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Singer-songwriter Victoria Banks to open Hagerstown Community Concert series

September 14, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Victoria Banks has a bachelor's degree in zoology. After her job in a fishery was eliminated, she moved to Nashville, Tenn., to become a songwriter.
Submitted photo


The last few years have been very good to Victoria Banks.

She has written chart-topping hits for recording artists Sara Evans, Jessica Simpson and Terri Clark.

She has shared the stage with Reba McEntire, Randy Travis and Lonestar.

Her music has been featured on television and in movies.

And in 2010, she won top honors in both the Female Vocalist and Songwriter of the Year categories at the Canadian Country Music Awards.

To say she has risen to the top of her trade is an understatement.

But as a child growing up in rural Muskoka, Ontario, a career in country music was the furthest thing from her mind — not with the family she was born into.

"We were very musical," Banks said. "But it was all in a classical style."

Her aunt toured the world as a lyric mezzo soprano, won Juno Awards (Canadian Grammys) and was given the Order of Canada — one of the highest national honors. Her uncle toured with the Canadian Opera Company and starred in the entire run of "Phantom of the Opera" in Toronto. Her sister makes a living as an operatic soprano. And Banks, herself, is classically trained in piano and voice.

"So my choice to pursue country music was a little outside the box, to say the least," she joked.

But Banks, now 39, said this is exactly where she's supposed to be — living her dream as a singer-songwriter.

Banks will bring her talents to Hagerstown on Tuesday, Sept. 18, when she opens this season of the Hagerstown Community Concert Association at The Maryland Theatre.

The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

There isn't a time, Banks said, when music hasn't been a part of her life.

"My first memories of music all involve listening to the antique cylinder records that my Dad collected," she said. "In fact, I wasn't aware of any music post-1940 until I went to school, discovered rock and roll and started playing in bands."

The old barbershop quartet-style cylinder recordings of Stephen Foster songs "were chock full of really fantastic songwriting," Banks recalled. "And I ate those up. Maybe that's why I'm writing songs for a living now."

Banks said she tried to go the "get a real job route" before she allowed herself to pursue music.

"I earned a bachelor's degree in zoology from the University of Toronto and I spent my summers working in the Fisheries Unit in the Muskoka Lakes area, where I grew up, in northern Ontario," she said. "In my graduating year, there was an election and the new premier for the province axed all of the funding and shut down the unit. Instead of a full-time job waiting for me at graduation, I had a blank slate."

Banks said it was terrifying. "But it also was very freeing," she said. "So I asked myself if I could do anything, what would it be? And the answer was songwriting."

Banks had visited Nashville, Tenn., several times and knew it was the songwriting Mecca of the universe and a place where people could find full-time work as songwriters.

"So six months later, after I had saved up as much money as I could by working four jobs simultaneously, I moved to Nashville to try to make a go of it as a professional songwriter for other people," she said.

As a Canadian, Banks said she couldn't work in the United States without a publishing deal.

"And if I ran out of money, I would have had to go home to earn more," she added. "But six months later, I was putting my last $20 in the gas tank to go downtown and sign my first deal. Eventually, that led me to release my own albums, too. And the rest is history."

Banks said she started out "strictly writing songs for other people. For a decade, I didn't even sing my own demonstration recordings. But after a while, I decided it was time to step outside my comfort zone and start performing my own songs in public."

After she played shows in local Nashville venues like The Bluebird Cafe, people began asking where they could buy her album.

"So I decided that I'd better make one," she said  "The CD fell into the hands of a manager, who thought it was a no-brainer to release the songs to radio. He found me a label and an agent and before I knew it, I was touring with Reba McEntire and winning awards on television. It's been a crazy ride."

Banks said she is like a proud mother when it comes to the songs she has written, including her first U.S. hit — "Saints and Angels," which was on Sara Evans' "Born to Fly" album.

"I also penned the first single off Jessica Simpson's country record, "Come on Over,'" she noted. "It broke the Billboard record for the highest debuting country single in U.S. history.  I also wrote her second single, ‘Remember That', which was the highest charting single on iTunes."

Banks said her songs have been recorded by Terri Clark and Julie Roberts and her "City of Dreams" song for Nashville Flood Relief featured artists such as Pam Tillis, Michelle Wright and George Canyon.

Although she has her own singing career, Banks said she "definitely still writes songs for others. In fact, I still have a full-time job doing that for a publisher in Nashville.  That's how I pay the bills. But I save up some of my favorite gems for my own records."

Banks said she tours and performs for live audiences as much as she can while still holding down the songwriting job at home.

"I've been blessed with the opportunity to share the stage on some big tours, with artists like Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Lonestar and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band," she said. "Sometimes, I play with a full band, but quite often, I do shows in a solo acoustic or trio acoustic setting.  Those are the shows I like best because that's how the songs come across the clearest."

No matter how big the audience — 100 or 10,000, she said, "I still try to do the same kind of show, telling the stories behind the songs and connecting with my audience emotionally.  As a songwriter, the thing that keeps me coming back for more is knowing that there are people out there in the audience who are touched by the songs that I write. They have felt the same joy and pain that I have and they are relating to what I'm trying to express. I want to make people laugh, make them cry, make them spend a few minutes thinking about life a little more deeply than they usually do — and then have them leave my show feeling renewed and empowered."

Banks said winning the Canadian Country Music Awards "was an absolutely incredible experience."

She was able to share the Songwriter of the Year award with her dear friend and co-writer, Tia Sillers, who wrote "I Hope You Dance."

Banks said the two women are regular collaborators "and there was a time when we had written a ton of songs together and nothing seemed to be happening with any of them. One day, when I was feeling particularly down about it, Tia looked at me and said, ‘Victoria, one of these days we will be accepting a songwriter of the year award on a stage together. Mark my words.'  Wouldn't you know, she was right. It was a crazy, full-circle moment."

But it wasn't as crazy as winning Female Artist of the Year, she added.

"I was up there next to some incredible women — women like Terri Clark and Carolyn Dawn Johnson — and I had no idea that I was going to win," she recalled. "I was stunned. That award has definitely helped my music find its way to parts of the world that I wouldn't have ever expected to reach."

Banks said she has had hits in Australia and has a following in Great Britain, as well.

"I never expected any of this years ago when I was sitting in a room in my sweats writing songs," she said.



If you go ...

What: Victoria Banks opens Hagerstown Community Concert Association Concert Series

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18

Where: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

Cost: $25; $10, students. Season tickets, $50.

CONTACT: Go to www.mdtheatre.org.

MORE: To learn more about Hagers-town Community Concert Association go to www.hagerstownliveonstage.com. To learn more about Victoria Banks, read her blogs, listen to her music and watch videos of her tours, go to www.victoriabanks.net

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