V. Contreras – Another Seattle Star Begins to Shine

Victoria Contreras
Photo courtesy of Bill Bungard

“If the world were right all of the time, Victoria would be a huge star right now.” – Duff McKagan, Guns n Roses, Seattle Weekly

V. Contreras’  star is on the rise and it couldn’t happen to more talented and delightful human being. Her passionate and soulful voice fills the room and hearkens back to a more purer time in the music business.

She brings a sense of class and style and mixes it with what is happening today to keep it fresh and fun. V. has conquered her fears and let it all hang with her latest release. The songs on her first full length CD are energetic, brilliantly composed and true to the times.

We recently caught up with her to discuss the songwriting process, the music industry and about overcoming fear.

NWMS – I read somewhere that you wrote 40 songs and I’m just curious how agonizing it was to pick the songs that made it onto the CD.

V. Contreras – That’s a great question! I whittled it down to twenty-five songs and eliminated the ones that I felt like didn’t really fit with the others or weren’t as strong.

I had created tracks for every song on pro tools and some of on garageband and Martin felt the tracks were really distracting.  So, we got rid of the tracks for the exercise in choosing the songs and I just played them the songs, vocals and chords on the piano. And some songs we’d talk about the lyrics and the strength of the melodies and some I’d just start playing and we’d both be like, ‘no, this isn’t right.’ That was the basic process, and we got it down to about eleven songs, and then I wrote “Burn” about three weeks before we went to the studio and I quickly recorded the song with piano and vocals and sent it to him real quick by email, and he was like ‘we gotta record this.’ So we added that at the last minute.  We  scratched a song in the studio too after tracking it completely except for vocals, now that I think about it. Martin (Feveyear) and I developed a really great relationship. As I was tracking the vocals, with lyrics I had re-written a bunch of times, nothing was really feeling right, he said ‘hey, come in here please,’ so I went out into the mixing room, and he said ‘uh, this song’s not lyrically strong enough for this album,’ and I just said ‘I totally agree with you.’ So, we moved on and it’s still sitting there.

I like the way you just explained the relationship with Martin, how you just sort of let him call the shots at times. Some people might take that the wrong way, him saying the song isn’t strong enough lyrically, and you having enough respect for his abilities to just kind of go with what he says.

Absolutely. And the other thing is that I agreed with him. When I was singing it I just felt like I wasn’t connecting to the lyrics, and that’s probably the most important thing to me so, I agreed with him. The thing about Martin is he’s been more honest than any producer I’ve ever worked with, and that’s worked really well with me, because, you know how Seattle and the Pacific Northwest kinda gets that rep for being passive aggressive and that doesn’t work well when creating music. So for someone to just be so direct, I really appreciated it and I respect his opinion so much, and most importantly, I agreed with him! It’s hard to be objective with your own music, so to have somebody else giving their honest opinion is really helpful, particularly when you respect their opinion.

Once we get to a point where we can accept that without thinking we’re being attacked or we’re some kind of victim,  it’s a good thing, it really helps our craft, don’t you think?

I totally agree, yeah, when you can put your pride aside and make it not about you but about the music, that’s extremely helpful.

Victoria Contreras
Photo courtesy of Bill Bungard

I also read that you have a phobia of people seeing your work?

Yes, that’s why I think it’s taken so long to record this, is to get the nerve to record the songs.  I’d been spending a lot of time writing country songs, dance songs, rock songs and tunes that I thought I would love to pitch to other artists.  I was really focusing on the craft of songwriting. It’s easier because you don’t have to attach yourself to it as much. You don’t have to say, ‘this is me.’

But this collection of songs I was writing on the side for me as life was unfolding.  They are pretty personal and it just freaked me out to get in the studio and to share the songs with others.  There is that worry about judgment, it’s like ‘this is my baby’, and here I’m laying it in front of you to be judged in a way, and it just, it really made me nervous. It has taken the process of recording the songs and finally performing them in public to get to the point that I feel strong standing beside these songs.

