It’s easy to get caught up in the bevy of modern “cold wave” artists putting out
records, not to mention the the dozens of reissues that pop up weekly. There’s a
whole lot of fingers touching synths out there, and it can be exhausting just
reading the band names, let alone giving them a spin. One of the better modern
artists in today’s minimal-synth (or what have you) genre is Void Vision, helmed
by Shari Wallin. With only one 7″ available thus far, it’s clear she’s not out to
bombard the world with Void Vision – you actually have to go out of your way to seek
her out, live or recorded. Those who do are rewarded, though, as her songs are
delicate, dynamic and, well, actual memorable songs, rather than pre-existing
templates set to a pre-determined fashion template (email me privately for a list
of offenders). There’s a Void Vision LP on the way soon, as well as a new set of
live shows, so I figured I would check in and pick her brain a little.

How long have you been playing synthesizers? Were you always drawn to that instrument,
or did you start off playing different instruments?

I have been playing and writing since I was young. Piano lessons started at
around age 8, but within a few years I started teaching myself. I can sincerely
say that from as early as I can remember, I have always had a strange and strong
attraction to synthesizers and particularly melancholy tunes. When I listened, I
saw images, shapes, math, science, colors, and textures. It tickled my brain. I
was obsessed with watching my brother play old video games because the music was
so infectious. I tried to write vocal lines over Nintendo songs. By age 12 my
brother had given me a tracker program for the computer and I learned very quickly
how to use it. I also played a lot with sampling and creating my own sound libraries
because I was fascinated with the idea that any sound imaginable could be arranged
with other sounds like puzzle pieces, to form some great sonic collage. Overall,
the magic of electronic music gave me hope at a young age because I knew I was a
weird girl; it would be hard to find other likeminded musicians to work with and
this medium allowed me to work independently. It also made me realize that you
didn’t have to be some guitar virtuoso or superbly talented in any physically
dexterous way in order to make music. As long as you had a clever idea and
creativity, that was all you needed. I suppose I’ve always felt a futile inability
to compete with the rest of the world in any physical manner, but I understood
that I could compensate by focusing on developing myself mentally and in other
ways, if that makes sense. Electronic music gave me what I needed for that.

When and how did Void Vision get started? Was it just you at first?
Void Vision originally started out as a full 4-piece band. I was the main synth
player in the beginning. After a while, the guitarist [Hayden Payne] and myself
came to the conclusion that our goals and interests were similar and that we would
be better off as a duo. He switched from guitar to synths, and we both started
collecting a large amount of vintage gear and experimenting with various setups
and recording techniques. We spent a lot of time being nerds together and soaking
up all the knowledge we could. We performed together for a while but ran into
some issues during the recording of our 7″ and Hayden decided to leave to pursue
his own project, Dream Affair.

It’s been a few years, and there’s only a Void Vision 7″ out… when’s the next release
coming? Why haven’t you put out more?

I chose to continue with Void Vision because I didn’t want to abandon the songs
that I had put so much into. But it took me a while to get back on track with the
music. I had to acquire a lot of gear, spend time programming, and rethink how I
was going to present everything in a live setting by myself. I have played many shows
since then, but my progress with recording and writing was again halted by a very
tumultuous and damaging 2-year relationship. I have only recently managed to become
resettled in the beginning of this year, but since then I have been able to devote
time to recording and writing again. I’m about half way through with the full length
at this point, and I have a number of other things in the works for Void Vision. I
have also been contributing musically to the band Hot Guts, who I’ll be going on
tour with in late June, and a few other projects for friends.

What is your current live lineup like? Do you see yourself building up to a full
“band” again?

The current live setup consists mainly of myself and a pile of machines, but I am
occasionally joined by my lovely and talented violin player, Miss Adrina Marie. I
haven’t ruled out adding other members to the lineup, but I probably wouldn’t have
a full band again, at least not in the same format. This music was meant for drum
machines and synths. I like to be able to hear the dynamics, the intricate or
delicate sequences, and the tones of the synth sounds. Those things are important
and give a song it’s character. From my own experience, adding things like guitars,
bass, and drums usually just muddles the sound up too much or instantly makes it
sound like a generic rock band. Some musicians can do it right, but it’s rare. And,
even though I have a pretty strong voice, I don’t like having to scream over a whole
band to be heard. I find it’s easier to write alone in most instances, and there’s
less to worry about in terms of coordinating schedules, but I will say that I did
really enjoy working as a duo, and when you have the right combination of people,
magical things can happen. Ultimately, I suppose it all depends on who you’re
working with and how well you work together.

