Despite a lifetime of experience on the guitar, as soon as Victoria Vox picked up the ukulele for the first time, she knew her musical career would change.
Vox, who will perform Saturday at the Carroll Arts Center with cellist Katie Chambers, has been playing the ukulele for 12 years. She said she was inspired to pick it up after hearing Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World."
Vox said she had played guitar for many years while studying songwriting, but once she picked up the ukulele, it unlocked new forms of creativity for her.
"It is an interesting constraint to work trying to push the ukulele to different emotional edges," Vox said. "They can be upbeat, jazzy and light or they can be really moving or emotionally driven. It's music, ultimately, and they're songs that are inspired by travel and life and everything around me."
Vox performs a blend of cover songs like "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, "The Ballroom Blitz" by The Sweet and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan, as well as her own original material. Over her career, she has released nine albums, been featured on the cover of Ukulele magazine, won International Acoustic Music Awards as well as Independent Music Awards and has performed throughout the world.
She said writing for the ukulele has its own unique flavor compared to writing for other instrumentation.
"The four strings, the simplicity and the limitations make me focus more on what I'm saying and how I'm saying it," Vox said. "I can take a happy ditty and start singing somber lyrics to it, and play with that tension."
In 2011, Vox undertook a 52 cover song project, a year-long initiative to cover a different song every week for a year, and released the pieces on YouTube. Following that conclusion, she began a second goal, the 52-original song project. Vox said both projects were difficult in their own unique ways.
"The cover song project was kind of like going back to school. I was studying the work of other songwriters and memorizing chords and gained an appreciation for a lot of songs," Vox said. "The original song project was built around focusing more on the writing process. I learned that memorizing and learning cover songs was more exhausting than putting forth my writing foot."
In addition to the ukulele, Vox performs music with what is known as the "mouth trumpet," blowing air through pursed lips that mimics the sound of the instrument. This talent took her to the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in 2009, where she performed for a celebrity panel including Ed Asner. She said the mouth trumpet just came to her out of the blue.
"I was driving in the car and writing a song and I just started doing it," Vox said. "I made a decision to make it one of my instruments."
Vox said it has taken a great deal of practice to perfect the mouth trumpet.
"When I decided I was going to do it for real, I started listening to jazz musicians like Chet Baker or Miles Davis and learning their solos and writing horn parts for my songs," Vox said. "You have to think like a horn player; you can't think like a singer."
Vox said it's taken her a while to get used to performing, but now that she has, she thrives upon the stage.
"I grew up a very nervous performer. I was never very comfortable," Vox said. "The more you do something, the more you become used to it. There are still moments on stage where I get nervous, but I try to be as personable as I can. I've got to be myself and be here in this moment. I can't change who I am."
Carroll County Daily Headlines
If You Go
What: Victoria Vox
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 18
Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster
Cost: $14 adults, $12 Carroll County Arts Council members, youth 18 and younger and seniors older than 60.
For more information: Visit http://www.carrollartscenter.com or call 410-848-7272.