In a cosy basement music venue in central London, singer-songwriter Victoria Canal is singing her heart out on stage, mascara-stained tears running down her cheeks. Hunched over her piano, the Munich-born artist chokes on the words to ‘She Walks In’, a song about “what it feels like to move through the world as someone who has a physical difference”, having been born without her right forearm due to amniotic band syndrome. Her powerful display of raw emotion is met by an embrace of warm cheers from the crowd.
Canal stands to proudly adorn herself with a plastic crown given to her by a fan before returning to sit at the piano when, in a flash, the stool collapses underneath her. The crowd hollers with kind-spirited laughter alongside Canal, who clambers back to her feet and declares the mishap “so me”, noting the poetic tragedy of feeling on top of the world one moment to hitting the floor the very next. But the singer takes the tumble in her stride – something she’s learned to be better at recently. “I’ve built up enough armour to where I can handle the response,” she tells NME of her venture into her most personal songwriting territory yet.
Earlier in the afternoon, we meet the singer in a Camden dry cleaners that doubles as a coffee shop, before she suggests walking to a nearby green space to park ourselves on a bench in the midday sun. This month, Canal released her new EP ‘Well Well’, a tender blend of goosebump-inducing balladry akin to the kind of cataclysmic intensity of artists like Phoebe Bridgers or Holly Humberstone.
Canal grew up moving around the world for her dad’s job in the medical device industry, living in cities like Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai and Madrid. When she was four-years-old, her grandmother, a piano teacher, spotted Canal’s musical potential and encouraged her to start taking lessons when she was six.
Two years ago, Canal posted an April Fool’s Day Rolling Stone magazine cover she’d made in college, which displayed the text “Victoria Canal wows Chris Martin”. The spoof picture was spotted by a connection of Martin’s, and Canal did indeed ‘wow’ the Coldplay frontman when he heard her music, eventually helping her to get signed to Parlophone.
Fresh from touring with Hozier, and having recently made her TV acting debut in Apple TV+ series Little America, the singer is now embarking on her first-ever UK headline run and already thinking ahead to her debut album, all the while resonating with listeners who feel safe, seen and held in the space Canal creates for her own vulnerability. “I think I’ve only found the courage to be myself within the last few years,” she tells us.
NME: You grew up all around the world and have spent time in Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai and Madrid – how has that influenced you?
“I think art is sometimes a safe haven when someone feels lonely, and I think changing my environment a lot was pretty conducive to me feeling lonely. [Music] just felt like a steady thing that would be my friend that I could go back to even when my environment was changing a lot. That said, I think I actually became very social due to moving around, because I learned how to make friends pretty fast and I discovered that there’s so many interesting people to meet, it’s never ending. The fact that we’re all connected in more ways than we realise was a huge point of inspiration for me with music.”
You’ve described your new EP ‘Well Well’ as a “wounded rebirth”. What do you mean by that?
“When people say ‘renaissance’ or ‘rebirth’, they think of something quite pure, like a fresh slate. However, I think there is this concept for me that there is a lot of hope, a lot of newness, and an air of a next chapter with the new EP, but not without the remnants and the lessons learned and some of the weight of the past grief. I just wanted to recognise that the things that I was writing about in the last EP, ‘Elegy’, are very much still with me, but underneath all of these things that I’m navigating presently, like my sexuality, and my mental health and my body image.”
The release of your recent “sister songs” ‘Shape’ and ‘She Walks In’ marked the first time you opened up about your body image in your songwriting. How did it feel to confront that, and why was now the right time?
“It felt like catharsis and a relief, and also extremely scary to admit those feelings about myself. It can go so many ways when you admit how bad about yourself you feel. And sometimes people are very quick to comfort you, and sometimes that’s damaging, but they don’t mean it to be. It’s really difficult to put it out there. But ultimately, I’m understanding that so many women, if not all women, are experiencing the same kind of feelings.
“And I guess it felt right to do it now because I’ve built up enough armour to where I can handle the response. And I just didn’t have that strength before. I have enough belief that what I’m saying matters to someone else.”
Chris Martin of Coldplay described ‘Swan Song’ as one of the “best songs ever written”. What did it mean to get that praise, and how has he been a mentor since then?
“There’s a very specific feeling that comes with your idol recognising you as anything worthy of attention. I’m still pretty bewildered by the fact that he knows I exist, let alone that he will send me encouraging texts when I’m about to do a show being like, ‘You have everything you need inside of you, focus on the fans, they love you, you love them, prioritise that connection’. He’s just always about connection and gratitude, and being in the present, and he has such a love for music. I don’t think I know anyone else that has a more vast knowledge of music, and a greater interest in it after all these years.”
“Art is sometimes a safe haven when someone feels lonely”
You also won the Ivor Novello Rising Star award recently. How are you feeling about your own talents these days?
“I think I’ve only found the courage to be the most myself I can be within the last few years since COVID. I used to sing a lot of runs and sing really loud and do the most, it was way too much. And then I started producing my own music in the 2020 lockdown, and discovered that I actually really like softness in music. And I think leaning into that has been a true joy for me.
“However, there are moments when I’m like, ‘Well, am I just the most boring artist in the world? Maybe to someone’. But now I’ve received enough proof that the path that I’m on, and as I continue discovering it, sinking in deeper to what my tastes are, and what I feel reaches me the most emotionally, has really resulted in the most validation that I’ve ever gotten.”
Have you started working on new music?
“I’ve been doing a lot of really exciting sessions with different people that I deeply admire and trust. And slowly, but surely, the album is taking shape. I still need some time, but I think it’s finding its way and I’m really excited for that to be my most ambitious project so far. It’s taken me a while. I know that it usually doesn’t take this long to put an album out, but it just really matters to me. I want to get it right.”
Victoria Canal’s new EP ‘Well Well’ is out now