Inverness: Passion-Driven And Female Fronted
Interview With Vicki Tetreault Of Canada’s Premier Prog Rock Band
Canada’s premier prog rock band, Inverness, has a creative style all their own ( www.invernessband.net ). Their complex arrangements composed by singer Vicki Tetreault, bassist Steve Agliotti, drummer Kostadinos Neofotistos, and guitarists Paolo G. Della Rocca and Armen Janjanian give Vicki’s poetically-versed lyrics multiple dimensions of beauty.
Collectively, they cover diverse music cultures rooted in Italy, Greece, Lebanon, and French Canadian-Indian, represented by Vicki’s lineage. The creative energy of these five musicians has propelled them into a realm of pop/rock where tempo movements, chord progressions and vocal melodies are not influenced by anyone else but themselves.
Vicki Tetreault says about their musical influences, “I instinctively resist going there, because it sets up Inverness for comparisons, and I like to believe that we have a unique sound, born from perhaps a bit of everything. With Inverness, I think the concept of influences is pressed right out of the equation by our writing process. We just get together and hear these songs together. It gives the process a purity, writing out of the interaction and chemistry that flows between the five of us.”
Her attorney/publicist, Eric Applebaum, of Fein, Pearson, & Emond, P.C. in Springfield, Massachusetts, describes Inverness’ new album as something new for listeners. “The music is this blend of heavy, driving power rock and sweet forlorn musical love poems. They have rebelled against the edict that a song need be imprisoned by pre-determined tempos. The effect is a roller coaster ride, and I think the young hard rock fans will find something just a touch different about this band, without being so avant-garde that commercial potential is nonexistent.”
Inverness, which began to come together in 2002, has always been fronted by a female lead singer, causing Vicki to tout, “Well, why not. I think I have a fearless spirit, which matches the sound of the band. It may be that this type of music usually has a male lead, so to the extent the blend of the band's sound with a female lead has originality and opens new doors - then that's all good.”
Before Vicki Tetreault, Inverness was fronted by Canadian singer Jillian Sudayan, who parted ways with the band to embark on a solo career. “Inverness was together with Jillian for quite some time,” Vicki reveals, “and it’s never easy to put those collective dreams aside and go back to a beginning stage with a new singer. The band members remain friends with Jillian, and it was an amicable split.
“Once she left, the band auditioned singers and I believe our chemistry clicked right away. I add a different style and vocal timbre - color of voice, which I think is a big change and can even be scary and challenging at first for everyone. I am personally very thankful for a chance to sing lead for Inverness.
“We see much potential, which is already established and growing in the Montreal scene. They guys have made me feel very welcomed, and are very generous at helping me fit in and letting me bring my own stamp to our sound.”
Vicki had come from being a solo artist herself, which began in 2000 when she was chosen to sing with Shania Twain on the song “What Made You Say That” during the multi-platinum artist’s show in Quebec City. Vicki released her debut self-titled album in 2004 (www.cdbaby.com/cd/vickytaytro) under the name Vicky Taytro, the American version of her surname. In September 2006, she joined Inverness after her attorney/publicist, Eric Applebaum, suggested she go to the band’s audition.
She explains, “There's a law firm, Fein, Pearson, & Emond, P.C., in Massachusetts, which has been helping me over the past few years. One of their lawyers, Eric Applebaum, and his wife saw me perform in a small club in Maskinonge, Quebec. It was 31 below zero outside, so I’m glad they were at first sight interested in working with me.
“Then, after a few years of blood, sweat and tears, Mr. Applebaum asked me to attend some auditions for rock bands looking for leads. I will be forever be grateful if his crazy audition idea turns out to be a stroke of luck and genius. As for the auditions for Inverness, they were a piece of cake - no offense to my band mates. I worked every angle at preparing. In return, my efforts gave me an unbreakable confidence.
“Dedication, focus and hard work builds confidence, insures a positive outlook, no matter what the outcome,” Vicki instructs. “Teams are built with tools available, I imagine. There’s never a guarantee everyone will get along or even like each other.
