28th February 2023
Interview: Amy Bell
Photo Credit: Soy Prabhawat
Born and raised in Aberdeen, Heff VanSaint has been playing in bands since she was a teenager - mostly made up of straight boys with an indie sound, in keeping with that classic Scottish tradition. Having moved to London in her early 20s, she formed an electro-pop duo that went on to amass a decent following.
Heff talks to us about the reason behind her single 'Jane', representing queer music in the 90's and the release of her upcoming EP.
How did singing come about for you, growing up, were you always a lover of music and what did you use to listen to growing up?
Yeah, 100%, I always loved music from a very young age. Even as a kid hearing traditional/folk stuff when I was very small moved me to sit up and take notice and try and sing along. I guess what was the game changer for me was discovering singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne. That was what made me want to pick up the guitar and start writing. I loved the storytelling vibe of those songwriters, I’ve always been obsessed with words and lyrics.
You were raised in Aberdeen, how do you think that had a role in your music?
Yeah, I think we’re always shaped and influenced by the places we come from. I might seem warm and exuberant, but I’m tough like old granite beneath the surface. Haha. The music scene when I was growing up wasn’t very queer or female-focused, it could be tough getting up in front of half-empty dive bars on a Tuesday night, but you learn to take it in your stride and the knocks just make it all the sweeter when you finally get to play in front of audiences that “get you” and appreciate you.
Your new single ‘Jane’, is about an older lady, you were dating in your 20s, what made you want to create this song?
I wanted to write a tribute to this person, she helped me rebalance emotionally after my first real heartache. She was emotionally very astute and knew what I needed to feel like myself again. I think it’s all too easy to want to retreat and hibernate after a heartbreak, but sometimes talking through it with someone who can make sense of it all for you, is so much better. Especially if they’re hot! haha.
You describe it as a fun but messy time in your life, do you think this had an impact on your music, and give you a new direction to where you wanted to take your music?
Yeah, I think when I look back at this period, it was a huge distraction from my career and the road of travel I wanted to be on. I went on what felt like 5 years of summer vacation when I first moved to London. Just loads of partying and not always with good people. And although I don’t regret this time in my life (I definitely met a lot of characters and had experiences I still draw upon in my songwriting) I definitely wasn’t focused enough on the things that are important.
Growing up in the 90’s you never had that influence of ‘queer’ music and lifestyle, why did you decide to take that path for this generation, is it something you have always been inclined to do?
Yeah definitely. I think representation is so important, right? If you can’t see it you can’t be it. I know if I had witnessed more queer artists as a kid growing up, the path toward doing what I love would have felt clearer and more defined. Stumbling around in the dark is not the most productive way of developing your craft or how you fit in, in the musical landscape.
If you knew Jane was listening to your song, what would be something you would want to tell her?
That she changed my life. Made me feel understood when I felt discarded and all at sea. That I hope she’s happy. Also that I’m sorry for turning up at her house at 4 am, in my friends’ stripper wig, 6 hours late asking her to pay for my black cab!
How did you begin to imagine this track? What was the recording /writing process like?
With all of my tracks, I start out on acoustic guitar with just lyrics and melody. I usually have a tune in my head that I try and work out the chords for and then see how it can progress and build. Structurally this song came together quite easily. I then went to the studio to develop it with my producer, Raff. He sped things up a lot more and gave the song more energy and aggression, without allowing it to lose its tenderness and bruised quality.
What is next for you in your music journey?
I’m releasing my EP in May and before that I should have another song out, the beginning of March/ End of April. I’m also gonna be gigging a lot more around London, so check out my socials for all those dates in the near future.