“A mutual friend recently described the project as a Benni/Vivien Venn diagram, which does make total sense,” remarks Edinburgh-based painter and visual artist Vivien McDermid, of her ocean-spanning tender art-pop collaboration with Reykjavik-based musician and composer Benedikt H Hermansson, AKA Benni Hemm Hemm. The unconventional nature of Blew the Veils is evoked perfectly in their Scotsman Session performance of the song Petrol Soft Breath, featuring Hermansson harmonising softly with Glasgow-based Canadian musician LT Leif, against a backdrop of haunting projections by McDermid.
McDermid and Hermansson first met and became friends in 2009, when Hermansson was living in Edinburgh – a time which saw him develop strong and lasting connections with the music scene in Scotland, through work with artists such as Withered Hand, The Second-Hand Marching Band and Alasdair Roberts.
“In March 2020, just before the pandemic hit,” explains McDermid, “we decided we’d like to somehow combine our musical and visual worlds.” Over a period of roughly 18 months, McDermid sent lyrics, imagery and videos to Iceland, which Hermansson set to music in his Reykjavík studio.
“We didn’t really expect it to grow so big,” McDermid reflects, of a collaboration which until recently had been conducted entirely remotely. “In a sense, once we had thrown around some initial ideas, it began to find its own form and to breathe by itself.”
The result is the hushed and beautiful album Lampwork, which is set for release on CD via Edinburgh label Blackford Hill, along with a limited-edition printed book of lyrics and imagery. Recently, Hermansson was able to come to Scotland for a short run of Blew the Veils’ live dates, as well as spend some time on in-person collaborations with McDermid and other musicians at The Lengths studio in the Highlands – home of Lomond Campbell (see Scotsman Sessions #9 and #333). Indeed, that’s where Blew the Veils’ Scotsman Sessions performance of Petrol Soft Breath was filmed, with Campbell behind the camera.
“I first visited The Lengths as part of an artist residency programme in March this year,” McDermid explains. “I spent some time getting to know Lomond and his partner Susie. They’ve created a really beautiful and unique space for creating, and relaxing.”
“While we were there, Benni and Leif spent some time working on new songs, while I was mostly at the lochside and in the woods, searching for materials to include as props in the video projection. Lomond is exciting to work with because he has his own musical practice and a strong personal, musical world, but he is also very generous with his expertise and collaborative skills.”
More plans are already afoot for Blew the Veils beyond the release of Lampwork, with more live shows set to be announced, both in Scotland and perhaps even further afield. They fully intend to work on new songs together as well, in spite of the fact that Hermansson has national artist status in Iceland for the coming year, and will be working on various other musical projects, while McDermid is back in her studio working on new paintings and planning for future exhibitions. “It seems likely that our two universes will collide and become entangled again soon enough,” says McDermid.
Blew the Veils’ album Lampworks is released 4 November via Blackford Hill, www.blackford-hill.co.uk