When the world slowed down, so did Vicky Farewell, the songwriting project of LA native Vicky Nguyen. “It was terrifying at first, but it gave me the necessary time to focus on myself and what I wanted out of music,” she shared with me over a Zoom call from her home studio. This inward focus led Vicky to the creation of Sweet Company, her debut album that came out last Friday via indie icon Mac Demarco’s Mac’s Record Label. A classically trained pianist that has toured and collaborated with acts like Mild High Club, The Free Nationals, and Anderson .Paak, Vicky’s polyhyphenate-ism is intense (she wrote, recorded, produced, and mixed the album by herself) and it immediately signals a talent that’s bound for the limelight. Sweet Company carries and a brilliant energy across its 8-track runtime that courses from jazz to nu-RnB to blissful 60s pop; it’s an immediately gratifying record that still reveals itself the longer you listen to it, and it’s a safe bet to end up as one of my favorite albums of the year. Before the record released, Vicky chatted with me about the process of Sweet Company’s creation, discovering self-confidence as a new artist, and the story of how she landed on Demarco’s record label —
First of all – how are you?
I’m good! It feels so good to finally be putting this music out.
The main centerpiece of every bit of press I’ve read about this album and your journey has to do with the fact that this album represents your steps out to the center stage for the first time. I’d love to know when the moment was where you told yourself “fuck it, I’m putting out my first album” rather than continuing to work as a bandmember for other people.
The pandemic offered a much-needed slowdown period for me, as I’m sure it offered many people. I found myself sitting around in the early days of quarantine and really focusing on and refining my writing and production skills. Before, I never really did that on my own time — I was just going from session to session and writing a lot of trash beats. (laughs) The idea for “Are We OK?” happened naturally, and I really enjoyed what I made; it was originally written for another artist to pitch around, and I liked it so much that I kept it for myself. That was the turning point where I realized “hey, I like making things for myself.” It was rare for me to enjoy what I made, so I stuck with it and didn’t look back.
I ask most folks on their debut at what point the creative process ends – sometimes people say it ends when the song is on the radio/streaming services, and other artists are able to put away their work more quickly. Where did that end for you as you were creating your debut, as you were in charge of the creative process from beginning to end?
For me, it’s just a feeling – like, I generally understand when a song is done. Even if it’s spare, it can be finished; I know a lot of producers that want to fill their tracks up with all of the FX and plugins. For me, it’s just that feeling of being done where I can adequately stop the process — I think that comes from my classical background, and just having studied pieces and how composers make certain sections more interesting. Just like literature, themes recur in music, but you’ve got to weave it in a way that’s interesting across the entire process.
If you had to pick a theme for this debut, what would it be?
This entire record was written during COVID — I think I finished writing the songs in the spring of 2021. So, I had spent that entire period pretty much alone, with the exception of little events here and there. It was the longest time I’d ever spent by myself, so there was a little bit of irony in calling it Sweet Company, as if I had been in the company of actual people, but really I found that sort of company in myself. That was something I really had to learn to be comfortable with when everything shut down — “what is it like to sit with myself?” And I think that journey’s a little different for everyone. That’s such a crucial part of the process of growth, being alone.
Alone isn’t a necessarily terrible thing – there’s a kind of comfort there sometimes.
Right! It’s just very different for everyone. I know that there was a sort of comfort I found in my own self-discovery, but that time period where we were, like, scared to go to the grocery store was tough in a negative way.
That’s an interesting concept I’ve explored in my own life; I’m a ticketing director at a music venue, and as shows have come back to life fully, I find myself wishing for a slowdown again where we can just take some time to ourselves.
No, I totally get that. Right before lockdown happened, I found myself with a lot of anxiety living in a big city — there was a constant running-around culture that got to me, because I think I’m slower-paced than the rest of LA. When it really hit here, it was surreal; no traffic, nothing going on, and when everything stopped, I realized I didn’t mind the quiet nearly as much.
You seem supremely confident in your work, which I think is somewhat rare for an artist that’s releasing their debut. What gives you that confidence, and how do you think other artists existing in a similar situation can own their confidence as well?
I think it’s so, so important for artists to get to know themselves and what they like before anything else. That’s how you become confident in your own sound. YES, you might be influenced by other artists and people in your world, but the moment where you realize “this is what my sound is” is so exciting. It’s also amazing to have colleagues and peers in your corner — especially in a city like LA, I hated what I was doing for a long time until I had other people telling me it was actually good (laughs). A moment like that is invigorating, because it feels like you’ve reached a reward for all of the moments of self-doubt that comes with working in this industry.
Going back to the collaboration and colleagues piece that you mentioned — this album was one of the first releases on Mac DeMarco’s label Mac’s Record Label. I’ve heard that he offered you a deal on the spot after he heard this album — I’d love for you to tell me that story.
(laughs) That’s a good story. He came to me about the label a long time ago and told me about it, and I sort of brushed him off because I wasn’t in artist mode at the time; I was going and doing my thing as a sidewoman. We had been friends for a while, and most of us will just go over to his home studio and mess around and let him act as our engineer. When COVID hit, I dove into this album and wrote my first two songs and got curious about what my friends and colleagues would think — so I sent them out, and the primary response I got was “do you have a deal yet?” (laughs) I just thought I’d put it out on SoundCloud and call it a day!
I sent it to Mac and he was like “Who is this? Who is this singing?” and he was the first person to tell me “You should write an album.” So I took that and made the album all by myself, and eventually showed it to Mac. I can remember he was listening, and like, dancing, and enjoying all of it and it was absolutely surreal because of how naturally it had all just happened. He got super awkward with me (puts hands together and starts twiddling thumbs) and asked me to join his label and let him release it there, and I said yes and here we are!
I love that so much. I think that your music is similarly bright and bold like what Mac has done before, and it’s reflected in the visual aspect of this album — it was when I saw the visualizer for “Are We OK?” that I realized “okay, I have to interview Vicky.” What inspired the record’s visual side?
Honestly, I didn’t have a visual idea of it at all (laughs). Visual art is one of my weakest points. So I contacted this artist that lives in D.C. (Uyen Hoang) and found that they really meshed with the vibe I wanted — like that 60s, psychedelic vibe. We hit it off super well, and I’m just lucky to have that empowering some of these tracks.
Now that you’ve found your sound, with what regard do you hold your older material with other artists?
You know, for the bulk of my career I’ve been a pianist. It’s an interesting choice, because I found that I got pigeonholed into this task of being a helper or an accompanist to everybody I worked with — sort of like a hired gun. It left me feeling like I couldn’t be the face of my own sound; I didn’t feel like I could be the face until very recently. Having been a sidewoman for all of these different artists, I obviously learned a lot; I picked up the difference between being a musician and a creative, and I realized I wanted to be both. I think that might be a hot take (laughs).
No, I absolutely agree with you! You can show up and play sheet music, or you find yourself taking the time to create something new. I don’t think that’s an indictment on the talent level of one person or another, but rather a choice you can make in this industry.
I think I found myself musically constipated. (laughs) I was in a position where I had these freelance jobs and they were blocking the flow of my own creativity. I’m thankful for what they brought me, obviously, because I realized exactly what I wanted to do as a result of them.
Stream Sweet Company here.