~ Written by Jessica Price. This review also appeared in Seattle Gay News (April 4, 2014)
Victoria Contreras (or V., as she’s commonly referred to) is emerging as Seattle’s answer to the most memorable alternative soul divas of recent memory: Amy Winehouse, Adele, Joss Stone. Although unlike at least one of these beloved ladies, there’s nothing tragic about V.; she’s got the strength and talent to go far. Since the success of Northwestern artists Brandi Carlile, Neko Case, Macklemore, and rising star Mary Lambert, there’s been a watchful eye turned to Northwestern talent, particularly its leading ladies. V.’s self-titled debut album will be released this month and she’ll headline the Triple Door’s opulent mainstage April 11. No small accomplishment for a new artist, but one that speaks volumes for the preliminary buzz on her inaugural album, produced and engineered by Martin Feveyear (Brandi Carlile, Common Market, Blue Scholars) and featuring string and horn arrangements by Andrew Joslyn (Macklemore, Mark Lanegan). V’s songs fall somewhere between elegant, modern torch songs and sizzling retro soul. Though there’s an obvious kinship with iconic influences Dusty Springfield, Linda Ronstadt, The Ronettes, and Patsy Cline, V.’s music is sophisticated and all her own. It’s positively addictive.
V. recently took time out to talk about the beginnings of her musical journey:
Jessica Price: You’ve earned great advance buzz and have an upcoming cd release show this month. Have you felt a lot of momentum building since the release of your single and teaser EP?
V. Contreras: Yes, I have felt an enormous amount of support from friends, family and fans. This is partially due to the fact that I launched a Kickstarter campaign over two years ago to help fund a portion of the album and quite honestly, to help push me to get into the studio. When you have to be accountable to 100 people, it makes a huge difference.
Right after releasing the first single Lush, I had my first performance at The Triple Door and was so flattered by the reaction to the music. You never know how people will respond to music they have never heard and I teared up at least twice at that show due to the audience enthusiasm. Since releasing Lush as a single and then the EP Burn, I have felt a significant amount of momentum building and I’m thrilled with the new fan base I am starting to build. I feel very lucky.
Price: You are a classically trained vocalist and long-time jazz aficionado, which really comes out in your music. What did you grow up listening to? Have your tastes changed much?
V.: My parents are from a small town in Idaho that is 8 hours away and those round-trip adventures became my induction to music. My parents were not that interested in modern music at the time. They loved music from 50s – 70s. So, my sister and I sang, as loudly as we could, to artists like Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, Heart, The Supremes, Sam Cooke and Dusty Springfield. I started singing songs from those artists on stage when I was 8 and at 12 years old I had an opportunity to be one of the featured singers fronting the Highline College 25-piece jazz band. I played with them for at least 4 years at clubs and recital halls and that was when I became obsessed with jazz – Sarah, Ella, Carmen, Aretha, Diane Schurr… I was in heaven immersing myself in their tones, inflections and eerie intervals. I also have a great appreciation for all of the extraordinary music being created today. I’m really a nut about lyrics and musically, I particularly like anything that sounds unique and hard to classify. For the past 6 months I’ve been listening to BANKS non-stop.
Price: What sort of female stars appeal to you, and why?
V.: I have great respect for those who stay true to themselves as artists and human beings and who use their celebrity status in a positive way. (So, basically, if you have a sex tape on NetFlix, I’m not talking about you). One of my favorite autobiographies is Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline. Patsy Cline was revered as a kind and smart woman, yet strong as nails and philanthropic to the core. I adore current stars like Adele, Jennifer Lawrence and P!nk. They seem to be strong and sexy yet they don’t take themselves too seriously and they all seem to possess a vulnerable side as well.
Price: You’ve performed in public often (featured vocalist with Seattle Rock Orchestra, the Patsy Cline Sweet Dreams Tribute, etc) but it’s taken time to get comfortable with presenting original work. Did you feel the time was right to reveal something new to yourself and to listeners?
V.: Yes. I have been singing covers in front of audiences for a long time and have also been writing songs, in what feels like almost a hermit capacity for years. As for the songs that people have actually heard, prior this album, most were songs written with other people, with specific guidelines and structures in mind. I also spent a few years writing songs on my own with other recording artists in mind in hopes to pitch the tunes to them and get my fix of writing without having to put myself out there. In that capacity, you tend to write really generalized lyrics that anyone can relate to.
Eventually, over at least a three year period, I started writing a collection of songs as a way to work through some things I was going through. They were inspired at random times in random places and I felt liberated writing them, knowing no one would ever hear them. They felt like a secret pool of ridiculous, lustful, and sometimes very sad songs. Without boundaries or guidelines, the lack of rules became the foundation of the album. I eventually played one of the songs for a very close friend late at night and she connected to it more than any of those songs I had deliberately written with broad topics and strong hooks.
I guess that was the catalyst that inspired me to record these songs. They had served my purpose while writing them and maybe they could give some fire or solace to someone else by listening to them. Even if it makes me feel extremely vulnerable, touching even just one person’s life is a lot more useful than storing the Garageband files on my Mac.
V. Contreras performs at The Triple Door April 11. Get tickets HERE.