Kicking back with Vita and the Woolf at Spice House Sound
On one of the last warm days this summer, I ventured past my usual points of familiarity in Fishtown to the newly opened Spice House Sound on Wilt Street. Suddenly finding myself somewhat lost in a tiny alley next to St. Laurentius, I stare at the address on my phone again and frantically call Jen Pague, frontwoman of Vita and the Woolf, explaining I think I’m at the wrong place. She laughs and tells me to stay where I am.
Seconds later, Pague uses most of her body to push open a huge metal door and welcomes me in with a hug.
I follow her down a hallway into the recording studio, where we’re greeted by a gorgeous wooden floor buried beneath a jungle of wires. We sit down in the studio, Pague immediately folding her legs under herself on a chair. Her candid nature comes across right away—she starts explaining her recent headaches involved in finalizing her debut album as though I’m an old friend.
Despite her small presence sitting like a pretzel, it’s clear her visions and creativity reach far beyond the the eight songs on the EP. Fang Song, the debut album from Vita and the Woolf, is a soulful rendering of music Pague has been working on for most of the last two years—some are even older. She leads the band on keyboard and vocals, joined by Bobby Cleveland (keys, synths, and bass) and Adam Shumski (drums).
Pague maintains that she’s been advertising Vita and the Woolf as a solo project, but she’s grateful and excited about working with Cleveland and Shumski. Cleveland and Pague are actually high school classmates, both graduates of School of Rock in Downingtown. “Bobby and I actually have a long history playing music together—we started playing music together when we were fifteen or sixteen…he’s an awesome keyboard player, it’s an honor to have him in my band.”
Vita and the Woolf started as a seven-piece two years ago while Pague was still in college, but gradually dwindled down until she remained the only member. Fang Song was recorded entirely by Pague in her home recording set-up—the drums you hear on the album were actually recorded in her parents’ living room in Downingtown. Pague credits her best friend (also named Jen) with naming the band—lit nerds may realize the name comes from the relationship between writers Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf.
“There’s a couple different things I like about it… I wanted something a little feminist, a strong name. And I like that it’s the love relationship between the two authors, and Virginia Woolf’s name is ‘Woolf’ spelled with two o’s—I’ve always had kind of an obsession with wolves.”
While Pague’s biggest roles in Vita remain keyboard and vocals, she’s also got chops on the accordion too, which you can check out in this eerie video for “Mary,” recorded in her parents’ basement. “Mary” is consistently part of Vita’s live set, along with “MM Chka Mm” and “Springtime Foxes.”
“We actually just figured out a really cool live version of ‘Bible Lady,’” Pague explains. “My friend Kelcie [Hillard] helped me write that song. She’s an amazing bassoon player so we like did this thing where we recorded her playing bassoon with all these crazy bassoon parts and did a bunch of layering with the bassoon… but you can’t have like fifteen bassoons onstage. I need like an entire orchestra and choir,” Pague laughs.
Pague tells me she’s not sure whether or not she’ll keep the band Philly-based. She’s been in New York a lot recently between performances as Vita and the Woolf and another project of hers, Pink Murder (with Mike Romano of Stargazy and Greg Henits of Folding Legs). She lets on that she plans to record her next Vita album at Spice House, but plans to mix up her style. Never one to sit still, she’s already ten steps ahead with ideas for her next record.
“I’ve just been kind of steering away from synths, but I feel like I should get back into it. It’s a good way to make your shit cool…I think I’ll go a little bit more electronic, honestly. I’ll have more drum machines incorporated and do more synths on the next record. That’s the kind of album Alex [Santilli, Spice House Sound owner] and I have been talking about creating.”
However, Pague is still focused on Fang Song’s completion, with a mini tour through Delaware, DC, Virginia and New York in the works. She expresses excitement about wrapping Fang Song as laughter emits between nearly every sentence.
“I’m just really relieved that it’s done. I’m really proud of it, and I’m really glad that it’s a finished project that I did–it’s something that I did for the past two years of my life, my early twenties. It feels good to have it done and show people, and see how people respond to it. It’s amazing how many people have helped me out. It’s kind of like my child is hitting puberty, and I’m just like, ‘Gotta let it go! Go, live your life, album!’”
See Vita and the Woolf play with Canon Logic and Bondage and Discipline at Ortlieb’s Lounge for their record release show on Saturday, September 20. You can revisit their incredible Key Studio Session, and check out Pancakes and Whiskey’s chance to attend an exclusive acoustic session at Spice House Sound Friday, September 19th. Download Fang Song, out today.