Thursday, February 4, 2016

Interview with Whitney Vandell of One Girl Symphony

This week we had the pleasure of doing an interview with Whitney Vandell, a young musical prodigy from Ethiopia, who was adopted at the age of two by an American missionary and music teacher. After pushing the limits of home recording as far as she could, Whitney reached out to the violinist William Stewart on an Internet forum to help her complete her Symphony. The result after a year of bouncing tracks between each other is a collection of tracks that defy categorization into any genre or performance style while seamlessly blending everything from classical, rock, hip-hop, and the blues to folk music.

Hey Whitney, thanks for doing the interview with us today.
So what is the name of your band?

My band is called "One Girl Symphony" and I compose, arrange, produce and play most of the instruments except the violin.

And where are you from?

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. Growing up I spent most of my childhood following my mother living among tribal people in remote areas across Africa.

How old were you when you first got into the music scene? What got you started in music?

Music was the first language that I learned how to communicate in with my mother Gertrude, a former cello player. Without electricity, much less radio or TV, I grew up having almost no exposure to popular music. It wasn't until I spent a year in New Jersey to attend high school that I was exposed to modern American rock music. Or, rock from the 80?s and 90?s. Hearing Guns n' Roses changed me and since then Slash became the father figure I never had when growing up.

What were your ambitions when you first started?

This might sound clich├ęd but I wrote and recorded music only for my own enjoyment. But the truth is that I never saw my music as having a commercial audience. I don't think that there are particularly many people in the public that are able or have the time to understand much less appreciate my music. And I really don't mind. Instead, my aim as a musician has always been to create music at the top of my potential. Though I admit that in the back of my mind I secretly plan to one day play my recordings for Slash and afterwards we will drive over to Axel's house to jam and hang out.

Where was your first gig?

My first gig was here in Addis Ababa, at the TEDx conference.

Where was the latest gig?

My latest gig was for the premiere of my symphony at the Alliance Francaise.

What would you say are your good and bad traits as an artist?

I think that some would say that my strengths and weaknesses spring from the same well, in that I'm not very open to modern sounds or trends. This is also what allows me to create music that is timeless and not easily pigeonholed.

What genre do you feel your music falls under?

If you listen to my music you can hear the distinct elements of many diverse genres at the same time. I would say that blues rock performed with a classical training and arrangements as probably the best way to describe my music.

Why did you pick that particular style? Or what about that style called to you?

It wasn't really anything that I set out to do. The way music is recorded today where it is easy to do multi tracking, it is somehow like painting for me. This style is the result of years of jamming with myself, trying out different groves and harmonies on top of each other to see what fits.

Have you released any albums?

Yes, I recently released my album One Girl Symphony. You can find it on all streaming services, on CD, DVD and also as a free mobile app. You can find all the links on
The mobile app on:

Which band is the best that you've seen live? What made their show so good?

I haven't really been to many live shows and I don't like loud music. Not to sound snobbish but I am very sensitive to acoustics. I have had the fortune of attending many symphonies with my mom in both the US and Europe. I would say my favorite band is the Berliner Philharmonic. I like their tempo and aggression, their perfection and their raw feeling. I'm also a big fan of Led Zeppelin and the original line-up of Guns n Roses. It would love to one day get the chance to jam with Jimmy Page or Slash.

Any plans of touring?

It would love to tour but I don't have plans for that now.  It is a lot of work to put a production of my music together to make it worthwhile. But on some level I feel that once it's been performed it is also completed. If Mozart spent all his time promoting Eine Kleine Nacht Musik he wouldn't have gone on to doing more interesting music.

What are the plans for the rest of the year music wise?

Depending on how you count, composing and recording my symphony that is my debut album it took over five years to complete. It was about twenty tracks that were recorded in all. It wasn't anything I rushed and looking to the future I find it difficult to look at a similar long term project like this. First I need to collect inspiration and write new songs that I feel are worthwhile recording. I intend to do a lot of experimenting in the years ahead and see if leads to anything that I feel deserves to be produced. Maybe learn new instruments and techniques.

