• About A Band: Vita And The Woolf

    “How late was I?” Jennifer Pague asks her bandmate, Adam Shumski. It’s a Tuesday morning and Jennifer sips a homemade smoothie in her home in Philadelphia. Adam, perched cross-legged in a chair perpendicular to the couch where Jennifer now sits, recalls the first time the two met, it was a live rehearsal. He’d never told her his side of the story before.

    “Like 30 minutes,” he replies. “I remember this very clearly.”

    Jennifer, who performs as Vita And The Woolf (a name that combines those of literaries Virginia Woolf and her lover, Vita Sackville-West), was down a drummer and needed a replacement. Adam was looking to perform in musical projects. Their now-manager, who knew both musicians, suggested Adam look into the powerhouse singer, so he perused YouTube and came across a live video of Vita And The Woolf from 2014. 

    “The video was cool, but the audio was really bad and I remember listening to it and I was like elch,’” Adam says. “So I actually had some pretty low expectations going into it, until you showed up and then you played and I was like, okay, you actually sound good in real life.”

    Both live and on recording, Jennifer’s presence lays in her vocals. Unrestrained yet focused, she oscillates between a walloping yelp and folky swell. There’s a holiness, a gospel-like quality to her voice, though not in church, but in elementary school, she began to sing in choir. By high school, she was playing saxophone and clarinet, instruments that required a specific breath pattern to maintain a note. She carried those techniques into her singing and a larger-than-life voice emerged. Paired with her other musical mainstay, piano, Vita and the Woolf is a new spin on pop and soul. 

    Now prepping for the release of the follow-up to 2014’s debut Fang Song, Jennifer and Adam share laughs on the album’s thematic content. 

    “Yeah, the next album’s really dark, super dark,” Adam says, sunlight spilling in from the window in the front of the house. “I’d say it’s like Marilyn Manson type. That’s how we get famous. If Marilyn Manson likes it, everyone’s going to like it.”
    Photos by Jessica Flynn

    Jennifer, how does writing by yourself compare with writing with other people, like Adam since he’s joined the band? 
    Jennifer Pague: It’s lonely. I just want to try something new because I kind of feel like I’m getting stuck in a songwriting bubble where I’m sort of making the same stuff, and it’s kind of boring to me. 

    How do you move past that boredom?
    JP: It’s a super emotional process. Sometimes when I’m writing music and I'm trying to finish it or come up with an idea and I can't come up with an idea and I want to kill myself, but I don’t because I'm still here, but if I do come up with a good idea it’s like great! It’s like an addiction, like a drug, but then you have to work off of that. But I feel like if I write with other people it's going to be better.

    Are you ever afraid of revealing too much sometimes?
    JP: Sometimes, because I write songs about people who are in my life.

    Do you like writing about characters more or personal things? 
    JP: I don’t know. It depends. It’s not one thing or the other I like to write about — characters are definitely a way to get inspiration. They help work out a vibe that you want a song to go for but as far as personally or emotionally it’s not, it’s nice to go through a character. When you’re saying “I” or “I do this” or “I feel this way,” it’s very personal.

    The titular person in “Brett” was a character, right? 
    JP: Yeah, “Brett” is not really about anybody. There’s a person who we play music with, his name is Brett, but the song is not about him. 
    Adam Shumski: He’s the only Brett that we collectively know. I don’t think [Jennifer] looks at songwriting super personally, I haven’t seen that. I play with other bands too, sometimes, and some people are really emotionally connected to their songs. They take it personally if you critique something. 
    JP: Well, I did when I first started. It's a super personal thing. When you’re writing, lyrics are tough. It’s obviously about something that’s going on in your head and emotions, but when people are critiquing parts, people are going to do that, you know?

    Adam, do you ever critique her?
    AS: Yeah I’ve critiqued her before. We critique each other a lot. Anything is fair game.
    JP: It’s the professional part of being a musician. It’s hard when I think something is really good or I think you have a really cool idea and I show it to Adam and he’s [just] like, “Yeah it’s cool,” and then I'm like, “What?! That’s an amazing idea! What are you talking about?” But it makes me better.
    AS: I think we both are pretty critical of ourselves, too.

    Do you sing in the car even if you’re a touring musician?
    AS: So Jen has this really thing with her car where you plug in your phone, or any phone, into the car stereo it automatically plays the first song in your library no matter what, and so that happens to be a song “A-W-E-S-O-M-E” by Reel Big Fish.
    JP: For some reason, I have it on my phone, and for the longest time every time we’d plug in my fucking phone it’s just like, “badabada awesome! Uh-uh-awesome!”

    What was happening in your life while you were writing your upcoming album?
    JP: I was actually going through an interesting transition in my life because I kind of just gotten out of a long-term relationship. I’d just graduated college and I was going through this transition of being really dependent on other people and I moved out of my parents house and I finally got a grip on my life. I felt like I wasn’t really going anywhere with my life when I was like 22 or 23. I just kind of started to take my band a lot more seriously and I booked myself my own little tour and went down to South By [Southwest] and met a bunch of people there, and started writing more serious songs. It’s much more mature now than it was at first.

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