With her new EP WELL WELL, Victoria Canal is speaking to a generation of young queer women.
Victoria Canal is Zooming in from her iPhone — dressed in a comfy cable knit jumper, as Brits might say. In fact, she’s in London, sitting on the grass in a park, about to rush to an event at a nearby gallery. Canal is a busy bee these days, what with the release of her latest EP WELL WELL. This album can be interpreted as Canal settling into herself: becoming older (she turned 25 on August 11th) and coming to terms with the immense load of emotions she grappled with in her 2022 EP Elegy. While Elegy is a four-song compendium written during a time when Canal’s loved one received a terminal illness diagnosis — and is thus saturated with themes of loss, anger at this loss, and the importance of trying to live your own, imperfect life after someone dear has passed — WELL WELL is, at its core, Canal’s personal statement.
You might have seen Canal playing an El Salvadorian amputee in Apple TV+’s Little America (Canal herself is missing an arm since birth), campaigning for brands like Nike and Mastercard, or touring with iconic artists such as Hozier and JP Saxe. But WELL WELL makes it clearer than ever that she is taking the music world by storm — in her own right, on her own terms. “By storm” might not be the right way to put it, though, since Canal’s voice (especially in the album’s “She Walks In” and “Yes Man,” a track on which she features Bon Iver’s S. Carey) is delicate and precise. It has hints of Olivia Rodrigo’s earnest youthfulness and Phoebe Bridgers’ hushed reverence paired with brutally honest lyricism. But, again, Victoria Canal writes, sings, and produces music on her own terms — captivating listeners with real reflections on everything from body dysmorphia to queerness, the inevitable loneliness of big cities to romanticizing your childhood while being a twenty-something.
Sitting down with 1883’s Stacia Datskovska, Victoria Canal gets candid about the one fan encounter she’ll never forget; the influence of Zen Buddhist principles in her life; unlearning concepts like heteronormativity and monogamy by being part of the queer community; what she’s currently reading; her pre-show rituals; and more.
Starting off with my personal favourite on the album — “She Walks In”— the way I interpret it is kind of like a ballad of longing. Wanting to be memorable for something other than the way others see your body, maybe even wanting the person you’re interested in to be interested in you back and not getting that reaction. So I’m curious: what was your process like with writing that song? And what was the intention behind those lyrics?
Before writing “She Walks In,” I’ve never written about my experience in my body before. It’s something that I had always thought about but never really felt empowered to do. But I was really craving putting words to this sort of constant experience: for me specifically because of my disability. I’ve always been stared at but not in the way that I wanted to be. There’s this elusive idea of the prettiest girl that walks in the room — and all the heads turn and she’s amazing and effortless. I think I spent my entire adolescence and a lot of my young adult life comparing myself to those women and sort of being convinced that if people were staring at me, it was because of my disability. I think I wanted to speak up: to speak to the male gaze and how damaging that feels.
Do you have a standout moment with a fan who approached you with gratitude over how relatable you are? One who thanked you for speaking up and normalizing the experience of physical disabilities?
I went to [a Sofar Sounds concert] — it’s like this living room concert — just to attend and because I love… that kind of space. I walk in, and there’s this woman sitting on the sofa. She’s a wheelchair user. She looked at me and burst out crying. When she had calmed down a little bit, she said that my music had literally changed her life. She was navigating being a new wheelchair user from her illness and I, no pun intended, single-handedly was helping her through that change in life — helping her feel more capable to handle it. Since then, we’ve become fast friends. I think it just really, really, really moved me and then we were both crying in each other’s arms, feeling so understood by one another.
That must feel so special to you: realizing, like, this is why I’m doing all that. This is why I started songwriting: just so I can reach out to people. And it’s finally coming true before your eyes. It must be a very special moment.
Yeah, I feel like when you make music in your bedroom and you put it out, there’s sort of this elusive online number. It’s impossible to experience what these people are going through when they listen to your song for the first time. And I always try to remind myself of the impact that I think I’m having on someone — even if it’s a small batch of people, or even just one person, because it’s easy to forget that you’re making any impact at all.
Moving back long before this album, to your previous songs like “Drama”: in that song you say that you’re spiritual and you show up as your highest self. And also in one of your past songs “own me,” you battle with feelings regarding bad things happening to good people and how God might play into all of that. So I’m curious to ask you about your relationship to spirituality as a whole and whether it has changed over the course of your life.
