Music is truly international. The internet now makes music from every corner of the globe reach every other corner of the globe. On the other end of the spectrum sometimes it is better to be somewhat isolated in the formative years of your musical journey. Our recent find One Girl Symphony learned to love music without all the outside media hype to influence her tastes.
The project is the brainchild of Whitney Vandell who hails from Addis Abada, Ethopia. At the age of two she was adopted by a missionary who happened to be a classically trained music teacher. Being away from the fanfare of the European and American music scenes allowed Whitney to develop a fully original sound in her own time. She later connected with violinist William Stewart through on online forum and the idea for One Girl Symphony was born. The two worked together exclusively online and only first met at their first performance at TEDx in Ethiopia.
The resulting album became known as One Girl Symphony. The 14 track record is a full experience in sound and experimentation. From the first song “No Glitch” you know you are in for something different as there is no set genre to put your finger on but just a mesh of the best elements of Blues, Hip Hop, Rock, African and Celtic music. There is an elegant beauty through tracks like “What Can I Say” and “Distant Light” with classical piano as a main element among many other instrumental sounds making themself known. “Violins In The Hood” welcomes in some vocals to the mish-mosh of sound. There is just an amazement at the instrumental skill of these two songwriters. The last track on the record “The Way I Am” brings in a more rock sound while still letting the strings do the heavy lifting of the melody. This is a record that should be listened through fully to get the full experience.
We recently had the chance to chat with Whitney Vandell of One Girl Symphony and see how it all came together. Enjoy the interview here:
The title of your project, One Girl Symphony, seems to mean a lot to you. Tell us how you came up with that?
People started to calling me that as a version of “one man band” and it stuck. It’s more catchy and descriptive to get people curious rather than just having a random name. I know it is a bit deceptive and pretentious to imply that the selection of tracks makes up a symphony and that it’s one person doing it all. In my mind I see the album title as One Girl’s Symphony.
Your music is quite original. How would you describe your sound?
It has many elements of many different genres at the same time. Take for instance the opening track “No Glitch” with the it’s mix of pizzicato strings and blues guitars against a hip-hop beat and Celtic folk violins coming together. But overall, I think that the music can be described as blues rock with classical orchestra arrangements.
For me, composing and recording is like painting. This style is the result of years of jamming with myself, trying out different grooves and harmonies on top of each other to see what fits. I hope that people listening to my music keep hearing new sides to it and won’t be able to determine if it was recorded last year or many decades back. In a way I think that you have that with all great artists and music.
Tell us about your early life in Ethiopia and how you got on this musical journey?
I live in Addis Ababa but I was adopted at the age of two by an Austrian-American woman serving as a missionary who was a classically trained musician and teacher. It’s a cliche to say that there was always music around the house but that is the case. We had one of the few private grand pianos in Addis here at our house when I was growing up. Seeing how little there is here in terms of entertainment and my mother being a rather private person on the outskirts of town, most of the time we would just spend playing and listening to music together. It’s just the way it always was and I don’t remember that she would give me formal lessons as such.
We didn’t have many modern conveniences and people in the West might see that as a disadvantage. But I don’t see that way and I’m grateful for the relative isolation. With Addis being like a bubble, I want to see that as an advantage and not a restriction. Most creative types of work tend to happen over long periods of time in a degree of isolation. I can’t help but think that if I had grown up in the US and identified with modern black culture my development as a musician and composer would not have been the same.
Explain your songwriting process to us?
I don’t have a formula for writing but I do it on the piano. A lot of how I see song writing is a matter of setting the scene, creating a build up and a satisfying release, or preferably two or three. How it often starts for me is that I focus first on just writing a piano intro, as if it is an opening chapter setting the scene for what kind of a story it is going to be. That tends to then reveal the chorus. Once that main characters are sketched out the verses are like background that offers the context to make the whole thing interesting. The solo is like the decor or special effects.
You met your songwriting partner for the first time at TEDx for a live performance. Tell us about that experience.
Meeting William for the first time was one of life’s most extraordinary and special experiences. Finding out that he is the opposite of me as a person shocked me because before I met him I felt very connected to him on an emotional level musically. We had gotten to know each other only over email and making music together for well over a year before he came over. We didn’t even speak on the phone before he showed up. So when he arrived to Ethiopia it took a lot of getting used to with dealing with a person that intense and erratic. It was very different from what I had pictured him to be like. In my mind it is like I still know two Williams, the first is the one I got to know through music and over the Internet and the second is the real life character.
What is next for Whitney Vandell and One Girl Symphony?
I have no idea! I try and stay focused on what is right in front of me and not get distracted by assumptions about how the world will change as I can’t influence it anyway. I don’t set goals or expectations with anything other than composing and recording at the top of my ability without compromising what I feel is my true identity.
You can find out more about One Girl Symphony at: http://www.onegirlsymphony.com/