Interview by Scott Preston
Victoria Vox says that sad songs are harder to come by on the ukulele. Actually, there are a couple of heartbreak themes on her newest album, Chameleon, but surrounded by the ukulele and other contemporary sounds, the end result is a bright and enchanting pop record.
Vox graduated from The Berklee College of Music with honors and a degree in songwriting — releasing a handful of DIY, guitar-driven albums before a friend gave her the 4-stringed instrument. It proved to be the perfect new partner for her rich voice and changed the way she wrote and arranged music.
“The ukulele doesn’t interfere with my range as much as a guitar, and because it’s more simplistic, I feel that I move to different melodies than I would on the guitar,” explains Vox. “The ukulele has given some of my songs more of a jazz feel, which is mostly in song form more than anything. All of a sudden there was room for solos (which I do with my trumpetless trumpet.)”
Vox, who lives in Baltimore now, has been averaging 150-200 dates for the past several years and will continue to tour vigorously with the release of Chameleon. “I’m finding that non-ukulele listeners are converted daily,” she says. “It’s really fun to give people what they weren’t expecting.” Not that Vox is the only current artist to slip in a little ukulele — which seems to be on the cusp of comeback? But, the singer-songwriter is dedicated to the tiny instrument, and maybe, just maybe helping make it cool again.
Cincy Groove: When did you start playing the ukulele?
Victoria Vox: I have been playing the ukulele for about 5 years now. I started on guitar which I have been playing for 13 years. I first started playing the ukulele at home, then my mom heard me playing and she ended up getting me one that I could plug in and play at my shows. There were a couple songs I wrote on the ukulele and a cover I did of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and it ended up becoming the highlight of the show. Everyone wanted to hear more ukulele and wanted to buy a cd with ukulele songs. After about 1 1/2 years of playing the ukulele I put out a full length cd of ukulele songs. Now its pretty much my main instrument.
It really has this old timey vibe to it. The ukulele really has a diverse history from Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville, cabaret stuff, traditional Hawaiian music. When I go to east coast ukulele festivals its more Tin Pan Alley, comedy acts. On the west coast its more Hawaiian style tunes with a tropical flavor to them. I really think in the last couple years the ukulele has made its way back into the hands of the singer/songwriter.
Cincy Groove: Do you usually play solo or do you have a band?
Victoria Vox: I do both, I probably play solo 85 percent of the time just due to logistics of traveling and keeping costs down. When the budget allows, I play with a cellist (who is based in WI). I just flew her out and we did a tour of the northeast. I also have a drummer out here on the east coast I use when I tour on the east coast and mid west.
Cincy Groove: I understand your first record was partially funded by your fans. Tell me about how that got started.
Victoria Vox: Well, its just so expensive to put out a cd between the recording, mixing, mastering, the artwork, it really adds up quickly. My fans were really wanting to have a cd with ukulele songs. So I put it out there and said I need your help. I ended up doing special pre orders for $20 and they would get the cd about 5 months before it was actually released to the public. I also did a $100 pre order, where the person would also get their names in the liner notes as a supporter. I also did the same thing with my latest record Chameleon, because it ended up costing much more than my first record did.
Cincy Groove: How would you compare your latest cd Chameleon to your first cd “Jumping Flea”?
Victoria Vox: On Chameleon its about half ukulele and half guitar songs. On Jumping Flea it was all ukulele and I had fans say , “Well where are your guitar songs?” I did a post on my blog asking my fans what they wanted on the next cd and a majority of them said they wanted a half ukulele half guitar cd. Bringing the guitar back in on Chameleon definitely called for a more contemporary production. Jumping Flea was more sparsely produced and had a more vintage flavor. I used the same producer on both cds and on Chameleon we decided to take a more contemporary approach to the ukulele which I really enjoyed.
Cincy Groove: I also see you are taking a trip to France in the very near future.
Victoria Vox: Yes I leave next Tuesday (11/11). I have 5 shows planed and I will also do some playing in the streets in my spare time. We sometimes get extra gigs by doing that. I also just played in France this past May/June. I was invited to play at a Paris ukulele festival. I also did some gigs and Scotland and London. I did 8 shows this past spring but this time I’ll just be in France.
Victoria Vox tour dates:
For complete show details visit http://www.victoriavox.com
Nov 5 2008 Blender Theatre New York, New York
Nov 15 2008 Theatre de l’Ogresse Paris, France
Nov 16 2008 Private show Marseille, France
Nov 18 2008 Abracadabar avec U.K.E. Paris, France
Nov 19 2008 Le Floride avec U.K.E. Nantes, France
Nov 21 2008 “Ukulele Night 1” au Mars Attack avec U.K.E. Angouleme, France
Nov 28 2008 Fredericksburg Songwriters Showcase Fredericksburg, Virginia
Dec 1 2008 Woods Songs Radio Hour Lexington, Kentucky
Dec 2 2008 Rumba Cafe w/ Jason Quicksall Columbus, Ohio
Dec 6 2008 Takoma Park Presbyterian Church Takoma Park, Maryland
Dec 7 2008 Private Party Maryland
Jan 23 2009 Ivory Theatre (full band),St. Louis, Missouri
Jan 242009 Riverfront Cultural Society (full band), New Haven, Missouri
Jan 31 2009 Meyer Theatre (full band),Green Bay, Wisconsin
Feb 7 2009 Denver Ukefest at Swallow Hill, Denver, Colorado
May 15 2009 Wendy and Kirk’s Wedding Annapolis, Maryland
Victoria Vox is sponsored by Koaloha Ukulele