For Seattle songwriter, Andrew Vait, the journey is as much a part of his creativity as any idea or goal. The thoughtful pop musician, known best for his role in the Emerald City duo, Sisters, works tirelessly to communicate the philosophical through the joy of music. As Vait travels back and forth from Europe with his Sisters band mate, Emily Westman, he also continually works internally over themes, histories, ideas and patters that he sees showing up in today’s changing cultural landscape. And this is most evident in the song we’re proud to premiere today, “Let Me Into Your Heart,” under Vait’s new solo project moniker, Little Wins, an ode to the small victories Vait works toward every day. To compliment the debut, we wanted to ask Vait about the origin of Little Wins, what themes he’s contemplating today and much more.
KEXP: You recently went on a European tour with Sisters. What did that trip teach you and where was your creative head at when you came home?
Andrew Vait: That’s kind of the crux of all of this, isn’t it? Well, Europe for Sisters, was a very eye-opening experience. For me, it was my first time on that continent. And it was a lot easier logistically than I expected. We were out there seeing the world, playing music for audiences eager to see our art performed. It felt, in that sense, that we were living our best lives. At the same time, Europe has a very unique understanding of world politics. They’re very educated. In any conversation, they seemed better researched than I was. So it put me in this place where I saw a larger world outside of my own narrow worldview, which is made up of, if nothing else, my limited world experience. And I think the creative place it put me in was just more self-examination. How can I better understand myself through my lineage? How can I better understand myself in order to better understand a creative direction that is both responsible and conducive to my communication and my stamp on social justice, hardship, relationships and love? I’m of European descent, so it was also good to see Germany where my family stems from.
Can you walk me through the first days of recording for Little Wins?
It wasn’t clear initially that I was starting a new project, actually. In Sisters, Emily and I go to Whidbey Island to a friend’s cabin and we write together, and we have ever since the early days in the band’s history. So, I’m used to being creative with a partner. But at some point in the four years of working with Sisters, I lost touch with writing for myself. When I returned from Europe, I sprang a well. And out came pouring a lot of emotions, a lot of self-reflection. I came to terms with the fact that I acutely, rather than generally, suffer from depression. And I think that the state of U.S. politics - and I know I’m not alone in saying this - has exacerbated negativity in my emotional and mental well-being. So, coming back from Europe in this dream state of working and having the juxtaposition of being home. And I have to fill my time with something other than driving to the next city. I think I really fell back in love with writing for myself and exploring my narrative. I mean, imagine how much your personality would change over the course of four years? I began grappling with new issues of family lineage. So, it’s been rewarding, scary and unnerving and exhausting. But overall also really thrilling to see what I had to say and that there was still an outlet for that.
What is it about pop music that’s such a good vehicle for your voice?
I just think that pop music is delicious. I just think it tastes good and it feels good. At this point in my life, I appreciate so much about so many different forms of music. But at the end of the day, my physical voice and my creative voice are best expressed through clean channels. I’ve gone through periods of wanting to dirty up my sound, whether expressing myself through rock bands or indie rock. I’ve liked bands like My Morning Jacket and Tame Impala and I wouldn’t describe them as clean by any means. But I’ve really learned to embrace and love the medium of artful pop music. As with any genre, there’s going to be more trivial sides to it. But the recent Janelle Monae record, which is totally pop, is thick with integrity and messages of social justice. I really admire that.
Your lead single, “Let Me Into Your Heart,” touches on important themes during a time of change: trust, home, worry whether you’ve lost your last chance at connection. How did these vulnerable themes tumble out?
I think as I learned to understand the political sphere and the modern social sphere - and maybe this just has something to do with getting older and not skating through life - everybody I know is really struggling to land in their identity. And for me - and maybe it has to do with being a white person and not totally connected to my lineage - I’ve never really felt a strong identity as a person in the world. And I think this song is part of me coming to terms with that, airing out that conversation with myself.
How has the completion of this song changed or shifted your own way of thinking about home?
For me, I think it’s been - I’ve always seen a theme in my music and narrative of who am I and where do I belong? And I also know this is a trope, of sorts. Musicians have long written about identity and where they belong. And I certainly identify with that. The virtual creation of the song was an interesting landing onto home base in a way. The first iteration of the song was as a piano ballad, like Adele piano ballad. It was slower, much more lush, with my choice of chord voicings. Initially, it was just piano and voice and when I went to record it, I started digging into the layers of the song. I discovered the potential for the groove and its dancier nature. I sped it up, relegated the piano to the background. I came full circle to this clean pop. That was a coming home for me in trying to identify what do I want to say with my music? I reached that satisfying apex.
What does the word “home” mean to you?
The first word that pops into my head is safety. A sense of belonging, you know? And that’s - so, you think through the, like, more hetero-normative lens, you think I’m a part of nuclear family. So that’s the idea that rings as a concept of home. Home with my wife feels safe. Home with my friends feels safe. Home with my given or chosen family and that sense of support and safety that I’m realizing is critically important.
You’ve said that, as you watch things change around you, you’ve also gone back into your own family’s past and thought about its struggles with depression and addiction. How are these meditations influencing your creative future?
For one, by taking them seriously and talking about them, not being fearful of a dialogue surrounding them, that’s very helpful. I’m gifted with an incredible friend network and professional network and my family is incredibly supportive, so I feel very supported in my struggles with these ideas. Depression and addiction run in my family though I don’t struggle with addiction. But I’m aware of its potential to reign, especially being a musician and living a life susceptible to that. Knowledge and discourse better equips me to deal with it head on. It would play into a certain culture to avoid it or allow it to manifest in unhealthy ways. I’ve seen it come out in the form of anger or frustration or avoidance and I think those things play into a larger culture of toxic avoidance of addressing emotions, especially for men. So I refuse to let that be my path.
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