10 Questions for Vanessa Lively – Austin Post

AUSTIN POST  |  10 Questions for Vanessa Lively
By Gabino Iglesias, Austin, TX

Writing a song is no easy task. Writing a good one is even harder. Writing a good song that has purpose, is in touch with the life experiences of others and makes people cry tears of joy is absolutely beautiful and rare. The songs that Vanessa Lively writes are in that last category. Her travels, pains, concerns, truths and joys are all in the songs that she puts in her records. With “Uncovering Stones,” her latest effort, the singer is doing that one more time. We sat down to ask her ten questions so that you could get to know this bilingual chanteuse a little better.

1. When and why did you start your music career?
I started my music career in early 2007. I had just come back home to the US after having lived in South America from 2005-2007, and upon returning, wasn’t sure exactly what to do next. I had recorded my first album while living in Ecuador, so after I came back I decided to just go on tour right away and see how that went…and it was great! I have been going down this road ever since.

2. How would you describe your sound to those who have never heard it?
Eclectic folk music with pop and world music influences. My vocals have been likened to Edie Brickell and Stevie Nicks, but my delivery is softer than those artists. Most of my songs either have a strong rhythmic pulse or go the opposite way to be very light and airy.

3. Who are your influences and why?
I have been influenced by so many artists, it is hard to name them all. Early on, my musical influences were The Beatles and Michael Jackson. As I entered my teens, I began listening to Bob Marley, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, The Indigo Girls, Counting Crows and Ben Harper. Each of these artists really touched me in a profound way and made me want to write my own songs. Probably the two most influential songwriters in my life have been Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco. They both had such a unique way of expressing themselves with music and voice and it really spoke to me.

4. How was the process of putting Uncovering Stones together at home? How does it compare to your two previous records?
Recording “Uncovering Stones” was such an amazing experience! We camped outside in the backyard while our house was turned into a studio for a couple of weeks. It was the best thing to just wake up, make a pot of coffee and get started on the recordings. We had everything so well organized ahead of time that by the time the actual recording was taking place, folks just popped in, recorded their parts and then made way for the next people to come over.

Working with Keith Gary as our engineer was so wonderful. He was incredibly fast, full of positive happy energy and a hoot to be around. We had a blast from start to finish. We would even eat all our meals together, take breaks together, hang out and laugh, and the whole album just unfolded before our eyes. It was beautiful. I actually cried during the recording of “The Lost Boys” because I was so moved by how the music came together exactly how I had envisioned it and it took me to the place I was when I wrote the song – my heart was crying for all of the Sudanese refugees who had to flee their homes during the long Sudanese Civil War.

My two previous records “Canto y Cantera” and “A Chain Unbroken” were also both recorded in a home studio environment. “Canto y Cantera” was done in our same house, but my husband Jason was the engineer and we recorded and mixed that one ourselves from start to finish. It was a fun project too. And “A Chain Unbroken” was recorded in England over the course of two months with our friends in the Manchester area. All of the session musicians were friends of theirs and so the textures were unique to the place we were recording and it was a very fun experience as well. Each album is very different and I feel that they are all acting as a snapshot into that time in our lives.

5. What made you decide to record “Canto y Cantera,” a record in Spanish with songs by some of the best voices in Latin America? Why did you put two songs in Spanish on the new record?
I was gearing up to do another full length album and starting to do the initial idea work for it, but then Mercedes Sosa of Argentina passed away. This was on October 4, 2009 (which is also the birthday of the late Violeta Parra). I remember it vividly. She had become such a special musical influence to me over the past few years. I was introduced to her music in 2005 before moving to Bolivia, and when I arrived in Bolivia, I soon realized that she was one of the most popular artists in the country. I checked out her CDs from the library and began listening to all of her recordings. I loved her energy and passion, especially for justice and human rights. So when she passed, I knew that I needed to put the full length album on hold and record a tribute to her life, her music and her passion. I sang a song called “Todo Cambia” throughout all of my changes that I went through in South America and felt it was a soundtrack to my time there. That is why I put that song on the album along with my other favorite songs.

With “Uncovering Stones,” I put two songs in Spanish on that album simply because I had written them and not yet recorded them. They are two of my favorite songs to sing and I feel that when I sing in Spanish, another side of me comes out. I lived in Laredo when I was very young and then grew up spending almost all of my summers with my grandparents in Brownsville, TX. My grandparents’ families both moved to the US from Mexico. My grandfather was Portuguese and my grandmother was Mestiza – a mix of Spanish and indigenous.

6. The songs on “Uncovering Stones” seem very personal but they ask to be shared; how was the writing process for this album?
My songs are always very personal, even when they are not about me! Sometimes I see friends and family struggling and I feel it so deeply, I end up writing songs about what they are going through, but in the first person. And the songs that are about me always have a big story behind them as well. That is how my writing process works – I journal every day and then when I am really moved, or seeing something clearly, I sit down and write a song about it. And I want nothing more than my songs to be shared. I feel like the highest calling for a song is to really speak to someone and touch them in a way that helps them through whatever they are going through. When I hear my songs have done that for someone, my heart jumps with joy! I love it!

7. What feedback from fans/critics regarding your work has touched you the most?
There has been so much said that has touched me. People say my music inspires them to live life fully, follow their dreams and be bold, honest and open. That to me is so awesome! I also have had people call me crying tears of joy and saying that my music moved them so deeply and they had to tell me…those moments are so precious to me and I feel grateful to be able to share my art in this world and have a positive effect on people.

8. Tell me a little bit about how we can save the world with your t-shirts and bag.
Haha! I had to go look up my website to see if that is where you got that idea from, and in fact it is there! Okay, so the reason that buying my handmade t-shirts and tote bags will save the world is as follows: I handpick barely worn, quality t-shirts from the thrift store, then I bring them home, screen print my own hand drawn design onto the shirt and bag, then turn around and sell my art. Barely any new material has been used in the making of these products and with the canvas shopping bags, you can save the earth one grocery trip at a time! I think it’s all pretty green and eco-friendly, don’t you?

9. What would you like for people to take from “Uncovering Stones”?
I would like people to feel joy, inspiration and compassion when listening to these songs. I think our world can use more of all this and so I hope that my songs have a ripple effect of love and goodness in the world to bring about more peace, understanding and beauty.

10. Could you describe the Austin music scene in one word?

Vanessa Lively’s music sounds like smart world music, which makes a lot of sense coming from Austin. It’s music that needs to be heard, shared and experienced. To get your hands on a copy of “Uncovering Stones,” or her two previous efforts, visit her website here, where you can also get one of her t-shirts. You can also connect with her on Facebook here to stay updated on upcoming gigs. In “Uncovering Stones,” Lively asks you to follow your heart; her music comes from her following that advice, go check it out.

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