Say Hello to Vicky Farewell
In the wake of her debut record, we spoke with Vicky Farewell about stepping from co-writer to solo act, her pandemic production process, and what excites her most about Sweet Company.
Photo Credit: Lauren Kim
Vicky Farewell has shared studios with stars, written alongside some of this generation’s greatest talents, played some of the world’s biggest stages, and seen her efforts net Grammys, but over lockdown, she’s been working away on her biggest challenge yet — making her debut.
“It feels amazing,” says Vicky on an afternoon call, taking time out of an increasingly rare day off. Her dog, whose soft whines simmering underneath the whole discussion, seems rapt with the attention. “Everything is really crazy right now,” she continues, “it's stressful, but I'm just excited for it to finally drop, because I've been listening to the same record for like two years now.”
Vicky might’ve spent two pandemic-ridden years with Sweet Company, but it took longer still for the fledgling singer-songwriter to feel comfortable in her own creative voice. A combination of time, effort, experience, and the faith of friends helped see the prolific player and serial stage-gracer take a chance on her own instincts. Sweet Company makes good on those instincts, a shimmering arrival that flaunts Vicky’s funk credentials, showcases her newfound production prowess, and explores the very question it serves to finally answer: who is Vicky Farewell, really?
Straight outta Orange County, Vicky has been a mainstay in popular culture for almost a decade, finding her feet in the storied Los Angeles funk scene. A chance meeting with Kelsey Gonzalez of Free Nationals introduced her to Anderson .Paak, with whom she’s written, produced, and performed since 2012. Her first .Paak session saw her lay keys for Knights of C'Bus, called “one of Anderson's greatest pieces” by Kelsey, and on 2016 classic Malibu, she earned a writing credit on Parking Lot and a production nod for Celebrate.
When .Paak won a Grammy for 2019’s Ventura, he did so with Vicky in tow, her production having graced Reachin’ 2 Much and, most notably, Winner’s Circle. She contributed to Lockdown, one of the best tracks of 2020, and has elsewhere worked with Kirin J Callinan, Channel Tres, Mild High Club, and Sir Paul McCartney. All this is to say, Vicky’s catalogue runs as deep as her prodigious talent — but that didn’t make stepping out on her own any easier.
“I held off being an artist for a long time, because I just didn't think I had it in me to be an artist,” she admits, entirely earnest. “That's why I was kind of doing everything else, like co-writing, co-producing, touring, all that. When the pandemic hit, all of that ended for a brief moment. I just decided to work on my production skills, and so of course, I was just practising by myself, writing really a lot of shitty beats,” she says with a laugh. “Eventually the production and the writing just kept getting better.”
That improvement alone didn’t quite light the fire that would become Sweet Company — that came, as Vicky tells it, through the assurance of friends. “A lot of the times when you're in sessions, especially out here in LA, you bounce the songs that you make and then maybe you'll share them with people, a lot like show and tell,” she explains. “Eventually made its way around to Mac [Demarco], and he was encouraging me to write a record. When he said that, I was like, 'Okay, maybe I should take this more seriously.’”
Mac’s belief in Vicky’s talents was nothing new, but showing him her solitary efforts — presumably Are We Good and Kakashi (All Of The Time), “the first two songs I started writing” — helped her see a longtime barrier she’d quietly passed. “I think that's why it feels so good to have it come out, because I think for the past decade of my music career, I just kind of felt very, I don't know… musically constipated.” The inflection lifts, but she doesn’t quite laugh. “I knew that the only way for me to express myself was by writing my own music, and I wasn't good enough for the longest time, or I just didn't have the right tools, the right arsenal, the right people around me.”
The “right people” make for sweet company indeed, but there’s hardly any of that titular companionship on the record itself. “This was like a whole home production thing,” she tells me, loose sketches turning to polished gems before her personal keyboard. “I did everything alone, with the exception of having my roommate play guitar on one song, and I had another friend of mine play a little bit of percussion on a couple other songs… everything else, I produced, wrote, engineered by myself.”
The insular approach to writing and recording proved more than just a creative lease, with songs like Get Me and Kakashi (All Of The Time) waxing over a want to be understood. “Even when I was in school, grade school, I never fit in with a specific group,” explains Vicky. “Especially in American high school — like you watch high school television and these kids split off into groups, little cliques, things like that, and I never fit in any of those groups.” It’s a reflection that rings true even now, as Sweet Company helped make clear. “That’s still the same to me, I don't feel like I belong in any particular musical genre,” she continues. “These songs help show that yeah, I'm starting to get a better grasp of who I am, and so is everyone else around me.”
