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Vicky Farewell on her new album 'Give A Damn'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Vicky Farewell discovered the piano as a child attending church services in Orange County, Calif., where she grew up. She studied classical music for 10 years. But when it came to writing her own material, she went in a very different direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TERN ME ON")

VICKY FAREWELL: (Singing) What can I say? We had our fun, what little was left of the run.

RASCOE: Her first album, "Sweet Company," established her as a rising singer-songwriter on the indie pop scene. She's out now with her second record, "Give A Damn.".

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TERN ME ON")

VICKY FAREWELL: (Singing) Because you turn me on from morning into the dawn. You give it to me all night long.

RASCOE: Vicky Farewell, also known as Vicky Nguyen, joins us now from her home in southern California. Vicky Farewell, welcome to the program.

VICKY FAREWELL: Hi. Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: So, I have to say when I first heard this album, and especially that song that we just heard,"Tern Me On," it made me think about some R&B from the '80s. So Luther Vandross, "Don't Want To Be A Fool In Love" (ph), you know, maybe some Lionel Richie, like some of those little upbeat tunes. It's a very dreamy, kind of sensuous sound. Am I on track with that? Are these some of your inspirations?

VICKY FAREWELL: Oh, totally - soul music in the '90s, '80s, '70s, the last 40 years (laughter). I grew up listening to a lot of soul music, and the sound really definitely draws from, like, what I was listening to on the radio. So I think I was trying to, like, retain that somehow, but then also make it my own and not to, like, completely take from that era. But how do I bring it to the present and make it my own sound?

RASCOE: You fell in love with music in church, which is also the way a lot of soul singers started out.

VICKY FAREWELL: Yeah.

RASCOE: What sort of church did your family go to? And how did that lead to a career in music?

VICKY FAREWELL: I'm Vietnamese American, so I went to a Vietnamese Catholic church. Not quite soul music - it's like traditional Vietnamese music. And what drew me to it was just the live aspect of it because we had a church pianist who was incredible. And piano is, like, my main instrument, and it really inspired me to get into music more.

RASCOE: I read recently that you came across one of your old keyboards, like a Yamaha SO8. When did you get that? And did you use it in "Give A Damn"?

VICKY FAREWELL: Yeah, I used it all over "Give A Damn," and if I didn't use it, I used it to write music on heavily. It was my first synthesizer when I was, like, 16. And the sounds are very reminiscent of, like, Y2K era. I grew up during that time, too, you know? So I'm like, how do I use this? And use these sounds, make it more unique - make it recognizable, but unique.

RASCOE: I wanted to play a bit of "Textbook," and I think the Yamaha is on this one, too, right?

VICKY FAREWELL: Yes. It is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEXTBOOK")

VICKY FAREWELL: (Singing) I want to see you again. I want to see you again. I want to see you again. I want to see you again.

RASCOE: And let me ask you about the lyrics because you do go from this refrain of, I want to see you again. But by the end of the song, you're like, I don't want to see you again. I think that's something that we've all gone through. Tell us a bit about that kind of transition that can happen in one song.

VICKY FAREWELL: I think I was just being unhinged during this production of the song. Originally, I had started it because I was writing, like, a lot of music for sync, and...

RASCOE: For sync? I'm sorry, I don't know what that is. What is that?

VICKY FAREWELL: Oh, music syncing, like, a television show or something. Yeah.

RASCOE: Or a commercial or something.

VICKY FAREWELL: Yeah. They typically don't like it when you write something that's kind of negative (laughter). But I couldn't help it. I was like, I really want to shift the narrative halfway through the song. And I sent it to my pub, and they're like, the song's great, but the second half is not what we're looking for.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEXTBOOK")

VICKY FAREWELL: (Singing) What you put me through. I don't want to see you again. Don't want to see you, don't want to see you again.

So I was like, well, I'm not budging. I think it's funny. You know, I think it's really cool. And then later on I was like, why don't I just put it on my record (laughter)?

RASCOE: Yeah, absolutely. Hearing your voice, I said it's kind of like a Janet Jackson sound.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Right? Because you have, like a soft voice that you've developed over time. I'm sure. We'll play a little bit of a song where you're almost whispering. It's called "Semi Auto.".

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEMI AUTO")

VICKY FAREWELL: (Singing) It's not too late to play your move. Don't be such [inaudible] so much time to pass it and make your move.

RASCOE: That's beautiful. How did you arrive at that style of singing? And is it hard to keep control over your voice at such a low volume?

VICKY FAREWELL: First of all, I really appreciate you understanding that.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

VICKY FAREWELL: Because a lot of people don't understand that, like, we're born with the voice we have. I wasn't born with a big voice. I was born with a small voice. The biggest challenge for me was to like, how do I use what I have? And so, yes, to answer your question, it's extremely hard to control your sound, not just to stay in tune, but to support it, to have a nice tone, to let it grow and let it falter under your own control. It's extremely hard to do. It's something that I look up to in Janet and other people with small voices like that who know how to control their sound. People don't understand that. It's way harder to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE YA LIKE ME")

VICKY FAREWELL: (Singing) Who's going to love you, who's going to love you like me?

RASCOE: That's Vicky Farewell, whose second album, "Give A Damn," has just come out. Thank you so much for joining us.

VICKY FAREWELL: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF "LOVE YA LIKE ME")

VICKY FAREWELL: (Singing)...Like me? Who's going to hold you like me? Who's going to love you... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.