Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“Vera Sola can mean ‘the only Vera’ but if you twist it around it can also mean
’truth alone,’ which is ultimately what I’m getting at.
This is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’ve lied to myself about it.”
— Danielle Aykroyd
Vera Sola is the moniker of LA-based singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Danielle Aykroyd, who studied literature at Harvard before eventually recording and releasing her own music. Called “a masterful story-teller that exudes an effortless mystique” by The Line of Best Fit, Vera Sola often performs with guitar and a string quartet. She recently toured with the Milk Carton Kids and caught the ear of Zola Jesus, who remixed “The Colony”.
The Misfits are an American punk rock band often recognized as the progenitors of the horror punk subgenre, blending punk and other musical influences with horror film themes and imagery. Founded in 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey, the original lineup consisted of vocalist and keyboardist Glenn Danzig, bassist Jerry Only, and drummer Manny Martínez. They released several EPs and singles, including the albums Walk Among Us (1982) and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983), both considered touchstones of the early ‘80s hardcore punk movement.
She’s been a literature scholar at Harvard, a touring instrumentalist in a folk-rock band and a film composer, but Vera Sola’s creative vision has found the ultimate outlet in her spectral, “found-object” folk music. On her debut album Shades, Vera Sola incorporates gothic storytelling and her love of Russian literature with eerie, old school recording techniques and atmospheric sounds: bones and broken glass, chains and filing cabinets.
A true self-starter, Sola not only self-produced Shades, but also directed and co-edited the video for the album’s first single “The Colony,” as well as working with a dressmaker to design her own stage clothes. She talks with us about her surprisingly recent move towards creating her own music, going viral by covering punk band the Misfits, and getting “fired” by piano teachers.
Where are you from?
I was born in California and grew up between New York and Canada. Half Canadian, proudly, especially now. And now I’m based sporadically in Los Angeles, in this space.
When did you start making music?
I started playing or making music, when I was a child, I played the piano. I was an insufferable student and never practiced my scales and only wanted to learn really difficult pieces that were impossible for me to learn and so I was fired by many piano teachers. For that reason I didn’t really consider myself to be anything but a hobbyist or a musician inside my own bedroom. I picked up the guitar and put it down, and picked up other things and put them down, but was always writing poetry and eventually began setting my poetry to music, which I did in the quiet and private of my bathtub.
It wasn’t until about five years ago that a friend of mine, Elvis Perkins, dragged me out of the bedroom and asked me to play in his band. Then I started playing in it as a side man in a backing band, a bunch of different instruments, but still never considered myself a singer or a writer or a performer in my own right. It wasn’t until February 2017 that…that started this whole charade.
Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James (1902–69) was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter. His guitar playing is noted for its dark, minor-key sound, played in an open D-minor tuning with an intricate fingerpicking technique. James first recorded for Paramount Records in 1931, but these recordings sold poorly, having been released during the Great Depression, and he drifted into obscurity. Today! is his third studio album, and was released in 1966 by Vanguard Records.
Martin Sandberg (b.1971), known professionally as Max Martin, is a Swedish songwriter, record producer and singer. He rose to prominence in the second half of the 1990s after making a string of major hits such as Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time” (1998), The Backstreet Boys’s “I Want It That Way” (1999) and Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” (2000).
Who did you listen to growing up?
I grew up in a house that had a lot of soul music and old RnB, but I also was a huge punk fan. Listened to a lot of ‘70s and ‘80s punk. And classical, always. Sort of dark romantic brooding classical music. Chopin and Rachmaninoff and Liszt and all of that.
Also, my mom’s side of the family is from Tennessee and so I grew up with country music as well. But it wasn’t until Skip James’ Today!—that was the record that changed my whole life and changed the way that I approached music and thought about music. That’s that. And now listen to just about everything. I listened to Britney Spears too, Backstreet Boys. Max Martin is a brilliant songwriter.
“Just imagine all of the Lifetime movies you’ve ever seen and then collapse them into one and that’s basically what my life was at that point.”
— Danielle Aykroyd
Elvis Perkins (b.1976) is an American folk-rock recording artist. He released his debut studio album, Ash Wednesday, in 2007, and toured in support of the album with his band, Elvis Perkins in Dearland. In 2009 the group released a self-titled album Elvis Perkins in Dearland on XL Recordings, before Perkins released his third studio album I Aubade in 2015, on his label MIR.
