Aimee Vant on Surviving the "Life or Death" of Her 20's
January 18, 2024
I’m catching Aimee Vant at a good time – the night before, she performed a backyard concert where the intimate setting allowed for casual conversation during the set. It’s her favorite type of show to play, and the support from those in the audience feels more meaningful to Vant now more than ever: today she releases her first song as an independent artist in some time. Early returns are good for Vant on the new track: “A lot of people were coming up after and saying they were excited for it, which felt really good,” she tells me over Zoom, her excitement palpable yet disguised by a calm, focused demeanor.
New music and fan support aside, it’s not always a good time for Aimee Vant. This is abundantly clear if you’ve ever come across one of her pain-tinged, blue-hued recordings (“I feel ten out of ten / Like zero percent of the time,” she muses on previous single “Trash”), but even more obvious when you consider her precarious position as it relates to her age. “Everything feels a little too precious and a little too high stakes when you're in your mid-20’s,” she explains, trying to answer to the dread and self-deprecation that can often take center stage in her songs. “It's just such an uncertain time where some people are doing really well and some people are on the opposite end of the spectrum where everything's unknown. You don't have your roots anywhere. And I think it just makes it so every decision you make feels like life or death and I carry a lot of stress in the fact that every day feels like a ticking time clock to reach my goals faster. I feel like things have to be better by next year or tomorrow.”
Vant’s sentiment about her place in life is shared across her generation, an anxiety that is compounded by the still-rippling effects of a pandemic. The timing was doubly troublesome for Vant, as she was still in the midst of identifying herself as an artist when things slowed down and got lonely. For as stagnating or regressive as the pandemic was for most artists, the time in isolation was somewhat revelatory for Vant. “It kind of honed something that I didn't realize I was digging into, which is that a lot of my favorite artists, the music they make is very, very personal and it almost sounds like they're making it just for themselves,” she shares. “Like they're just in their bedroom making it…basically, it's just like saying their problems away.” Spending so much time within four walls funneled Vant to do the same, therapizing through her writings and suddenly finding herself headed in the right direction.
Though confident she was on the right path as an artist, Vant has had to navigate the winding roads music often leads us down, listeners and performers alike. While at her core she is a singer-songwriter who could find her way through any stripped, acoustic setting, Vant has wandered from her indie instincts in favor of the allure presented by explosive, dramatic pop music. This sound can be more about balance than utility, as she’s aware of how melancholy her lyrics can come across and sees this brand of production as a way to make amends for the “lyrical uncertainty” common in her songs. As far as which sound she gravitates to more, it’s less of a science to Vant as it is a natural pull to one or the other: “Especially lately, I’ve been making peace with the fact that I can let the tides take me in either direction at any time.”
No matter the sound of Vant’s music, the tone of the music is typically consistent – that being self-critical, insecure, overwhelmed and generally disappointed. When I pushed on why she gravitates so much towards these themes, I was relieved to learn that there isn’t a dark cloud perpetually following Vant in her journeys. Her mentor Kara Dioguardi tells Vant often how positive of a person she is, making the helplessness heard in her music difficult to comprehend at times. “But I said to her, that's the part that I have to get out when I write,” Vant says of the negativity in her work. “So that's the part that ends up getting funneled into my music. I think the most therapeutic part of songwriting is taking an ugly feeling and making it a piece of work that you're proud of.” When she stumbles upon happiness, she doesn’t have the desire to write about it – she’d rather live in the moment, acutely aware of the fleeting nature of life’s pleasures. Writing about her problems is a way to “get them out” of her consciousness, a practice that provides instant relief and clears the way for the better days to come.
“Life or Death,” Vant’s new song set to arrive on November 17th, is in no way a departure from Vant’s core musical principles. The track wouldn’t sound out of place on her latest EP, Trash, but also feels like a natural evolution, the next logical step for Vant to take towards realizing her artistic vision. “Life or Death” isn’t as crunchy as 2022’s “SAFEWORD” or as echoing as prior single “Voicemail,” but encompasses elements of seemingly every release she’s shared to this point. Assuredly sincere and boldly vulnerable, the writing on “Life or Death” mirrors the all-cards-on-the-table approach Vant has endeared herself to. Strains of her idols are recognizable in the lyrics; while she’s noted Gracie Abrams and Holly Humberstone as inspirations of hers due to their willingness to say the private things on record, Vant packs more of a punch in her delivery and production, far less apologetic for any of the sentiments she shares in her songs.
While the direction of “Life or Death” may have been fairly logical, the intimidating aspect of this release for Vant may come in the fact that it is her first independent release in some time. While grateful for the team and supporters who have contributed to her success to this point, it was time for Vant to prioritize her own ideas for how her music should sound, look, and feel. Her focus before was on pleasing those around her; now, the only one left to impress is herself. “I think I wasn't able to focus on what I want to do and what I want to sound like and what I want my career to look like,” she says of the experience of working with a team. “So I think now I've gotten to this point that I feel really good about the only voice I'm really following is the one in my head. I feel really excited to put music out, more than I have in a while, so it feels really, really good.” While she’s quick to share her satisfaction with me, I’ve learned not to expect to be hearing about it in a song anytime soon.
This isn’t to say we’ll never hear a raucous, rapturous anthem from Vant – we may in fact get a high-spirited song from her, but it may not be her voice featured on such a track. She’s been donating a lot of lyrics to other artists, collaborating in writing sessions with artists that embrace her as she is. When she found herself in rooms trying to write pop songs, Vant often felt those around her were trying to “kind of wash away all the quirkiness of my writing.” With a central feature to any Vant song being the “cheeky” lyricism and delivery on behalf of Vant herself, she looked towards other artists who were encouraging Vant to use her voice as she knows best. This includes leaning into specifics in some aspects of her writing, which she says has broken down some emotional barriers she was otherwise hesitant to approach. “The songs that you're most afraid to write are the songs that you have to write the most,” Vant says, quoting a philosophy she often reminds herself of. “I think in that sense that's what has led me to still just be brutally honest, and I think that's the music I hold closest to me, even though it's scary.”
The release of “Life or Death” is just the beginning of what Vant has planned for herself. Her next goal is to hit the road on a tour, either opening or headlining some gigs beyond her preferred backyard sessions. And an impromptu announcement: she’s looking to release an album soon. “I just decided last week, I was just looking through my catalog,” she tells me, the surprise on my face mirrored on hers. Mainly produced and written by Vant, there’s no question listeners will get her in full-form whenever the LP arrives. That likely means she’ll be diving into specifics, which Vant has never shied away from in the past. When I ask if she thinks any of the song’s subjects know they are a target within a track, she considers it for a moment. “That's a really good question,” she tells me, a compliment I’m glad to receive from a question so invasive. “They probably know,” she concedes, a look of apathy resting on her face. “As long as I'm not name dropping or anything, I feel like I am able to do it…I don't know if they're listening, but they probably would know if they listened.” If they’re not tuned into the vindicating, cathartic, sheepishly melancholy, sing-slash-scream-along’s of Aimee Vant, they likely ought to be, just as is true for the rest of us.