Artist Spotlight #4: Viktoria Modesta
At the beginning of her career, Viktoria Modesta was championed as the world’s first amputee pop star. Since then, Viktoria’s multi-faceted talents have seen her shine in an array of different artistic pursuits. From starring in the paraolympics closing ceremony, to a run at Crazy Horse Paris and a Rolls Royce campaign; it’s a wonder Viktoria has found time for anything else, so we are so excited to speak to her about her most recent music release, MOKSHA, the artist’s first music release in five years. (Music production by Los Angeles based producer Madeaux and co-written by Viktoria and and Grammy-winning songwriter Janet Sewell (Alesha Keys, Empire State of Mind)).
Even with just a glimpse in to Viktoria’s imagination, her curiosity opens up whole new worlds of creativity to be explored…
shesaid.so: Tell us more about your artist journey and how your sound has developed to where it is today?
Viktoria: My path has been quite the rollercoaster! My ambitions of performance, music, and extravagant design as a lil’ girl were definitely met with the message that I was too ambitious, unrealistic and that everything I was going to try to achieve had no real blueprint.
Following my sheltered hospital upbringing in post-soviet Latvia and a move to London I really threw myself into self-education and became kind of a subculture explorer, drawing parallels between Hollywood and art films with real-life characters and culture scenes.
I did everything from art direction, styling, modelling, clothing design, beauty work, and everything in-between. But Music has always been constant — and the hardest somehow. I would say in my late teens I had an appetite to develop my music skills. When I was six I enrolled in a music school for a bit. I remember singing was like the most natural skill — it felt so right.
As I got into my teens I had an overwhelming feeling that everything that I was born with was not good enough and that whatever fictional alter ego I was going to create was going to be superior. I guess that was the driving force behind achieving a lot of things in the initial stages of my career. Thankfully that whole vibe did come and end. But I do wonder sometimes how many people adopt that kind of survival strategy to just feel ok, and find a refuge to overcome societal rejection.
In my early twenties, I was having a significant rise of my profile on the alternative scene, which was kind of underwhelming as I realized that I hit the ceiling of where that can go. That’s pretty much when I started working on my first EP. Sound-wise, my first few memorable influences were Prodigy, 2Pac and Eurythmics. To be honest my taste stayed pretty consistent between electronic music, heavy bass hip hop & R&B and pop vocal melodies, although my first EP had some Tarantino-inspired guitars.
The only thing that changed through time was the degrees of these influences and how I was feeling to express ‘me’ fully with sound. During the most alternative period, my obsession with hip-hop-inspired heavy bass was hard to surface. There was a lot of a cultural divide in my influences and taste. So I would say it took many incarnations and experiences to get to the current sound & stripped back visual of my record.
I had a very wild time becoming the architect of my body, pushing my influences of Avant-garde fashion and art films to the extreme with Prototype video and work with Alternative Limb Project.
I guess eventually I carved out a space for myself, my own lane, my own combination of things.
Eventually, many things that seemed impossible became imprinted in the fabric of post-disability culture, I got to part the waves which has been both painful and fulfilling.
shesaid.so: This is your first music release in five years — how do you feel?!
Viktoria: Mixed feelings haha, the intensity and focus it took to execute this record for 2 years is definitely overwhelming. I am not a big fan of fast consumption culture. Although I do appreciate the intensity of audio and visual hooks and memorability, the way artists, especially musicians are expected to have a factory of content and energy to me feels unnatural.
I guess an example of what I mean is that I have started telling the artistic journey of my record before it came out with the ‘One With The Ray of Light’ art film and will continue releasing content and multimedia collabs throughout this whole next year. My intention with music was always to lay out the soundtrack and a lyrical anchor point to the emotional creative corners I’m trying to explore so I very much intend to take my time.
shesaid.so: You’ve said your new release MOKSHA is about reinventing yourself. Where did this inspiration come from?
Viktoria: This record is a container for pain, hopes and prayers and questions as well as some stories of the heart. A lot of my work including this record comes from a learning and unlearning process of becoming who I am meant to be, documentation of feelings and intentions.
I think that this elastic way of thinking about your time on earth, destiny and uncovering of your true being following the breadcrumbs to the liberation of your essence has been helpful.
Creating is healing and that’s why creating isn’t always pleasant. Over the pandemic, I started working on my back tattoo which looks like a charge of energy, a metaphor for bringing the kind of charge that I experience from my early hospitalisation PTSD.
It was really important for me not to have much fashion or wear any prosthetics and be truly in my skin, the only accessories being organic shapes in artificial materials. The artwork for Moksha is still being released as an NFT project composed of animation, vfx still and 3D renders. I truly believe that the metaverse, the place where all of our digital traces exist, is a plane of existence somewhat linked to spirituality. The digital renaissance moment and the internal breakthroughs I was experiencing over the past year perfectly fitted the MOKSHA term which means ultimate liberation of the self.
shesaid.so: Can you tell us a bit about the writing process?
