Ky Vöss has already said enough words about the car. “I feel like [it] is more known than I am,” they admitted, ruefully, when reflecting on the oft-told creation myth of artist on the run from somewhere to anywhere, wherein “anywhere” ends up becoming Pittsburgh due to a broken down car. To be fair, it is an interesting story, and an important part of Vöss’s artistry, so read about it here and here if you want.
Let’s talk instead about duality. Not the Slipknot song, but the contradictions and opposites that exist within people and within works of art. For example, Vöss’s genre tag, “dream-pop for the damned,” is an oxymoron; according to them, “I think of dream-pop as kind of a sparkly genre, and my music tends to be on the heavier, darker side […]I keep trying to write quirky love songs and shit and it just hasn’t happened yet.”
The music of Vöss’s excellent 2019 album, Space Cadet, infuses pop’s synthesized sugar rush with menacing, witch-house grime, and features Vöss’s waifish voice acting as a vehicle for bleak lyrics about “dripping in your own blood” and “fucking like you’re dying.” It’s a flickering dream and a jet-black nightmare rolled into one.
The circumstances surrounding the creation of Space Cadet also embody the concept of duality. Vöss says about their first cold, lonely months in Pittsburgh a few years back, “It was both a really creatively invigorating time and also just the worst, simultaneously.” Vöss retreated into their own head and “didn’t feel human at all,” which ended up serving as the inspiration for the Ky Vöss persona that has since experienced such success both within and outside the city.
Vöss is soft-spoken and deliberate in person, describing themself as someone that “presents as this quirky female” and, appropriately, a “space cadet.” At the same time, Vöss says, “I think I’m an angry person, inherently.”
Space Cadet’s most aggressive track, “Power Trip,” a Die Antwoord-esque jumprope chant from hell, packs a sexwork-positive wallop, a defiant “Who the fuck do you think you are?” aimed at those who would shame others for their life or their work. There’s nothing quiet or distracted about it. On a related note, Vöss says that they often experience sexism from those who don’t believe that a “quirky female”-presenting person could know their way around some electronics; clearly, it’s difficult for some to accept that synth wizards don’t have to be bros in tank tops and backward hats.
Vöss also mentioned that they struggle with anxiety, joking-but-not-joking, “I wouldn’t do anything ever if I wasn’t playing shows, which is kind of why I keep playing them.”
For them, the only way to get over the fear of other people is to stand in front of a throng of them, face sometimes obscured by a cloth or mask, and reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings in musical form. As they put it on Space Cadet’s turbocharged disco closer “Swallow The Batteries,” “I feel safe in a crowded space/As long as I’ve got a space suit.” Where Neil Armstrong had his bulky, white pressure suit, Ky Vöss has Ky Vöss.
The persona of Ky Vöss is defined by duality. Creativity and desolation, restraint and anger, anxiety and empowerment, synth sparkle and rave dungeon grit, all combine to shape one of Pittsburgh’s most exciting new artists.
There’s a new Ky Vöss album in the works; when we spoke in November, Vöss declared that it was “a solid 78% done,” so by now it should be up to about 89%, by my completely unscientific estimate. In the meantime, Vöss recommends that Yinzer music fans check out their local favorites including Sneeze Awfull, Bruiser Beep, OOTM, Bring Her, Clara Kent, and The Childlike Empress.