VITA, Revitalised

VITA, Revitalised

Sydney-born VITA reconnects with her past on the explosive LIBRE, a transgressive EP unlike anything she’s done before. We talk inspiration, influence, rapport, and getting a confidence boost — and a feature — from Meechy Darko.

It seems strange now, but there was a time that VITA looked to reject her past. 

“I'd grown up with a lot of Aussie surf rock and Aussie punk,” she tells me on a brisk Wednesday morning. “I feel like, because I had grown up with all of that stuff, when I started making music for myself, I kind of rejected it in a way,” she says, casting her mind back. “I wanted to make something that didn't feel so much like home, in a sense.”

It’s coming into dusk in Los Angeles, where VITA’s lived, worked and created for the last five years. Golden light falls across keyboards and monitors in the background, the breezy Californian atmosphere only cut by the short, sharp barks of an insistent dog. That’s Stanley, loud in the way only a small, fluffy dog can be. 

The scene suits VITA’s warm personality — enthusiastic, candid, conversational — but betrays the serrated edge of her art. A cross-genre melting pot of rock, pop and hip-hop influences, the music of her debut EP, LIBRE, cuts a confrontational figure. The instrumentals simmer with deep bass and crackling percussion; the lyrics sizzling with the same energy. It breaks forth in quips like “come and get these hands tonight,” or “I don’t bleed at all, I’m inhumane,” or, perhaps most tellingly, “shit, you know I don't play.”

They’re rough-and-tumble lyrics snarled with confidence, the kind she’d hardly felt in the moments before she found this sonic footing. It bursts forth as she discusses the journey to LIBRE, from lockdown in Los Angeles to the new sounds, styles, and collaborators that’ve come with her “new lease.” It might be a stark departure from years spent elsewhere, but as the final notes ring on the liberating FREEDOM, it’s clear that VITA has carved out a space for herself — one that’s proud, confrontational, tender, and assured. 

“It's going real good,” she says, taking in the week since LIBRE was set loose upon the world. “I've been laying in the sun, having a good time. I've got my brother here from Australia.” It sounds, for a moment, as if things are calmer, but VITA’s quick to go over her busy schedule. “My DP from Australia is actually flying in right now,” she explains. “We're shooting my next music video and I wanted all my Aussies here to do it with me!” It’s enthusiastic, not panicked: the confident ease of someone who loves what they do. “We've been doing a lot of scrambling and putting pieces together, but I've definitely been relaxing more, because it was just such a huge effort getting the project done and all the visuals.”

VITA’s LIBRE is more than just an EP, or a debut, or even an arrival: it’s the unlikely summation of five whirlwind years. You might say she’s been abroad, but she talks of LA as a home, even when so much of her vision is anchored in Australiana. Take TRUE BLUE, the loose chant that opens the record: you might’ve picked it from the title alone, that bawdy drinking joint a classic of blokeish masculinity. It’s the sort of thing you’d hear in the local pub, but hardly something you’d expect on a record from a US-based singer. 

“No Americans were present in the making of that intro,” says VITA with a laugh. “It was one of those things, sort of coming back to that original sound that had resonated with me so much when I was growing up, when I was a teenager,” she explains, crediting the “really difficult time” of the pandemic as helping her reflect on “what Australia had given me in general, and how much of my identity is just tied to where I grew up.” 

Childhood on the North Shore made way for adolescence on the Northern Beaches, where VITA lived a life scored by surf rock and Aussie punk. “In my teenage years, I had a group of like 30 guys that I would hang out with, and smoke with, and go to the pub and go to raves with, and throw people around in a mosh pit with, and they're my main people who know that side of me,” she elaborates. “When I came to LA, I tried to do that with people and they were like, 'you're very aggressive’,” she adds, laughing unapologetically. 

Those cultural differences, inflamed by the artifice of Los Angeles, became a central tenet of LIBRE. “When I was making the project, I was like, 'I need people to know first and foremost that I am Australian as Australian can be, and I need to stamp that into my artistic identity as well,'” explains VITA, “so I asked my mates back home!” Luckily, she caught them at a good time — they were “absolutely blasted,” ideal conditions for the assignment. “A lot of us making this project was me sort of like finding that appreciation and that love for my country. Not that I didn't have it before, but it was more of just coming back to it.”

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It breaks through not only in her pen, but also in the rock-n-roll foundations of her heaving, bassy arrangements. “It all happened at the beginning of 2020,” she says of the journey to the new sound, which picked up in a lockdown sharehouse. “We started making 'LIBRE' during that time out of sheer survival, just needing to unpack a lot of what had happened in the past like decade of my life… I'd just been stuck in a loop with making the same sounding music because of what other people had thought I should make.” She describes it as “traditional R&B,” a far cry from the bolder sounds of LIBRE

“When we made BADBADBAD, we were just try some trying to do something new,” says VITA, bringing her longtime producer Naz into vision. “We were both quite bored with the landscape of how music had been going at the time, and so he just tried out something new. I went into the booth and sort of just like unleashed.” The experiment was so potent, it took just two takes to lay the vocals. The tinkering percussion on BADBADBAD might as well be lightning bouncing about the bottle. “I think after we made that, we could tell that it was something special. After we made that, we kind of knew 'okay, this is the beginning of a new era, this is the beginning of us trying new things and trying to break the boundaries a little more'.”

