Interview & Premiere: CZARINA, Shoe Designer to the Stars and Synthwave Diva

Vero Faye, otherwise known as CZARINA, is the real life Brooklyn-based Hannah Montana – kind of. Similar to Montana, Faye started singing at fourteen and began composing pieces a year later after learning to play the keyboard and guitar. Through this, CZARINA discovered her love for rock music by exploring iconic bands like TOOL, Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana, admitting herself that the music had elements of ‘overly emotional teen angst that nobody understands’. A vibe. Faye lived a double life; student by day and rock star by night.

On top of being a multi-faceted musician, CZARINA is also known for her highly accomplished footwear and accessories line IVY KIRZHNER. Girlfriend is literally one of the youngest creative leaders and veterans in the contemporary and designer footwear landscape, known for her unparalleled vision for design and unique perspective. She has also had killer clients like J.Lo, Beyoncé, Shakira, Bebe Rexha, Kesha and Tori Kelly just to name a few, amongst many other queens who she suggested she wouldn’t mind collaborating with. We’d listen to it. @ Beyoncé.

Putting her LaGuardia training to good use, CZARINA never falters and embraces the music industry as it flows. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Footwear and Accessories Design and killing the fashion world, she is making the bold step of returning to music. With her new neon-hued sound, CZARINA showcases her fearlessness and free-spirit through a mix of knowledge between aesthetic and sound.

In order to premiere the visuals for the synthwave diva’s debut single ‘Silence and Surrender’, we chatted with CZARINA to understand how she goes about radiating her talent from music to design and the tea on how she stays so damn composed through it all.

SheBOPS: What is the meaning behind the visuals for ‘Silence & Surrender’?

CZARINA: ‘Silence & Surrender’ is a musical and visual commentary on the darker shades behind the luminous glamour we see today. Directed by myself, the film is a lush cinematic experience that combines the romantic mood and vibe of Wong Kar Wai with John Carpenter’s retro-futurism and Lars Von Trier’s psychological and emotional thriller.

Obviously most artists don’t stick with their real names but yours has a nice ring to it, anyway. Where did you get CZARINA from?

As Prince was one of my heroes and I relish the fact that he and I share the same birthday, I wanted an artist name that has the same flair and royal vibe. I initially wanted QUEEN, but obviously it’s taken 😉 So I went with CZARINA.

You picked up the electric guitar and keyboard and composed rock music from the age of 15. What kind of music did you write at that age? Anything you’d consider recycling?

I actually wrote a lot of hard rock and metal tunes at that age, all very sentimental and emotional… and also very angry. I’m so glad I grew out of that! We used a lot of the songs in my metal band AIKOSTAR which I formed years later. And yes I would recycle and remix some of those songs. They still sound fresh. And they were honest.

You’re a double threat; while leading a band and developing your artistry you were also pursuing footwear design which went well. Did you ever find yourself torn between the two?

Yes, always. I enjoyed having my own company and my own shoe line propagating well in a highly competitive market. But it took a lot of personal sacrifice, and I felt I lost a huge part of myself in the process- especially the part that loves to create music. I am learning that I really need to be able to do both to feel complete and feel fulfilled.  I’m a Gemini and naturally I have two sides with each one constantly trying to dominate the other. The key is to balance them both.

Are there any skills you have learnt from both being a designer and being a musician that you incorporate into both crafts?

Definitely. I think developing perspective is important for both. It’s what makes each project unique. It’s not just about having solid skill sets, like being a designer who can sketch well or musician who can play tight polyrhythms. Having perspective is key and introducing something new is important.  Also branding and how you communicate your art and your image to the world is crucial especially these days. However, being all about branding and fashion is not enough. It needs to be substantiated, otherwise even the prettiest photos could feel empty if they don’t have any substantial meaning behind them. The same thing with making a unique sound and making a record. There has to be a compelling narrative… and also honesty. You always need to stay true to yourself.

What is more important to you – to go after what you want or go after what you need? Do they ever intertwine?

I think a person can have everything as long as the proper amount of hard work is put into it. Needs and wants are relative but I find they aren’t mutually exclusive. To me both are intertwined. Many times, I get into deep discussions with talented friends who gave up certain passions because of life taking over. But you see them feeling unfulfilled and being at risk of falling into all sorts of personal crisis. Having a stability is great, but it is does not provide completion. I think everyone’s goal is to feel fulfilled and to feel complete. And that means maintaining a delicate balance between needs and wants. I say work hard, go after both, and never sacrifice one over the other. You can do it.

You served quite the lists of clients including Beyoncé, Shakira, Kesha, J.LO, and Tori Kelly. Any you’d ever hope to collab with one day, musically? If not, who would be your dream collab?

I think getting acknowledged musically by any of those amazing artists would be any musician’s dream. To collaborate with any of them for sure would secure a hallmark achievement. Just the thought of it is very exciting, as I love all of those strong, inspiring female artists!  Another dream collab for me is appearing in a Vangelis track for the next installment of Blade Runner, if there’s going to be any. Or maybe a guest vocalist in a new Kavinsky track. I am also a huge admirer of the synthwave band called Gunship as well as The Black Queen. Collaborating with those guys would be a dream worth all the chase.

Now that you’ve made a return to music despite the success of IVY KIRZHNER, what are your goals within the next year?

