Presence is one of those musical intangibles that can't be learned. Many talented performers never gain widespread success because, despite amazing chops or a gifted voice, they simply aren't memorable
beyond the fading vibrations of that final note. Combine presence with talent, and you have that mystical "it" that creates stars.
Watch Virgina Traut, the first name alone usually suffices, perform on stage at the Saint, the chill evening bringing a packed crowd off the corner of Main Street, Asbury Park, and you're seeing a young
performer who, outwardly at least, seems comfortable and natural on stage. Whether presence is a combination of talent, experience, confidence, flair and cleverness, or just the kind fate of physical beauty
and the right light shining off the top of an acoustic guitar, she has it.
Born in the mid-west and traveling briefly to California, Virginia finally settled on the East Coast, and has become a popular and regular performer in the New York/New Jersey bar and coffeehouse scene.
A natural singer who had written poetry since she was a young girl, she was inspired to learn guitar and begin to put music to her written words. Since 1993, she has become a part of the local scene, releasing
her debut album, Sweet Conscience, on indie label Gig Records, in 2000.
Now seeking to expand beyond the local rooms have become her regular haunts, she celebrated the March 2003 release of her six-track follow-up album, Hush, with a CD release party at New York's
Le Bar Bat. Chorus and Verse caught up with Virginia to ask how the party went, and about the interaction between her poetry and her music. Most importantly, we wanted to know what kind of wine she liked
to drink between songs.
How did your CD release party at Le Bar Bat go? Is it nerve-wracking after putting so much work into a new album to finally release it to the world and see what the reaction is?
The show went great! I wasn't too nervous. I generally try to replace nervousness with excitement as often as possible.
More importantly, did you have a great birthday?
I had a great time on my birthday. I was rather happy that it didn't end up like my 21st! (Laughs.)
Hush is your second album, a follow-up to Sweet Conscience. How has your songwriting and performing style evolved between the two CDs? Does it get easier to write
and explore new themes as you continue along in your career?
I believe that all artists are constantly evolving. The more you write, the more you grow. I do feel that I too have evolved since my last album; however, my intent is still to capture as much emotion
as possible in the most simplistic fashion.
Expand a little on your songwriting style. You started writing poetry, eventually getting the point where you could add music to your prose. How does your creative process usually
begin, and what steps do you go through to produce a song to bring to the stage?
I actually always start out by sitting down with a glass of wine, strumming my guitar and singing nonsensical words with different melodies. I continue to do this until something strikes my attention.
It's not until after I am completely satisfied with my guitar part and melody that I start writing the lyrics. I have always found writing lyrics is easier when there is already a particular vibe to follow.
Are you a prolific writer, with notebooks full of ideas that you assemble into finished songs over time? Do you get hit with flashes of inspiration, where you just need to just
something down, or are you more of a therapeutic writer, who likes to be able to sit and concentrate of it for a little while?
I actually haven't started any new poetry notebooks since I was 16. I have found that spontaneity is key. My songs come from far within, sometimes farther than I can even grasp. Oddly enough, an average
song of mine only takes about 20 " 30 minutes to write, and that's the way I like it. It seems that the longer I spend on a song, the less I like it. If it doesn't work within a certain period of time,
it's possible that it never will. That, of course, never stops me from revisiting incomplete songs.
Have you ever tried to get published as a poet? Are there times when you'll write without intending to put music to a particular piece? Do you ever come up with a cool riff on the
guitar, and just have to go back and find some lines to use with it?
Well, actually, I have a poetry book; however, it is not for sale. At least not yet. There is usually a difference between poetry and lyrical poetry. I try to keep those separate. I think that the flow
of my poetry is much different than the poetry in my lyrics. However, I will use certain lines from my poetry every now and then.
Any favorite poems that you haven't set to music yet that you'd like to share?
Sure. I have plenty. They are all much too long to recite right now, though.
You recently performed a successful return gig at the Saint, and have performed at other area rooms, including the recently-opened Jimi's. Do you have any favorite places to perform,
or places where you've hung out, and not had a chance to play yet?
I really love playing at Le Bar Bat in NYC. It really is a great room. I also love the Bitter End. However, I feel most comfortable at The Saint. It's a great place to play because you can practically
do whatever you want. A lot of venues have limitations on putting on an actual show.
Speaking of your last gig at the Saint, you were drinking wine in between songs, right? What's your favorite drink while on stage? Is wine showing off your sophisticated side?
Absolutely! Red wine is my favorite. Whether that is a sophisticated thing or not, I'm not sure. What I do know is that it puts my mind at ease and that's important!
You're a regular nominee at the Asbury Music Awards, picking up "Best Female Performer" in 2001. What's your attitude towards being included in the awards each year, and what are
your opinions about the state of your local music scene these days?
I am happy that I have received a lot of local recognition. Now I'm really pushing for recognition both inside and outside of this immediate area. I don't know exactly what to say about the current state
of the local music scene. At times it's disappointing for reasons that I would much prefer to keep to myself.
What's the primary acoustic guitar you perform with, and how did you acquire it? Have you ever considered performing with an electric? Have you made a conscious decision to perform
unplugged, or has that simply been the best means of expression for you?
I play with a Takamine. I purchased it about a year ago. It truthfully has been my best friend. I can't say that I will never play with an electric guitar, but for now I'm happy with my acoustic-electric.
It fits best with my style of music.
What are your plans to promote Hush, and what do you hope that your musical career will bring to you over the next year?
I plan on playing as much as possible and getting the word out. Other than that, my sleeves are full of tricks. If I told you what they were you might try to steal them. (Laughs.) We'll see ...
[ Website: www.virginiatraut.com ]