Interview- VETZA (for The Wire)

I was born in Guatemala Central America to German/Guatemalan parents during the revolutionary period called Eternal Spring.I was still living there when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government in 1954. Over bananas! Really. Moved to California in 1958. Started playing cello at age 10 and singing professionally at around seventeen. I am classically trained. Played with the Pasadena symphony orchestra. Studied voice with Enid Clement who was a student of Lotte Lehmann. Discovered Jazz and rhythm and blues by chance.  There was what was called a “race station” on the radio which was the only place you heard “Negro” music.  This was around 1960 61. Miles Davis,Coltrane, Marvin Gaye were my first loves with a twisted love affair with Johnny Mathis thrown in….I am not ashamed. I studied music and became a student of  Bobby Bradford who was Ornette Coleman’s first cornet player. I was also very curious about 20th century classical contemporary composers.

I met Joe in a 30’s revival band where he played upright bass and I was the lead singer and occassional  string section of one cello.  My first impression of him was that he was a pretty calm guy.  I really liked his family too.

I have heard Joe talk about the concept of Airway in relationship to the use of subliminals which was quite intriguing. My first recording with him was done in his home studio and I was so self conscious I asked him to leave the room and I sat under a table.. He had asked me to come over and do some “screaming into a mike”. What girl doesn’t want to do that right? I was already singing bebop and free jazz so the opportunity to record something free was exciting. Joe gave me so much freedom that it made me nervous because I wasn”t sure what he wanted, but once I started singing it just really felt great. I can honestly tell you I am fearless when I start improvising.

I believe that Joe’s primary interest was the subliminals and not the manipulation of my voice.  I currently work with two mikes, one is processed the other is not.

I met Rick at Joe’s parents when he was still a kid. I met everybody else at the gigs.  I didn’t really hang out with them much Though I do remember going over to Tom and Fredrik’s when they shared a house. I had a daughter in 1973 and that was really my main focus. I was also singing jazz for a living in LA so I was doing a lot of jazz and classical gigs.

I don’t know how Airway developed into a full group.  It always seemed like there were lots of people around.

I remember working at LACE. I think that was the time the curator unplugged us and there was a bit of an exchange.  I remember there were people outside and across the street from the gallery listening to us through the second story open windows.  The foul exchange had to do with what was AAHRT and they knew what we did and still chose to invite us.  I think Fredrik may remember with more detail.

An aesthetic? Well as you know we have been called the lowest form of music but you’re talking to the woman who happily joined a group you may know called Fat and Fucked Up. Again, the magic for me was that someone told me I got to do free improvisation. I think the aesthetic has to do with whatever Joe chooses to present in the subliminals-which he doesn’t disclose- and the wall of sound which masks that.

I think I’m probably the wrong person to ask about the LA scene. I tend to gravitate towards a variety of people and doings and in the late sixties early seventies I was involved in the Black liberation movement at San Francisco state at the inception of the Black Panther party which was distributing food in the park and yes they were packing. They would swing by the Black students union where I was one of two latina members. I know there were a tremendous number of galleries which are now gone and for me the excitement of the melding of music and art was quite compelling. The idea that sound was art.

I loved Poo Bah because it seemed the place to find anything cutting edge and there was a big Airway poster on the wall which had my name on it. Made me little kid happy! They carried a huge section of used records and that was great.  I do remember the day Bitches Brew came out.  Miles’ wanted to make dough I hear. Can’t blame him but I l bought the album listened to the whole thing got back in the car and returned it. I do understand an artist has to grow and experiment.  I was also moving away from the straight ahead scene so I think that influenced my response.  It wasn’t straight ahead but I didn’t get it.

Weasles rip my flesh . Frank Zapa Patti Smith traditional Korean music Sun Ra -whom I had the pleasure of opening for in his last west coast tour- I listened to everything I studied bebop really carelfully. You listen you practice and then you throw it all away and open your mouth to see what comes out. I didn’t really listen to a lot of rock however.

Improvisation seemed a natural place for me to land. Starting with that 30’s band I studied and loved Ellington and Fats Waller, Dizzy and Parker. I did study formally for two years with Bradford but had grown up hearing the beautiful riffs of the guitars in the Trio Los Panchos as a child. I think hard core studying gave me a great background but my heart really sang with the free stuff.

I still practice classical technique and bebop to prepare for a gig. I spent years working without lyrics because I was more interested in the purity of the voice as an instrument. I have lately started to play with words.  It can be limiting but it opens up other avenues of expression.

As far as the intuitive notion of just opening my mouth and seeing where it goes I think improvisation is like good sex or a good conversation. You and your partner(s) don’t really know the outcome or where it’s going you just begin the dialogue.  The beauty is in that you don’t know what the others are going to say. There’s no script. The joy is in the doing, in the communicating among the players and to a certain extent the audience which becomes a part of the conversation in how they receive you. For me it is pure joy.  Nothing can go wrong because from the start you have said that anything goes as Mr. Cole Porter said.