However, the anxiety likely never completely goes away.   On Friday night at the Triple Door, during the first few songs I was really nervous, just thinking, ‘what are people thinking about these songs?’ And half of them have probably never heard any of them,’ and I don’t know, there’s something about it, you feel really naked, and I guess I’m starting to feel better about feeling naked.’

Are you worried that somebody’s not gonna like it?

Not as much worried that someone’s not gonna like it, more worried that someone will have a preconceived idea of who I am based on the lyrics, cause some of them are kind of dark, and I don’t usually use much of a filter, I didn’t when writing this album, , but I think I over-thought it more than anything.

Could be, but you are stepping into some territory that not many have covered, where you’re singing from a real classy, soulful spot, but you’re mixing in some other things, you’re using the word bitch, or whatever, right? Like one of your influences, Nina Simone, she probably thought that stuff, right? It’s just that it wasn’t accepted to do that sort of thing back then?

Sure, sure, that’s true. That’s really true, and other people definitely have questioned my lyrics.  Like the lyric in “Burn” when I said, ‘I don’t wanna wear your ring or have your baby,’ I wrote it and I texted it to a friend and said ‘what do you think?’ And he said ‘too much, you can’t say that in a song.’ I’m used to real honesty in art and however it comes out is how it’s meant to come out. Sure it could be edited a little bit here or there, but, I’m a big fan of just keeping some things intact, exactly as they were written.  It keeps things honest.

“Gasoline”, that song, it just has a really infectious hook to it, how long did that song take to come up with?

That song was written really pretty quickly. I had a different chorus to that song at one point, and just felt like it maybe wasn’t the right fit, and took the song in a little bit of a different direction. So I think the final touch to that song was rewriting the chorus. Lyrically I finished the song within just a few hours. A lot of the lyrics I write when driving.  To be in a place where I’m in the driver’s seat and I can’t have any distractions, that’s where I come up with a lot of ideas. That’s where I came up with that concept and was thinking about different things, like my husband who is always like, ‘you are crazy but I love you,’ and I was just thinking, ‘well that’s really interesting’ I was thinking about how somebody says that they don’t like something about you, yet they’re constantly like egging more of that on, and it almost becomes an addiction that they say that they don’t like but yet they’re just constantly yearning for more of it. And so it’s a playful song, not too serious, but yeah, it definitely comes from a place of honesty, and it’s definitely true to form. He helped me brainstorm some ideas actually, just in having the conversation with him when I was coming up with the concept, so that’s a pretty funny one, I’m glad you like that one.

Victoria Contreras
Photo courtesy of Bill Bungard

Okay, so, let’s do this. What’s the first concert you ever went to?

That’s a really good question. I think it was Whitney Houston, and it was in an arena, I bet it was Key Arena. At least that’s the one that made the biggest impression on me. And I remember my sister, I have an older sister who’s a singer as well, and I remember the two of us just crying, her voice was so amazing. And the stage spun. She walked the stage, but it spun very, very slowly while she was singing, it was amazing.

What’s the first music you ever bought?

I think it was a Joan Jett actually, no, it was the Heart album Little Queen.  My parents had most of their records and we had worn that one out so I bought a new copy.  Great album.

How about some of your thoughts on the current state of music. How hard do you think it is for somebody to bust out and make it?

Well, I think that it’s obviously easier for anyone to put music out, and so there’s so many more choices, which I think  gives musicians more opportunities, and I think that the idea of getting on the radio and becoming one of those top 100 artists… it’s still extremely, extremely hard, and as we all know, it’s really almost impossible to be played on mainstream radio without the support of a major label. I think it’s extremely difficult if you want to be there, if you want to be in the top 100, but I think it’s much easier if you want to make a decent living as a musician nowadays than it probably was twenty years ago, because you do have the internet and Spotify and all of these different mediums to get your music out there to masses of people.  I’m assuming you’d go on tour and only those hundred people in the club would hear you, and nobody else would ever hear about you. But now you can meet a hundred new people a day online, and so it’s really changed. I have a friend who teaches Pro Tools at a girls school in West Seattle and it definitely makes you think about how the opportunities to create have changed and to have that type of knowledge at your fingertips is huge. How the number of people that are creating music is multiplying expeditiously throughout the years, now that should be really interesting to see that expand.

