Everyday when I wake up I try and focus on the positive in life and the fact that I am blessed with another day. My guest this week goes by the name of Volary and she currently resides in San Francisco, CA. I caught wind of Volary after giving a listen to her debut album, ‘Out Of Shadows.’ I was really taken by the music but then to find out Volary was diagnosed with breast cancer during the recording gave it even more meaning. Not only did Volary give Stoli a totally revealing & honets interview but she also offers all readers an MP3 of “Blackbird Fly.”
Stoli: What are you up to today and where have you been spending your summer?
Volary: I’ve been spending the summer in San Francisco, which has really been more like winter this year. I’ve been unable to travel for medical reasons, but there’s been a ton of work to do because of my new album. I’m currently trying to figure out how to use social networking effectively and updating websites. Can someone please tell me why we all need so many accounts in so many different places?
Stoli: What made you want to move from Australia to San Francisco in 2001 and how was it music related?
Volary: Actually, my move wasn’t musically related at all. It was a result of my day job, but I’m really glad that it happened! San Francisco is a fantastic city to live in, and there’s so much more going on artistically here than there was where I grew up.
Stoli: How has the music scene in San Francisco helped you grow and expose your passion for music?
Volary: The thing I like best about San Francisco is that everyone is free to be exactly who they are. There’s a lot less judgement here than in other places I’ve lived (I lived in Sweden for a while too). On a regular day you can see people in the strangest (or no) outfits and shrug and say: “Well, this is San Francisco, after all.” I find that attitude very freeing, and I think that it was instrumental in unleashing the suppressed songwriter in me.
Another great thing about my move to San Francisco was that I stumbled upon the world of singer/songwriters. If I went to shows in Australia, it was always to see bands, and I had this preconceived (and totally erroneous) notion that in order to make music, I needed to be part of a band. Then I came to San Francisco, and here were these incredibly talented, honest, vulnerable singer/songwriters. A whole new world of possibilities was opened up to me.
Volary “Blackbird Fly” MP3:
Stoli: How does the definition of the word, Volary, define you as a person & a musician?
Volary: The word volary is an obscure English word with two meanings. The first is: a flight, or flock of birds. The second is: the cage you keep them in. The contradictions inherent in the word really appealed to me, and seemed to me to be in perfect keeping with my music and my personality. Calling a love song “Love and Tragedy” is such a me thing to do. I think my music often speaks of a yearning for something different, or to put it another way, to be allowed out of the cage to fly.
Stoli: Your album, ‘Out Of Shadows’ is a wonderful collection of music. What does this album mean to you and how does it feel to know that people are taking a listen?
Volary: Thank you, Stoli! I’m glad you like the album. There aren’t enough words to describe how special this album is to me and how overjoyed I am at the way it turned out. I feel as though people are finally getting to hear my songs arranged and orchestrated in a way that’s really me. When you play songs acoustically there are so many directions the audience could imagine the song taking. I feel like I’ve finally said: this is me, this is who I am.
Oh, and did I mention that this is my first full length album? So part of its meaningfulness to me is that I achieved a life-long dream that I’d been discouraged from. It took an amazing amount of work, but I finally got there. And when I got to the stage where we were just about to start recording, there was the worst obstacle of all. I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
That was the most earth-shattering blow that has ever happened to me. When you’re told you have cancer, the entire future that you’d imagined for yourself evaporates. You no longer have the autonomy you used to have. Suddenly you have to assemble a medical team who will tell you what you have to have done, and when.
It’s therefore with deep gratitude that I thank my producer (Laura Dean), and the owner of the recording studio Tiny Telephone (John Vanderslice), for their flexibility in working with me. They made it possible for this album to be made despite the fact that I was emotionally devastated and beginning my treatment journey. I think we all shared in the joy that we created something beautiful during a time that was extremely dark.
Stoli: You really held nothing back on this album. How do you get the courage to expose yourself to the world and not hold back?