“I believe the key to a successful team is to have an open mind and patience, while learning to fully accept the different insights of others. Everyone is valuable and has something to share. Also, to succeed you can't throw in the towel over spilled milk. A team that survives takes risks. Stuff which doesn’t kill us will eventually make us stronger.”
Music has always given Vicki Tetreault the strength to go through the ebbs in life. “Music was a kind of a crutch for me,” she tells, “like music became my best friend, my mother, my father, my sister or my brother. I felt that music has always been speaking to me, teaching me things, instilling values. Music literally became a tool for surviving and dealing with any life crisis. So in a way I had no choice but to marry it - so to speak. It was a crutch I could take everywhere I went.
“However, it wasn’t until I was sweet 16 that I started to seriously listen to its calling. After singing a Whitney Houston piece entitled ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ at the town festival, local fans told me that I had talent and should explore it. From then on, it hit me that I should and I did, and took it very seriously.”
Singing is an innate gift that Vicki expressed early in life, but does not correlate it to her upbringing. “Creativity, in my opinion, is enhanced and sparked from great visionaries, teachers and friends of our time, not necessarily from living situations or upbringings. Personally, my own environment as a child did not encourage me to be creative, nor did it feed my visions and insights. It was due to a lack of communication, understanding, knowledge, and compassion. I had to fight in order to accept my own beliefs outside of some dysfunctional experiences.
“Growing up in a town of strangers where everyone knew my name but not my soul, made me feel like a black sheep. I felt hidden under a filthy flying carpet that didn’t fly. It guess it was determination, my passion and my strength, that gave me room to breathe and to solemnly believe I was a creation of my own. I was on my own at an early age. These experiences are with me, at the core of my creativity, my creative inspirations, and my voice. ”
She shares, “I am Canadian-Indian born and raised in Holyoke, Massachusetts, but then moved to Quebec as a teenager. It seemed like a foreign country in every way. I'm a dual citizen now of both countries and adore the cultural differences of the two.”
Vicki is a true artist in that she is not bound to the confines of her immediate family, but rather finds inspiration in the world around her. “Family in itself is an art, a musical fruit, part of every person’s life and insight,” she remarks, “at least that’s what I think from my own personal experience and education. I believe one is born an artist or not. No one in my family was professionally involved in the arts. Everything I needed and wanted to learn about music I taught myself.
“Passion drives anything self-taught. I don’t think creativity can be taught. Beauty and authentic imagination, treasures of art in my humble opinion, are either there or not. You know it when you see it! However basic rules can be learned and picked up from many good books on theory. Before one can employ keen logic to break the rules, I believe you must start with a general basic grounding, which is taught.
“I used such books as the “Seth Riggs Technique” by Seth Riggs and “Relative and Perfect Pitch” by David Lucas Burge,” she notes, “which in my opinion are the best written, understandable, practical and logical artistic tools available. I also had numerous, private professional vocal training with different teachers, including John Henny from Los Angeles. For me, the formal training is like discovering your natural singing foundation.
“Do the work, build it, believe in it and then FORGET about it. Trust the training and self-awareness to stand on its own and hold up the rest of the vocal spirit, or vocal house, if you will.”
But it has been living life and experiencing regular jobs that has provided Vicky with the instincts to relate to people. Her live performances allow audiences to feel the heat in her emotions. “I am a woman of many trades, I guess you could say. I donated a lot of my time to local theatre and did some TV work, a lot of doubling and a local sitcom. I now work full-time in music.
“I did the lounge circuit singing over 300 songs in cover material and performed in festivals, contests, small club venues. While on the road, I worked in different restaurants and grocery stores, in a Pizza Hut in Springfield, Massachusetts, a Burger King and Winn Dixie in Louisiana. Working in these places gave me more of a lenient schedule so I could finish school and support myself without having to put in 30 or 40 hours.