Viktoria: Setting the scene with the right collaborators for me is always key. I’m never that person who writes all the time, I enjoy writing and composing when I am working on a project and then I kind of tune into a different way of operating and different set of skills. I’m also someone that suffers from pretty bad dyslexia so I really love working with a songwriter that becomes an extension of me, finding words and rhymes that express what I’m feeling with impact. Words are definitely their own art form which is why for MOKSHA I worked with one of the most talented Grammy-winning songwriters, Janet Sewell. I knew she would connect with the visceral approach I’m in to. We gravitated towards each other in a very special way, like let’s guide the listener into the inner world and all hang out.
My most comfortable arrangement is when I focus on the melodies, key phrases and meaning and help shape the song as I visualize the narrative and who I am when I sing it. Sometimes it does lead to over-editing and I want it all to make sense right away... So having a caring and patient crew that is happy to come on the journey really helps. The other part is the music of course. It varies drastically how involved or not I am. With this record, I worked closely with my long-standing producer & friend Madeaux, who really knows my taste by now. I often go through his selection of beats, then we make additions and alternative arrangements.
Everything grows and evolves over the course of the song for sure, but I am excited to see what’s in store for me in the future as I move into more instant and digital expression and the metaverse and blend the traditional skills as a performer and art director with my digital manifestation.
shesaid.so: We know you also work with many other art forms. Tell us about your other art forms and how these connect with or feed into your music?
Viktoria: There aren’t many mediums I haven’t touched over the last decade. I really love expressing a multisensory story of a central character that informs other forms of creating, it has pushed me into developing many skills. I work at the front and behind the camera regularly. Physical performance through movement, singing is very close to me on a deep level.
I have enjoyed rehabilitating my body and pushing performance boundaries very much as someone who spent many years bed bound or unable to walk and exercise, doing extreme body training is invigorating. Like, look how far you have come, how you can master this biological entity haha. Art direction is my main other passion as I get to orchestrate a project or a story from a bird’s eye view. That ends up spilling over into many, many areas. I frequently curate a creative team, talent, work on marketing and branding, work on designs, styling and sometimes the production itself. But I also really love collaborating so these days I try to find like-minded people that are better than me and don’t mind me floating around the entire project and tweaking things as we go along.
I can’t ignore the more unspoken portion of my career of advancing post disability culture and social impact. It’s an odd place to be where on top of the obstacles you might face as a young amputee woman with no formal education everything you do ends up becoming a blueprint, or often analyzed by how it’s impacting the global landscape of what people think about disability.
I have had a lot of up and down feelings at times about becoming a representation for all people with disabilities, and while I fully love the fact that some of my work has been impactful on that level it is also a responsibility that comes with a lot of emotional baggage. I don’t believe in having heroes. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. The less we put pressure on people to be perfect and idolize them, the more we can collectively view strengths and flaws in a more balanced way.
shesaid.so: Your bionic showgirl performance run at Crazy Horse Paris and your Rolls Royce campaign pre-pandemic: what do these moments mean to you as an artist then and now?
Viktoria: 2019 was iconic. All the skills I accumulated got to play at once like a symphony. I particularly loved these two projects because they are heritage brands that hold so much elegance and legacy, taking them on my trip to the future was a huge honor. Most importantly, that was a year where I truly got to be in charge, curating, designing, performing and steering big productions with a vision. It took so much trust and belief from those brands.
I genuinely believe those were historic moments in a fight for inclusivity.
shesaid.so: In your opinion, how could the music industry do better in terms of inclusivity and/or accessibility?
Viktoria: That’s a very tough question. Out of all creative industries, I find music is the most behind when it comes to accessibility and who gets to rise to the top. I genuinely hope that the huge wave of effort that’s taking place across the globe right now to make every voice visible and to hold people accountable for discriminating. But also the industry has been through hell and back. The way that music has been devalued, how a record that takes years and costs as much as a house can be expected to be out there for free. I think many people in the industry have a chip on their shoulder and working tactics seem pretty harsh in all of my experiences so far. I do however believe that the art of music will prevail and some form of regeneration will happen.
shesaid.so? We have a question for you from our previous featured artist: How do you feel as a citizen of the 21st century?
Viktoria: Honestly, I feel truly blessed. I look around and see so much good has been achieved since I was a kid; how many issues have been raised to the top. The opportunities, the knowledge at our fingertips and alternative ways of living, creating and making a living. The biggest thing now is for these micro-communities to keep the progress alive.