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V.V. Lightbody Is Taking Nap Rock On The Road

Written by on May 12, 2023

Inspired by the eclectic sounds of Chicago’s music scene, local artist V.V. Lightbody has always felt at home exploring her musical identity in the city.

V.V. Lightbody by Ash Dye, courtesy of the artist.

Music is a comfort for Chicago singer and musician V.V. Lightbody. As a part of her family’s fourth generation of musicians, her love for music was always encouraged. She recalls starting piano lessons at 6 years old and first picking up guitar as a kid when her brother started learning, years later picking up the flute during more isolated periods of the pandemic in 2021.

After falling in love with Chicago while playing in two UIUC rock bands, Lightbody made the move to the city nearly 10 years ago, becoming ingrained in the local music scene. Now, as a solo artist, she feels Chicago’s wide-ranging sounds give her the space to explore her own musical identity.

“Chicago, specifically the music scene, is so sonically eclectic and also welcoming to people who maybe don’t fit into a cookie-cutter genre,” she said. “Living in NYC and/or LA sounds great and beautiful for so many reasons, but I feel like Chicago has a lot more space for artists to be themselves.”

Initially centering her solo sound identity around a calm and tranquil feeling, she coined the term “nap rock” (“songs that you could drift off to sleep to but also hit hard in more generic ‘rock’ ways”) to describe her debut album Bathing Peach. Though her latest single “Itinerary” also showcases these elements, Lightbody feels it was a step in a new direction for her sonically and notes she may retire the “nap rock” descriptor for upcoming releases.

“I’ve honed in on melody and literary themes in a way that excites me deeply,” she said. “I think the new batch of songs will push into a different territory. I’m still figuring that out!”

Since the release of her 2020 album Make a Shrine or Burn It, Lightbody has found herself frequently touring, sharing new material and making connections with new artists. The uncertainty of tour is a challenge, but one which Lightbody gladly accepts. She strives to be present on stage and continue building relationships with her band while on the road, and stay open-minded for what touring experiences may hold.

In an interview with Vocalo, she also discussed playing in Harry Styles’ backing band, her love for Chicago, upcoming releases and the familial legacy carried by her name.

Are you originally from Chicago? If so, what part of Chicago are you originally from? If not, when did you move to the city and why?

I grew up in a small town surrounded two hours west of Chicago called Dixon, Illinois. I went to school at UIUC and had two very active rock bands. We all were in love with the Chicago music scene and eventually all moved here. I can’t believe it, but this spring marks my tenth year in Chicago! 

How do you feel Chicago affects your identity as an artist, if at all?

Chicago, specifically the music scene, is so sonically eclectic and also welcoming to people who maybe don’t fit into a cookie-cutter genre. Living here has allowed my songwriting to not be one specific thing and draw from a lot of different influences. Living in NYC and/or LA sounds great and beautiful for so many reasons, but I feel like Chicago has a lot more space for artists to be themselves.

V.V. Lightbody in concert by Chelsea Williams, courtesy of the artist.

When did you start making music? 

I’m very thankful that I grew up in a musical household and was encouraged to explore my love for music at an early age. My dad always played acoustic guitar around the house and when my older brother started learning, I, of course, wanted to pick it up, too. I would get tips from them and also teach myself tabs from…! I took piano lessons around age 6 and played an Oasis song on guitar for my third grade “show and tell.” Songwriting came a bit later, but I was probably 15 when I wrote my first real song.

What’s the story behind your name, “V.V. Lightbody”?

My grandmother’s maiden name is Virginia Lightbody. She is a talented piano player and her father, Randall Lightbody, was a working musician who toured nationally with a big band and would play dance halls in Chicago. For me, the name honors the family matriarchy a bit and felt like an ethereal pseudonym for my music.

We see you’re a true multi-instrumentalist. What’s your favorite instrument to play?

During isolation of 2021 I really re-assessed my relationship with the flute and put the guitar on pause. Recently, I’ve really fallen back in love with my guitar! The flute has given me so much joy and calms me down when I’m stressed, but I pick up the guitar when I want to write songs. 

What does “nap rock” mean?

“Nap rock” was a term that I coined to describe the genre of my first record, Bathing Peach. Those songs are a lot more gentle than a lot of my newer material so maybe it doesn’t quite fit anymore. Either way, “nap-rock” describes songs that you could drift off to sleep to but also hit hard in more generic “rock” ways (guitar solos, drum grooves, etc). I may need to retire that soon, though … 

Can you tell us a little about the process of making a song like “Itinerary”? What comes first, the words or the sound?