What’s the LP sounding like? Is it similar to the 7″? Any themes, or changes in direction
you’re excited about?

The LP is stylistically similar to the 7 inch, yes. The songs are mostly from around
the same time period, but a few are more recent. They are still quite dance-oriented,
but I also have some mid-tempo songs and a newer one that is what I refer to as my
epic ballad, which is rather lush with violin. But I’ve been working in a slightly
different way since Hayden left and I’ve had to adapt the way I perform many of the
songs live. I have some of the same equipment as before, but many new pieces of gear
I’m trying to incorporate as well. I do have some ideas for directions I want to move
in after this album, but I don’t want to give away all my secrets just yet, and I also
don’t like to pigeon-hole myself. Time will tell…

As this has been something you’ve enjoyed since a child, synthesizers and melancholy
tunes, how do you feel about the current resurgence of it?

I have mixed feelings about the resurgence. On the one hand I think it’s great because
it gives me an audience, and there are a lot of really amazing artists that have emerged
and among the people that are truly passionate about it, there is a wonderful and
supportive community. On the other hand, a lot of people are just into it for social
status, fashion’s sake, or to get laid. But that always happens with every genre of music.
It’s unfortunate, but the artists that end up breaking through to the mainstream are
usually dressed-up, watered-down versions of that genre. Hopefully audiences will be
smart enough to sort out the quality music from the disposable kind themselves. My biggest
quarrel is just that the rise in popularity has driven up the prices of gear.

Were there any electronic albums that you heard as you were growing up and learning how
to make music that really inspired you?

Sure, although I don’t particularly like naming specifics since people tend to be very
snobby and judgmental about such things. I will say that I grew up in the suburbs in a
place that had literally no diversity whatsoever and there wasn’t anywhere to go to
find music. I also didn’t have cable and therefore no MTV and the Internet wasn’t like
it is now obviously. But I did have a big brother, and one of the first things I can
recall really having an impact on me was his Nine Inch Nails albums when I was about
11 or 12. I was fascinated by the sound textures and I wanted to know how they were
made. I was also inspired by the fact that it was made by mainly one man. After that,
I began digging deeper and further back into music history, finding Depeche Mode,
Cabaret Voltaire, Severed Heads and so on. I started reading a lot of biographies
because I was very interested in the whole history of what was going on in the late
’70s and early ’80s music scenes. It seemed like such a creative and fertile period
of time. Of course, my interests go way beyond electronic music. I also grew up
listening to a lot of Moody Blues thanks to my mother, and classical music, thanks
to my father.

Do you think it’s harder to process music slowly, like you did as a child, because
there’s just so much of it available today? Like in 2012, you could download the top ten
most “essential” cold-wave albums in a few minutes, but that makes it nearly
impossible to slowly soak up and appreciate…

That is a really good point, and I think in many ways you’re right. Technology always
is a double edged sword. On the one hand there is an increased level of exposure to
diverse kinds of music and things that used to be hard to come by. But, the thrill of
the hunt has been essentially removed, for better or for worse, and the fast-paced
overload has, in a way, made it more difficult to keep focused on any one thing for too
long. Feeling connected to an album, and the musicians themselves, was one of the
greatest things about music when I was growing up. For every album that I acquired in
my youth, I played it incessantly before I moved onto the next thing. Now people seem
to have short attention spans, and being able to pick and choose songs they want to
download often causes them to miss out on experiencing an album as a whole. I’ve
always appreciated artists who put a lot of effort into constructing an album with
dynamic, where each song was treated as a vital part of a bigger picture, and they
didn’t just throw ‘filler’ material in between the hits. I’m glad that making and buying
vinyls is popular again because I think it is a medium that forces both artists and
consumers to engage music in a more complete manner, and the limited quantities and
delicate physical nature of vinyl itself brings back a sense of value and many of
the lost thrills of hunting.

How do you feel about older synth-based groups reuniting?
As for the subject of older synth groups reuniting, it’s interesting to see them
present their old hits to a new fan base. I think many of the ones who sank into
obscurity for years feel happy that their songs are being rediscovered and appreciated,
which is nice for any artist. But it’s perhaps even more interesting seeing what
became of them after they moved on with their lives and who they are now. More often
than not, their re-emergence ruins the mystique they had originally created. And
many times when they get back together and try to write new stuff it just doesn’t
work because the musical atmosphere of the world has changed and they’ve been tainted
by the influences of modern culture, or they just don’t have the same stimulus driving
them. But, every once in a while there is an exception and they pull it off and prove
that talent transcends age. My feelings are mixed, but I support it as long as it’s
coming from an honest place. Music should not be limited to the young.