Ones to Watch: V. Contreras

 V. Contreras Releases Her First Full-Length Album. 

This spring brings much excitement for Seattle’s star-on-the-rise Victoria Contreras, as she  performs at The Triple Door April 11 and releases her first full-length album  April 15 . Her website description reads: “The love child of Dusty Springfield and Nancy Sinatra with a splash of The Ronettes.” Okay, we’re intrigued; aren’t you? 

Photography by Jason Ganwich
Photography by Jason Ganwich

Seattleite: How do you feel about where you’ve arrived in your career? For how long has this all been in the works?

V. Contreras: I had my first solo performance at 6 years old and began writing short stories and poems when I was 8. Having started at such a young age, it has certainly been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs. Somehow I feel each triumph and every pitfall has led me to making this album.

Most of the writing I have done up until now has had definitive perimeters. When I was singing in a girls group in LA, our contract required us to write to produced tracks with the chord structure already in place and the lyrics needed to have a broad appeal. I’ve also written a lot without those types of stringent guidelines when being part of several bands and girls groups. Although I love the energy of creating with others and the beauty of collaboration, working as a group requires an extraordinary amount of compromise. I wrote this album (my first solo album) because I was inspired to. I wrote in my car, in my sleep, at all hours of the day and without a goal in mind. Quite honestly, I never thought any of it would ever be heard. It is the first time I haven’t had to make concessions or compromise on the direction of the sound or lyrics. I feel very liberated.

S: How do you describe your music to new listeners?

VC: The music definitely has a 60’s vibe to it with a dramatic modern edge. I hear that it sounds like a James Bond soundtrack a lot, which I actually never recognized on my own. I have been deeply influenced by jazz, Motown girls groups and 90’s R & B.  The aspect of my music that seems to garner the most attention is my lyrics. I don’t filter my thoughts a lot when I’m writing. The words are honest, sometimes dark and often absurd.

S: How has your classical training affected your music today, and who do you count among your greatest influences?

My roots are in jazz, rock and Motown, mostly because those styles afforded me a lot of performance opportunities.  The vocalists that I have been most influenced by are Sarah Vaughan, Linda Ronstadt, Heart, Sam Cooke, Dusty Springfield, Connie Francis and Patsy Cline. However, as you mentioned, I did train and compete classically for about 6 years. During that time I became very intrigued with language; I got to sing in French, Spanish, German and, of course, in Italian. My favorite aria to sing is Un bel dì from Madam Butterfly by Puccini.

S: You’ve worked with several local talents who have big-name connections. Can you talk about some of those collaborations and how they came about?

VC: Martin Feveyear (Brandi Carlile, Duff McKagan’s Loaded, Common Market, Blue Scholars), and I met at a show about 5 years ago and hit it off immediately. I had been a fan of his work for a long time and, when we started discussing making an album, I loved his approach. He is extremely honest and direct, and he asked that we begin our process with me just playing my songs, just voice and piano, so that he could hear the songs breathe. The recording process was one of the most memorable experiences in my life. I learned and laughed every day.

We knew that strings were going to be a big focus of the album, but we did not have a string arranger. Martin had just recorded a record that Andrew Joslyn had played violin on. He told me that he hadn’t heard Andrew’s arrangements, but knew he had done some work on Macklemore’s album that was coming out. We met with Andrew and played him the tracks. After two hours of conversation regarding the direction, it was clear that we were on the same page, and we asked him to start with one song to confirm this. Andrew began with BURN and I remember calling Martin when we got the file, and we both just said, “Uh, yeah, he’s the only guy for the gig.” His arranging is quite genius.

S: Congratulations on your song “Feelin’ That” being named a semifinalist in the International Song Writing contest. What was the inspiration behind that song? (*Hear it here.)

VC: This song is by far the least complex lyrically of any of the songs on the album, yet it is one I am very proud of.  It is one of the most lively songs I have ever written, which isn’t the norm for me. The concept is simple; it’s about lust at first sight.

S: Where and when do you find you do your best songwriting?

VC: Driving, I write a lot while driving.  I find a lot of clarity in that confined space heading somewhere, and random thoughts and melodies constantly haunt me in that capacity. I seldom write anything good when I’m trying to in my home studio.

S: What Seattle stages do you most dream of gracing one day?

VC: I feel really lucky to have played 4 of my favorite Seattle theaters – The Moore, The Paramount, The Triple Door and The Neptune. They are all historic buildings, and there is just something magical about the architecture and the energy in those spaces. When I played The Paramount, my band opened for Collective Soul and Morrissey. I suppose my dream would be to headline The Paramount.

“Ones to Watch” is a series that spotlights local talents on the rise. Shine on, Seattle.