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VICTOR V. GURBO

RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW NEW YORK ARTIST VICTOR V. GURBO

Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.  

Introduce us yourselves and your musical history? 

Victor:  My Name is Victor V. Gurbo, I’m a singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York.  I write my own songs, inspired by early American folk music, as well as its revival.  I also draw inspiration from literature.  I have a full electric ensemble called “Victor V. Gurbo & Co.” I also perform solo, and with individual accompanists – like Mark here.

Mark:  My name is Mark Caserta.  I’m a guitar player, but I’ve grown to be more than that; playing bass in our full band (Victor V. Gurbo and Co.) and adding ukulele, mandolin, bass, bass VI, and sometimes keyboards to these home recordings with Victor.  

What made you decide that music is a thing for you? 

Mark: I’ve been playing guitar since I was a little kid and I’ve played in a number of bands in NYC since I moved here almost 29 years ago. This collaboration with Victor is special because it grew out of our desire to create something at the height of of the pandemic. We started collaborating in April 2020, sending files to each other via text and email and adding on our parts. Since then, we’ve recorded about 115 songs together or so. We are cleaning up the best ones and releasing them on streaming services, and it feels good to finally shine a light on what was a project to keep us sane in an insane world.

Victor: I honestly don’t know exactly when the switch flipped, and I decided music was my thing.  I didn’t have any training growing up – I studied so many different kinds of art, but not music.  It’s ironic though – it’s historically a family trade, although I never had the chance to meet any of those ancestors.  My Italian side were all musicians – my grandfather, who I’m named after, was a concert violin player.  Two of my great achievements so far were getting to play at both Brooklyn Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall – but not only am I not the first family member to do this, I’m not even the first Victor.  

What was life like for you before music? 

Mark: I don’t remember a time before music.

Victor:  It’s also difficult for me to remember a time before music.  I started playing later than Mark, sometime around the tail end of high school.  I always figured I’d end up as a writer of some sort, or a painter – but music just ended up being the thing that I clicked with the best.  

What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?

Mark: Oddly enough, for a guy that plays in Folk / Americana bands, I think the song that got me started on this journey was Rock n Roll All Nite by KISS on KISS Alive II. I don’t even listen to KISS that much but they sure impressed me when I was like, 7 years old.

Victor: I’m a huge fan of Bob Dylan (which is an understatement for the folks who know me well.) Apparently when I was a very little baby, Mr. Dylan’s “Congratulations” off the “Traveling Wilburys’ Volume I” was the only thing that stopped me from crying and put me to sleep.  It probably seeped in then. 

Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry? 

Mark: We are 100% percent independent and making the music we love to make. 

Victor: As Mark said, we’re independent.  All the success we’ve had has been grassroots and word of mouth.  My group won an WNYC / WQXR contest about ten years ago – and just recently we submitted one of these home recordings to their Public Song Project, and our submission was played on Paul Cavalconte’s New Standards.  We do well in that kinda realm.  

Whats the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry? 

Mark: The truth about getting signed to a label and what a difficult life that can be, depending on the agreement you make.

Victor: Echoing what Mark said, just how murky the path forward is for musicians.  There’s no real clear road like there is for other professions.  You think you get a record deal and you’re done, but that’s basically a thing of the past.  You gotta cut your own way through the thicket.  

If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be? 

Victor: I want to reach more people with our music.  Social media algorithms are fickle, and the market is oversaturated – it’s hard to be heard.  I’d just like to perform for more folks, it’s pretty simple.

Mark: Just for more people to hear Victor’s songs and our collaborations. I’m really proud of what we’ve recorded but it isn’t easy to get people to take a moment to listen. We are grateful for anyone that listens and gives feedback. 

Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories? If no why not?

Victor:  The world is stranger than fiction right now, I have no time for conspiracy theories.  Although, when you look at history – everyone always thought the world was falling apart, so maybe we can all take some comfort in that.  

Mark: No. The earth is round, people. Enough! I might…might believe that there could be aliens that have visited us. There certainly seems to be some softening on this topic by the federal government it feels like that means something.

What was the worst experience on stage? 

