Sofi de la Torre’s single “Vermillion” has not yet appeared on any Billboard charts, has sold a negligible amount of downloads and has only been viewed 22,000 times on YouTube. Ignoring the statistics for a second, however, “Vermillion” is a total game-changer, in relation to both the aesthetic of its formerly folk-rock-leaning artist and how seriously she deserves to be taken as a pop act.
An aching, confessional burner about feeling lost in a sprawling city, “Vermillion” finds de le Torre blinking at blurring streetlights and taking shots of chirping synthesizers as a kick drum keeps pounding in the back of her mind. Eventually the beat drops out entirely, allowing the singer to conclude, “I love these streets, but they weren’t meant for me to walk,” as if she’s snatched an existential solution in the midst of her never-ending malaise. “Vermillion” is not a showy song, but it has been rightly championed as one of the strongest singles of the year over the past month: Time.com called it the “gorgeously gloomy song of the summer,” while the pop obsessives at the U.K.-based Singles Jukebox bestowed the song with its highest score of the year, setting it apart from hundreds of other tracks.
“We weren’t expecting a big reaction,” de la Torre told Billboard last week, calling in from the Canary Islands to discuss the critical acclaim of “Vermillion.” “Honestly, I am surprised. We all had this feeling that the song was really good, but we didn’t get that feedback from radio promoters. They didn’t like the break there in the middle, where it’s only my voice. It was a song where I really wanted to do it that way.”
“Vermillion” works better as a soundtrack to a solitary stroll through the city than a pulsating club cut, but it’s still a marked change in direction for de la Torre, who was born in Spain and spent time in Los Angeles and London before making her current home in Berlin. In early 2013, the singer released her debut album, Mine, overseas, showcasing a palette of easily digestible acoustic guitar compositions and delicate love songs on her first full-length. One of her songs, “Faster,” found moderate success on the soundtrack of the German teen romance flick Rubinrot, and although de la Torre says that she started getting “a lot of attention with 15-year-olds” because of the movie, she felt uncomfortable with the sound of her debut.
“I knew that I was going to disappoint a lot of people doing this type of sound now, which is so different than what I was doing before,” she says. “But it just felt so right. At some point, every song that I wrote sounded like the one before, because I find it quite difficult to innovate writing on the guitar.”
“Vermillion” was written on the last day of a session with Helsinki-based producer Jonas Karlsson and Axel Ehnström, with whom de la Torre had already written a couple of tracks. She had recently moved to Berlin, and quickly penned the song to capture the experience of moving somewhere new and feeling alone in a sea of other people.
“When I move to a new city, there’s always this moment where you don’t know many people yet, and you’re wondering if you made the right choice moving there,” says de la Torre. “The song’s addressing that feeling of ‘Do I feel good here?'”
Since “Vermillion” hit iTunes and YouTube in early June, the song has been remixed by Andre Crom and Chi Thanh, and de la Torre has already released another new single, “Noir” featuring the rapper Hunnit, that uses a similar combination of propulsive beats and lilting vocals. It’s a style that de la Torre says will “for sure” be the heart of her next album, which is in the works, just like her new live show. Although de la Torre has a publishing deal, she has no record label affiliation (“Vermillion” and “Noir” were released through her manager Andrea Petricca’s label Facelove/Oh My Sweet), and has thus far utilized a relative shoestring budget to get her music to the masses.
“We’ve invested in this ourselves — done videos and stuff the way we wanted to,” she says. “Right now we’re planning for what the next steps are, but I’m incredibly confident.”