Von Sell exists, so therefore he makes music. Sell is an up-and-coming musician originally from Germany. Now situated in Bushwick, the artist was recently signed to NYU’s Village Records. His clear vocal prowess and slick instrumentation have proven a brilliant backbone to his released work; songs like “Ivan” and “I Insist” are particular standouts.
The singer, songwriter and instrumentalist recently played two shows, one at Rockwood Music Hall and the other at Pianos on Oct. 5. WSN sat down with him to talk about his creative process, among other things.
“I work with music all the time, and I try everything all the time until something works,” Sell said. “I don’t always come from the emotional angle, as in, ‘This is what I experienced and now I want to write about it.’ For the most part it’s just, ‘I exist, so I’m gonna make music now.’”
Sell has been making music for several years now. He cites Jeff Buckley’s song “Grace” as a point of initial inspiration for him.
“That was the first time I thought to myself, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Sell said. “I heard that and thought, ‘oh my god, this guy stole my ideas that I didn’t have yet.’ It was as if he was already able to express something that I knew I wanted to express but didn’t know how. It was like, ‘Yeah that, right there, that’s what I want to do.’”
Earlier this year, Sell released a music video for his song “I Insist.” The video perfectly captures the song’s haunting vocals, proving a fitting backdrop for the song’s mysterious lyrics. As Sell explained, the video portrays a reclusive old man in a relationship with a doll.
“I feel like that sometimes,” he said. “[The director] saw how I worked, how I did music, how I lived and said, ‘This guy is you.’ I mean the character is obviously a caricature. The idea, however, is that the person you’re with is always, at least in this story to some degree, a figment of your imagination.”
Sell’s show at Pianos last Thursday night embodied his recorded work well. His smooth vocals glided across the slick instrumentation in an effortless fashion that was as natural as it was well-rehearsed. As the set continued on, songs like “Stay” and “Names” had Sell mixing glossy synths with crooning vocals. “Stay” was particularly memorable, with a kind of indescribable reverb drenched melancholy that permeated the entirety of the track.
With tracks like these, it was clear that he had isolated a very effective style. However, this combo of synths and vocals quickly became a repetitive experience that was begging for some kind of mix up.
His never-before-played next song, “Think Again,” was fortunately just that. It was a welcome change of pace, a slow jam that had Sell lamenting over contemplative instrumentation. The following track, “Ivan,” was easily his best of the night. With lyrics like “I’m a terrorist of love,” Sell was clearly in his element, riding an groove that undoubtedly stuck with audience members.
The performance at Pianos was by no means perfect. There were slip-ups, mistakes and a shorter-than-ideal setlist. However, the music Sell performed that night was a clear exhibition of creativity and composition that is very rare in musicians as early into their career as Sell is.
Sell is planning on releasing a new EP soon, and you can listen to his debut EP now on all major streaming services, as well as SoundCloud.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 10 print edition.
Email Connor Gatesman at [email protected]