FOO Fest Preview: Virusse
A few days after my first meeting with Providence musician Mindy Stock, I run into her at the Hope Street Farmers’ Market. She’s manning a booth for Farmacy Herbs, offering colorful tinctures and salves, local honey, and mason jars of loose tea.
I’m not surprised to see her here. When we met for coffee the previous week, she’d just come from tending her garden. And there’s a miniature arboretum tattooed on her wrists and hands, wispy roots and trees she tells me remind her to stay grounded. “I’m really into herbalism,” she says. “It’s very healing.”
The image of Stock as a horticulturist is a fitting one. She’s got large, otherworldly blue eyes and a heart-shaped face. Her speaking voice is soft pastel; it rises and bubbles in rivulets when she talks about music. I imagine she could whisper even the tiniest buds into bloom.
Whether Stock is cultivating peppermint or conjuring a melody, she harnesses curative powers by growing. Just like herbalism, music is an art that heals, a therapy by creation. Stock tells me her compositions, cathartic and generative, are “restorations born from wreckage, creations of another dimension in which to express things.” Laughing, she adds, “I’m an Aquarius, so I would hold it all in otherwise.”
With Virusse, Stock’s most recent solo project, she constructs sonic environments that bloom up lush and alive. Her music floats in the borderland between noise and electro-pop, ethereal vocal lines drawing constellations in a gritty soundscape. She crafts her tracks with the melodic sensibility of a singer/songwriter, but grounds them in a dark wave aesthetic. It’s a potent combination, one that makes for records that are haunting, raw, and emotionally resonant.
Music has been a healing outlet for Stock ever since, at seventeen, she left North Kingstown for Providence to move in with her then-boyfriend. “I was struggling with a lot of things,” she says. “Living with an abusive partner, on a lot of psych meds, having just transferred schools.” She found an escape and “a better and safer life” when, despite threats from the boyfriend, she joined up with beloved Providence act What Cheer? to play bass drum. The band helped her graduate high school and took her on tours across the country and as far-off as Iceland and France.
When Stock wasn’t playing with What Cheer?, she was working to unearth her own sound at creative collective and DIY venue Building 13. “A bunch of folks were doing stuff there. I’m not allowed to say what, really,” Stock says with a mischievous smile. “But it fueled a lot of personal tension, and it was just always building.”
At Building 13, Stock was a part of Witch Club, a space whose mission, as she describes it, was “to [create] a safe space for ladies and queers to express themselves freely.” Other occupants included visual artist and musician Katrina Clark, printmakers Julia Moses and Alison Nitkiewicz, musician Nell Gross, and comic artist and illustrator M.R. Trower. “It was just the rawest space,” she says. “It was a really magical but stressful environment, very conducive to fueling the creative fire. Everybody was trying to be louder than everyone else, so you could get away with anything.”
For years Stock had fronted an acoustic project called Jelen, playing piano, drums, and guitar and making low-fi recordings with a busted mic and a laptop. But the torrent of creativity at Witch Club and the Providence underground scene as a whole prompted a move away from bedroom-folk meanderings (think Diane Cluck or Julie Doiran) and toward electronic music. “Obviously there’s a place in my heart for acoustic stuff, but there’s just so much you can do with electronic stuff,” she says. “You can invent your own instruments. You can create way more of a soundscape than you can with just a guitar.”
If Virusse is any indication, Stock has a point. These days, armed with a drum machine, a loop pedal, an analog delay pedal, and a keyboard, she’s crafting records akin to Bjork’s or Karin Andersson’s, moving deftly from experimental noise to dreamy electro pop to meet the demands of each song.
Though she’s found a comfortable sonic niche for herself, Stock continues to evolve from album to album. “Lately I’m more focused on bringing in the good and not constantly fighting the bad,” she tells me. It’s a fitting shift for an artist who has found something healing in music, and it’s easy to hear when I listen to her two LPs back-to-back.
On Ascending, Stock’s first release as Virusse, there’s an immediate grittiness, an industrial, dark wave ambience that comes through in the processed vocals and the grinding synth backbeats. There’s distorted tribal percussion and a pulsing bass whir on “Succubus,” and the vocal line fizzes and pops. “Can’t Put My Finger On It” is backed by a polyrhythmic percussion loop and a frenetic, hollow synth throb. “I was more into aggression and self-destruction musically speaking [on Ascending],” she says. “[On Wolow], things are bit cleaner.”
While it draws from a similar palate of sounds, Wolow is clearly Ascending’s tamer counterpart. On this record, even when the vocal effects are cranked all the way up, Stock’s delivery has the intimacy of a whispered secret; we hear the sounds her mouth makes and the rasp of her breath. “Fetal Flaw” is a standout track, with the childlike purity of Stock’s delivery making sparks against a grinding synth that drops in halfway through. Airy vocal lines weave webs of harmonies, and reverb makes the lyrics almost inscrutable. These songs are all suggestion, heat shimmers gleaming on hot pavement.
The records make a perfect pair, and they’re a reminder of the journey Stock has been on since she left North Kingstown. We take our headphones off as if waking from a dream; emerging from a soundscape both spare and evocative, aggressive and intimate. Maybe Stock describes it best: “it’s a hurricane whisper in your ear.” And it’s not one I’ll be forgetting any time soon.