To listen to The Visual is to escape: from this world, from life, from yourself. “I’m really good at day-dreaming,” explains The Visual’s singer and guitarist Anna van Rij. “This this is what I try to do with the music, to get people lost in the song. To give them space to forget the present.” Such an approach harks back to when van Rij first met co-founder Timon Persoon at Amsterdam’s Conservatorium and the pair would spend hours dreaming up fictional soundtracks and entire sonic worlds.
That dreamy, cinematic quality runs through all eight tracks of the band’s debut album ‘Moments Of Being’. It’s also full of candid reflections and sombre soul-searching: “How am I supposed to know what I am?” van Rij asks on ‘Who You Were’. “You have broken me and blinded me for life” she laments on ‘Hold Your Breath’, a dark, dramatic swirl of a song that’s the emotional heart of the record and van Rij at her most confessional.
“It’s a metaphor,” she says of the lyrical honesty. “Obviously it’s a love song, but it’s also about saying goodbye to a part of yourself because it’s not healthy.” Such depth and vulnerability is both cathartic – “Writing saves me in a way; I need it” – and a way to process personal trauma. “Music has helped me so much, and I want to be an inspiration for others to stay strong, to believe in who they are and never give up.”
Van Rij used to recite Silvia Plath over musical sketches – “very intriguing and complex, but too dark for me” – and takes inspiration from German-Jewish author and philosopher Hannah Arendt. “What I find very beautiful about her vision is her love for life, for the world. For just being alive,” she says. Jim Morrison and Nick Cave are touchstones too, admired for their intensity and passion, but her real hero is the artist she’s most frequently been compared to, particularly in terms of singing – Jeff Buckley.
“He was so special,” she says of Buckley, whom she first discovered aged 17 through ‘Dream Brother’. “There was something magical about his being and the way he talked and thought. It was like I understood him.” Her voice is possessed of the same richness and tone, and floats on waves of longing and tenderness. At times soulful, at others deeply melancholic, it’s the anchor for her slow-burn pop; when stripped down to just vocals and her guitar, the results are spine-tinglingly moving.
Ultimately, that’s the reaction van Rij is aiming for – to connect on a human level, and to act as a salve. But she’s searching for something else too, something just for her; freedom. “I don’t believe in a truth”, she explains, “but when I’m very spontaneous and open, I become very happy. For me, that is being free.” “You walk your path” goes the central refrain of ‘Brighter Days’, a bittersweet tale of lost love and moving on; van Rij is defiantly heeding her own advice, and finally walking hers.
Words by Derek Robertson
‘Moments Of Being’ is out now via Mink Records. The Visual are currently on tour, and will release a new EP later in 2019.