Victoria Vox is an award-winning songwriter and performer. Originally from Green Bay, WI, Vox has lived in France, England, Nashville, Baltimore, and now resides in Costa Mesa, CA.
Vox is an 'ukulele-toting award-winning songwriter and performer. With a passion for songwriting since she was 10, (first on keyboard, then on guitar), she studied at the Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) and in 2003, she took up the ukulele as her main accompaniment. Since the release of her first ukulele album in 2006 (... and her Jumping Flea), Vox has been one of the leading songwriters on the ukulele scene (Ukulele Magazine, front cover + feature article). However, she straddles into the folk scene as well, where she has opened for Jackson Browne, Tom Chapin, Leo Kottke, and Cheryl Wheeler. She performs mostly as a one-woman-band, incorporating a loop pedal and bass effect on her ukulele, while taking her own solos (on mouth-trumpet), and cutting through it all with her genuine lyrics and pure voice.
A stage name can be a becoming thing. "Vox" (in latin) means voice, and along with her care for the environment (1% for the Planet Member), she has written and donated songs to the American Aspergers Association and the Duchenne Foundation.
On a lighter note, she also has perfected the Mouth-Trumpet which, to some, is considered a form of "beat-boxing". Vox takes improvisational solos echoing the tones of trumpet genius, Chet Baker, solely with her voice. This odd and quirky talent, nonetheless, landed her on the Jay Leno Show (2009) and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (2015).
2018 welcomes the release of her new album, "Colorful Heart". It's whimsical and eclectic and full of heart.
To stay in the loop on what she's up to and where she's headed, please join her mailing list!
While you may be the face of the ukulele industry, your songwriting has won you several awards throughout your career. Can you take me through your writing process a little bit?
I started writing songs when I was 10. I figured that someone had to have “made up” the songs I was hearing on the radio, and thought, “why can’t I make up my own songs?”. I have a lot of different musical influences, pop, rock, jazz, folk, country... As I learned at the Berklee College of Music as a songwriting major, the craft of songwriting can be quite formulaic, however, I find the songs I like most are deep rooted in an emotion or a memory. I started writing on the ukulele in 2003, and by 2007 I was writing on the instrument exclusively. The simplicity of the instrument made me stretch as a songwriter, and I especially focused on the groove of the song so that all the songs wouldn’t sound the same (which can often happen with just 4 strings!)
As I’m sure you’re frequently asked, what enticed you to pick up such an eclectic instrument like the ukulele?
I had been handed a ukulele twice in my life. The first time, in 1999, I handed it back to it’s owner, a bit discouraged, as I didn’t seem to be making sense of the chords at that time (I did play guitar then). But I had a thought (that I would only remember having 4 years later), which was “what if someone, a songwriter, took this funny little instrument and just made real music, real songs, with it, not as a gimmick, or as a comedy act?” Fast forward to September 2003, a musical mentor in my hometown heard me do “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on guitar at a party. He suggested that I do it on the ukulele, and insisted on giving me one. From that day on, I decided I was going to learn how to play it. Before learning “...Over the Rainbow”, I wrote my own song, “Dreamin’ ‘Bout You”. It became a hit with my friends and fans and slowly, over time, the ukulele took over the show! Sometime in 2009 was the last time I brought my guitar to a gig.
The average individual isn’t aware of the time and effort that is put in to each and every song that an artist puts out. Run me through the process of writing, recording, and releasing 52 songs in one year. What were some obstacles you met along the way?
The year before I embarked on the 52 Original Song Project, I completed the 52 Covers Project on YouTube (covers are songs that I did not write). So during that year, I was establishing a weekly discipline, and by the time I announced my songwriting year, I was more than ready! Fans financially backed my project for $1 per week/song, with a money back guarantee (they paid $52 in advance). I only paid myself when I wrote the song. This held me accountable for the work. Every Sunday was a clean slate. I never needed to store away ideas for a future week. Ideas are infinite. Always. Sometimes the song would come easy in 15 minutes, other times I would be banging my head against a wall on Saturday night, facing a midnight deadline. I had a recording studio set up in my home (that’s a glamorous way to call a “laptop and microphone”) and I would lay down the uke tracks, adding vocals, mouth trumpet (or real trumpet sometimes!), bass, percussion. I then posted the songs to my subscribers, and told them specifically that I was not looking for any immediate feedback. It was my year to simply create music for myself. I then released over half of those songs over the span of 4 albums between 2013 and 2018.
