Q&A: Victoria Canal Wants to Make You Feel as Empowered as She Is

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Photo credit: Fiona Corinne von Grey

Whatever you do, it’s impossible to accuse singer-songwriter Victoria Canal of not putting enough emotion into her music. Her passion for her art is evident all across her EP Into the Pull, which signaled the arrival of a musician entering the industry with purpose. To date, “City Shoes” has deeply resonated with fans on its way to earning over 5 million streams on Spotify, succeeding with moving piano progressions and relatable, heartfelt lyrics.

Canal was originally born in Spain but frequently moved about the globe, spending time living in Shanghai, Tokyo, and Amsterdam, among other places. At an early age ,she became aware that music was her true calling, drawn to her grandmother’s piano melodies and familiarizing herself with a range of artists from Nelly to Jason Mraz. It didn’t take her long to begin her professional recording career – the aforementioned Into the Pull was released when she was only 17.

The five-song project attempts to tug at the heartstrings, with motivational messages that inspire the listener in times of turmoil. “Wolves (The Other Side)” uses a refreshing soundscape to tell Canal’s story of self-acceptance, swelling as she sings “It’s hard to sleep at night knowing that no matter how I try / There’s no place for me to find / On the other side, on the other side.” Elsewhere, the acoustic “Little Girl” is equally meaningful, as Canal speaks on human trafficking to end the EP on a somber, important note.

We had the chance to catch up with Canal ahead of her sold-out show in New York on April 18, presented by yours truly. Read on to see what she had to say!

OTW: You grew up watching your grandmother play classical piano — what all did you learn from her about music?

VC: Both of my grandmothers actually taught me a few really important lessons when it comes to music. My American grandmother emphasized discipline— practice, practice, practice. And never assume you know everything about something, because you don’t. My Cuban grandmother came at it from the romantic side—she’d tell me to my face if she believed what I was singing about, and remind me to always live and breathe the music I make while I’m making it. And always sing with the same intensity with which you love. Teeny versions of my grandmas remain propped on my shoulders whispering in my ears from time to time.

OTW: What kind of artists influenced your sound when you first got started?

VC: I always trusted my brother Nicolas’ taste in music growing up, and when he listened to John Mayer, I listened to John Mayer. When he listened to U2, I listened to U2. He was super into the wave of, like, the singer-songwriter/rock pop thing when I was in middle school… a lot of Maroon 5, The Script, Coldplay, Jason Mraz, Bon Iver, Paramore, the likes. I wish I could say I had a more interesting, less kitch music taste, like, “oh yeah I was totally into Thelonious Monk and Bilal in middle school,” but here’s my authentic 7th-grade self. The first time I ever played a gig (in 2012 for about four people at an unpopular restaurant), I remember submitting my “covers catalogue” beforehand and it was literally just every song I could name by Coldplay and Jason Mraz, none of which I actually knew the chords to. I just figured since I knew the lyrics and the melody I’d be able to pull it off at the gig.

OTW: Your newest single “Ebony” explores a deeper sound that graduates from your EP, Into the Pull. What can you say about your new direction?

VC: I feel like up until this record, I didn’t really abide by the term “contemporary R&B,” but that’s what people keep telling me this new sound is. It’s all moody soul stuff, mixed with singer/songwriter and electronic influence. “Ebony” is a really personal song for me about (metaphorically) carving my wounds inside piano keys to feel renewed again.

OTW: How did you decide what songs made it onto Into the Pull? Going into it, what was the message you were trying to get across?

VC: I recorded Into the Pull when I was 15 and 16 and put it out when I was 17. Over the course of all of that time, a lot had changed in my life and I felt like by the time I put it out, I knew more about who I wanted to be musically and otherwise. I consider that project the first attempt at “making art out loud” by publishing the project - I guess that’s how I consider every work of art, kind of like a, “here, this is how I’m feeling, I hope you feel me.” When recording the EP, I was getting over someone, getting shunned a lot by kids at school, and was trying to figure out why music pulled me in so dramatically from the very beginning.

OTW: You’re all about empowerment when it comes to your story — where does that come from for you? What makes that message so important to you?

VC: I feel like being born without my right arm gives me an inherent sense of responsibility to inspire people who are too afraid to go after what they want. Fear of judgment and fear of rejection is super real, and I don’t want other teenagers and young adults to waste years doubting themselves instead of just trying and trying and trying again. Feeling confident in your own skin isn’t a given —it’s a practice, and I’m still practicing.

OTW: What’s your songwriting process? What are some things you do to get into the creative zone?

VC: Songs come about in different ways for me, but usually the best ones fall into place without me really trying to force a song. It’s funny, sometimes I’ll be given songwriting prompts and a deadline for a particular project - but that music is the least organic and authentic to me. My best lines and melodies come from a place of desperation to express.

OTW: You’re about to go on tour with Michael Franti this summer — what was your reaction when you made it official?

VC: Honestly, it still hasn’t really hit me that I’m spending two entire months on the road opening for a massive artist. I’ve dreamt about that for years and I can’t believe it happened the way it did! Michael came across my Instagram page through his explore page, loved my stuff and my vibe, and reached out about writing together and opening for him at Red Rocks. It wasn’t until we were sitting together in Nashville at Southern Ground that he leaned over and asked if I wanted to open for him on the whole tour! I was like, “hell yeah I wanna open for you! Why are you asking me?!”

OTW: Any nerves, or what are you most looking forward to on tour?

VC: My favorite part about touring is the hugs! All the hugs I get and give after my shows, when people come up to me and say they’re gonna tell their daughter to follow me on Instagram (lol) or that they related to this song or that lyric. It takes one authentic, meaningful hug for me to know for sure that the gig was a successful one.

OTW: For your upcoming April 18 show in Brooklyn, what should fans expect to see?

VC: I like to give fans the same thing I love to see when I watch one of my favorite artists - just them, alone, on stage with their instrument. I love the vibe of almost feeling like they decided to take the night to stay in and cozy up on the couch. Just hanging out, playing a few tunes, and leaving a little more relaxed. A soul massage, per se.

OTW: Who are some of your favorite Ones to Watch artists?

VC: I split a Sofar set with KYKO, who I hadn’t heard of until I saw him play… and woah. He’s a ridiculous songwriter and his music just makes you feel so good! My homie Mac Ayres is beyond talented, a must-listen. Also H.E.R. is pretty huge already, but she’s super underrated and should be like… massive. Kevin Garrett’s music sounds the way my heart always feels (Mellow Drama). I’ve met him a couple of times and he acts super weird around me because I don’t know how to not act like a teenage awkward fangirl around him. I gave him a chocolate bar once. Judge me. He’s really good! He deserves chocolate.

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