One-On-One with Singer & Songwriter Victoria Watts
By: Frank Iacono
Victoria Watts was born and raised in San Diego, California. Coming from a musical family, Victoria had a love for music right from the very beginning and wasted no time developing her musical passions. She began playing guitar at age twelve and started writing her own music shortly after. Victoria has since played in various venues on guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and vocals both as a solo performer and in bands of varying genres.
Though Victoria is a California girl at heart, her gypsy intuition led her all over the United States and abroad. This range of life experience cultivated her musical ear and artistic nature. For college, she moved to the east coast to attend the Contemporary Music Center in Massachusetts, a by-invitation artist colony, at which she acquired further skills in live performance, studio work and songwriting.
Over the years, Victoria’s experiences have helped her develop a sound that is uniquely her own, blending her rock and pop influences into one cohesive sound. Her passion for singing everything that she wants to say will drive her to write and perform music for as long time.
In this edition of Music Player Magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Watts and asking her a few questions about her musical influences, her time at The Contemporary Music Center, her life as a career musician, her songwriting and recording process and her response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q & A Sessions
Music Player Magazine: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and who would you say inspired you?
Victoria Watts: Music was always around while I was growing up. My dad was a professional drummer back in the 70s and my mom and sisters are all very talented as well. Music was just a part of me from the start and felt very natural and intuitive. That environment is a big part of what inspired me to develop my skills. It wasn’t until I was around 14 that I realized it was in me to do music as my craft and profession.
I went to a concert to see a band I was into at the time, and there was this female singer/songwriter who opened for them that I had never heard of. Her name was Kendall Payne, and she changed my life. With just her voice and an acoustic guitar, she stole the show and silenced this crowd of people who didn’t even come to see her. I honestly couldn’t tell you much about the band I originally had gone to see, because I didn’t even stick around to watch much of their set. After Kendall Payne was done, I immediately went to the merch table where she was selling her CDs, so I could talk with her. I’ve been a big fan of her ever since, and she inspired me to be a woman who can make an impact with just a song and my guitar.
MPM: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and how do you think they shaped your music style and song writing?
VW: As mentioned before, Kendall Payne was influential because she was the first person who showed me the power of a woman with a guitar. I also really respect Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley for being so successful as a musician, songwriter, and front woman in an otherwise male-dominated genre. I work mostly with men, so I sometimes feel like I have to work so much harder to push beyond female stereotypes. Jenny Lewis has been able to do that in her own way. I admire that so much!
One of my favorite songwriters is Sara Bareilles. She has a sort of “F— you” attitude to people who try to tear others down and her music so beautifully expresses the human experience. Anything from longing to heartbreak, or sexism to the cutthroat nature of the music business, her lyrics are on point and her music never ceases to amaze me. From a vocal standpoint, I love Brandi Carlile. I love that she is so versatile and expressive with her voice. She can go from a whisper in one section to an outright scream in another. I absorb a lot of great ideas from her singing.
MPM: Tell us about how important your time at The Contemporary Music Center (CMC) in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts was for you as a singer, songwriter and overall performer?
VW: When I moved to Massachusetts for the CMC, I was living on Martha’s Vineyard, a small island off the coast. We lived in an isolated area, and really only interacted with other students in the program, which totaled a mere 35 people. So, it was an incredible environment to live, breath, and focus on music. The people became family and the music work became my lifeblood. That was a really pivotal time in my musical development, both because I started to see the realities of being a professional musician, and also because I saw the value in an unconditional support system. That is so absolutely vital to every creative type!
MPM: Tell us how you were discovered by a booking agent while you were playing on South Street in Philadelphia, PA?
VW: After completing the CMC program, I toured with a band throughout the southwest and realized how much I missed the east coast, so I started applying to east coast universities to see where I could get scholarships. I was a straight A student, so I was offered a couple huge academic scholarships, but I chose to make the move to Philly because not only was there a school, Eastern University, that offered me a great scholarship, but a friend of mine lived in the area and had an open room and needed a bass player for his band. It seemed like a no brainer to make the move, so I did! I spent a summer in Nashville too, interning with a songwriter. After I graduated, I stayed in Philly because I started working with a cover band called Element K. Their booking agent discovered me while I was busking (a.k.a. “playing on the street”) in Philly on South Street to make some extra cash, so it was just great timing. I’ve been doing music full-time out of Philadelphia ever since. Approximately four years ago, I left Element K. to start my own business which consists of songwriting, live shows, teaching and etc. The guys in Element K. were amazing people to work with and I was truly blessed to have had a great time and valuable learning experience.
MPM: As an independent musician, how has the coronavirus pandemic affected you from both a personal and profession standpoint?
VW: It’s been a mixed bag of emotions, a roller coaster ride to say the least. It’s tough not being able to perform/see my bandmates regularly, and I really miss working with my students at Rock to the Future. In general, I miss being immersed in music. However, I normally work crazy hours, and I’m always on-the-go. In some ways it’s been good that I’ve been forced to slow down. The downtime has given me the rare opportunity to focus on other projects and focus on more writing than I’m normally able to do. Not having such a hectic schedule has really opened up space to embrace and enjoy those things.
MPM: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of your March 2013 EP release entitled Songs for the Sidewalk is the track called “Waiting on the Sun” so can you share with us the meaning behind it as well as the music video?
VW: The title of the EP, Songs for the Sidewalk, is actually an homage to my street playing days. I just figured I’d spent countless hours out on sidewalks, so it deserved some special recognition for keeping me company all of that time.
