|Fredericksburg Songwriters' Showcase||Victoria Vox|
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.
Her first ukulele driven record, Victoria Vox and Her Jumping Flea was funded by fan donations and released in 2006. The refreshing disc was well received, and featured on NPR’s “To The Best of Our Knowledge,” while songs were featured on television and in independent movies. “My Darlin’ Beau” was awarded runner-up in the International Acoustic Music Awards. She was also included in Relix Magazine’s list of artists to watch.
On Chameleon, released on her own label this spring, Vox partnered with producer Mike Tarantino (James Blunt.) The two mix the ukulele with her acoustic guitar, electric bass, percussion and other instruments to flesh out her burgeoning songwriting talent and pure vocals – moving the uke from the novelty bin to the pop genre.
Vox also employs the mouth trumpet, which she spontaneously tried when she needed a horn solo. “I was writing the song “My Darlin’ Beau” for Jumping Flea, and being a jazzy form type song, I felt it needed some horn punctuation,” says Vox. “Now it finds it's way into any song needing a solo. I did start to play the trumpet when I was 14, and I think from my years in band, I can hear what a trumpet is supposed to sound like.”
The opening track, “Peeping Tomette,” has slightly disturbing theme, but is offset by the quirky and playful melodica and innocent sounding ukulele.
“Peeping Tomette" is from the view of a female voyeur. It’s purely fictional, but I was trying to understand a stalker I had when I was younger,” explains Vox. “It's a fun song, but has definitely creeped-out my current neighbors. I wrote it during February Album Writing Month (fawm.org) and the weekly challenge was to write a song with a street name in the title. Well, I failed at that, but I kept thinking, ‘Nobody knows my name or that I'm playin' games of hide and seek with the whole neighborhood / I live just up the street, but I've been so discreet you'd never know that I'm up to no-good / You won't see me or hear me’ -- and that was that. I felt it definitely was one of those songs that comes from someplace else and I was simply the channel.”
On “Jessica,” the lyric is a bitter send off to a lover’s ex-girlfriend, but the instrumentation on the chorus sounds more like a happy love song. Elsewhere, Vox’s experience as a French exchange student is conveyed in the lovely and melodic “C’est Noyé,” about being free out at sea. “This is the song that always sticks out in my mind as a magical recording process,” says Vox. “It was the one song that Mike was not sure what to do with, for fear of stepping all over the melody and rhythmic ukulele. I dug around in the closet and found a tape dispenser and some wood screws and started shaking them to the rhythm. Before long we were in the studio clapping and shaking things. I spotted Mike’s trumpet, and though I haven’t used a real trumpet in 10 years, I somehow remembered how to find the notes. When I sing my other trumpet solos, I actually mimic the motions of playing a trumpet, so it came easier than I thought.” One song on Chameleon that does sounds more akin to the Tin Pan era of the ukulele is “The Bird Song,” which uses a toy piano as loving compliment. “It seems to have become the ‘long-distance dedication’ number. It’s such a simple song and the production just came together so naturally.” “What’s Wrong!” evokes the ukulele’s roaring twenties popularity and sounds like a concert saloon sing-along. In sharp contrast, “Alone” and “From The Outside” are more contemporary sounding pop songs that would sound at home on any radio format.
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.
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