With her messy blonde hair covering her face, black jeans and black boots, Carmen Villain certainly looks the part of a rocker chick. But her willowy frame and striking, angular features also hint at her past life as a model, one whose former career including posing for Vogue and walking in shows like Yohji Yamamoto and Alberta Ferretti. Interested in music since childhood, the London-based Villain (born Carmen Maria Hillestad to a Norwegian father and a Mexican mother) turned to songwriting and recording at the same time she was getting ready to leave the modeling industry. Teaming up with Norwegian musician and producer Emil Nikolaisen (Serena-Maneesh), Villain went to work on her debut record Sleeper, out now. Combining sludgy guitar riffs and heavy, all-encompassing drums with Villain's dreamy, Liz Phair-esque vocals, the album, in many ways, seems to be a good reflection of Villain herself: a mix of dark and light, hard-edged but soft. Villain came by the PAPER kitchen for an acoustic set and chatted with us about her music. Watch her play "Lifeissin" above.
How did you get started making music?
I started writing a few years ago as a hobby but I did it in secret. Nobody knew I was writing and messing about on the guitar and recording gear, drum machines and stuff. I started getting a few songs together and I thought, "Okay, I should show it to someone." I showed a couple of songs to a few friends of mine with total terror... a friend of a friend in music introduced me to [co-producer] Emil [Nikolaisen] who I started working with and recording the first part of the album.
Were you still modeling at this point?
At the beginning, I was still working as a model but I wasn't doing shows and the whole circuit -- I was done with it. But obviously one needs to pay the bills. At the end, I kept feeling really distracted so almost three years ago, I had to stop and remove myself from [the modeling scene]. I couldn't find focus to do my music.
You co-produced your own album. Did you teach yourself sound mixing and production?
Yeah. It's really nerdy because I sat obsessing over LogicPro and nerding [out] until I managed to learn enough and could produce half the album and recorded three of the songs in my own house.
And you're self-taught when it comes to songwriting, too?
Yeah, songwriting-wise, it's really intuitive and very personal. I was kind of in a dark place when I wrote all the songs and when I looked at the whole thing after recording it, and was trying to come up with a title for the album, all the songs seemed to have a few different themes -- it's kind of depressing.
Sleeper is a state of mind one is in; I feel like I was in this cloud and that I wasn't participating properly in life. Really passive.
Almost like sleep-walking.
Almost like sleep-walking, exactly. Also it's a nod to my friends and family. I've always loved sleeping -- almost too much -- when I was a kid. I would just sleep and wouldn't want to get up, sometimes for bad reasons. Sometimes it was just laziness. It was a dark nod to my poor family -- my poor mom who tried to get me out of bed everyday.
How would you describe your own music?
I would say it's dark but I like mixing it with nice, pretty things -- it's never too perfect. It's all loose and a bit messy with pop melodies. It's definitely psychedelic.