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GrooveLily Rocks The Barns at Wolf Trap – Interview with Valerie Vigoda

March 9, 2012
Jordan Wright

"GrooveLily" - photo credit to The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts

GrooveLily band members (l to r) Brendan Milburn,Valerie Vigoda, and Gene Lewin - photo courtesy of The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts

GrooveLily band member and powerhouse electric violinist, Valerie Vigoda, talks with Jordan Wright about the group’s meteoric career and what fans will hear at their March 16th concert date.

Jordan Wright – How do you feel about performing for the first time at Wolf Trap?

Valerie Vigoda – Well, I grew up going to Wolf Trap so I’m very excited.

JW – What does it mean to you as a local?

VV – It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing in my younger days.  I grew up going to Wolf Trap.  My family and I came to many shows here as well as every Fourth of July.  I remember one of my favorite concerts was seeing Jonatha Brooke playing solo at The Barns.  I even ushered there one summer.  It’s a place that’s been dear to my heart my whole life.

JW – Can you talk about your group’s autobiographical show, Wheelhouse? 

VV – It has been on the back burner for many years.  The show concerns the events of our lives over ten years ago.  It is about the period when we gave up everything to tour in a used RV.  It was a bad decision and everything went wrong almost immediately.  It turned into a physical and symbolic millstone around our necks. Because after three months it sat at a repair shop and needed a ton of money to fix it.  It was like a Catch 22 because we needed it to get to our gigs, which was our main source of income, which could ten pay for repairs.  So we just spiraled down to the lowest point we have ever been.  It was really tough.  Part of what makes the Wheelhouse interesting and funny is that after all these years we now have the distance to look back at the situation and find the humor.

It took us a while to be very honest with ourselves and write about it.  And Gene, our drummer whose character arc has always been of someone who had been very cautious with his life has been able to take a leap.  Now Wheelhouse is about to be produced and will be directed by Lisa Peterson.  We open in Palo Alto on June 6th.

When we come to Wolf Trap to do Sleeping Beauty Wakes we’re hoping to do some numbers from the show.  We’ll do a concert version of some of our numbers but not in costume.  We’ll also be able to give people a glimpse into the writing process.

JW – Can you talk about your work with Disney?

VV – We have been doing a lot with Disney since we moved to Los Angeles.   The first thing was a one-hour musical adaption of the Toy Story film.  It’s a story that has always been one of our favorite Disney productions, because it was one of the first dates that Brendan and I went on.  That project led us to meet some people that work at DisneyToons and they are the people who are putting out the new Tinkerbell movies.  They are coming out with new movies about once a year.

The first one we got involved with was the second movie Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure.  We wrote the opening and closing songs for that as well as Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue.  From there we have written for Tinkerbell and the Secret of the Wings and we wrote two songs for that one as well as Tinkerbell and the Pixie Hollow Games that was a TV special that came out around Thanksgiving 2011.  Up until that film the sound they wanted was very Celtic, like Enya, with pennywhistles and Irish bodhran drums.  It was very lush.  But the songs were not going up on the charts.

Lately they are using more pop songs and we wrote “Dig Down Deeper” for them.  It was performed by the very charismatic performer, Zendaya, who sung it on the Build-a-Bear float at the Macy’s Day parade last year.  It was very exciting and the song was nominated for our first 2011 Annie Award (industry awards for animated films).  We are getting to explore a wider breadth of song styles under the Disney umbrella and we’ve loved working with them over the past six years.

JW – Lately your musical Striking Twelve has been staged by other groups who often perform it by expanding the roles to the size of the cast.  Do you think that will continue?

VV – After 2007 we adapted it for larger casts like high schools who could have 25 people in one cast.  It depends on the size of their cast and musicians how they put it on.  It seems to really work well whether they have a cast of three like we do or many more.  This past year there were productions in Helsinki in Finnish as well as Korea and Zimbabwe.  We look forward to the opportunity to see other people performing it.

JW – What is the future of your solo performing?

VV – I’m thrilled about it.  On a personal level, and in our household, the desire to perform is different between Brendan and myself.  He doesn’t miss it but I really need it.  In order to make us each be our happiest we put together something that I could perform on my own and we are currently producing a musical we wrote called Ernest Shackleton Loves Me 

JW – Can you tell me about your use of live ‘looping’?

VV – We realized we could take music from Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.  We got a copy of Ableton Live which is an incredibly powerful program that people use for looping and deejaying and we put that together with my electric violin and the vocals and out of that what is possible is for me to create from scratch for the audience in real time.  I can create soundscapes and full background rhythms and harmonic backgrounds to the vocal as well.  It’s as if I have a band behind me that created it.  It’s a really interesting way to build a song.

What we realized is that we could take music from Ernest Shackleton… along with mashups and stand alones of cover songs done in a new way I put together a whole solo concert.  We plan to add some songs from this show to our March 16th concert.

Using this technology I have done two full-length solo concerts around the country that are on my website, www.ValerieVigoda.com.  It’s one of the projects that we are currently juggling.

The group performs together less frequently than we used to since we live on opposite coasts, so when we do get together it’s extra special and extra fun.  Now that we’re all parents the central story is even more resonant to us and performing together is one of the most beloved things we do.  And in a wonderful venue like Wolf Trap, I can’t think of anything better.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Jordan Wright.