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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vic and Gab's Sweet, Sisterly Pop

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When asked what music has inspired her the most, Victoriah Banuelos, half of the sister-sister Milwaukee pop outfit Vic and Gab, answers readily: “Rush.” Victoriah isn't over the age of 35, and she isn't clueless about current independent pop and rock bands (she lists the Shout Out Louds and Death Cab for Cutie as two favorites). She simply is a 20-something who found inspiration in a hook and a musical ideal.

“They have been putting out albums for 30 years. That's insane!” Banuelos says about Rush, backing up her choice without apology. “They never cease to surprise me. That's what we want for our band to be—making music 30 years from now. I was 11 when I wrote my first song; I had just picked up the guitar and I knew a couple of power chords. The song was about getting detention and not wanting to go to school.”

Victoriah and Hannah Gabriela Banuelos' cited classic sounds laid the foundation for practicing music and writing their own songs as pre-teens. “[We were raised on] a lot of classical music when we were really young. Then we got into rock, thanks to my dad, who introduced us to Rush, The Who, The Police, Supertramp and The Cars—all the good stuff,” Gabriela says. From simple power chords and song structures, the girls wrote and wrote, utilizing more and more poignant lyricism, their voices expressing the changes they experienced in cross-country transitions, family life and young adulthood.

“We are desert babies, so it was a bit harsh at the beginning,” Victoriah says of their transition from Texas to Wisconsin nearly three years ago—a move spurred by their dad's job.

“We got used to it real quick after trying to remove snow from the driveway with a plastic shovel,” she adds with a laugh.

The sisters' post-move debut album, Bridges and Guns, seems to be a simple pop album, but it's what comes with experience and transformation that gives the songs some “guns” of its own. It is more muscular than simple relationship builds and breakups, as further listens reveal the bite behind the glossy vocal harmonies.

“We are from the border city of El Paso, Texas, so we grew up crossing the bridge from the USA to Mexico and vice versa,” Victoriah says. “The bridge has always been really symbolic to us because it connects us to two different worlds.”

“The 'guns' part is for the violence that suffocates that region,” Gabriela points out. “Even though we are so far away, now, it still affects us and our family. Writing is so personal; you start thinking about the audience once you're done writing songs and putting them together.

“After that, you just hope people like it,” she concludes, boiling down pop music's capability of subtly retaining deep personal meaning despite being cloaked in a wash of sweet sounds.

After the move, Vic and Gab made progress in a short amount of time, making musical connections here despite a rough start.

“We struggled to find a drummer,” Victoriah says. “I think guys hesitate when it comes to playing with girls, especially two sisters, so it took us a while to find a good fit for the band.”

They eventually found one in Jesus Nanez, from the local band Purple Tongue. And after the early difficulties, the sisters found a strong support system in Milwaukee.

“There's a culture out there for local bands,” Victoriah says of the city. “People enjoy going out to shows and checking out bands they don't even know.”

That encouragement has helped keep their operation in motion. Even before they finished Bridges and Guns this spring, the girls and Nanez had played a string of shows in the Midwest and on the East Coast, including an opening spot for Laura Gibson at The Hideout in Chicago and Herra Terra at Pianos in New York City.

Vic and Gab only see forward movement after clearing those first hurdles of transition. “Our plan is to promote the album, do some more touring and build a bigger fan base,” Gabriela says. “It would be ideal to get on a label, but we know that we have to be patient, keep growing, and hopefully that opportunity will eventually come. We simply want to write and play our music, no matter what.”

Vic and Gab release
Bridges and Guns at the Cactus Club on Friday, May 11, at 9:30 p.m. with The Lower 48, The Gazettiers and Wolfgang Schaefer.