And “Waiting on the Sun” is actually about something much different than most people expect. I’ve always been a night owl, and I have some insomniac tendencies, so I usually stay awake much later than those around me. This is the best time for me to write because there are no distractions. I remember being up late one night while I was attending The Contemporary Music Center, and I really wanted to write. But since it was late, I couldn’t make a lot of noise, so I walked to the school’s laundry room where I’d be away from everything, sat on the dryer, and started writing.
The melody for “Waiting on the Sun” was just sort of what came out. The lyrics came pretty quickly because I had recently been reading about King Solomon and had read some of his passages in the Old Testament (I’m such a nerd with reading and LOVE to read about anything and everything). I always thought he was an interesting Biblical figure because he was sort of melancholy (sort of like an artist type haha) and he had a sort of philosophical honesty that had intrigued me. So, I based the song off of his musings in the early chapters of Ecclesiastes. He talks about how meaningless life can feel and how we waste time toiling over foolish things. I just thought it was refreshingly honest and felt inspired to write my own version of it. The idea of waiting on the sun isn’t about waiting for the sun to come out and brighten our day, but rather I wrote it as humans feeling like servants to the sun, how days just pass one after the other; therefore, we are all like servers just waiting on the sun hand and foot. It’s a little depressing, but it’s an honest emotion to express and the imagery that Solomon uses was so brilliant! I just couldn’t resist creating something like that.
The video came about because I didn’t have any money, but really wanted to make a video. So, I reached out to some local film schools to see if there were any students who would be willing to shoot the video at cost just for the experience and something for their resume and portfolio. I was fortunate to have some interested aspiring film makers form Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA get in touch with me and we just went from there. I think they did a great job filming!
MPM: Tell us about the background story behind another favorite off of your EP entitled “A Thousand Miles Between” and the video concept?
VW: This song is about having my heart broken. When I moved to Martha’s Vineyard for the CMC, I left California with a freshly broken heart. Then, a few weeks later, we were instructed to write a song about the island for our next assignment in our songwriting class. I decided to write about the island being my escape and solace from that heartbreak I had left behind: “I rode east by night, mainland mere hindsight.” And just let out all that hurt through the song, so I could let it go: “just need a couple thousand miles between / new isle please undo my memory / don’t know if men are islands but it seems / that surely this woman will have to be… I have to be.” It was a great healing process, and to-date, it is one of my favorite songs that I’ve written.
As for the video, I worked with TV/Film students from DeSales University and together we brainstormed some ideas, and I think we landed in a great place. The entire team was so kind to my bandmates and I, and so easy to work with. We basically set up and filmed all of the shots with the band in one afternoon. The filming process was so enjoyable because the team was so great! And everyone seems to be happy with final product.
MPM: Describe for us the background behind the track “Scratch”?
VW: The song “Scratch” came about because I’ve found that I’m a great friend but not always the best significant other. I’m very independent and focus on my music. I don’t intentionally ever mean to hurt people, but I’ve found that those two qualities working in tandem tend to hurt those who want to get closer to me. “Scratch” is my attempt to explain myself to those I’ve hurt, and it’s a sort of warning to those who may want to become closer to me.
MPM: What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term?
VW: We had to cancel all gigs starting back in mid-March as venues began to close down in the Philly area and surrounding region. And we anticipate not doing any gigs until August. It’s definitely tough having to cancel everything, because this is the time of year that I often gig five nights per week. However, we, as a band, decided we’d rather be cautious and prioritize our health than jump back in too soon and jeopardize our health or that of our fans. We are trying to use this time to learn new material, write new material, and improve our show’s production value. We certainly don’t want this time to go to waste.
MPM: Have you been doing any live-streamed concerts during COVID-19 or do you plan to? A lot of artists have been doing them, do you think it’s a challenge to make them original and interesting?
VW: Yes! We have done quite a few livestreams via Facebook Live. We tried to set it up like we would an acoustic duo gig, during which we place an emphasis on taking requests rather than having a set-in-stone/pre-planned set. We would create a template to work around so we never had awkward down time trying to think of what to play, but we loved creating room for people to send us requests via comments in real time, during the live stream. That was our way of making it our own: try to emulate a live show as much as possible, so it’s interactive and the closest people can feel to actually being at a venue with us. We had a great response from fans and new friends made along the way! I’m really glad we decided to do that.
MPM: Amid the pandemic, how do you think musicians can ask their fans to support them?
WV: I think Livestreams with donations are a great way to do this (via Venmo or PayPal)! And I’ve seen it be an effective way to both connect with fans AND help musicians financially. My bandmates and I actually decided to use our livestreams to raise money for COVID-related charities; one week, we actually donated the funds raised during our livestream to a friend whose house burnt down during quarantine. Our fans were incredibly generous and ready to help! It was amazing to see that outpouring of support and sense of community.
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MPM: As a musician, what lessons do you think we will have learned after the pandemic is over?
VW: I hope this experience will give us all a renewed sense of how connected we all are. I think this has been a reminder to me how much I value all the people in my life. Not being able to see most of them in person has really been a struggle. I want to make sure I consistently show them how much I appreciate having them in my life. I also hope this reminds us all that we have a responsibility to people in our lives to act not simply in our own interest but taking into account the interest of everyone around us. It’s easy to forget that what we do can affect others either negatively or positively. The recovery process will only work if everyone is committed to taking the needed measures to create healthy communities and creating space for each other to process in our own ways. This work is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary.
MPM: What kind of advice would you give to other musicians who are trying new creative ways to supplement their income?
VW: Again, I think live streams or podcasts are a great way to do this! Just be sure to set up Venmo and/or PayPal accounts and make your work a “donation basis” for those who can afford to pitch in. I’ve also seen online lessons be a great way for creative types to continue their work with students.
The featured image courtesy of Victoria Watts