How did you decide this is what you’re going to do?
I didn’t make the decision. I was in a terrible place in my life. Everything was going wrong. I mean, just imagine all of the Lifetime movies you’ve ever seen and then collapse them into one and that’s basically what my life was at that point.
I wasn’t touring anymore with Elvis Perkins, I’d lost my job and my mom was really sick and then all of this other insane, totally mad stuff was going on. I had this feeling that I wanted to go and make a record of my own songs, which I’d been amassing and never playing for anybody. So I sent an email to the engineer who I’d been working with on the road with Elvis who had a studio in St. Louis, with three really terribly recorded demos on my computer. I was basically pre-heart attack sending that email. I’m sweating just thinking about it. My hands are very clammy right now.
I sent him those demos hoping that he would say, “I don’t think you’re ready to come into record.” But he loved them and so I went to St. Louis and made this record and originally I was going to have friends come in and play on it. I was going to have Elvis going to play guitar and hire some crack musicians to play on it. But once I got there, I realized that I needed to for my own sake, prove it to myself that I could do it alone and so I did. I played all the instruments on it myself and I arranged it and produced it. It was really for me and a way for me to process what I was going through in my life and figure out what I wanted to be doing and I never thought that anybody would want to listen to it or hear it. But I played it for a couple of people and they liked it.
I dove headlong into it and emailed it to a lady who said she loved to work with me and was sort of a managerial figure at that point. She helped me set up a show which was August of 2017, which was sort of a con job because I’ve never really played a show before in my life of my own music and I kind of just called out every favor that I could and pretended that I had this whole career which I didn’t. And I put on this performance with a string quartet backing me, and it took off from there. So I sort of stumbled into it and I’m still baffled by it and confused by it and excited and terrified that this is what I do now. I do a lot of other things. But that’s that story.
And then it really hilariously…it really took off. In October of 2017 I was in another awful phase of my life. I needed to go back and start to do the same thing and express myself, and I had been overheard covering some tunes by that punk band the Misfits. I went in and did the same thing in the studio and rearranged and played all these Misfits songs and put them up on Bandcamp for free.
That was sort of the turning point for me because a bunch of people heard those recordings and started booking me for shows without me having any music out there of my own, and just one YouTube video. That’s my story. Now I’m here, which is insane.
What are some things that are important to you that you like to address through your music?
Well, I’m a storyteller, primarily. They’re all stories. I sing in the first person quite a bit but they’re not all about me. I say that often but I think it’s important to note that this record isn’t a heartbreak record and I’m not singing about myself every time I sing, like I sing, “I want to hurt you.” That was a line that I overheard from a couple arguing.
So, telling other people’s stories in a way that feels truthful, telling my own stories in a way that feels truthful and embodying those characters. I mean, the character on stage, it’s a character for sure but it is an amalgamation of everything that I am. It’s an amalgamation of all of these objects in this room and what they mean to me and who I am, but blown out under stage lights.
The storytelling is very important, but then of course, I can’t help but write “political songs” at this point because it’s surrounding us daily. I’m sure I’m getting some horrifying notification on my phone from CNN right now about what’s going on. It’s impossible to not have that work its way into my songs.
So there’s that, and then the one thing that I like to tell people is that a lot of my songs are funny. They seem desperately sad and angry which they are, but there’s a self-awareness to them and a humor. If there’s a lyric that sounds like it’s ridiculously sad I’m well aware that it is.
There’s a lot of humor to it. With my band it’s important to me that we work in musical jokes into the set by flipping genres on their head and that kind of thing. But basically just expressing feeling and connecting with people and making sound.
“I was an insufferable student and never practiced my scales and only wanted to learn really difficult pieces that were impossible for me to learn and so I was fired by many piano teachers.”
— Danielle Aykroyd
What’s the story behind the name “Vera Sola”?
