VANESSA WORM / ALL PHOTOS BY VIOLET HIRST
Vanessa Worm is the musical persona of Tessa Forde. Originating from Southland and making explorative electronic music, Tessa is one of my idols.
I met Tessa back in high school, but back then I had no knowledge of Vanessa Worm. It was just before the pandemic hit in 2020 that I started seeing her videos from playing in Melbourne nightclubs. She could see the thing that I had only ever felt, but never touched with my own eyes. She had a key.
I still feel this way when I see Tessa performing in person — she recently moved back to New Zealand around this time and started spreading her performances throughout the country. Her shows to me are known for being a safe space where I can truly move my body freely in a dark, club room. I haven’t found anyone else who has this effect on me quite like Tessa does.
When asked to describe herself, Tessa wrote;
"My friend made up a word when as a kid to describe a feeling she’d experience. She’d use it as a response to her mum asking how she was - it meant wanting a bit of your own space, being a bit awkward, internal, but still present and expressive. I related to that word she made up. I'd also say I'm a bit like a lion in the way I love to just laze and be cosy, I'm also quite driven and passionate about the things I care about, and possibly often a bit naive.”
TESSA AND I MET UP AT THE INTERNATIONAL FOOD COURT, TĀMAKI MAKAURAU
You always appear so focused and deep in the music. Yet also hopeful overall. What is inspiring you at the moment?
I only just started to get back into music. But being around supportive friends and kind, good people is inspiring me. The desire, and attaining that feeling of love from within. Dance music and drum machines, but also artists who seem to be creating new worlds in their art (such as Grimes, Björk…) not necessarily because I am inspired sonically through their work, but more so that their work is an example of how infinite our limits can be. Storytelling is quite inspiring music wise for me. Beauty, nature, rest and joy are all inspiring me, and just being happy.
Can you speak a little about Mosaics? Where did it start?
[Mosaics] started in Southland. Came from being isolated from the world, after a series of events that led me to leave a lot of the past behind and start anew. My experience had me face tough parts of myself, and the songs are kind of activations of remembering more of myself, really.
I feel I’m constantly grieving, getting my hopes up, thinking I’ve found the end game, then realising it’s not what I thought. Whether deep or new, there’s a promised land that isn’t reached, and it’s hard to come back to just yourself. You sing about the promised land!
In many ways Mosaics is about having those ideas, those experiences of having intense relationships with friends, music, spirituality, and family. Almost every area of my life has these ideologies around it based on wishful thinking - creating ideas of where your life could go, but with a level of codependency/attachment to what you think should happen (in order to see your dream manifested). Mosaics was the bandaid being ripped off, and being left with what’s underneath it - going through it on my own, and having music as a tool to process and express myself. Now I am living the fruits of having gone to those depths.
WE WALKED DOWN DOMINION ROAD
I’m such a big fan of your performances. To me, going to your show is about movement. I feel so different going to your show than I do any other electronic artist’s show. I feel very safe, feel I can be sexy but not fearful. I see you really feeling yourself, and it's so embodying.
That’s really good to hear because that’s a huge drive for my sound, to remind people that it’s okay to be and express themselves. My body is the anchor point here. I’m still coming to understand the full performance. What makes it feel comfortable and sexy for you?
For one I just like the music. I love the congas at the beginning of Lost Memories, that intro on the dance floor is so anticipating. Especially since I feel like I never hear this enough in that setting.
When I produce music, it’s so important that the music is felt, and reaching those frequencies that are hitting a point in me. I don’t care about the technicality. All of my previous music is mixed properly, but it’s all off ear and whether I feel my body getting into that space. That’s it. I’m not trying to do anything other than create the feeling.
TESSA AND ELVIS DANCING AT THE GO GO MUSIC CAFE
It’s even just your eyes, being so centered in your world. I feel if I'm going to stand in this room, I'm going to commit to seeing your world, or just leave.
Do you experience insecurities in thought patterns when dancing or are you able to freely express yourself?
I saw you in Whammy Backroom and remember having one of the best dances I’ve ever had. It’s always the crowd too - it was hot and tight, and therefore free. I’m able to get into a good movement meditation, transfixed in another world.
Voice ties in a lot with expression, how you speak your truth. How you share who you are, and how you communicate that with others is all associated with the voice, lungs, and presence. My journey with singing is that it was once my biggest fear. Freely expressing myself is my biggest fear, but I utilise that. I can’t sing in front of anyone like I can when I’m completely alone. When on stage I’m met with that tightness, this closing up; but I know how it feels to be completely free in my expression. On stage I’m met with challenges and blockages, but knowing the feeling of freedom is where I find safety in my body. Whatever challenge I’m facing on stage, I’ll hold that in unconditional love and let the voice move. I wonder if the fears I'm having are related to not just myself, but the audience too. Maybe where we can relate, and our challenge to express ourselves, is holding that fear in unconditional love, letting it move through the body.
WE GOT SOME PETROL ON THE WAY HOME
I see that sense of sitting with something and figuring it out, when you’re on stage. Do you dance a lot?
Yes. If you watch ‘Lost Memories', you’ll see I’m always on my knees and falling back onto my hips, back to my base.Body work ties into my music but I’m still coming to understand all of this. I’m not trying to make a hit record, I'm trying to be my most authentic self, to work through my shit, to be real with myself and face it. For whatever reason, I express this embodiment practice through my creative practice - often that includes dance or whatever movement just is.
I can’t thank you enough! Adding whole body exploration to your performance is really stretching the craft, you don’t have to do this much to be a musician, but the fact you do means a lot.
We all can do that. The outcome of that is to be your most authentic self and to just be happy in who you are. I am who I am, this just happens to be the way I was born. I was born to do this.
Did you always dream about this?
Yeah ever since I was a kid.
Before we leave, how would you describe your day?
My day was calm, creative and rewarding.
Vanessa Worm is now based back in NZ to work on more music and develop her projects. Vanessa will be playing some Australia shows soon, but I hope you are lucky enough to catch either Tessa on her own, or with the band context sometime this year.