“I once had a Chief of Police pass the drive through and offer me a job working as the station’s telephonist for 911,” she comments. “I worked for SOM, Inc., collecting research and giving surveys. I liked creating new ways of keeping people on the phone. That was interesting to me - how most people were curious about the face behind the voice. I can remember one line I used a lot: ‘PLEASE DON”T HANG THE PHONE UP ON ME, I’m Only doing my job.’ I learned that I adore making people laugh.
“But, whatever the job, I always made an effort to do my best at it. The biggest lesson I learned from all these places was that I truly loved to sing and missed it tremendously. With every job I took, I always got a feeling that I was giving up on my hopes and artistic goals.”
Vicki kept her focus by singing in local clubs. “Most of my singing was done solo or with house bands, and sometimes with pre-recorded and produced tracks,” she admits. “I also sang with other bands, some more regularly than others. I once sang with a Rock and Blues band. There was an all girl band which I put together in Quebec. Someone said ‘Sing as much as you can, no matter with who or how.’ I personally took that advice and have never backed down from any singing opportunity.”
Her lawyer, Eric Applebaum, praises, “Vicki has worked so hard to get here and her solo material was part of the process, but within this band she has emerged as a vocalist who belts out a sound we have not heard before.”
Vicki reflects, “Inverness is the first band with whom I see a real chance to build and develop something long-lasting. I look forward at this bright future within this group of friends and family. We’re growing every day - it’s kind of like wild flowers.”
She discusses the band’s songwriting process as being very creative, interactive, and open. “Song writing is soul expression. The first tool I start with are musical timbres, finding the range of sound to convey the feeling. We talk about different topics, concerns and feelings, then we agree on one that suits best the mood and atmosphere we’re in at that time. Topics could be public influence, families, personal interest, relationships, religion, cultures, politics, you name it.
“We do our research and talk to each other. Then we pick up our instruments and sing the story we feel presented from the conversations we have shared. Thoughts, feelings and life experience inspire us all in different ways, and we work at pulling all these together into a song.
“Methods for the process is patience, understanding, listening, compassion, heart, and of course, kick-ass imagination born from pits of hungry passion for an art we understand and share.” She recalls, “The first piece Inverness wrote together as a team is entitled ‘Drifters.’ I was a bit overwhelmed to discover this new fearless way of writing in a passionate and patient team.”
Applebaum discerns from Inverness‘ recordings, “Vicki displays incredible octave range, uncanny really, but avoids any ostentation along that stretched scale…Vicki takes us through different feelings, and shows her range. What I will again say is that Vicki is honest in her use of voice.
“The first song is titled ‘No More.’ The lead guitarist, Paolo Della Rocca, delivers this little solo in the first song, which is coming from another PLANET. The first time I heard him play this I asked how he constructed it, and he said he picked up the vibe from the band. Paolo makes all those little nuance sounds without a whole bunch of electronic gizmos. A real player. They all are.”
He says about the new album, “It features tempo changes, sort of a calling sign for this band. The band plays very much to mood, so, if the mood changes, they let the tempo follow that. I think it breaks the rules, which is a good thing, but they do it in a way which works.”
Though Vicki Tetreault avoids putting a preconceived image in her audiences mind about what Inverness’ music sounds like, preferring to leave that up to each individual, she welcomes discussing the lyrical content. She conveys, “Themes we are pleased to discuss. Life can be pretty simple - people all want the same things - some love, some success, a rare moment of importance and understanding sprinkled in here and there. We try to keep our topics general in hopes of having a wider appeal.
“We take heart in what we create and do our best at keeping it real. Some of our themes would be: Never be afraid to accept and be yourself; be different and speak out on social issues and un-spoken truths; never sell out – your soul and voice is priceless. Life is not about striking it rich and investing our blood sweat and tears as materialistic fanatics. It’s about spreading a little truth, living the best lives we can."
She recollects, “On my last solo CD before joining Inverness, I sing some very personal songs about my individual experiences. Now the songs we create together are more general in scope.”
