vōx (pronounced "wokes") likes to remain mysterious. The experimental pop singer is sitting alone in her kitchen in Boyle Heights, a mile east of Downtown L.A., when we speak on the phone. She's new to the neighborhood, having spent most of the last five years living on L.A.'s west side, but says it's the first place she's felt at home since relocating from Minnesota in 2011.
It's a setting that allows her to focus on promoting her debut EP, I Was Born, a complex set of songs about coping with anxiety and discovering power within herself, after having had to suppress her artistic instincts as a child growing up in a very religious family. Each song builds tension through her vocals, which soar above minimal beats, layered harmonies and dense reverb. She describes the EP as "a story of personal rebirth," declaring her desire to disappear on "I Am Not A Higher Power," before announcing her mortality and resurrection on lead single "I Was Born." Fittingly, vōx will be performing songs from the EP in a church on New York's Upper East Side on June 1.
But vōx isn't just a musician, she's also a character, with a unique identity and style. Photographers including Katy Shayne, Carly Foulkes, and Mercedes Esquivel have all lined up to take her picture, capturing vōx in her vintage wedding dresses. vōx, the person, is fiercely private, preferring to let vōx, the character, dictate the narrative.
Tell us about your fascination with wearing wedding dresses. Is there any symbolism behind it, or is it purely a fashion statement?
It's mostly a fashion statement, but I think also there's a lot of symbolism behind the fact that I wear all white, and the purity that white symbolizes. I like to make sure that a lot of times I'm wearing something that covers all of my body, but maybe is sheer, because I think that the human body is a pure form and I think that it's really interesting to show it in that way and not sexualize it.
Have you always worn all white?
No, it's exclusive to vōx. I actually never wore white, I wore a lot of black before becoming vōx. I think that becoming her has given me a lot of confidence in my body, in a way that I never had before.
Do you see much separation between vōx and your everyday persona?
I think that the line can get blurred, but I do think there is still a separation. Some of the positive aspects of vōx - [such as] the confidence - it's been great to tap into that whenever I need it. I'm a pretty shy person, I have a lot of social anxiety, so it's nice to have some sort of strength to pull from that's outside of myself.
Anxiety, self-doubt, and purity are all themes on your new EP. How did you conceptualize those feelings?
The EP kind of started out in my mind as the beginning of vōx; the story of how that came to be and how it changed my life. So a lot of it is coping with my anxiety in a new way. There are a lot of different concepts [on the EP]. "See Themselves," the last song, talks about that - realizing that your own perception of yourself isn't the whole story and that people are seeing you in a different light than how you see yourself.
Is it hard to write about those feelings and be reminded of them over and over when you perform live?
Some things can be tough to relive over and over, that song especially. When I wrote it and played it for the first time I started crying afterwards. I have struggled with a lot of self-doubt and low self-esteem and not seeing myself in a good light a lot of times, so it's nice to remind yourself that that's not really true, it's only one opinion of it. It's interesting, because the way I write songs, I often don't know what they're about until quite a while after. Especially "I Was Born," the title track. I thought it was maybe about reincarnation because I had just read a book about that. Actually, it's about rebirth - shedding some of those layers of yourself that don't serve you anymore.
Where did the idea to perform in churches come from?
People have asked me why I'm performing in churches and I've had to think of what that means to me personally. I think that subconsciously churches have formed a lot of who I am, because I grew up going to church. It was interesting, because growing up around the church, I never felt welcome. I always felt like an outsider there and there was always a lot of anxiety with that, and a lot of guilt, feeling ashamed that I didn't fit in. So I think there is a lot of power to perform in churches for me, in that it kind of flips that around and I can show who I really am, which I've never got to do in a church before. I think that it's really healing for me.
vōx is performing in the Sanctuary at the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church on New York's Upper East Side on June 1.
Text Nick Fulton
Photography Mercedes Esquivel courtesy vōx