Man, that’s refreshing! I grew up learning piano from my grandma, who led the choir at her church. So I was surrounded by Christianity a lot but never could wrap my head around certain elements of it, the Biblical elements. I loved the energy of that community and loved the energy of the music. And I think there was something intangible that felt so holy in that: something definitely, like, elevated and buzzing energetically. I think at all times in the world everything is breathing. My relationship with spirituality is evolving and changing and sometimes I forget about my spiritual self completely, usually when I’m depressed. When I start to feel back in touch with the earth and how much light there is in life and how much value there is in love, I feel so much more alive and connected.
I think for me, I focus on energy within everything and what sort of energy I’m… putting out and taking in — being intentional about that. And also just really leading with love towards everything, even and especially the things that are most difficult to love. In this world, there are so many things that are really, really, really difficult to see as anything other than terrifying. So it’s an evolving practice. I feel like I’m pretty heavily aligned with Zen Buddhism: the principle of like, “everything just is.” For you to sort of be like water and let it flow. Let it be as it is. But in terms of like, God, I don’t think I have any answers and I don’t believe anyone who does. I think it’s a big question mark and that’s part of the beauty of it.
In a lot of your songs, you tend to illuminate the delicate space that exists between queer and platonic love. As a queer person myself, I’m always interested to see how other people define queerness for themselves. Could you speak a little on what queerness means to you and how your music helped you come into that particular part of your identity?
Queerness is a form of expression and a form of being that to me embodies openness and an elimination of the binary that we live in. There are so many… things we decided are black and white, when nothing is black and white. The queer community is basically the coolest thing to ever have happened because there’s just such an underlying understanding that everyone is being brave and who they are. Everyone has been judged for who they are and has had to overcome and truly embrace themselves and each other with less shame. It’s a constant elimination of shame. I’m proud that over the last couple years, I’ve really stepped into myself in that space and what used to feel foreign. When I first came out, I was bi and now I guess I’m pan, but like, I think queer is the word that works for me. I understand myself so much better since I’ve come out to my family. I think the queer community has taught me a lot about unlearning conditioning ideas of monogamy and marriage. There’s so much more beyond just a heteronormative couple: there’s so much more to be explored in life, if you choose to be interested in that.
You said once in an interview that you’ve grown to realize that selling out stadiums and arenas is not what fills you up in life. What does fill you up in life? And what makes you most excited to get out of bed each morning?
Spending time with the people I adore. There’s nothing else in life that satisfies me the way that being close to my loved ones does. There’s nothing else I’d rather do. I’m really lucky that my family is… a safe space for me. It’s really a loving environment: I know it’s quite unusual to have such a functional family. I don’t take that for granted. And then my friends all just really get me and I feel so lucky to have them. I feel like I’ve spent years thoughtfully cultivating the circles of people around me — I think your life is defined by the people you’re surrounded by. The thing that depresses me most is being alone. I’m a hardcore extrovert; I definitely feel most alive… when I’m just hanging with my friends, my family, my team…
Are there any books that you’ve recently read and absolutely loved?
I’m re-reading one right now called Essays In Love by Alain de Botton. He’s an incredible thinker and writer. It basically chronicles a relationship and the torture we put ourselves through in romance. And also the delusions and the expectations and the euphoria. I highly recommend it.
If you’re on TikTok, what makes up the bulk of your FYP?
Songwriters and a lot of lesbians.
I fully relate to that one. It’s like the algorithm knows! Especially since you started headlining versus opening for other artists, do you have any special rituals that get you in the zone and center you before coming on stage?
One thing I picked up on this last tour was badminton. I’m finding that getting my body moving before and after the show really helps because my music is so heavy and so personal that it’s really draining. I love performing but it also takes a lot out of me, so I need to get my body pumped to feel energetic. There’s something in my tour culture called the “Victoria sandwich.” And it’s basically a hug where I’m in the middle and everybody else is around me, like a huddle. It’s like being plugged into the wall and charged up, you know?
I read somewhere that Chris Martin once asked you how it feels to be interviewed about your arm all the time and you said that you’re frustrated by the fact that headlines frequently choose to focus on that as your main describing factor — as if you’re not already an incredible and talented and thoughtful individual in any shape, way, or form. If you were to write the headline for your own life, what would it say?
Oh my god. Wow. The headline for my own life. I guess it would be something along the lines of “Victoria Canal Speaks to a Generation of Queer Young Women About the True Experience of Being Alive Now.”
Victoria Canal’s new EP WELL WELL is out August 18th.
Interview Stacia Datskovsk