The VeeVees. In Art, there is no judgment.
A cabaret singer, Berklee School of Music graduate and former filmmaker are the nucleus of the New York-based rock force, The VeeVees. A creative and cohesive unit, the group share a very easy and natural rapport onstage with visible knowing smiles and glances exchanged onstage and they seem totally in synch with one another.
The stylish and outrageous band fronted by the dynamic vocalist/provocateur Sophia Urista from Detroit, MI, shook and jolted their audience out of their apathetic, jaded L.A. cool with elements of surprise, spontaneity and shock which inspired a recent show at The Viper Room. Possessing boundless energy and nerve, the group also including Garrett Cillo, singer/songwriter and guitarist and drummer Andrea Belfiore, never let up during the 11-song set including "Main Squeeze" and "Groovin Swoon."
Sophia Urista is the perfect foil for this visual assault of the senses and never backed down from the challenge. Rocking a fro-hawk, clad in a black leather leotard with leather, wearing hot pants, thigh-high stockings and towering matching stilettos, the audience couldn't take their eyes off her and one would imagine they would talk about her long after the show ended.
Urista did whatever it took to get your attention: humping the stage floor, drums and speakers. It seems liked she was channeling Prince or Jimi Hendrix. Nothing was off limits or taboo. At one point, she talked to the crowd about cum being all over the floor (real or imagined?) and ejaculation. She occasionally shouted out to the women in the crowd calling them "her bitches."
Not to be overshadowed by Urista's theatrics/antics, Cillo made a mark of his own jumping off the stage at one point into the audience. Though more a traditional approach and less subdued, it was entertaining and fun, too. Dressed in a black polka dot shirt, rust-colored pants and glittery silver loafers, he wailed on guitar pulling out searing riffs and power chords in tandem with the explosive, groove laden rhythms generated by Andrea Belfiore.
The biggest disappointment and drawback to the entire set was the sound mix that buried all the vocals making it very difficult to tell each song apart therefore blending them all together. Unless you listened to the songs before the show on You Tube or through song clips on the band website, you were lost at this live show.
The VeeVees have good, catchy songs. They have a great, interesting flair, showmanship and the chops to pull it all together but more care and attention is needed in the live setting to getting the material audibly across that cements the foundation of their entire package.
Q&A with Harriet Kaplan of Punch Records and The VeeVees....
PR. How did you come up with the name VeeVees for the band? VV. Garrett Cillo: I was doing filmmaking in New York. I was mainly focused on writing. One of the characters in one of my scripts was called VeeVee. She is basically the epitome of a perfect woman. So essentially, VeeVees means beautiful woman. It's as simple as that. It's kind our drive to as why we are in the band. PR. What's the most unique or weird thing that has happened to the band on tour? VV. Garrett Cillo: To be honest, we don't go on the road much. This is our first time coming out to L.A. We went to Italy last year, last Summer, which was great. The most surprising thing to us when we go anywhere is how welcomed we are with the audiences. I mean rock and roll is definitely an underdog these days. It's refreshing to go to a place that is not expecting rock and roll. Then we show up and people are really into it. That's the most gratifying thing and it's weird in a way because you don't expect that. Somebody expects an indie band or a pop band to come onstage. Then you come onstage and bring out the guitar and loud drums. You get people moving. It's a good feeling. PR. Tell me about the Arezzo Wave Festival. How did The VeeVees get chosen and why? What was the experience performing there like? How has the festival helped the band's career? VV. Garrett Cillo: We didn't know why we were chosen ourselves. It was a strike of luck. We went through Sonicbids. It's an internet site that connects you to different show opportunities. We just thought we would submit our music to a few things. We submitted our music to the Arezzo Wave festival in Italy on a whim and they actually chose us. We were grateful but we didn't know what drew us to them. Once we got to Italy, we met with the operators of the festival. They said out of 200 bands they listened to every single piece of music every band had submitted and then they listened our music and enjoyed it so they asked us to come over. It was nice to go over to Italy because I feel Europe appreciates rock and roll a bit more than the American public does. We met a lot of people over there and made connections. We got exposure. We got more fans after we played the festival. We did a few radio shows. We are going to take any opportunity to expand the band to have audiences hear us. It was very beneficial for us. Sophia Urista: Europeans appreciate live music in a different way period. No matter what type of music it is. There is less of a celebrity culture I feel abroad. Here people are less apt to get excited about you because you haven't done this or that thing. Unless you're famous, people say, I'm not going to wait in line to see your band. I'm not saying that all American audiences feel that way but going abroad people do appreciate the exotic nature of American bands more. PR. What's the band's strategy? What is the benefit for The VeeVees to come to L.A.? How is the homegrown approach working for the band versus touring out of state? VV. Garrett Cillo : A homegrown approach to me is hitting it hard in New York City. Get your name out to all the clubs. You want to go to a bar, and when people have heard about you, you know you have doing something right. It's a lot of work and more beneficial than doing a random tour because more people are going to know about you in your home city than if you toured in some random state. It's more helpful in that sense. The reason we came to L.A. Most importantly was one of Andrea's friends, James Saez, he's an amazing producer and he offered to work with us on one of our new songs.. That was the biggest opportunity for us to come out here. And since we were coming out here, we decided to book a few shows. Just play while we'redoing the recording and do as much as we can while we're out here. Other than that, I don't think we would have come to L.A. for any other reason. It's most important to get a base of fans in your area. It's like a gang. You just expand out from your home state. That's the best way to do it. PR. Do you feel you and Andrea are