The name of your debut album “…and her jumping flea” in 2006 is quite unique. Can you tell me the story behind the name?
When a fan had purchased a souvenir ukulele for me on a trip to Hawaii in 2005, I noticed that the definition of ukulele was written on the box. ‘Uku = flea, lele = jumping. I thought I was so clever to name my album, “Victoria Vox and Her Jumping Flea”. After I released the album, and began to research ukulele clubs across the country to perform for, it was clear that I wasn’t the first to think of it. Ukulele club names included, “the jumping fleas”, “the jumping flea circus”, “the flea jumpers”, etc. Jumping fleas are indeed EVERYWHERE!
I feel like it’s safe to say that many people have never heard of the Mouth Trumpet. How did you discover your innate ability to play the “invisible instrument” and what pushed you to fine tune your Mouth Trumpet craft?
I started "playing" the mouth trumpet in 2005, while I was driving my car and writing the song, "My Darlin' Beau". It's a jazzy tune with room for a solo. Since I often perform SOLO, I began to think of sounds that I could possibly make that were interesting or believable. I talked myself into trying something, anything, as I was alone in the car. I happened to gently close my mouth, sing, and "blow" the note out of the corner of my mouth. I surprised myself and figured I was on to something. I played the real trumpet in high school, so I figured it might work!
I began practicing my mouth trumpet to Chet Baker, memorizing his solos and licks. When I listened to the radio, I focused on what the horns were doing. At a Mexican restaurant, I'd get lost in the trumpets and their staccato notes. My tone got better and my phrasing improved over time. In 2009, other performers started asking me to play my "mouth-trumpet" during their song (on stage) and take a "solo". That's when I knew I reached a new level of mouth-trumpeting.
I was then discovered by the producers at the Jay Leno Show. That was pretty awesome to mouth trumpet to the masses... and I got to meet John Travolta backstage :) It was quirky little talent that started getting some attention and I stuck with it.
I continued to perfom mouth trumpet during shows at the solo breaks, and also record them in studios for the album. In the recording studio, I also rediscoverd the real trumpet too. On my record KEY (2013), I played all REAL trumpet.. However, when I play those tunes live, I replace the real trumpet with my mouth trumpet.
In 2015 I was discovered by the Wall Street Journal! They did a GREAT article on the history of the mouth trumpet and featured me and music, as a current performer excelling at it! To this day, I love taking solos during the solo break. It's my way of improvising, using my voice, but not getting wrapped up in words. It's kind of like scatting, but cooler.
You’ve settled into quite a few different locations over the course of your career. What kept you on the move?
I grew up in small town, Algoma, WI, and knew that I wasn’t going to stay there forever. Having the opportunity to travel a lot since I was 14, my eyes were open to the world that was out there. I lived in France in high school (as I wanted to learn French), then moved to Boston (for college), then to Nashville (after college), and then back to Green Bay (to live at mom’s while I got a foothold on touring). Then I spent a lot of time in Europe (to busk in the streets), and then landed in Baltimore for 10 years, which was an inexpensive place to hone in on my skills and continue to tour. Most recently, I moved to Costa Mesa, CA, where I happen to have family, but also to move in with my husband, Jack Maher. We first met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston back in 1998, but marry until 2016.
What places have had the biggest impact on you musically?
I don’t think I’ve ever been influenced by a geographical location, but rather, I’m inspired by different styles of music: all kinds of jazz, folk, reggae, pop, blues, country, rock, spoken word, and classical. I’m also inspired by some of my favorite artists: Cyndi Lauper, Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, Bonnie Raitt, and Prince.
Online Ukulele Tips from Victoria Vox
November 8, 2017 - Tip #5 comes from Victoria Vox! : https://easyukulelesongs.com/top-ukulele-tips-for-beginners/
June 30, 2017 - Issue 9 of KamUke Magazine (Australia): https://kamuke.com/tag/ukulele-playing-tip/
Victoria Vox plays KALA BRAND UKULELES (Petaluma, CA).
All of Victoria's ukes are outfitted with Mi-Si Pickups (Needham, MA) - battery free technology for acoustic amplification
Victoria's Peddle Board includes these pedals:
LR Baggs Venue D.I.
Pitchfork (bass pedal: 1 - 2 octaves)
Boss RC-30 Loop Station
Shure Beta 58 Microphone (for performance)