If you’re used to selling a million albums or whatever, now it’s tough to sell 50,000.  But like you said, there’s a lot of opportunity for people to create, and there’s certainly no deficit of music out there.

That’s so true, there’s so much. And I wonder in ten years what that’s gonna look like, because at some point are there going to be too many choices and no one’s going to make a living doing music because there’s such a plentiful amount of artists out there? I don’t know, it’s hard to say. The other thing is people are used to getting music for free, it’s really, it’s interesting.

I have some thoughts against that.  I think that just killed the industry. I hate illegal downloads. I mean I don’t mind if the artist gives them away, but as far as like pirating music and all that stuff, it just hurts, you know?

Oh my gosh, it wrecked it, it’s crazy. I just had a conversation with a couple friends who aren’t musicians about this, and they said ‘oh I think all music should be free.’ And then you’re just like, ‘well, then I think that you should renovate my house for free.’ It doesn’t make any sense. And it has absolutely hurt record sales enormously.

Yeah, I just interviewed Tom Keifer, the lead singer for Cinderella, he thinks it’s that people just don’t really know how bad it hurts the musicians? They just don’t really know how bad it hurts, because  it doesn’t just hurt the musician, but it hurts the record stores that have closed, the distribution centers, the truck drivers that used to deliver this stuff, and you know, it’s just this big trickle down effect?

Yeah, absolutely, and in the end, hurting the economy overall. It’s really interesting. But I agree, I don’t think people are doing it for any other reason other than they don’t really get it, they don’t really understand.

So, if somebody had never heard V before, describe your music to them.

Hmm. Well, I think, that it has certainly some jazz influence, some pop influence, and definitely some 60’s girl group Motown influence. You mash them all together, and I think that’s what the sound is. And I’ve heard from others that it sounds like it could be James Bond soundtrack music,  some of the big strings and the drama of it perhaps.

I wanted to mention  Andrew Joslyn, everywhere I turn I’m seeing his name, and he helped out on the Vaudeville Etiquette album. I just listened to that a bunch of times and did a review, and it’s so good, and apparently he’s worked the same magic with you too, huh?

He’s incredible, Martin said I have this guy who’s really sweet and a great violinist, and apparently he does string arrangements. I’d never heard them, Martin said that Andrew did the string arrangements for the new Macklemore album, which at the time wasn’t out yet, and I’ve loved Macklemore for many years. So I said ‘well that’s great, let’s meet with him,’ and so we met with him and just verbally the three of us were completely on the same page. We were talking about all the same influences, from the 60’s, and different arrangements that we liked, and different string arrangers. He started with Burn, after that meeting, we chatted for about two or three hours and then he left with the music and the tracks which I’d done, so he said ‘you know, I’m gonna send you this song[Burn] just to make sure I’m on the right track,’ and Martin and I were completely floored. I think I teared up a little bit when I first heard it, he’s quite a talent, and he talks about this project saying that he really enjoyed this project because we didn’t edit him much, we’d just said ‘go for it, go big, go crazy, go bold, just do it!’ We said there aren’t any boundaries, and he thrives in that environment, and he felt like this was a project where, that was unique in that respect.

That’s awesome. I like to hear that you let people do that. I think that’s important.

Absolutely, I think that energy and the vision of so many people, particularly when the vision’s the same, it’s so much stronger. He’s such a talent.

There’s some cool things going on in Seattle right now. Do you think Macklemore may have woken up the masses?

It does feel like that, it feels like in Seattle right now, and we won the Superbowl, and everyone was like ‘hmmm, what’s going on in that city right now?’ I definitely feel that way. And it’s so cool that Macklemore put us sort of back on the map, and, with a completely different sound than was out in the 90s when we were, when everyone was looking at Seattle as the music town. So, I think it’s great, and I feel like the weather to me is, it creates some of the music. Honestly you want to be inside when it’s swampy and wet, and you end up writing music. And if you’re in a warmer climate that’s always beautiful, you’re probably gonna be outside, having fun playing in the sun, so something about the weather here just creates a creative environment.

For more info on V. visit the V. Contreras website: The Music of V

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