As she releases her new EP, I Am Not A God, the LA-based singer opens up about her childhood, depression, and the healing power of music
Who came first, Molly Goddard or vōx? The LA-based musician, wearing a multi-layered organza dress that looks like it could have walked straight off Goddard’s recent runway show at London Fashion Week, is slouched with me on the sofa of a Covent Garden café. “Me,” she answers, as we erupt into laughter.
A night earlier, vōx (pronounced ‘wokes’ like the Latin word) played at The Waiting Room in London, where she was performing alongside chillwave producer, BIIANCO, an intimate basement show meant as a precursor to her supporting slot for MUNA later that week. Her live shows leave you with that same feel-good feeling as say, listening to Lizzo, only sonically entirely different. Performatively, her live shows exist in the same theatrical plane as Kate Bush and Sia, via Björk, with the artist delicately contorting herself into strange and stretched-out poses, as the stage light shines through her many layers, leaving her as exposed as the lyrics of the songs she sings.
Meeting vōx for the first time feels like confiding in an old friend, not least owing to her refreshingly open and intimate music that’s peppered with positive affirmations like, “I love myself” and “I’m enough”, which she coos in such a tone to settle even the most anxious of minds. But it hasn’t always been an easy journey to self-love, as her lyrics attest. “Why would you stay with me when I’m like this? / How can I keep you with my habits?” she sings on “I Can Feel Myself Learning”, while on “Life In Me”, she croons: “Am I worthy to grow another? Am I worthy to grow, grow, grow?”
“It was just the tension of like, there’s all this shit trapped inside of me and I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know how to get it out,” she tells me. “Music was really the first way to do that. It’s been an interesting journey slowly learning how to decipher some of my emotions and how to express them in a healthy way.”
For vōx, there’s strength in opening up. And her EP I Am Not A God, out today, is a healing journey through feelings of anxiety, shame, and her experiences growing up in the church, despite not actually believing in God (“I never felt like I belonged,” she admits). It’s an ongoing dialogue, evoked by honest lyrics, squelching basslines and electronic riffs, and it’s the sort of honest yet Gen Z, current-sounding stuff you’d expect to hear on an episode of Euphoria.
Below, we speak to the artist on her earliest memories of music, self-love, and not being able to sing.
I want to begin by asking you about your tattoos. Can you tell me about them?
vōx: This one (on my finger) was my first tattoo. It’s a Latin phrase that means ‘a voice and nothing more’. The simplified story is that I looked down at my hand and I chose my artist name. I mean, that wasn’t exactly how it went, but I wouldn’t have thought of having the name vōx unless it was tattooed on me.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
vōx: When I was much younger, my parents put me in piano lessons, a classic, and I really fought it. I really wasn’t interested and I would complain all the time. I wouldn’t practise and everytime I would quit with the teacher, they would sign me up with a different teacher because I’d be like, ‘Oh, I do want to try it again’.
But I was maybe like 12 or 13, and I started with this teacher who – once again, I wasn’t practising – and for some reason, I felt her vibe. I had been writing my own little piano songs and they had no vocals, they were just little waltzes, and they were really cute. I decided to show them to her and she was about it. She taught me how to notate them properly into sheet music, so I credit her with being my first reinforcement.
What happened next?
vōx: I dealt a lot with depression (and) anxiety when I was a teenager, and lots of suicidal thoughts. It was really hard for me to get through everything, so I was writing a lot of really sad poetry that turned into sad songs. Really, it was not only writing music, but being totally obsessed and constantly listening to music, that got me through that time.
So I think that was really the catalyst for me to be like, ‘Okay, if I can be an artist, that’s a purpose’. I powered through. The really interesting thing with my music story is that I could not sing, at all, when I first started trying, and I’m not that great of a piano player either to be honest.
vōx: I think the real problem was the anxiety made me not breathe at all. I think that really held me back. It wasn't until probably ten years after I started pursuing music that my voice got to a place where I could even sing live and people would enjoy it.
So tell me about your look. Where did it all come from?
vōx: It’s been an evolution, visually. I didn’t start out thinking about visuals at all. When I was a teenager, I loved fashion, but I don't think I have the guts to really pursue fashion until pretty recently.
You have to have a baseline of confidence, I suppose.
vōx: The less I hate myself, the more I can embrace fashion. When I first started this project I had never done anything really in front of the camera, I had never done any modelling or photoshoots or anything like that, and that was four years ago. But I did those and that started to give me the confidence, because you see the photos and you're like, ‘it looks pretty good actually,’ and, ‘I like you’ (laughs).
When you’re writing your songs, where does that come from?
vōx: Writing lyrics was the only way for me to get any feelings and emotions out. I grew up in a family where you didn’t talk about anything, so I didn’t learn any communication or awareness skills. I didn't grow up knowing at all what I was feeling at any time, or how to tell anyone about it, and I think that was really the root of all the anxiety and depression.
It was just the tension of like, there’s all this shit trapped inside of me and I don’t know what it is and I don't know how to get it out. Music was really the first way to do that, and it's been an interesting journey slowly learning how to decipher some of my emotions and how to express them in a healthy way.
Tell me about the EP.
vōx: The topics are entirely related to shame and self-worth, and me finding that I can be imperfect, and still be enough. That was the discovery of the last couple of years in self-growth. As I’ve gone through the healing journey, I’ve personally been looking back to the time where it all began, and I pinpointed this moment which is all rooted in the church and everything that happened there. For me, when I was confirmed in the church was a very pivotal moment. One of the first times where I really felt this tense and conflicting anxiety of ‘I don’t belong here,’ and ‘What am I doing here?’ and I wanted to leave but I felt like I couldn’t, just trapped, shameful – it’s been a feeling that I’ve had over and over in life since that point, in moments where I want to leave but I feel like I can’t – whether that’s in sexual situations, or just anything where I know it’s not right.
Do you come from a religious background?
vōx: It’s funny, because I do personally, but my family isn’t very religious. And it’s interesting because it’s almost like that was my rebellion, to be religious. And then all of my friends, at the time, were very, very religious, and all of them were through the church, so that was my whole world – and it really was me just pretending the whole time.