get my phone notepad out and I have to write it down.
When I think about my songs retrospectively, I see that it does come from a place in my life that I’m not necessarily thinking of things in tangible ways. Like: Oh, I watched this TV show and this show made me think of THIS, so I wrote this song. It will often be this grand scheme of things that happened in my life that culminated to create this one song. I could literally be on a mountain top and get that inspiration about everything that happened to me in the last year and I’m able to write a song. While I haven’t found a particular place, I do most of my writing in my room.
MR: You are mostly experiencing life and picking up little pieces of your quilt along the way. Sometimes on the bus, or wherever you are, and you assemble that and create the story or the emotion you want to share.
Vikki: Yeah, I try to. Sometimes I don’t even remember. There was an artist that wrote on Twitter that when people ask you: What is the inspiration behind this song? She wrote specifically that it’s almost like a blur from when you write the song to when you record it. When you are in that moment, it’s almost like you are not even there. It was cool that she wrote that, because she put into words exactly what a lot of people feel like when they are writing.
RM: I listened to a Podcast that spoke about Tom Petty and how he wrote. The songs were within him. He didn’t write them, he just let them escape. He was that good. I never really liked Tom Petty growing up. I’ve really come to appreciate him as a songwriter, after watching that Documentary on him. Is that the same with you? When the inspiration comes…when you are in your room writing…does the song come together quickly like you are letting it escape or is it something it something you struggle with, finding all those pieces to make them fit together?
Vikki: It usually comes quite quickly. I might have writers block. For instance, if you sit me down and say: Write a song right now! It’s very difficult. But when it comes, I can write a song in 15 to 20 minutes…at least the basic chords. The rest, the whole production value isn’t there, but the lyrics with the melody…if I have the idea there, it comes very quickly.
Even lately, I’ve been doing a few collaborations with EDM artists. Even with that, they will give me the beats, so I’m not creating the production at all. I find that if the inspiration comes, it will just flow through. If it doesn’t, it will not be my best work and I won’t be proud of it, because then I will have thought about it too much.
MR: It’s interesting. I can see where if you think about it too much, you are not letting your natural self talk.
Vikki: Yes. Then I start doubting it and I start going back and changing stuff…that’s not a good song.
MR: It’s like the second album syndrome where you have your whole life to record your first album, but for the second, you have to do it while you are touring. You have very little time and sometimes, it’s forced. If you are signed to a label, they put pressure because you have to keep the momentum going. That is why many aren’t that great. But those that can do what you do, and let it come naturally, hopefully…
Vikki: Hopefully it lasts.
MR: Yes. We are looking forward to your next EP and seeing you on stage on February 8that La Vitriola.
Get your tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/port-cities-what-if-elephants-vikki-gilmore-tickets-54042042203