It is pushing 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning in London’s Old Street, yet the café is heaving as we mull over the tempting food menu. We bond over our foodie tendencies, with Vanessa speaking enthusiastically about her love of food. Sitting next to Vanessa is her PR manager, Mikey, a long-term friend, and it is easy to see why they vibe – they have a solid working relationship and both understand what she wants from her vision. Vanessa playfully agrees and says “Mikey, and my manager know me and what I want, but they always hate me because I can be quite bossy!”
“I am now writing all of my own songs. It is so important for me now to be in control – it feels more of an achievement.”
“It’s been three years now since we split up and to be honest, I needed the time to find out what worked for me.” Vanessa tells me, as we discuss her recent return to music, following her debut solo EP, Chapter One. “I am now writing all of my own songs. It is so important for me now to be in control – it feels more of an achievement.”
Looking back at her eight-year stint with The Saturdays, you can’t help but admire Vanessa for still staying relevant in an unforgiving and heavily saturated industry. But you’d be wrong to think the Vanessa of today is still the doe-eyed girl that made up the five-person girl band, The Saturdays. She’s more self-assured, experienced, and knows exactly what she wants from her music. Quietly crafting away in the background, Vanessa has produced an honest and fresh solo EP, perfectly timed for spring, with its light-hearted sounds and soulful vocals. Chapter Two, embodies the next stage in her life, which is a step towards a more sultry, R&B vibe – a sound reminiscent of the genre’s boom in the early noughties. Vanessa tells us “I’ve not put any pressure on it, I am not making music for the sake of it – this is genuinely me and what I like. R&B has always been my thing and my love.”
Despite the diversion in musical direction, Vanessa has always made it clear that she had the best time with the girls, and owes everything to the opportunity which propelled her to the forefront of the public eye. “I am really happy, I’ve had amazing memories, and gained so much knowledge from my experience but it is time for something new.” Musing on how she cautiously entered the world of girl bands when she joined The Saturdays, Vanessa remarks “I used to find all sort of music-related auditions – I didn’t care which, as you never know what something could lead into. I remember being asked by a casting director to audition for a girl band. I was unsure if I even wanted to be in a girl band, but I had been rejected so many times at this point I was just going for the sake of going – and then in the end I got it and I was so surprised!” She adds however that success did not come overnight for the girls as “it was such an intense initial year that I can’t even remember when our first song became a hit. When we finally got our music in the Top 10 [Charts], we started doing promotional work and nationwide performances.”
“Everything was based on the way you looked and I got trolled and I was the ‘fat one’ which people used to tweet me and it really fucked me up.”
Two years on from her hiatus with The Saturdays, you’ll notice that it is not only her music that’s changed, but her appearance. She’s stripped back and minimal, which Vanessa admits with a smile saying “God yeah, I’ve changed massively, I mean I was 17 [years old] and I was trying to find myself, and people around you want to make your hair like this and make-up like that and I just did not know what worked for me.” She adds “now I know what works for me, and I can’t even handle a lash all of a sudden! That had a lot to do with my confidence at the time.” The conversation takes a sombre tone, as we discuss Vanessa’s previous struggles with her body image and confidence, which was reduced to shreds from sustained online harassment and harsh media criticism. “I mean it was very hard.” Vanessa shares. “Everything was based on the way you looked and I got trolled and I was the ‘fat one’ which people used to tweet me and it really fucked me up.” The explosion of social media, has on the one hand removed the barrier between celebrities and their fans but at the same time, exposed them to an unprecedented level of abuse. It is hard to imagine, how anyone, let alone celebrities could cope with such public scrutiny. But Vanessa is quick to add “I am over it now, stuff like that doesn’t bother me I have such a thick skin because of those trolls! I am happy with myself now and I am comfortable – if I see it I’m like ‘whatever.’”
So, what can we expect from Vanessa on her new journey as a solo-artist?
“Well for starters I have a completely different set up now to what I had before – it is a small team; me, Mikey, and my manager. They get my vision, and if you work with people that understand you then that’s all you need – it is so frustrating when people don’t understand your vision.” As is becoming increasingly the case in the music industry, Vanessa is taking a break from record labels, and taking the independent route. She explains “it allows me more control in my vision. A record label was ideal at the time when I was 17 and unsure of what I wanted but now I know exactly what I want and how it should come across. I’m too much of a control freak now!”
“…the EP is out now, and I am so excited, I’ve been working on it a long time now and I really love it!”
Vanessa’s love for music seeps through her skin, and it’s this tenacity that’s gifted her such longevity in the music industry. She’s back on the scene like she never left, and she’s brought back a raw authenticity that wasn’t seen in her previous sound. Chapter Two reveals a bolder Vanessa, featuring songs such as ‘Running Wild’ which explores common insecurities in a relationship, ‘Low Key’ and ‘Good Good’, a raunchy Valentine’s Day cut which is unapologetically sexy. I round up our conversation by asking her what she wants her fans to take away from her new music, but Vanessa refuses to limit her sound to anything faux-deep. “My music is just an expression of my life experiences that people can relate to or use as an escape.” She adds “the EP is out now, and I am so excited, I’ve been working on it a long time now and I really love it!”
Listen to Chapter Two via Spotify below.
Vanessa White headlines Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen on 16 June, click here for tickets.