Music producer Vanese Smith (a.k.a. Pursuit Grooves) is one of Toronto’s first female electronic producers to make waves both here and internationally. For the past two decades, she has been producing music on the daily, in addition to creating visual artwork, DJing and teaching others her craft.
We caught up with her this week.
SDTC: Walk us through a day in your life, from getting up until going to bed.
VS: I was up until 2 a.m. last night working on music. Usually when I start a new project, I start with a new sound library. I love creating sounds, building a new library from a variety of sources, whether I’m making sound or chopping little tidbits from different media sources. It’s very time-consuming and tedious, but it’s something I love to do for every new project. I have to give myself a new palette to work with. That way it’s challenging and interesting for me.
The first thing I do is make a green tea with lots of honey. Then I start with admin. Today, there was this producers event called Loop Sessions that I am a part of organizing, and we are finalizing promotion for the next event. I’m also going to be performing in Australia in April, so there were emails and contracts to take care of. I got commissioned to do an ambient/experimental track for a piece of wearable musical technology called Subpac, so I finished having that mastered. I’m going to Vancouver to lecture at Simon Fraser University, so I was taking notes for that. I also hopped on Orbitz to check out flight information. I’m considering stopping in Indonesia [when I’m in Australia]. This does not include the part-time job I have. So I do all this admin work before 3:30 and grab a shower.
Somewhere in the middle, I’ll stop and have a proper brunch. I really love to cook. Food is my next love, behind music and art. I’m a gluten-free girl, so I love to cook, and thankfully the part-time job I have [is at] a great organic grocery store/restaurant where I get a discount. And they’re really flexible with my creative career, so it helps to nurture everything else I’ve been doing.
By the time I get home, at about 9:30, I’ll make a meal. I might catch up with the news of the day. But if I’m really focused, I’ll put in another two hours of working on music composition. If I’m lucky, I’m in bed by 12:30. But I let myself play on the weekends [laughs].
You wear a lot of hats (visual designer, producer, DJ). Do you find that these distinct fields blend into each other? Do you see your music influencing/reflecting your visual style and vice versa?
I feel like my music creativity and visual creativity are very similar in terms of my approach, in terms of how I like to add layers, and maybe the type of emotion I convey. These days, when I work on things visually, it’s usually to accompany my music (I do kind of abstract film videos). I also design album covers, do graphic design for events I have coming up, and work on fliers.
Before 2018, I’d taken a three-year hiatus from releasing music. I was focusing on surface design/pattern design. That was really fulfilling and great to have something to go to creatively to express myself. Visually, it definitely complements my music—a bit psychedelic, a bit magical. You might see patterns, but if you stare long enough or come back to it, you’ll see something else.
I think that’s also very similar to my music: you may not hear everything on the first listen, but after a number of listens, you hear something else, or a different rhythm or sound may be apparent to you. I also like to make things that are a bit weird but are also kind of fun and whimsical. I think that comes through in both of my practices.
What advice has been helpful to you throughout your career journey?
Honestly, I am a true believer in just following your passion and your own path, really taking in inspiration from things around you, and trying to learn as much as possible.
I also learned when you stick with something, the rewards always come. I’ve travelled to so many places I never thought that I would, doing something that I love. When I hit a block, I took a break, and I think that’s okay too. I don’t ever want to feel like I hate my artistic practice. It’s too close to me, too much of a release, a form of expression and a part of me, to ever want to get to that point.
Maintain that curiosity and keep challenging yourself. Keep good people around you. Make sure you do the art for yourself. It has to be for the love first. Because if its for the money or the business, it will drive you nuts.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
I’d read reviews sometimes of my music releases, and someone might say I’m multi-genre, or off-kilter or a little weird. In the beginning I thought that was a bit annoying, because I didn’t feel like I was quite understood or quite fit in with any genre. But the longer I’ve stayed creative, I’ve realized this is actually a pro. It’s allowed a lot more opportunity and will allow me a lot more longevity. As a composer/ creator/music maker, I think that being a bit weird and not following trends is the way it’s supposed to be. It will allow me to have the most personal success.
What is it like to do this for a living?
Being an artist is a hard life, especially if it’s something you want to make a career out of. Even now, it’s not something I can do full-time, but that can easily change in a matter of months; there are always opportunities. It’s a matter of staying busy and consistent, and just being ready. Though it may seem fluffy to be an artist, it’s still a lot of work. It’s not going to magically appear. When I put the time, dedication and focus into it, it always pays off.
What is your mantra these days?
Put the time in. Malcolm Gladwell said ten thousand hours. For sure. It’s the truth. And even more. And never stop learning. I challenge myself. I know I don’t know everything. There’s always something new to learn and experiment with.
How do you unwind?
I really love to eat. I watch too much basketball (though these days I’ve curtailed that). I love traveling (even better when I don’t have to pay for it, which is usually the case, thankfully). And I really love the sunshine! The thing about being in Canada in the wintertime is it forces you to stay inside and get things done. Goodness knows I can’t wait until summertime to be outside in the sun.
I live near the beaches, and I love to walk down early or mid-day when everyone is still at work, and sit down by the water or on the grass. I really love nature. And dog-watching (I can just stare at dogs all day, I love them).
Who has made the biggest impact on your career?
My mother was a really big supporter. As a young girl, [I’d ask] my mom for money for gear (equipment, keyboard, synthesizers, drum machines). She didn’t know anything about these things, but she saw it was really important for me to stay creative. Thankfully, she never told me no. Her support has led me here, whether she knows it or not.
What are you looking forward to in 2019?
I’m so excited and reinvigorated about all of the possibilities. I’m focused on performing, in Canada and abroad. I’ve been doing a lot more workshops and teaching lectures, usually around creative sampling and found sounds, how to incorporate interesting sounds into music composition.
I’m looking forward to more collaborations this year, and also more licensing possibilities; there are so many TV shows and commercials and media outlets that need music. I’m hoping a lot more of those possibilities come. I know 2019 is gonna be a really awesome year, so I’m trying to stay focused and be ready.