Badass Babes: Von on Promoting Sex Positivity Through Pop

von

 Von isn’t your stereotypical pop artist. She makes music with vibrators, describes her sound as “DIIIIIIIIIIIRTY POP,” and she’s her own producer which in an industry where only around 2% of producers are female. Talk about badass! I sat down with Von to talk about how she learned to produce, who inspires her, and how the heck the idea of making music from vibrators came about.

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How did you get started playing music?

Oh my god, I’m so lame, I literally started as a classical pianist when I was like four. I wanted to be a concert pianist and play Bach. Obviously took a left turn. But yeah, I was a piano player and that’s what I wanted to do.

But then my piano teacher sat me down—she was a great teacher but like super strict—and she said “What do you want to do with your life?” “Be a concert pianist.” And she said, “No, not going to happen. You’re practicing so many hours a day and these other kids are practicing 22 hours a day—you can’t keep up, pick another thing.”

Then she stopped teaching so I went to this more contemporary place teaching me to play be ear. And then this rapper I met said, “You play piano right? Can you make a piano beat?” I have this habit of saying yes to things I don’t know how to do and figuring things out, so I messed around on Garage Band and made the worst beat of my life. But I realized you can make music in a way that’s fun and contemporary, and it still used my background in rhythm and theory. I actually liked it and from there I started f***ing around and making things until I started making things for real.

I literally started as a classical pianist when I was like four. I was like, I wanted to be a concert pianist and play Bach. Obviously took a left turn.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I love Charli XCX way too much. I think she’s amazing and everyone she works with—like SOPHIE—she’s this crazy producer, and Grimes, I love Grimes, she’s everything I was to be as a producer. Peaches is amazing. Charli XCX came out with her mixtape last year—or maybe it was two years ago—and SOPHIE produced the whole thing. It was these really bubblegum pop toplines, but the production was crazy. It was like dirty, and crunchy, and metallic. I thought “Oh my god, like that’s what I’d like to marry.”

I didn’t think I could do it at first, and I mean Charli XCX is the Queen of Pop. Once she did, I thought, I’m going to put music out.

And all those artists are female artists!

Yeah, yeah, totally. And I think, not that it should be a thing, but you face certain stipulations when you’re a chick trying to produce and creative direct your own stuff, so I have so much more appreciation for that.

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Was it hard learning to produce?

I was always secretly a tech nerdy person, so I loved watching long tutorials and tinkering around. I think it wasn’t so much technically confusing, it’s more socially and emotionally intimidating. Even at school I was put in the highest level production class, and the only girl.

I work in a studio and am the only female employee, it’s such a boy’s club. I think more than the actual learning of it being hard, feeling confident enough to dive into learn it is hard. So many of my male friends who are producers were so encouraging to me that I didn’t feel that way, but I think a lot of females don’t have the same experience and are immediately shut out. So I’m so lucky that I had friends who were down to say, “No dude, you’re just like us, we’re going to all do it together.”

Where did the idea of using the vibrators for the songs come in?

Literally it was not that deep, it’s so funny. It was one of a bunch of ideas that I thought might work. And, I think it’s also hard since, obviously I’m just a very sex positive person and I run with people who are too, so it wasn’t that crazy to me. I thought, “Oh it’d just be cool,” I didn’t think anything of it. I originally was asking companies to send me their vibration patterns and they said “We don’t have the tech ability to do that.” So, I was just googling things for fun and found Lioness which is a fit bit. So I thought “I can do it this way instead.”

It’s a very small group of people. I just sent an email, their CEO was so down to help, and then it worked. Literally that was it, and then everyone tag lined it like “the girl who makes music with orgasms.” I was thinking of it more as a cool way to really customize sound design.

So, it was a tech nerd thing but it also happened to align with my views socially. It really started out from the perspective, “How can I make sounds no one else can” from a tech nerd, producer viewpoint.

Yeah, is anyone else doing it?

Actually, there’s one other guy in Berlin, his name is Rudolf Arnold, and now we’re pen pals which is so cute. He’s like fifty years old and makes music with orgasms, it’s very ambient music. But besides him, no, it’s just me and my busy Rudolf.

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What’s your biggest challenge as an artist?