I did not feel a connection or the recipient of a 60’s legacy.  There was a great divide in my mind in that the legacy of the sixties was two fold. Motown, rhythm and blues came from the blues, rock and roll went its own way owing a great debt to the blues but unfortunately overshadowing the rhythm and blues which I found more compelling. I think I was more interested in going somewhere new.

The emerging of the society is a Joe  question I think.  I usually showed up at the gigs and didn’t really participate in the dialogue if there was one. I always got called in by Joe and felt I would basically do whatever he asked me to do and all he ever asked was that I do whatever I want. I love Joe very much for his continuous love and acceptance of me as a musician and as a human being. I don’t think I could ask for a better friend and collaborator.

Don’t know who named LAFMS.  Always assumed it was Joe.

Prepared piano new hand made instruments etc. add another dimension to how sound occurs. I had a wonderful moment with Fat and Fucked Up the first time I played with them. My classical slip was showing. We were backstage had never played together and I asked Michael Interie the other cellist, shouldn’t we tune? He very sweetly answered Oh no, let’s make that part of the music! I knew I was in the right place! we were going to perform on classical instruments with slightly different tuning. Quarter tones!!

I don’t know if Airway is an art band. I think of it as an improvisational vehicle.

Unmusicianship. HMM  I consider myself very much a musician however I was aware that I was working with visual artists who had a concept that sound was art. I enjoyed the freedom of working with them however I think it was also a direct reflection of what was going on in the schools and in society.  The schools were cutting the music and art programs and so perhaps people who would have naturally been geared to the arts didn’t have access.  There is an unfortunate divide between doing straight music of any kind and experimenting. The good part of all this is that just like with hip hop which was born from young kids being denied access to traditional musical instruments, another form of expression was born.

I don’t know about lean years pre punk, there was a lot being said in r n b Marvin Gaye, What’s going on , Soldier boy, Dylan, Joan Baez. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, I always have to keep present the fact that the 60’s and  early 70’s were quite different in white America and Black America. Hedonism vrs Political Activism? The importance of the Viet Nam war was undeniably felt by everyone because there was mandatory service and later the lottery.

It’s great to see the far flung interest in Joe’s work.  He had an interesting experience early on with his world wide flung fame….An early Airway recording had his home address on the record and one day two fans showed up at his doorstep…all the way from Japan!

Don’t remember first hearing Bikini Tennis Shoes

I don’t have anything  to tell you on the following 5 questions.

As to the demise of old town, that my dear was pure greed.  The fight to save the historical old town was mean spirited.  The city of Pasadena allowed the developers to tear down dozens of buildings in one night to make room for what is now called OLD TOWN.  It is a place of commerce where the usual shops pay exhorbitant rent to sell many things we really don’t need. The only victory was to come in that the historical preservation society got the city to agree on a height limit of 6 stories instead of the suggested 20.  It’s a capitalist zoo on the week ends and most nights.  I do see people enjoying themselves walking in and out of stores but there is no meeting place like a park or outdoor or indoor space to gather let alone to play.

I’m used to working with whomever hires me so I never really thought of airway as being defunct.  Joe and I got together throughout the years and performed just the two of us with me on voice and cello and his ophtagone machine. I enjoyed working just with him tremendously as it felt like the chamber version of Airway.  We performed a few pieces and frankly I don’t know if any of it was recorded. There was one particular one in which he had me improvise to the entire Catholic Rosary! I love Joe . He wanted me to memorize it but I ended up reading from the little catequism book in Spanish.

Don’t have anything for you on the next four questions.

I’m always happy to work with Airway. I have continued my own search with regards to what the voice can do and perform solo on voice and cello these days. I also recorded a solo album which has three tracks of my voice with some lyric which is all improvised. I have also done two recordings with Bradford which were all improvised with bass and drums cornet cello and voice.  I did a live recording at the knitting factory with Bradford and company based on the true story of a child survivor of an army massacre of a Mayan village.  I have also worked as a theatre actor for several decades as well as written and directed plays. I have worked mostly with living playrights doing new work which has allowed me to continue to realize that for me the joy is always in the process. I have enjoyed both my work in theatre and music and have somehow managed to continue working while I raised a family. I have two daughters a “bevy” “pride”? of kitty cats and feel very fortunate most of the time.  I am currently writing a piece which involves some actual notation mixed with drawings as notation and no I don’t mean trading fours with the drummer. I am looking forward to continuing to discover new forms of expression.

One response to this post.

  1. […] Vetza has always fascinated me, with a voice and willingness to explore it that easily equals Yoko Ono. She has worked for decades in Spanish-speaking television and theater, as well as conducting workshops for voice. Onstage, she actually makes me feel welcome. Everyone else there says ‘OK, sure, set up over there somewhere, do whatever’; she says ‘Come on, join me here, let’s have some fun!’ […]


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