Meet Our Musical Muse Carmen Villain

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Life can have a funny way of going in circles. Before beginning her career as a musician, Carmen Villain (née Hillestad) appeared on the cover of fashion magazines ranging from Nylon to Vogue Spain. Now, however, Villain has switched gears and recorded her debut LP Sleeper (out tomorrow), on which she fuses layers of diaphanous vocals, feedback-laden guitar, and circuitous, often beguilingly beautiful melodies. 

Partially produced by Serena Maneesh’s Emil Nikolaisen and featuring a collaboration with Norwegian space-disco mainstay Prins Thomas, the record is as mercurial as its creator. 

We were lucky enough to get Villain back in front of a camera in her adopted home of London to talk about recoding Sleeper, the relationship between fashion and music, and the one outfit she’d wear for the rest of her life. As a bonus, take a listen to her breathtaking new track, “Made A Shell,” which should give you just a little taste of what she’s capable of.


What inspired your move from modeling to music?
“I’ve always been obsessed with music and have been writing and playing kind of in secret for a long time before I went for it more full time. I’ve always wanted to do music; I just couldn’t find the focus to do it before.” 

Topshop jeans and vintage.


Why did you decide to go by the name Villain, rather than your given last name? 
“I guess I just felt like I needed a slight separation from my past name and the predisposed judgments the associations with it might present.”


Do you see any similarities between your music and modeling career? 
“I don’t personally see any similarities, as making music is almost the opposite of standing silently in front of the camera. As for unity, I think fashion often finds a lot of inspiration in music, and I’m sure vice versa.”


What brought you to the U.K.? How has London inspired your music? 
“I was living in NYC for a few years, and I met a man who was living in London. So, I decided to move for love, and I was kind of tired of NYC. That love has now ended, but I’m still here. London has been a great source of inspiration, or rather the isolation and loneliness a big city like this can make one feel has definitely influenced my writing. On a more positive note, it has trained me well in terms of keeping a dark sense of humor and a filthy vocabulary at all times [laughs].”


Who were some of your inspirations growing up? 
“[For] music, a pretty wide range, from The Carpenters to This Heat to Sun City Girls to GZA…I could go on and on. I think films, music, and my friends were the main influences on how I chose to dress back when I was growing up.” 

Who has inspired you lately? 
“My friends and foes.”


Nothing like the vinyl.


What’s one of your favorite vintage finds? 
“Brown, snakeskin, Western ankle boots.”


Boots and converse — Carmen’s a girl after our own hearts.


What was your experience like recording Sleeper
“It’s been a blast from start to finish. Yes, it has been hard work at times, and I think we have pushed a lot of things to the limit, but it’s been very inspiring and I have learned a great deal. I’m completely obsessed with sound and spend a lot of time looking for those perfect imperfections. Emil Nikolaisen (of Serena Maneesh), who produced some of the songs, is the same way. Patient work, but the end result turned out better than I had expected it in the beginning, so it was worth it.”


A guitar so pretty, we don’t know if we should play it or hang it on the wall.


How did you wind up having Prins Thomas sequence the album? What was it like working with someone with a background in more electronic sounds? 
“I was a little skeptical to the idea of collaborating with Thomas to begin with, as I’m not hugely into dance music myself, but thought it was worth giving it a go, as he is an extremely talented and cool dude. It turned out I was wrong with my negativism. The song we did together turned out great and the process of creating it was really fun, too. As for working with electronic sounds, it was actually me who started off the collab by giving him some drum machine beats to mess around with, which he then added organic drums and bongos on to, before I added my much-loved noisy guitars, etc. There are actually quite a few electronic elements in there all over the album. I especially love working with drum machines. My label Smalltown Supersound came up with the idea of Thomas blending the songs together for the sake of flow, and I agreed that it was a great idea. I think Thomas’ remix of ‘Lifeissin’ is brilliant. First time he played it for me, we giggled, not only at what a completely different place he’d taken the song, but also cracked me up that my vocals could sound even lazier than in the original.”


What are some of your favorite places to shop around London? 
“I still think there is good stuff to be found at Portobello Vintage Market early on a Friday morning. I recently scored a great pink-and-yellow, silk ’50s shrine club jacket. It used to belong to a man called John.” 

What’s one beauty product you rely on while touring? 
“Sleep and dry shampoo.”

All vintage.


A small shrine of knickknacks at Carmen’s London home.


Phases-of-the-moon wall art that suddenly makes us realize what our living rooms are missing.


If you had to dress in one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be? 
“I already feel like I’m in the same outfit for the rest of my life: black jeans, boots, and jacket. I would have to pick a shirt carefully.” 

Ann Demeulemeester jacket and boots, vintage shirt.


We’d swear by Carmen’s go-to black-boot/black-jeans combo, too!


If your life had a theme song, what would it be? 
“Oh man. Too many to choose just one. Right now: Bad Brains’ ‘Sailin’ On’ or maybe Claude Delcloo & Arthur Jones’ ‘Africanasia.'”

Photographed by Lara Jade

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