“Itinerary” is one of those magic songs where I came up with the chorus and rhythm (“I-I-Itinerary”) and wrote the whole song around it quickly afterwards. I was also really wanting to write a song that just had two chords back and forth and still feel super unique, and I was so proud of how “Itinerary” came out. I wanted to write something that people could hear once and sing along to the chorus, and it seemed to work!

What’s your favorite song to perform live by yourself? What’s your favorite song to perform with a band?

When I’m playing solo, I love playing songs that I am workshopping because playing them live helps me figure any missing parts and mess around with how they feel on stage before I get into the studio with them. There’s one called “Precious Moments” that won’t be out for a bit, but it’s really good. I love playing “If It’s Not Me” with the band because it feels good every time. 

How did you come to perform in Harry Styles’ band for BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend Festival? Tell us a bit about that experience!

It was such a doozy. The specifics of how and why are a bit hard to explain, but I feel like the universe spoke on this one … okay, and I’ve been working hard as a multi-instrumentalist for many years now! I was about to hop onto a flight to a different music festival (as an attendee!) and I got the call to fill in with Harry’s band the next day. It was like getting abducted by aliens because I was in Europe for only two days, but so incredible. Playing in front of that many people was just exhilarating. Harry, his band, and the whole team are incredibly kind. An opportunity like this was deeply humbling, and I am so grateful for it.

We see that you’ve been going on tour pretty often. What are your favorite things about going on tour, and what do you hate about it? How do you stay energized on tour?

I love to be in a van with my friends and experience the road together. I love getting to see new parts of the country (and world!) and also perform for new folks every night. When you’re at the whim of the road you’ve got to give yourself up to it, allow yourself to enter a unique headspace, and be ready for anything. It’s such a demanding thing — sleeping in a new bed every night (or a couch or a floor), not having a kitchen, lots of waiting around — but when you’re with the right people and plan things right, it can be awesome. I really prioritize sleep on tour and try to keep morale high with fun van snacks!

Favorite city you’ve performed in so far? What made that show so special?

On this last run with Fruit Bats, we played First Ave in Minneapolis, which was such a dream. It’s a really iconic venue and to play there as V.V. Lightbody felt very cool. The show was extra special because we blew a spark plug on our van in the middle of Wisconsin and just barely made the show! The audience was amazing and the venue treated us so well. 

Where would you like to perform that you haven’t yet?

I cannot wait to tour Europe one day.

V.V. Lightbody sharing her “nap rock” sound in concert. Photo by Gryphon Halley, courtesy of the artist.

It was the third anniversary of your sophomore album Make a Shrine or Burn It on May 1. How do you feel about that album now, three years later?

I recently re-listened to the record … and I’m still so deeply proud of it. I really spent so much time on every sound, every noise, every moment … and I still have fans or friends who tell me how much that record means to them. I’m also intimidated by it because I hope my next one can be that good!

How do you feel your sound has evolved since your last album?

I’m writing songs that are more lyrically direct, more concise in the song structure, and a little more straightforward. That description sounds boring, but I think I’ve honed in on melody and literary themes in a way that excites me deeply and that a lot of people can relate to. I’m pushing things a little bit groovier as well. “Itinerary” was a stretch in a new direction, but I think the new batch of songs will push into a different territory. I’m still figuring that out!

We noticed before “Itinerary” you had only released one EP shortly after your last album and a single in 2021. What have you been up to since the release of Make a Shrine or Burn It?

A lot of artists were incredibly prolific in the last few years, but I’ll admit, that wasn’t my speed. It’s taken me much longer to get my momentum back up with writing V.V. songs, but I’m here now and it feels good. I did make a record for my synth-pop project Valebol, toured quite a bit in 2021, and also got really good at making bread.

What artists are your biggest inspiration when it comes to your music?

This is always changing for me … recently, a few bands that I’ve been loving and have been inspiring are Rozi Plain, Eiko Ishibashi, Alice Phoebe Lou, Tim Bernardes. At the end of the day, I always go back to Neil Young!

With the release of “Itinerary,” can we expect a new album soon?

I’ve been hinting at it already, but I’ve got a ton of new songs and LP3 almost ready to go. I think you can expect another single from me this year!

Keep up with V.V. Lightbody on Instagram and Twitter, and listen to her music on Spotify below.

Interview by Omi Salisbury

Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller and Morgan Ciocca

Answers edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Photos courtesy of V.V. Lightbody.

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