An interview with the Swedish-Hungarian singer-songwriter who’s been active in the music scene of Budapest since 2013.
Always busy, on the road, writing songs, and performing, Antonia Vai is one of the most exciting singer-songwriters in the buzzing music scene of Budapest. From Szimpla Kert to MÜPA, she’s performed at the most famous venues and ruin pubs of the city, released three albums in the last four years, and is currently working on an album to be released in the spring of 2017. I contacted her via e-mail to find out more about her inspirations and aspirations, and to ask all the questions I’ve been eager to know.
You were born and raised in Stockholm to Hungarian parents, moved around Europe after finishing high school, then finally moved to Budapest and stayed here for a few years. What is the main difference between living in Stockholm and Budapest? How does it affect you as a musician?
There are many differences. I often compare the tempo and energy of the cities. I always feel that Budapest is non-stop buzzing and doesn’t allow breaks. But that also has to do with my lifestyle there… I live in the middle of the city, there’s endless parties and things to do. I never get bored and I love it. In Stockholm I can breathe in a different way. I can come back, reflect and write songs, meet my old friends and have really profound moments. I absolutely love having both in my life. One wouldn’t be enough without the other.
Do you need a special atmosphere to write songs and feel inspired? Do you have a songwriting routine?
First of all, I need to be sure that nobody can hear me. Sitting in a room with a guitar or a keyboard, completely isolated. I like recording the music as I write it. I sit with my mic, record some chords, record some singing, listen to it and build the song that way. This is why I end up putting up so many homemade recordings online. Let’s say, I’ve spent a whole night writing a song and recording it, a lot of times I finish the song a few hours later. Then it feels really natural to share it immediately. I know it’s never perfect, but it’s raw, and the emotion is honest. It has a different charm, then, let’s say, a studio album.
Are there any music movements/subcultures and musicians that particularly inspired you to write music?
My first big love in music was Lauryn Hill. I was around 12 and she was the first strong female artist I got to know. I listened to ”The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” every day and tried understanding the meaning behind every line. Of course, I was around 12 then, so I couldn’t really understand everything. But I felt it! I felt the power in her words. She’s still a big inspiration to me.
In addition to being a musician, you’ve worked as a tour guide for Alternative Budapest. Do you still do that? How did that come about?
A good friend of mine started it, so right when I moved to Budapest, she had me joining. Alternative Budapest is all about showing the ”hidden gems” of the city – street art, music venues, exhibitions, art spaces. It was a good kickoff for me, ’cause I got the chance to get to know the city myself, too.
What are some of the places that you would recommend to someone visiting Budapest? One for a nice brunch, one to admire the beauty of the city, and one for a night out!
I would have a cosy brunch in Csiga, get up to 360 Bar for a view and drink at sunrise, and then just continue bar hopping in district seven, see where the night takes me.
You’ve performed at most of the famous venues in Budapest. Which one was your most memorable performance and why?
Definitely MÜPA, Palace of Arts. It was a different level. We worked really hard for that show. I felt like I was preparing for my wedding day! There were a lot of guest artists and guest musicians, like Sena, Saiid, and Bohemian Betyars. I flew in two of my best singer friends from Stockholm to sing with me. The whole thing was surreal!
Which was the first time you ever performed on stage and how did it influence your further career path?
First time I put together my songs with a band and did a full-on show was in Stockholm and I was 18 years old. It was the first time I ever heard my songs played by someone else. You know, they had just been played in my head before that. I didn’t know if the songs were good or worth anything at all. But I got so much great feedback. I was really overwhelmed and happy. It made me want to do it more!
When I first stumbled upon your music, I was also impressed by how strong your aesthetics and style were. Do you think it’s important for a musician to express themselves visually as well?
Hmm, if you want to reach out to many people, I’d say yes, it’s important. Our generation is very understimulated. But if you don’t really care about who hears your music, I’d say, only make videos if you think it’s fun! I personally just love playing around with my camera and editing film. I know it’s very amateurish, ’cause I honestly don’t know anything about making videos! But I enjoy it so much. A very simple video can express and add so much to the music.
Apart from music, do you have any other creative outlets to express yourself?
Well, I love to dance. I used to belly dance for many, many years, but now I just do it in my free time. In my room or on a crowded dance floor, doesn’t really matter. If booty shaking music comes on, I’ll probably be the first one shaking it.
Those who follow you on various social media platforms could recognise that you’ve been recording your upcoming album in Morocco, and had spent a lot of time there before. What is it that drew you to that place?
The music! I heard Moroccan music for the first time last year in Budapest and was completely blown away by the sounds, the rhythms. I felt this urge to discover it, so I booked a ticket to Marrakech just a few weeks after. It was more than I had ever imagined. Since then I’ve kept coming back. I have made really close friends there. Morocco has become one of my homes.
Who’s your rockstar crush? Dead or alive.
George Berger. From the musical Hair. He’s a fictive hippie though. Does that count?
According to previous interviews, you don’t plan your career years ahead. What is the one thing you most certainly want to achieve though?
Working on my next album right now, which will be released in spring! The producer is my good friend Felix Gröndahl and we’re working on recordings in Stockholm right now! So, so excited about what this album is going to end up like! So I’m focusing on it 100%, that’s my one big goal at the moment.
If you had to name three songs for someone new to your music to start with, which ones would they be and why?
Hmmm… Maybe ’Don’t Fall in Love With Me’, ’Kittens in Trees’ and ’Don’t Let The Bedbugs Bite’. Just ’cause the feeling in the three songs are very different, and from different times in my life, but they’re still very… me. But mostly I’d say, wait for the new album!
What are you currently excited about? It doesn’t need to be music-related.
Travelling! I’ve just looked at tickets to Cuba. Trying to find cheap flights to new places in the world is my obsession. Imagining myself drinking rum in a bar in Havana and dancing to some charanga tunes.. This got me pretty excited.
by Réka Árvay