kindred spirits, have a shared vision and interest in music? Is that why you the two of you got together to form the band? VV. Garrett Cillo: I think the thing that was most attractive was we kind of listened to all the same music and it's rare for our generation and in this day and age because a lot of people are listening to electronic music. A lot of people want to be pop stars or start an indie band. Not many people have that classic rock and roll love. That's the thing that attracted me most and was refreshing to be around somebody that listened to the same music as you. With music, it helps a lot because you have the same influences and the same track of mind as to what you want to do and play as a musician. When you incorporate rock and roll, you have The Doors, Cream and Jimi Hendrix, we are both influenced by and we mesh well musically. This was 2011. We started out jamming and clicked musically. We decided to play more and more and we thought: hey why don't we try to write some songs, and from there, play some shows. It happened gradually. Nothing was forced and I think that's very important. You can't be in the mindset of I need to do this or that. You have to let things happen naturally, believe in your talents and your aspirations. PR. Can you tell me about the well-known engineer or producer you got to work with and how that experience recording with him went? VV. Andrea Belfiore: He worked with some of the greatest people such as Paul cCartney, Mary J. Blige and P.O.D. He also mix some Michael Jackson's records. I showed Roy some of our songs. One was a live performance of the song Brunette Babe. He really liked our song and hasn't really been working with rock bands lately.Unfortunately there isn't much rock music out there. Roy invited us in legendary Studio A at Avatar Studios NYC and we tracked the whole song in only four hours. Garrett even wrote some of the lyrics during the session. It was magical to work with Roy in that room. Garrett directed the music video for the song. PR. How involved are you in making the videos and creating the concepts? What is your inspiration for them? VV. Garrett Cillo: I actually have a filmmaking background that's why I originally moved to New York City. I had been doing that stuff for years and then the music. For the videos, I thought of fun, silly ideas. I don't like bands that take themselves too seriously. The first one was for Dog Day Revel where Andrea and I are strippers. I thought it would be funny to objectify men. Usually women are being objectified. I thought it was a nice little twist. For the second one, it was a narrative not really anything that has to do with band. It was a little bit of a short story. I love Michael Jackson's videos that have a story behind it. I wrote, directed and produced all of them. It was kind of my day job and I got to mix work and play. As much as I love music videos, it's becoming a lost art in this day and age because there is so much online. It's kind of over saturated. We like doing them and got positive feedback but I don't think they are a game changer. PR. How did you find Sophia? Has adding her to lineup changed the band's dynamics? Is the band's image changing or expanding? VV. Garrett Cillo: I met Sophia five years and we become friends and it was fun. Later, Andrea and I started the band. I had always wanted to work with Sophia. I was fascinated by her energy, performances and her voice. I saw her at this little spot like a Chinatown speakeasy she would sing at. Sophia Urista: I thought Garrett had a crush on me for the longest time. I was thinking: does he have a crush on me? Garrett was always staring at me (laughs, joking). He never really spoke to me. He would just watch me and there would be some small talk. Andrea Belfiore: The funny thing is I met Garrett at the same place in 2011 on Halloween. I also saw Sophia sing there a few weeks later. That's where I met both of them. Years later, we wound up in a band together. Garrett Cillo: The image of the band definitely changed. You go from two men to adding a very sexy, incredible female vocalist. You definitely get a little more appeal. That wasn't the main drive for me because as a two piece we had a couple of guest performers/musicians. I really wanted to work with Sophia because I listened to some of her solo stuff and I asked her to jam with Andrea and I. She actually performed with us before she was even in the band. We had a conversation about working together and then she joined the band. I'm always looking for creative people to work with. Andrea Belfiore: Garrett wanted to work with Sophia and I was also a fan of hers. Sophia came to some of our shows as a duo and she said she really liked us. There was mutual respect and admiration. We also had chemistry. That's why it's working. The first show we presented Sophia as a band member was in a May. PR. Why did you join The VeeVees? What's it been like so far being in the group? Can you tell about your background as a singer and experience prior to getting into the band? VV. Sophia Urista: I have never been in a band that was a cohesive unit on its own before. Everything I've ever done before has been for a specific event or show I was doing. I haven't been singing very long. I never knew how to get people together to do my stuff. Everything else has been work for hire. I quit teaching and I was singing at an open mic. I won a karaoke contest and my friend said you should start singing. I woke up one night and felt I should sing and that was it. I started doing open mics and things started happening really fast but I had no experience. It seemed like I had experience but I really didn't. I reached out to random people. I wanted more of group dynamic that was stable and I reached out and manifested it and it came to me in the form of The VeeVees. It's been really great. We don't do covers but original songs. Rock is my favorite genre of music. I like female vocalists that kick ass and put it out all onstage. There is something compelling to me about being the front-woman that is honest and naked. We all like the same music and have the same playlists. We have come together and rock out and it's an interesting journey and very new. Andrea Belfiore: Musicians always think about the future and are a step ahead of what is going on now. What we are focused now is to grow as a band and put out the new songs we have. When we rehearse, we all bring all kinds of stuff to the table. Sophia might say: why don't you do that on the drums? Or she may say to Garrett: why don't you do that on the vocals? These are contributions to the music, and at the end of the day, we perform together. Be yourself and put your shit out there. Don't worry what people say. In art, there is no judgement.