Growing up in western Germany around the turn of the millenium, Luca Vasta’s love of music was all consuming, something Alba, her debut album, illustrates with considerable gusto. You need only listen to her first, irrepressibly contagious single ‘Cut My Hair’, the sparse, dizzying glamour of ‘Imperial’, the dreamy melancholy of ‘Dear Alba’ or the minor key drama of ‘Heartbeat’ for proof. Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to meet the charismatic 25 year old yourself, ask her why ‘Black Tears White Lies’ is one of her favourites and she’ll inadvertently sum up the album’s charm succinctly: “because it’s black and white and warm and cold and up and down. That’s how life is when you’re young. You break your heart and you feel like you have nothing, but the next day you’re super happy. Mind you,” she’ll laugh, “maybe that’s also connected to my dramatic Italian character…!”
The second of four children in a cheerfully rowdy family, Vasta sang in a choir from a young age, and her family frequently gathered together to make music for the joy of it, her father playing the piano in an instrument- filled room. “We listened to a lot of Italian music,” she remembers fondly, “and the first song I ever sang was by Laura Pausini, an Italian pop star. She was my idol! But,” she smiles wryly, “I was very young then!”
Such was Vasta‘s obsession that, as her love of pop developed, she began to spend time with her dictionary, translating English language songs into German. Her vocabulary expanded with her horizons: Michael Jackson led to TLC, who led to Lauryn Hill, and Vasta was also unafraid of exploring beyond the mainstream, enjoying the work of The Velvet Underground, for instance, at an unusually young age. “I spent a lot of time on my own,” she admits, “listening to music, recording, writing poems, and singing.” It’s therefore not surprising that her debut album, Alba, is so rich, complex and satisfying. Vasta grew up loving pop, but has always understood music’s innate emotional force.
Now based in Berlin after a short period of time spent studying music in Hamburg when she was 18, Vasta’s an uncommonly determined woman. Though she landed a major label deal a few years back, she refused to allow the release of the album she subsequently made – recorded with name producers and written in collaboration with distinguished songwriters – because “I could somehow feel that this was not what I really wanted. These were not the best songs I could write.” She parted ways with the company and instead found herself singled out by a TV producer to present a show on German music television. After a short while, however – invigorated, perhaps, by the purchase of a piano for her Berlin apartment – she recognised that this, too, wasn’t satisfying. So she quit, pure and simple, to pursue the goal she’d nurtured since childhood. “I can’t even remember when I wrote my first song,” she points out. “I think I’ve been doing it my whole life!”
It was a meeting with a similarly young musician called Matthias Biermann that provided the impetus Vasta needed to turn her dream into reality. “I played him ‘Travel Safe’, the first song I wrote for my album,” she recalls, “and we decided to record together. He was the one who said, ‘OK, I believe in you’, but at the same time, ‘You’ve got to do better.’ It was the perfect match.” Free of the pressures of a record contract, this time Vasta was able to develop ideas at her own pace, holed up every day in a small room in Biermann’s shared flat, “writing songs, listening to music, eating pizza. Together we could find out what we really wanted.”
Ever resourceful, whatever problems they faced merely inspired them. Vasta and Biermann may have moved into a larger, professional studio with renowned producer Olaf Opal (The Notwist) to add the final touches to the album – where Daniel Schaub (Casper), who had also contributed to the writing of ‘Cut My Hair’, added further instrumentation – but sometimes their earlier work couldn’t be beaten: ‘Travel Safe’, for example, features rubbish bins for percussion, while ‘Black Tears White Lies’’s still employs the first vocal they recorded back in Biermann’s apartment. In the end, what emerged is a glorious, vivid, articulate portrait of the emotional ups and downs of a 20-something woman: as Vasta puts it, it’s “about how I deal with relationships, about longing for something, being lonely, being young and lost, but at the same time having dreams and hopes and believing in yourself. “
Alba has an impressive universal appeal, but arguably this is down to the fact that Vasta has kept things so personal. Her live band features Biermann and Schaub as well as another good friend, while the video for ‘Cut My Hair’ features many more whom she took to Italy with a budget provided by a German company who’d used the song in a TV ad. (Her father even acted as their driver.) By maintaining a circle of loyal companions close to her, she’s been able to retain her own personality rather than see it caricatured for marketing purposes. Alba is consequently one of the most undeniably enjoyable musical experiences the year is likely to offer: extravagant but honest, playful but mature, wise beyond its years but always young at heart. It’s pop music for people who love pop music passionately, and it’s made by someone who loves it even more.