The duo played with previously untapped fusions, leaning into the new lease that lockdown provided. “The way that me and Naz work is I'll make him a playlist of things and be like, 'Hey, can we try and mix it all together and see what happens?’ I made him a huge playlist of like The Black Keys, and some Aussie punk, and some Zeppelin, and some N.E.R.D., and just more of the heavy hitting stuff.” It’s a hodgepodge that shows on the record, with a particularly strong thread coming from the latter. “Pharrell's a huge influence on me,” says VITA of the perennial producer. “N.E.R.D. was massive... I feel like they just play a lot with the heavy basslines and the super interesting, intricate percussion, and we were very, very interested in that.”

VITA’s rapport with Naz runs deep, but as she spills on their first meeting, it’s less money moves and more happy accidents. “I'd moved to Venice Beach, and I would just walk around and talk to people on the beach and be like, 'Hey, like, I make music, what do you do?’” It scored her an invite to a party hosted by emcee KYLE, albeit with a sketchy companion. “I was freshly 18, just naive as hell,” she admits, but she managed to break from her “very creepy” attachment. “I stole their bottle and ran away from them and sat down next to Naz randomly at a table of people,” she says, still surprised. “Kyle was flying to Japan with his now-fiance, and so Naz had the whole two weeks freed up. So he asked me to come to the studio. We started making music together, and we sort of just became best friends and caught a natural rhythm with each other.” 

It’s the sort of luck you might call providence, but VITA, with her bright demeanour and relentless ethic, seems to make her own. Her friendship with Naz may have opened studio doors, but VITA makes her presence felt. It’s an impression that helped her secure LIBRE’s only feature, razor-voiced Flatbush Zombies emcee Meechy Darko

“It’s a long story,” she laughs, throwing back to her teenage years on the Northern Beaches. “My best friend out of my group of mates… he's like, my life,” she says, mentioning that he’s in the crowd on TRUE BLUE. “All the guys that we would hang out with, they would all play surf rock and like Aussie rock music, and one day he came over and he started playing Flatbush Zombies.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as VITA fondly reflects: “he picks me up and he's blasting Flatbush Zombies in his car, and we became absolute best friends after that, have been for the past six years now.”

That shared fandom came full-circle years later, playing out on the sunny shores of California. “Naz has actually been working on Meechy’s new album,” she explains. “I came to the studio with him and put some background vocals on Meech's project, and then I left and I told Naz I was like, 'Please play him something from the project, I just want to know how he feels about it'.” Naz’s report seemed promising. “The next time I pulled up to the studio to do some BVs for him, he sat me down. He was like 'Hey, I just want to let you know like I haven't heard something that excited me that much in a really long time, and I really want to be a part of this, send me any song and I will get on’.” 

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If that’s a huge vote of confidence, the music video shoot on Sunday — in which Meechy will appear — is another. The wake of LIBRE has been full of them, as VITA eagerly elaborates on her EP launch. “It was honestly a great moment,” she gushes. “I mean, everyone was buying me drinks, so I was a bit plastered by the time it came to actually getting on the mic, but it went amazingly!” More than just a much-needed break from the seclusion of the studio, the launch saw VITA connect with a whole new audience. “A lot of people that I actually didn't know who've been following me off of TikTok and Instagram, who have just randomly listened to my music, pulled up, which was kind of the best moment of the night,” she tells me. “I'm like, ‘I don't know who you are! You just listened to my music and you decided to show up!’ For me, that's the coolest thing ever.” 

The pull of performance is strong, but even as VITA speaks on the pull of the stage, she’s swept up in giddy momentum. “I'm definitely planning on doing some shows coming up, but my main focus at the moment is finishing off my second EP,” she admits, not even a fortnight out from LIBRE. “We're right in the middle of that right now. It's a collaboration between me, Naz and Monte Booker.” 

Booker, best known for his jazz-electronic work with Noname, Saba, Dreamville, and Zero Fatigue collaborators Smino and Ravyn Lenae, has previously worked with Naz on joints from Maxo Kream and ICECOLDBISHOP. “Monte has been working with us a lot for the second EP, we're just finishing up some songs right now,” she says, keen. “It's really funny, because after we made LIBRE, I sort of sat there and listened to it and cried and was like, 'Oh my god, this is the best thing that I've ever made’... and then with this new project that we're making, every single time we finish a song, I get the same feeling.”

It’s a feeling well-earned. After years spent searching, LIBRE finds VITA in a home of her own making, one that fosters achievement far beyond her old expectations. In reconnecting with her past in the grips of a trying present, VITA’s stumbled upon her future — one heavier, harsher and more assured than she’d ever expected. Still, that’s not to say it’s the end of the road: “juxtaposition is my favourite word in the dictionary, just because I like to surprise people,” she says with a smile. “I like to intimidate people a little bit, I like to push people to think differently, and that's kind of my whole goal.”

There’s really no telling where things go from here, but LIBRE makes one thing clear: VITA has arrived, and she’s only just getting started. 

VITA's new EP LIBRE is out now.

Follow LIBRE: INSTAGRAM / TWITTER / TIKTOK

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