My goal is to release a couple more singles and music videos and then releasing my debut EP Painted Holograms this fall. I am also working on producing my first performances as well as charting some regional mini tours. I have also started writing the tunes for the next record. On top of that, I am hoping to relaunch my brand IVY KIRZHNER sometime next year. I have been working behind the scenes in making the product, brand and market alignment better. I am definitely now in the eye of my own storm. No better place to be!

Is there anything in your career that you’re still learning?

Lots! I think the beauty of doing music is that it is an immersive experience. You have to give it your all.  Even just developing a new sound thru synths is a new process each time. Having the ability to perform all of it live is another beast to tame. Even physically, I have to undergo physical reconditioning so I can perform better on stage and on my music videos. I’m also a dancer and I definitely have developed a specific style of performance on stage which I’m still trying to hone and perfect. I started taking martial arts and ninjutsu to incorporate some of the movements into some of the choreography. It’s all very challenging, but that’s how I thrive.

What is the toughest part about creating new music?

I think developing a new sound that is new. Similar to design, we have to come up with something new to share, that’s not a derivative of anything else that’s happening. Also making sure it’s transformative and transportive, and can reach the emotions of the listener.

Do you follow a formula when you write?

I am not formulaic when it comes to music, unlike design. I’m very organic in this process. I focus on the vibe, the message and then coming up with the appropriate soundscape to go with it. I go with wherever the vibe takes me.

As a woman in the industry, is there anything about it that you find frustrating?

Growing up a tomboy, I have always considered myself as one of the boys, so I became immune to anything pervasive that would normally affect other female artists. Even though I do make music in a male-dominated genre, I’ve been welcomed quite well so far. I see myself a musician, artist and producer focused on creating and perfecting a craft. I have not encountered or felt any specific gender-related obstacles. Actually I feel the opposite. There aren’t a lot of women making synthwave, cold wave or industrial music and I think it’s a welcoming sight to be one of the few passionate ones.

What issues do you think female artists are facing today?

I think all female artists will always be judged not just for our music but also for the way we look and the way we present ourselves. The toughest would be a general expectation to bring a certain level of sensuality to the craft. I personally don’t mind it. I do like it when fellow female musicians embrace their own sensual femininity. I find it empowering, and it is a new kind of power I started to acknowledge in myself just recently. Learning how to harness it and feeling good about it brings out a whole new caliber of artistry. I like bringing sensuality to songs and performances. I enjoy feeling sexy. Whether I really am or not – who cares? But that’s what I want to bring and I only do engage certain things based on my own choices.  I understand my full capabilities and I try to utilize them properly. But I also balance sensuality with a certain level of inherent masculine edge. It can’t be all about being sexy and sensuous, as that easily becomes flat and one-dimensional. But that’s just me. I still don’t believe that sex and sensuality should be status quo for female artist. Everyone should be able to do whatever they want that makes them feel great and empowered. But these days, I think audiences have gotten more appreciative of real artists instead of just pre-packaged products spoon-fed by labels. Audiences can now discern for themselves what’s true and genuine. There’s a lot of comfort to take in that.

How do you feel about the representation of female artists? Is there anything you’d like to change?

At the end of the day, it should really just be about the art and music. I think female (and male) artists should just be able to do whatever they want regardless of expectations. The best artists are the ones who are true to themselves and do not allow any sort of outside influence to mold them or their art.  Look at Bjork, Siouxie Sioux, Debbie Harry, Prince, Annie Lennox, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Robert Smith…. they’re all badasses who do/did their thing regardless. No one dictated and no one could ever touch their ingenuity.

You’re based in New York, what’s the music scene like there? I imagine it’s very diverse, so are there any female musicians from Brooklyn or anywhere that you’ve got your eye on?

The music scene here is diverse and the burgeoning scene in Brooklyn I find to be most exciting.  From Williamsburg, Bushwick, Greenpoint, even as far as Ridgewood, there are really cool pockets happening currently as well as new music venues that showcasing fresh, compelling new acts. The crowd here are always at the cusp and pulse of the next awesome thing. There are lots of amazing musicians here, but a group of female musicians recently caught my eyes and ears is this really cool darkwave duo from London called Strange Eyes. I love their vibe. They debuted their single ‘Black Hearts’ the same day as I released my debut single ‘Silence & Surrender’. And we found each other on Instagram where all the girl power love ensued.

What do you personally stand for as an artist?

I’d like to think that I’m cutting edge equipped with multi-faceted experiences and perspectives. I’d like to think I bring a particularly brand of female empowerment to the table, that is fresh and fearless, substantiated by my life experience and journey first as a designer, business owner, entrepreneur, all-around creative, and now as a musician, artist and performer.  My songs and music have honesty in them. I have come to embrace myself. All of it. I’d like could encourage others to do the same for themselves.

Lastly, do you stan south Korean girl group LOOΠΔ?

I think the reverse-engineering Blockberry did with LOOΠΔ is a brilliant, groundbreaking maneuver where they brought focus on the individual artists first, dividing and conquering K-pop enthusiasts, before creating the super group. It also allows the members of LOOΠΔ to prevail as individual artists later on.  I’d love to take part in a synthwave supergroup one day. That would be amazing!

Listen to ‘Silence and Surrender’ by CZARINA on Spotify

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