Victor: One show immediately comes to mind: this happened a number of years ago – the gig felt cursed from the moment we left the house.  Our drummer’s gear was stolen outside his apartment while he was loading it into his car, so he spent most of the show accumulating pieces from other bands as they arrived.  My guitar tuner malfunctioned and was flat, and our bassist at the time had to borrow mine that evening.  The piano player’s keyboard malfunctioned and was sharp, and the violin player tuned to that.  And our lead guitarist had a 102 fever…so we still don’t know what key he was in.  I remember grabbing an A harmonica and playing it, and it really sinking in how off the song was – because that harp is in key no matter what.  It was pretty darn bad.  We were despondent on the way home, took a wrong turn and ended up on the other side of NYC.  I ended up writing a song on a napkin on the ride back, so wasn’t for nothing.

Mark: I haven’t had any seriously negative experiences with Victor, that I can think of. When I was in high school, though, I was in a band and the day before a gig (playing a party in the basement) I broke my big toe. I played barefoot with my big toe wrapped, because I couldn’t slip a shoe on without being in pain.  It killed to even touch my pedals. Miserable night. 

Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about? 

Victor: I had a bad stammer growing up.  Singing helped me overcome that.

Mark: Although I play music, my daytime gig is as a Vice President of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. I help small business owners survive and thrive in Brooklyn,  basically.

What makes you stand out as a band/artist? 

Mark: First and foremost, Victor’s writing and playing and singing. He writes amazing songs and we have a good groove in our collaboration. I think we are are good match to work together. I try to add parts that enhance the song. It’s always about the song, not about me showing off.

Victor: The folks I work with make the project what it is.  I try my best to let my visions for the songs be open, and let the musicians interpret the material.  I feel this gets the best quality out of them – even if something I imagined as a country song becomes a blues song, or something like that – I can always do it differently later.  I’d rather get the most creative output out of the folks around me, and let it become their song as much as it is mine.

I hear you have a new music, what can you tell us about it.

Mark:  I’ll let Victor talk about the two versions of Christmas and You. We released the first version,  which has a beautiful quietness and stillness to it, a couple of weeks ago. I like to describe the feel of that song as Victor and I sitting around a camp fire, ed by lot Christmas trees.  Victor is singing in your ear. The beauty of the first version inspired our friend Johanna Telander, a Finnish harp player, actor, playwright etc., to add some beautiful harp tracks. Once we got that mixed it felt like we needed to fill the song with some low end, so we asked our friend Katie Chambers to added some cello and she knocked it out of the park.

Victor:  I wrote this song as a bar bet.  A friend of mine challenged me to create a holiday song that would be difficult to put into a commercial.  But the song is more than that, there’s a great tradition of sad Christmas music – it’s even more prevalent in other cultures, as I learned from discussing the tune with Finnish musician Petra Jasmiina.  For this song I thought a good deal about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – the concept of being lost and disconnected from what’s supposed to make this season tolerable.  I also thought about the natural arc of aging – you grow up, you see the man behind the curtain- the magic dies, it’s part of life (you have to find that magic elsewhere.)  That can happen with love, too – people fall out of love just as much as they fall into it – that faith in another person dries up. This song is about wanting some of that enchantment back – the desire to believe in love once again, and all those Christmas stories you were told as a child.  

What was the recording process like? 

Victor: These recordings were done during the pandemic, and fully “socially distanced.”  Anything we modify currently, we still do the same way.  I record something, bounce it to Mark, he bounces it back.  I like to not give direction here, let the musicians I work with hear what they hear and execute it.  Mark is really great at hearing what a song needs, and doing what’s best for it – one of his many skills as a musician.  

Mark: Mostly sending files electronically back and forth. Seriously. But then adding my parts and mixing and mastering, I feel like that’s where we add a little bit of fairy dust.

What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes? 

Mark: Victor should answer this.

Victor: I’m trying to write with promotion and social media in mind now.  People make a decision in the first second or two if they’re going to stick around and watch.  I’ve found you have to be quick to the punch, get a good line in right away – something that’ll hold that finger from swiping immediately.  

Would you change anything now that it’s finished?

Victor:  You can always nitpick your way into oblivion with recordings – but what’s nice about these home tracks is there’s a different feel, and a different expectation of them.  They’re done at home, they’re imperfect, you can hear the room they’re in – they’re not meant to be pristine.  

Mark: There is always something to change but I think we both agree that we work on the songs, get them sounding as nice as we can and then we set them free into the world and try not to dwell on it.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world? 

Mark: Just to listen to Christmas and You and the Holiday Special edition with harp and cello. 

Victor:  Ditto to what Mark said.  Have a happy holiday, and maybe our holiday songs can tag along for the ride.

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