Award-winning singer/songwriter and one-woman band Victoria Vox, began playing ukulele in 2003. In addition to cover features in Ukulele Magazine (US) and Uke Magazine (UK), her unique Mouth-Trumpet landed her on the Tonight Show w/ Jay Leno and the cover of the Wall Street Journal. She also performs with her husband under the moniker, Jack & the Vox.
Lars Mullen: Hey, Victoria. How are you? I think, we've interrupted your, rehearsal there.
Victoria Vox: Oh, you know, just doing a little, little music today.
Lars: So our next guest is... as you see, Victoria Vox, over there in California on the West Coast of the USA. How are you?
Victoria: I'm well thank you, andyou?
Lars: I'm good! And you're wrapped up in your ukes. Last time I saw you, were wrapped up in your ukes as well. How's it going?
Victoria It's been good. Um..., I'm sure you know, it's not news to anybody, but we are in some crazy times. And, so I think, all things considered... Oh, I'm doing good.
Lars: Yeah we are in a hard time for musicians at the moment, and this video is going to help Fusion and help musicians as well.
There are a lot of videos out there of you - we're getting to your secret weapon in a minute - but I just want to talk about you taking, I hate this
saying, "to the next level". But ver the years you -have- taken the ukulele to the next level, with loopers and effects on the floor. Just tell us about that.
Victoria: I started using technology with the ukulele back in like 2012, I guess. Part of it was, like, YouTube videos and doing some covers, and then looping ukulele and vocals. As I was writing a song I would just lay down a rhythm track, a loop. The song, you know happens and a melody arrives and lyrics come.
I use a BOSS loop pedal RC-30 so I also can record vocals through the same loop with the ukulele. And then I have like a little reverb pedal for the uke just to add a little sweetness, and then also a Pitch Fork by Electro-Harmonix which basically allows me to drop or raise my ukulele an octave or two. I use it mostly for bass effects that I can also then loop a bass ostinato part throughout the loop and it's been really fun to play with.
When I started using that loop pedal and incorporating it in my live show, that was a huge learning curve. It's like an instrument in itself and learning how to use it, and what to do if things go wrong and say, there's no power, and still being able to play the same song.
As a singer, strummer, player, you know we might have a groove that we gravitate towards and then while we're playing that groove, we might gravitate to come in always on the same beat of the measure for the verse. Maybe I come in on beat two.
And so it enables me to put the instrument down, and really kind of look at what I'm singing rhythmically and so I might come up with different rhythms that I might not otherwise feel, because I'm busy doing something else at the same time.
Lars: That's really good, because you've really gone into the theory and the techniques of how it all works, now the secret weapon - I saw you in California a couple of years ago with some guys who were over there, doing some editing and some filming, and photography at some of the guitar shows, and I said you got to come and see Victoria in the evening. I knew what was coming, they didn't. Can you just give us a few bars?
Victoria: Yes, so my secret weapon is my mouth trumpet and it is the head turner in the show. It's just a little jazzy number.
[Victoria imitating a trumpet with her mouth]
Victoria: There's a little something for you.
Lars: It just knocks me out every time I hear it, it's just so authentic! You can hear the breathing, you can almost hear the valves, the mouth on the mouthpiece, it's incredible. How do you do it?
Victoria: Well, I've been mouth trumpeting for, let's see I started in 2005 so, uh, 15, 16 years and it took me three years to get good enough, where people started to really take notice. I was on the Jay Leno show, blowing my own horn, back in 2009, and then in 2015, the Wall Street Journal did a piece on the unlikely return of the lost art of the mouth trumpet.
When it started it was, you know, not very pronounced but when I decided that this is something that I'm actually going to do regularly, throughout my show and at every show, I need to nail it and be really good. So I delved into Chet Baker, primarily, just to emulate his horn sound, uh which as you know, his signature sound is kind of a real flat tone and then with the tail of vibrato at the end. And so I'd be on tour and I'd be driving in my car and I'd just put Chet on and you know...
[Imitating trumpet sounds]
You know just try to match his phrasing, when he breathes, the runs and it's actually pretty hard.
Lars: Yes, in the car... I know I've tried it at the traffic lights... Doesn't work for me. I put the windows up because of all the cat calls "leave it alone, don't bother". So I, did you play trumpet in the early days, yourself?
Victoria: I didn't start trumpet until my freshman year of high school. Before that, I played the oboe and they were short on horn players and so they recruited me to the brass section. And that kind of opened up the world of jazz band and marching band, and it was, you know, it's cool, but you have
to... I think part of understanding how to sing a mouth trumpet, it's understanding the mechanics of an actual trumpet. And that there it's not a slide trombone so you can't do the glissando like a vocal,
[Imitating slide trombone]
You only have valves so it's,
[Imitating trumpet valves]
They have to you know pass through those notes, even as a slur, maybe one breath but there's separate notes.
