By: Thomas D. Mooney
During the late ’60s and early ’70s, something happened in Southern California. Laurel Canyon happened. It was the epicenter of the counter-culture–even more than San Francisco. While the protests, Summer of Love, flower children, and the Acid Tests may have all been happening upstate, the soundtrack of the generation was being written in the Hollywood Hills.
A Who’s Who of artists (David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Brian Wilson, Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, etc) were all holed up making magical rock and folk albums. But, by the most monumental and important albums were being made by the women of Laurel Canyon. It speaks volumes about what was going on–much further than I have time to discuss–that Joni Mitchell and Carole King were the biggest and best of the Canyon.
I’m not sure if Tori Vasquez was raised on “Blue,” “Ladies of the Canyon,” and “Tapestry,” but I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest. It feels like the most natural comparison.
More than “sound,” “voice,” and “style” they all have the most important and essential quality: presence. They demand attention. There’s plenty of nice and pleasant voices out there. But, we all know there has to be something to warrant your time. You can see (and hear) that in Vasquez.
Her debut EP “Let It Go,” shows all the signs of a budding songstress. A little simple at times, but always enjoyable. Like she mentions later, “Let It Go” really captures Vasquez’ best instrument, her voice. It’s just so natural. Never strained or distressed.
At this point in her early career, you can tell that the often shy, but personable and bubbly Vasquez is on that right path towards something more–more than just Lubbock (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s really of my opinion that it’s not a matter of will, but when will she make her “Clouds.” Her “For the Roses.” For the..you get the point (And if you really don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to go to your local record shop and buy them on vinyl).
Speaking of “more than Lubbock,” the songbird will be going on tour in Europe at the end of the week opening for Blue October. But before she goes, you can catch her at The Blue Light tonight (Feb. 21).
New Slang: So first off, Europe is coming up. What’s going through your head right now?
Tori Vasquez: Oh man, it’s jumbly right now. It’s just all kinds of crazy [laughs]. I mean, the real excitement hasn’t really hit me yet. It doesn’t seem like it’s real until this coming Thursday when I take off. But yeah, pretty awesome [laughs].
NS: What was going through your mind when you first received the news?
TV: It was just shock. All I could think was “Europe! Europe! Europe! [laughs]. Am I going? Really? Me? Is this real?” When they asked me, they said feel free to say yes or no. Like how could you say no to this? I mean, I always knew that I was going to go overseas at some point, but I didn’t think it would be this soon. I figured I would have done a few U.S. tours or something before. But, it was just pure excitement.
NS: And it’s going to be opening by yourself acoustically, correct?
TV: Yeah, it’s just going to be me acoustic. I’ll be opening for Blue October. They’re doing acoustic as well. It’s going to be the lead singer and the violinist. It’s going to just be me every night playing for 30 minutes and hanging out.
NS: You feel any pressure yet?
TV: No, but I think I’ll probably start getting nervous the night of the first show. A few hours before or something. But, I’m so used to just–I see it as 30 minutes and that’s going to be easy. I can fill 30 minutes. There is more pressure in that “you don’t want to screw up” way. This is kind of a big opportunity. I have to kill it every night, because hopefully if it’s that good, they’ll put me on their U.S. tour or something. And the people from there (Europe) will be loving it as well. That’s all I can really think about.
NS: Now locally, you’ve been on a steady rise. But, like these past six months or so, you’ve really shot up big time on everyone’s radar. What’s that been like?
TV: Agreed. It’s been really nice. Especially, living and growing up here my whole life. It’s really nice to see some kind of attention coming forth. Not that I feel I’ve been working my butt off since I was ten and deserve it or anything like that. But you know, a place like Lubbock, it can sometimes be a little stubborn with how they view really good musicians and artists. It tends to drive them out. But it’s nice that there are people here who know who I am and know and love my music. It just makes you appreciate your hometown that much more. Because, when I do leave here, I don’t want to leave with a bitter taste in my mouth or anything. Like a “Lubbock made me leave” kind of feeling. That’s how it is for some people and I don’t want it like that for me–and I don’t think it will be that way for me.
NS: Your EP, “Let It Go” came out a while back. What are your thoughts on it? You liked it, as well as the overall response to the EP?
TV: I think as far as my stuff goes, I don’t I’ll ever be fully satisfied with what I put out. I think it’s because you can always go back and critique the crap out of every little thing. And it was just acoustic and bass. And I’m not one of those kind of people who go back and listen to it. Like, I don’t put it on and hear myself sing. I don’t like that [laughs]. I just kind have trusted the people close around me who tell me it’s good. I’m glad we got it out because that’s how people are going to see us. They’re not going to be able to see us full band all the time. It’s just going to be me on acoustic guitar and my brother on bass most of the time. But I’m happy with it all. It’s just nice to see that I’m finding my own thing and it’s actually working.
NS: Now I’ve not seen you full band yet. Do you like that a lot more? Or do you just like differently?