Is it easier to get your inspiration from older bands or from bands more modern?

I listen to a wide mix of different music but if I am to be honest, I avoid contemporary artists. There is so much incredible music from the last 500 years that I try and listen to and I don't have time to listen to albums just because they were recorded in the last year.  Other than that I also feel that pop and rock artists today are no longer musicians or compose their own songs to express themselves which makes it all less interesting to me.

What are your sources of inspiration when writing a new song?

I look a lot to Stax, motown and soul music when building up grooves and harmonies as the basis of my songs and the melodies are improvised and more blues oriented. 

How do you feel about the downloading of music instead of buying albums in todays digital world?

I think it is great to have all music in the world available to you wherever you are. Some complain that artists are not making money. I believe that the only real artists are those that suffer and if you are doing music for money you probably shouldn't be doing music in the first place. Like Taylor Swift complaining about not getting paid enough form streaming services. It isn't even her music! Artistically most female artists today are better described as being fashion models, merely fronting music that others have created.

Is your music available for free download anywhere?

Yes, on Soundcloud. However, I recommend listening to it along with the film I created for it on vimeo.

What would be your dreams performance/venue?

I would love to perform in New Orleans. I was there last year and recorded a few tracks live at the House of Blues that made it onto the album. Its the tracks "Blues City Jam" and "the Way I Am".  

Besides your own music, what genres and bands do you listen to?

This always changes and I go through seasons with what I listen to. But a lot in recent years has been music from the 70s like Elton John, Queen, Led Zeppelin, American singer-songwriters. Movie soundtracks too. A lot of the time I prefer to not listen to any music at all for long periods of time.

Have you been in any other bands before this one?

I tried for many years to start a band but it never worked out. I'm somehow shy, others call me arrogant, but growing up with my Austrian-American mother I cant help having inherited a superiority complex of sorts and being a bit of a musical perfectionist. Discovering the sequencing software Garageband on my MacBook and seeing how easy it was to record multiple tracks and mix them together was a revelation to me. I realized that having a band wasn't necessary as I could play all the instruments myself and make it sound exactly like I heard the music in my head.

Any pearls of wisdom for all other bands out there with less experience than you?

As a musician I feel that it is important to focus on doing music that you love the best you can. It is great if your music gets heard but having that as a goal is probably not the recipe for making good music or being happy. If you do get heard by a wider audience then it's likely that there are as many people that will dislike your music as will like it. In a way, you can also measure commercial success by how many people hate you.

Considering the major changes in today's music industry in the digital world and the rise in home studios/DIY independent artists. What do you think is the future of the music industry?  Is this good or bad in your view?

If it wasn't for cheap production tools to do home recording I would never have been able to create the music that I have. I am tremendously grateful for having had access to this and to at all be living in this day and age. But what I see as a problem on the other hand is that this technology is not being used to lift the quality of music and its production. Instead, many dabble in music that really shouldn't be. These days making music and playing a computer game appears to be more or less the same thing. In some cases you have concerts where artists go on stage and are cheered on for banging their computer keyboard like it was a bongo drum. I have no idea what they are doing.
What advice would you give less experienced band, that you wish someone had given you?
If there is an instrument you cannot play that well get someone else to play it!

How would you describe your sound in one sentence?

Someone said about my music, it is what Mozart would have sounded like if he was born today as a female in Africa.

Thank you Whitney for doing this interview with us. You can find more info about Whitney Vandell by following the links below.

1 comment:

  1. The interview with Whitney Vandell, the creative force behind One Girl Symphony, offers an insightful look into her unique musical project. One Girl Symphony is an innovative endeavor where Whitney combines her talents as a composer, musician, and producer to create symphonic music as a solo artist. This interview is unlike any other official career interview; some people have expressed interest in being the interviewers to submit the Rent Kia Pegas 2020. This interview sheds light on her creative process, inspirations, and the challenges she faces as a one-woman symphony orchestra.