And the tonguing, so every time I change a note, to get the sound of the valve changing, I re-tongue the note, even whether it's slurred or separated.
Lars: You've got several albums out there, we'll talk about which albums, you know, folks can have a real demo on what you're doing, how do you record it? Do you play at the same time or do you just trumpet into the mic?
Victoria: Well, with the albums that I've done, I guess 11 now, since my ukulele playing days have started, it all kind of changed. I think probably my very first, my debut ukulele album, I probably sang and played at the same time, I can't remember. Then I did some recording in LA with a producer and I'm pretty sure that we also, he liked the feel of me singing and playing at the same time, so I think we tried to do that as much as possible.
The challenge with that is you can't really isolate certain microphones, that it's always going to be picked up, the vocal or the instrument in each other's mics. And then I did some recording in Seattle with another producer and that was all isolated, so I would only record the ukulele parts and then I'd go back and do the vocals, and then the mouth trumpet is just another vocal layer, and sometimes we're kind of sitting around thinking like this song just needs a little something different, like examples - the song 'Supermoon' from my album 'When The Night Unravels' and it just, we just needed something and I thought, well, how about some horns, mouth trumpet, and so at the end of the song the horns come in, and it's a really cool sound.
[Mouth trumpet sound]
Lars: Remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. I've actually seen a couple of videos of you singing in French.
Victoria: Yes, I was a foreign exchange student in France, my junior year of high school, so I picked up French there, while I was living with a non-English speaking family and went to the school and did all my lessons in French.
[Singing in French]
And had no idea at 16, that I would have been incorporating French language into music or that I'd even be doing music, but yeah, it's a cool facet to what I do I guess. And also in songwriting, to write in another language is pretty neat.
[Singing in French]
Lars: Yeah, it's very good, very, very clever. Looking at the ukuleles you've got there, they look like some exotic tonewoods with abalone inlays, what models are they?
Victoria: Yeah, do this one is a Mya-Moe and I'm actually really excited I'm getting a new Mya-Moe very soon. That is, a fellow, Dino is his name, he just had an article in Ukulele Magazine here in the States but he does, pyrography, where they burn, he like draws and burns images into the ukulele, so I have a very cool ukulele coming soon also by Mya-Moe, which is this one, this was built by Char and Gordon Mayer, when they were part of Mya-Moe ukuleles.
That one back there is a Bruce Petros ukulele and Bruce Petros is in Appleton, Wisconsin and he does very fine wood instruments. Both guitars and ukuleles, so Petros ukuleles, and I've got a Spanky banjo uke over there, and the Romero creations by Pepe Romero and Daniel Ho. I love their tiny tenors.
And I got a U-Bass, Kala U-Bass, back there, so there's that, and then there's another baritone Mya-Moe over there.
Lars: What is your main instrument, soprano or baritone? Or tenor?
Victoria: I mostly play tenor. I play baritone a little bit, I mean they're - the chord shapes are interchangeable between the two but as far
as tone wise, I tend to gravitate towards a low G tenor ukulele. I feel that it has just a nice warm range, having the low G available but there are some songs that sound really nice on a re-entrant tuned ukulele with the high G. But I guess over the years, I've kind of settled into the the low G tenor.
Lars: We've talked ukuleles quite a few times on the Fusion interviews here. Of course, they are such a vulnerable instrument, you have to protect them and obviously the Fusion bags work really well.
Victoria: Yeah, I love the fusion bags. You know back in the day, when we would travel for our gigs, I mean it was my go-to bag. This year, I've been home so most of my ukes are hanging on the walls or we're using them daily for writing and recording but, I've got the Urban bag back there and it's got a Fuse-On backpack, which is awesome for laptop, cables, gear - usually when I fly, I would, have the backpack fused-on so it's like a one carry-on kind of thing.
Lars: Excellent. So you know it's all cocooned in safety up inside there.
Victoria: So the other thing is, in the interior of the bag, it has there's like velcro pieces, that you can support the neck and that is movable but then also you can kind of hug your ukulele to whatever shape it is and give it this extra padding inside, to kind of hold it in place, so that's a really nice feature as well. So you can change up, put different ukuleles in it, and the bag works for all of them.
Lars: Like you say, when you're touring again.
So let's hope we can get out, see you doing some gigs, and you can fly over to the UK and we can see you over here.
Victoria: Yeah that would be nice, looking forward to that.
Lars: Good, so let's hear the secret weapon and Victoria Vox, playing out on a ukulele, thank you so much Victoria.
[Victoria deploys the secret weapon of mouth trumpet noises]
About Lars Mullen
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column and Fusion Virtual World Tour Interview Series.