After playing a concert in Hamburg, Germany, in 1996, Veda Hille read a review of the show in which the critic dubbed her a “little volcano”. Fortunately, he was making a comment on her volatility, not suggesting she was full of hot air.
“I took it as a positive,” Hille told the Georgia Straight, laughing on the line from her Commercial Drive home. “I was called an explosive, very dynamic performer. I don’t actually speak German, so I might have missed some subtlety. But particularly in the ’90s when I was touring, I was very active at the piano. I slowed down a little bit now.”
Almost a quarter-century later, the singer-songwriter, keyboardist, and theatre artist has a solo show called Little Volcano that infuses storytelling with her own music and that of her fave composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.
“I played Bach when I was a kid, like classical lessons,” Hille related. “But I was in this residency in Scotland a few years ago and I was getting over a pretty serious illness, and I needed something to anchor me, you know. I was supposed to be writing music, but on my way to the residency I just grabbed a copy of [Bach’s] The Well-Tempered Clavier—which are songs I played when I was 16, maybe—and that ended up being a real centre of what I did there in this little hut in Scotland for a month. I got my Bach in order.”
When she returned to Vancouver and learned that Theatre Replacement wanted her to create a show with directors James Long and Maiko Yamamoto, she told them about all the Bach she’d been playing.
“They were like, ‘Well, let’s use that’. So it’s become a show about practise and recovery and trying to do something as well as you can—even if you can’t do it perfectly.”
Hille weaves bits and pieces of Bach throughout the show and includes many of her own songs. She also tells lots of stories. “I tell stories from my life, but I also talk about arts and science in the 1700s and 1800s and spontaneous generation and the mating cycles of frogs and, you know, a lotta stuff about nature and about other artists who hold me up.”
Hille premiered Little Volcano at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival last January, so one wonders if, in the meantime, the shadow of the global pandemic has stolen some of its light.
“It has not darkened it,” she stressed. “The show is also about wanting to connect with people, so I think it’s really quite timely ’cause—my god!—I’ve always wanted it. And I want it even more now, right?”
As the Cultch’s “pandemic artist in residence”, Hille was given access to the East Van venue to practise her material during lockdown. She developed a tight relationship with the grand piano there, which was owned by the Vancouver Symphony before being moved to the Cultch in the ’90s.
“It saved me from murdering my family,” she joked of the time spent alone in the shuttered arts palace with the three-metre Baldwin. “We live in a small apartment.”
Speaking of Hille’s home, when the Straight reached her there, her hubby had Grace Jones on the turntable. Turns out she’s a vinyl fan, which might have had something to do with the fact that a recording of Little Volcano—taped half at the PuSh fest in January and half at the Cultch in July—is set for release on gold-coloured vinyl this month.
“My husband is an audiophile,” she said, “so I’ve been sort of following him along. What is life without good music to listen to, right?” (Hille noted that the last LP she played was the new Phoebe Bridgers album, Punisher. “She’s young and new. She’s great. You should check her out.”)
With that recommendation in mind, the Straight signed off, but not before asking Hille what she’d most want readers to consider in advance of her shows.
“Well, wouldn’t it just be nice to be together?” she offered, laughing again. “Come and hang out with me. Be in my bubble.”