I think the hardest thing is—and it sounds like of corny—and I always say this, but if everyone is comfortable with what you’re doing it’s not as needed as you think. I think that hardest thing is actually believing that. As an artist, you literally give away deep, vulnerable parts of yourself away to strangers for free. That’s literally your job.

We’re all insane, what are we doing? It’s like a disaster waiting to happen to your personal life and emotional state. I love making music, it’s fun, and I think talking about sex positivity and sex ed is something I wish more people were doing, but they’re not, that’s reality. It’s something I feel so strongly about that I know what I’m doing is important.

It’s a struggle to self-validate when an article comes out and you have a bunch of Christian women on Twitter telling you you’re disgusting, satanic trash. Like Joanne from Kansas being on Twitter is more funny to me than anything, but that stuff takes a toll!

I had a song come out literally this morning and had eight emails in a row explaining to me explicitly why the song sucks and they don’t want to write about it. Having a tough skin is necessary because people will come when they come but you have no control over that.

The moment you start altering your process and the way that you create so all those emails don’t come in, you’re defeating the purpose of why you create in the first place. So, it’s corny but it’s really hard to constantly believe in what you’re doing and drown out the background noise.

If everyone is comfortable with what you’re doing it’s not as needed as you think. I think that hardest thing is actually believing that. As an artist, you literally give away deep, vulnerable parts of yourself away to strangers for free. That’s literally your job. We’re all insane, what are we doing?

Do you have any tips for other artists when pitching their music?

Don’t take anything personally, it’s so hard. The harsh reality is most people don’t f*** with things until everyone else f***ks with it. Like people love to say they’re a crusader in what’s hot—everyone is way too scared to do that.

When you’re first starting which is where I still feel I am, it’s very hard to not take all those things personally, but at the end of the day, (1) Everything is not for everyone, (2) You need to continue doing what you do for the reasons you started doing it, and (3) Once people hop on to what you’re doing, all those people who said no will be eating at your feet trying to talk about you, and you know that for yourself.

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What advice would you give to your younger self?

I think what I would tell my younger self is kudos for waiting, and what I’d tell other people is wait. Because I got really stressed out, I saw all my friends releasing music and I was like, “Should I be putting stuff out? Blah blah blah” and I really waited until a place where I was making stuff I was really proud of. I was at a place—and I’m 22, I haven’t lived that much life—but I had a thick skin.

I think that if you open yourself to giving away these very intimate parts of yourself whether that be music or photography or video, any kind of art… if you do that before you’re emotionally in a place to handle the repercussions of that, you’re f***ing yourself.

If were releasing music Sophomore year, I would not be able to handle waking up to 8 emails telling me my music sucks. I couldn’t handle that then. So I think it’s a lot about cutting yourself slack and knowing everyone moves at their own pace and not being intimated by other people who seem to be moving at a faster pace that you.

At the end of the day, the only person who can gauge that is yourself and it’s more responsible to wait instead of just saying, “I just want to release stuff now since everyone else is.”

I think what I would tell my younger self is kudos for waiting, and what I’d tell other people is wait. Because I got really stressed out, I saw all my friends releasing music and I was like, “Should I be putting stuff out? Blah blah blah” and I really waited until a place where I was making stuff I was really proud of

What does feminism mean to you?

Literally people hear that word and freak out, people lose their marbles it’s so funny. I think like, feminism to me is not that deep. I don’t think it’s this crazy buzz word that everyone thinks of. I think it quite literally the fundamental view that everyone regardless of sexual identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or race, should have the same access to opportunity. It’s not that hard.

That seems completely valid to me, it’s like a basic principle for not being an asshole. And understanding how everything is tiered, like equality between men and women, like I’m in a much different place than a woman who is trans or a woman who is African American.

Understanding everything is tiered—you know, talent is distributed equally but opportunity is not. And it’s so funny, when anyone says that word, people freak out or people get very an anxious about their response. It’s the baseline for not being a huge asshole. If you don’t have that, what’s wrong with you? And obviously, with what’s going on, a lot of people don’t have that and it’s terrifying.

I think it quite literally the fundamental view that everyone regardless of sexual identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or race, should have the same access to opportunity. It’s not that hard. Like, that seems completely valid to me, it’s like a basic principle for not being an asshole.”

Check out Von’s music on vondomlabs.com/music and follow her on Instagram at @vonmusic