TV: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I like it more, but just differently. When I’m playing by myself, I don’t have worry about everyone else. I don’t have to worry about rhythm or timing. You know, I am my own band. And it’s good to know that you can play both by yourself and with others. It can be a lot of fun playing full band when you have the right musicians with you and the right people. When you get the right sound out of it, it’s a fun thing. It just takes a lot more time [laughs]. When you’re with a band, you spend hours and hours of practicing. But if it’s just me, I don’t practice. I already know all the songs–just like anyone else would. But yeah, I just like them both in a different way.
NS: Being here in Lubbock, we both know most artists and musicians are play or at least labeled “Texas Country,” which I hate that term,but I won’t get into it here [laughs]. You obviously aren’t “Texas Country.” You’ve got more of a pop-folk feel. Have you had any pressure to be transformed into something else?
TV: When I first started, at 17, I was put with a producer in L.A.–and at the time, I didn’t know what I wanted anyways–all I knew was that I wanted to sing and play. I didn’t know what my sound would be. I couldn’t tell you. When you’re that vulnerable, you automatically get pushed into the pop realm. And it was awful [laughs]. I didn’t like it at all. I don’t all really anything that came from that. I mean, I got to do some really cool things. I got to travel a little bit. But yeah, back then, there was a lot of pressure to do the pop thing. There was a lot of pressure to do “American Idol,” “The Voice.” All that stupid shit. Pretty much for three years, I was asked, “We can fly you in. You don’t have to wait in line, you don’t have to do anything.” But no. I’m not going to go through TV to do this shit. I’m not going to go sing in a fucking boxing ring, you know? It’s so stupid, I hate those shows [laughs]. Did you know that? On “The Voice,” they make you sing in a boxing ring! But now, I’m at the point where people listen to me and I know what I want and the sound I want. And my managers are cool with that. Everyone is. So, not as much pressure.
NS: Now, here is the “boring” question. What artists have really had a major impact on you? What are you listening to?
TV: I listen to a lot of Radiohead. I listen to a lot of Andrew Bird. As far as influence, with Andrew Bird stuff, it makes me want to layer. And layer. And layer. Radiohead has really inspired me melodically. God, Thom Yorke is one of the best melody writers. He’s just my favorite. Andrew Bird, he’s just a fantastic violinist. He’s really got the music all behind him. I could care less what he’s singing about. I’m not much of a lyricist. That’s not the first thing I catch on to when I hear a new band or song. I listen to the music. Those two groups, those are the main two who I’ve been listening to the past few years.
NS: Now you’re also in Estelline. How’s balancing your solo career and being in Estelline, both of which, that are rising, but also need dedication and attention?
TV: It’s kind of easy right now because Estelline doesn’t necessarily want to play all the time. And that’s for a good reason. It’s been a good balance for that. You know, I play weekly. I do it to make money…It’s been a good balance. It’s not like they need me in there [practicing]. If I’m not there, cool. It sounds just as good.
NS: With Estelline, I guess Kenny [Harris] is the main lyricist. But have you guys tried to start doing more stuff where you incorporate more of your thoughts?
TV: No. Not really. Estelline is all Kenny. I mean, when he does Estelline, he creates it all. I’m usually there to just throw in some background melodies and to make it sound cool. That’s really all I do.
NS: Have you guys talked about that though? I guess doing it more as a two (or three) singer-songwriter deal–not in a duet kind of way–not in a Johnny Cash, June Carter way…
TV: Yeah, I know what you mean–I mean, I’d rather do it that way (in reference to the Cash/Carter dueting) [laughs]. You know, when we first started singing and writing together, we just knew that–there’s a lot of other duos out there. The Civil Wars, all that stuff. It’s kind of an iffy thing–since the girl and guy duo thing is such a popular thing right now. I mean, I think we’ll do it at some point, when we’re both a little more settled in on our individual projects, we’ll do whatever we want. But like I said, the girl and guy duo thing is just a giant trend right now and we don’t want to fall into that. We don’t want to just be “another girl and guy group.” We’re already past that point.
NS: Yeah, I get what you’re saying. I guess my thoughts on it all has been–I guess I heard Estelline before you came in. And when you came in, I just thought, “wow, Fleetwood Mac.” I thought you guys would be driving towards that direction over time. I’ve always liked that comparison the most.
TV: Yeah. I love hanging with Estelline. Mainly because i get to use what I consider my best instrument, my voice. And I can get as creative and Kenny’s always “do it. We’ll work with it.” Unless he’s really wanting a certain background vocal, he’s always been just you do your thing and I’ll be happy with it. It’s really a lot of fun for me. And I don’t have to worry about playing a guitar or anything. I can just get up there and sing and focus on that only.
NS: I’ll get you out on this. The last show before Europe is coming up on Tuesday. What are you expecting?
TV: Yeah. It’s hard to expect a lot of things. But I’m hoping it’ll have a lot of hype. I really hope a lot of really good friends show up. It’s not really the “oh, I want it to be packed.” I mean, I’d love it to be [laughs]. It’d be awesome if it is. But I would really love to see a lot of good friends out having a good time. And new listeners. That’s what I’m really so excited about with Europe. Just that new audience and new reactions. That’s what’s exciting.