Volary: Actually, I think it would be harder for me to write while trying to hold back. I’ve sung in cover bands, and while it’s fun to have people up and dancing, I don’t think I can sing with real sincerity unless the song has emotional depth to it. I don’t know if it makes any difference to the audience, but internally it’s a very different experience for me.
Also, I don’t really think it’s an artist’s place to hold back. I think any art is about that artist’s self-expression, which means that it should come from an honest and vulnerable place. It is incredibly scary to put that stuff out into the world where other people can judge it, but I kind of enjoy scaring myself like that. It’s that contrariness in me that found the word volary so appealing. I’m 51% pure adrenalin junkie and 49% total coward.
Stoli: On your Myspace page it says you are looking for musicians. What must a musician have that would make them a good fit?
Volary: That’s a really difficult question! Well, in my heart I’ve always hoped to be part of a band, rather than a solo artist. I’ve hoped to work with people that share the same work ethic that I do, and who can collaborate and be part of a family with me. On the other hand, I don’t want to stop playing shows until I find these people, so I work with session players too. Good session players always have a great work ethic. But session player, or band member, the most important factor is that the person instinctively gets what’s appropriate for whatever song we’re playing.
Stoli: Where did you do more of the writing and recording of this album?
Volary: The writing and recording was all done in San Francisco. The majority of the recording was done at Tiny Telephone, a great studio in San Francisco with a ton of vintage and analogue gear. I recorded the backing vocals at home, which gave me time to work without the pressure of the studio clock running. I approached the task rather nervously, since I’d never written and very rarely sung harmonies before, but in the end they turned out to be perhaps the most fun part of the process. I discovered that I like writing unconventional harmonies and can’t wait to get back to writing some more.
Stoli: A lot of upcoming bands get angry if people download their music for free. Do you agree or do you feel that can help get them heard by many other music fans?
Volary: I think the answer depends on how the album was made and how the band was planning on marketing it. People that are skilled enough to record their albums themselves are able to release things on a shoe-string budget. And they might want to do their promotion on a shoe-string budget too. If that’s the case, then allowing people to download the music for free and hoping it will spread virally is a good thing.
Other unsigned artists, myself included, pay for studio time, producers, and engineers to record their albums, which all adds up. Of course we’d like to see some return on that outlay. So if people can go ahead and legitimately buy a copy of the album, it would be really nice, because every bit helps.
Stoli: Do you have plans to hit the road in support of the album and do you enjoy being on the road?
Volary: I would love to tour to support the album, but playing shows will still be a little while off for me. My cancer treatment has been extremely long and aggressive, and isn’t finished yet. Once I’m done, it will be a while before I have the stamina for touring. I’m sure I’ll have to work up to it, so if you’re in the Bay Area, expect me to be popping up in small venues as I learn to stretch my wings again.
For example, the night before my most recent surgery, I played a short set at an open mic. I’d been too sick to sing or play for about 9 months and I felt very weak and divorced from my musicality. But after chemo finished I was given a little time for my body to recover enough for surgery, and I thought it would be really empowering to show myself that I could perform again. I played solo, with just my acoustic guitar, because I wanted my performance to be as raw and naked and vulnerable as I felt. And I was right. It was empowering. It turned out to be a really special evening.
Stoli: Who are family or friends that you really take their opinion on your music seriously or do you just do you?
Volary: I would never just do me! I’m an incredibly harsh self-critic, so sometimes I do need the opinions of other musicians or friends to tell me if a song is any good or not. I had to be convinced by multiple people that Fame Doesn’t Love You (available as a free download if you join my mailing list) was a good song, and now it’s one of my favourites. Interestingly, it was chosen by a radio marketing firm to be one of the singles we suggest to radio stations, and there I was thinking it wasn’t good enough to be on the album!
Stoli: What is coming up for Volary and where can readers follow you?
Volary: I’m looking forward to finishing up my cancer treatment and getting my strength back. After that, I want to play some shows! I’m also hoping that I will start healing emotionally and be able to start writing again. To check out the latest on what I’m up to and where I am in this process, go to www.volarymusic.com.