Well, I’ve never connected with my own name personally. Anybody who is close to me calls me by a nickname. I’ve got about forty nicknames and that’s not an exaggeration. So when I look in the mirror, I don’t see my own name and I never have, but I also have a deep connection to my family and a love of my family. There was a hesitancy to change my name—which I’ve always wanted to do—because of my love for who I come from just because of what good people they are in the story behind my real name. So I had a lot of trouble choosing a band name or what have you. It’s not easy for sure, as you know. It was totally last minute. I had this show coming up and I didn’t have a name that I was going under. The venue was like, “What’s the name of the band that’s going to be playing?” and I didn’t have one and so it’s like many things in my life: a totally pretentious inside joke, and I chose the name Vera because it’s the Latin prefix for “truth” and I thought it would be sort of slyly funny that my fake name would mean “true name”, which is so stupid. So I went I played my first show under the name of “Vera”, single name.
Then, right as that Misfits thing happened and people were starting to notice me, a pop producer in Europe blew up under the name of “Vera” and took the hashtag and had the Spotify account, so I had to come up with a last name for it. I chose Sola which is also roughly Latin for “alone” or “the only”. It’s like “the only Vera” because there’s another Vera and there are multiple other Vera’s and I didn’t look on the internet before I chose the name. There’s a Mexican thrash band. There’s a Canadian Indie band. Yeah, so I chose Vera Sola as, again, a pretentious Latin joke.
If you twist it around it can also mean “truth alone”, which is ultimately what I’m getting at. I guess with my music, and what I’m getting at by getting out there, is that this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’ve lied to myself about it. I’ve tried a million other jobs and so this is truth alone. This is me. It might be a character but it’s me. That’s the long-winded story and I often regret it.
“I realized that I needed to—or my own sake, to prove it to myself that I could—do it alone and so I did. I played all the instruments and arranged and produced it. It was a way to process what I was going through in my life and figure out what I wanted to be doing.”
— Danielle Aykroyd
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
That’s so hard. I’m very lucky in that I’ve been able to collaborate with, or at least just play music with, some of my favorite people working today, but man, I don’t know. There are so many brilliant musicians working out there and I’m just still so baffled that I’m doing this. I hired my band and I was surprised that they wanted to work with me. So that’s a tough question. I defer to the outside world, “Who do you guys think I should collaborate with?” I don’t know.
Anyone I guess.
Yeah, anyone. I’ll take anybody desperate.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
Oh, so many. I came from a literary background. I love poetry. I started writing poetry when I was young. So I’m a writer. I consider myself a writer primarily. So I love to read, and I love animals. I love horses and I have three rescue horses myself, and…human beings as well, and the state of the world for sure, doing anything I can minutely or grandly to help out. That’s big, but then I also have like all sorts of weird esoteric loves, you know instruments, but that counts as music. Hoarding, I love to hoard things, objects.
“I can’t help but write ‘political songs’ at this point because it’s surrounding us daily. It’s impossible to not have that work its way into my songs.”
— Danielle Aykroyd
What’s your favorite book, film and music right now?
They change so much. My favorite music: I’ve been listening to a lot of West African polyrhythmic music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, there’s an organ sound on there that I love so much. I love to dance. That’s another thing. I’m a big dancer. I was a ballerina when I was a child and so I’m always dancing and I love to dance to that stuff. There’s also this song by El Pauling called “Cool Teenager”, which is really badass and has the coolest background vocals I’ve ever heard and so that’s my favorite song right now.
Film, my favorite movie has been for a long time The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed, script by Graham Greene, starring Orson Welles with his zither…insane zither soundtrack. And I just I love that stuff. I love film noir and dark, dark stuff, you might imagine.
Then book, right now I’m reading a lot of different things. I’m reading for probably the third time Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, which is a collection of short stories that set the tone for a lot of modern writers. He created what came to be called the “Grotesque genre”, but it’s beautiful stories about people in a town in Ohio. But otherwise, Catch-22 is one of my favorite books ever. It’s devastating and hilarious and beautiful. There’s so many, I could go on forever on books really, but I would come off as rather unbearable.
So, what’s next?
I’m going to Europe in November to tour with my band and we’ll do that for a while, and release this record and see what happens with that, and record more music. I’ve got just the wildest backlog that I want to record and I would like to do so with a full band, with real musicians and what-not now. I’m excited for the next record and excited for the next iteration of whatever this may be. That’s what’s next. But hey, who knows? Nothing I’ve ever expected has ever happened. So yeah.