Vicki believes that Inverness’ music shows how people have impacted them. “It's all about the impact they have and spread on us. I think our fans can recognize something of themselves in us. We do try to expose what I like to call ‘two-faced, poisoned candy-apple persuaders,’ or ‘heartless Freaks and their helpless victims.’ We fight hard to have our music heard, and love to soak up what the fans reflect back to us.”
Inverness’ upcoming CD was recorded at Paramedia Studios in Montreal. “Paramedia does a lot of Film and Television production work, but it’s also a fantastic studio to record. It’s a premier studio in Montreal,” she notes. “The band has a lot of technical knowledge, so we like to do most of our own production. We chose to work with the Paramedia studios because, thankfully, they speak the language of musicians and keep things moving forward with no waste of precious talent, skill or time. They had an enthusiastic response and sincere interest to what we were doing.
We look forward to working with Paramedia’s Ron Charles and Joe Barrucco in the future. Joe worked the boards as Ron took care of everything else, and we did the arrangements as Joe functioned as a second ear. We’ve finished the recording and as I’m responding we’re getting ready for the mixing and mastering sessions that will also take place at Paramedia. It will be a very active and prosperous familiarity. Decisions are completed with equal input from all band members, although anyone wondering off with the last bag of pretzels may miss out!!,” she jokes.
Though the band has been in Paramedia Studios for months, they are eager to perform their songs live. Vicki shouts, “Oui!!” when asked if the band is ready to tour. “Inverness is always prepared and eager to play live. It’s the cherry on the cake.” In her native language she chimes, “Cerise sur le gateau.”
In fact, it has been “Time” she declares, that has been the band’s greatest challenge. There is so much that Inverness wants to accomplish. She lists, “A music video, touring, more writing, worldwide distribution for shows and the CD’s. We would like to sail this ship as far as the wind will take it. Invading the United States would be nice. I’ve received interest from publishers wanting my songs for film soundtracks, and I think that would be a fun thing for Inverness.”
Inverness has also been finding help to make their dream a reality by tapping into the resources available over the Internet. She notes, “Inverness has done very well with its MySpace site. It’s great for networking with fans and with other bands on the Montreal scene. It helps us maintain our mailing list, in contacting industry professionals, booking agents, labels etc. Now that the new photo session is done, we’ll be creating another website.
“I’ve also been using an Electronic Press Kit through Sonicbids and their connections - another web based promotional tool. Our attorney, Eric Applebaum, is putting an EPK together for Inverness and this will broaden our outreach. Of course, I’ve found the Internet to be one click away into a world of answers…it’s endless.”
As Inverness’ ship is about to leave port, Vicki Tetreault offers aspiring artists some helpful advice. “Work hard, make a plan, follow it, stay true to yourself, never listen to anyone unless they truly speak your language, and BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Parts of it are a job like anything else; parts are the very source of life. If there were a written recipe, I think everyone would get sick from eating the same damn thing. Follow your heart and never allow anyone to suggest changing who you are, because your differences are what make you special.”
She suggests, “Think of your critics as doors to new opportunities. They can be extremely harsh and heartless at times, but bottom line, they are giving out free pointers that you are free to leave or take. It’s all good. Also, keep in mind they are only doing their job. The more buttons they push, the more they are credited, so consider yourself lucky to have someone investing their time in studying you down to the T.
“There are two ways to deal with critics who truly push you over the edge,” Vicki continues, “Turn the other cheek, or flash the other one that hardly ever sees the sun, then hang on for the ride - so to speak! In the end, even so-called bad publicity can work for you if your public agrees with your actions.
“Don’t think you have to fit into some stereotype lifestyle. It’s your life, make the best of it, and be prepared to stand by decisions you make. Most of all, be true to your nature and live as happy as you can. Self-dignity is worth a thousands lives, never sell yourself short, not even at times when it hurts the most. In the end I’m sure you’ll have a splendid laugh with your friends about it all.”
Inverness’ new album is due out in the next few months. Listen to tracks at www.myspace.com/invernessband.
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