The tools, arsenal and people are abstracted, present in the musical lessons and creative adages that helped Vicky evolve from prodigious musician to self-contained artist. Even so, the tight aesthetic of Sweet Company — funky, sunny, technicoloured — is steeped in something far more distant. “This feeling comes from what I listened to growing up,” says Vicky, casting her mind back to an Orange County adolescence. “Most people in LA will make fun of you if you say you're from Orange County,” she laughs. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m from Orange County!”
“At the time, growing up in the '90s, I was listening to a lot of what was on the radio, and then also listening to bootleg CDs,” she elaborates. “That was a huge thing, people ripping CDs off Napster and all of that. So for me, I was listening to a lot of bootleg dance music.” It brings on another laugh, a fond-but-knowing sort. “I know it's weird, but a lot of Asian kids during this time were listening to bootleg European dance, trance, rave music, electronic — like EDM before it was EDM, you know? It's this 'happy hardcore' kind of sound, and that was what got me into that world and I loved it!”
That “happy hardcore” sound pulls more from palette than energy, breaking through in the scattered percussion of Believe Me, laced with heady melodies and dreamlike synth lines, and the lumbering cadence of Forever, replete with panning harp trills and congo fills. “It's like a nostalgic thing… this very minute random era of music didn't quite capture the mainstream, but anyone who grew up listening to electronic dance music at the time will recognize it in some weird way.”
Vicky recognises herself in those sounds too, though it took some time to come back around to her adolescent tastes. “It was kind of a guilty pleasure of mine growing up, and so of course, when I got older, I stopped listening to it,” says Vicky, relatably — who amongst us hasn’t pushed back against their uncool teen fixations? “Now that I'm like, 'I don't care what anyone thinks about me,' I'm going back to all these old records I used to listen to growing up. Now I'm like, 'Wow, I really love this vibe, and I miss it!' I miss that part about me.”
Reconnecting with the past is an abstract virtue; recording an album is a far more practical affair, oft-replete with interference and compromise. That’s not so with Sweet Company, an uncommonly faithful vision. Vicky was able to give her own lease on such sounds owing, at least in part, to the faith of close friend and collaborator Mac Demarco, who recently signed her to his upstart label, Mac’s Record Label.
“It's the best, because it's not every day you hear about artists who are also friends with their label, it's usually the opposite,” says Vicky with a laugh. “Who knows, maybe we will hate each other?” She doesn’t let it hang long, even as a joke. “No, I absolutely love Mac. I mean, I completely trust him, so I'm very fortunate in that sense, where it's like, 'Oh, it's my friend's label, and it's someone I trust,' and he trusts me as well, so the mutual respect for each other makes it way easier to work.”
Releasing a record on her own terms is also helping Vicky return to a primary love long-postponed: performance. “As much as the record-making is very important, I think the performing part is very important for me, because I've just been a performer my entire career,” poses Vicky, longing for the road — one she’s travelled, on and off again, for years and years. “I'd like to be seen as a performer as well, just because I know I have a strong musical background, and that's a really important asset to my artistry, the musicianship quality of it.”
It’s easy to understand how, for a tour veteran like Vicky, the prospect of travelling on your own material would be invigorating. “I can't wait to go on tour again, because I had been doing for so long, and I just was not happy touring for other people — not that I'm like ungrateful for the opportunity to travel the world, be a rockstar, I guess — but it's just that I knew that this wasn't what I wanted.” Now, as she prepares to launch her own record alongside John Carroll Kirby, sharing bills and release dates, she’s eager to get back to it. “Touring is not for everybody, but if it's touring for your own music, that's a completely different story. That's what I'm looking forward to the most: being able to tour off of my own music. I mean, that's such a dream, you know? Such a big dream to have.”
It's good to have a dream, and Vicky knows as much. Sweet Company was a dream once, but now it’s realised, a tender record of youthful recollections and adult realisations where sunlit joy, soft heartbreak, and “sweet harmony” abound. As Vicky takes to the stage to launch that record, it ain’t hard to see Sweet Company as more than just a title. The warm, friendly, funky album attests to the sweet company she’s kept for years, but even more than that, it finds sweet company within its solitary craft, eked out atop the red Rhodes in her living room.
It’s there in her contentedness, musical and lyrical, contagious all around: “I never knew how good I could feel / There is a magical wave to the air…”
Vicky Farewell's debut album Sweet Company is out now via Mac's Record Label.