Interview with Vanessa Izabella on Music, being a Gibson SG Gal and her Band BAST

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It was a chance meeting at a pub in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta, GA. As I was sitting at the bar, I overheard a couple next to me chatting about their recording session. After hearing her talking about playing the guitar, I politely introduced myself and Guitar Girl Magazine to the girl sitting next to me.

As it turns out, Vanessa Izabella is the powerhouse female behind the Atlanta based trio BAST. With powerful vocals, superb guitar skills, and an impressive background in the music industry, Vanessa is a force to be reckoned with. As a graduate of Berklee College of Music, Vanessa was a winner in the Gibson Guitars SG Gal competition and a finalist for Beyonce’s all-girl band.

BAST is currently finalizing their EP, has recently signed with a management company, and preparing for a great end to 2014 – gearing up to a fast start in 2015.

Vanessa chatted with us about her background in music, her first guitar, working with Pat Metheny, competing for the lead guitar spot with Beyonce’s all-girl band, and her new music with BAST.

GGM:  What was it that attracted you to the guitar and how old were you when you started playing?

VI: I was seven when I first started playing guitar, and at that age, I didn’t know much about different instruments. To me, only drums and guitar existed. My mom had a friend whose daughter was taking music lessons, so one day my mom asked me and my sister if we wanted to take lessons. I said yes, and told her I wanted to play the drums, which was quickly followed by a big fat “NO!” – the noise would have driven my father nuts! So, then I asked about guitar and she signed me up for lessons. When I started playing, I started with a classical guitar and I really liked the sound of it and I could take it everywhere with me.

GGM:  Do you remember your first guitar?

VI:  Yes, I do! My first guitar was a classical, nylon stringed guitar. Around the age of 12 or 13, I started to get into rock and roll music, so I wanted an electric guitar. My parents were worried that an electric guitar and amp would be loud around the house, so they were reluctant. The following Christmas, my grandmother became very sentimental after a medical incident, and thought that if this was going to be her last Christmas around, she was going all out with gifts. She asked what I wanted and, of course, I said an electric guitar! When Christmas came, she had bought me a guitar and amp from Service Merchandise. It was black and had a built-in speaker on the front of the guitar that ran off a 9 volt battery. I would walk around the house and neighborhood jamming what little I knew of that thing. I was the happiest girl on Earth that Christmas!

GGM:  What an exciting feeling! Do you play any other instruments?

VI:  Yes, I also play trumpet and piano. I started playing trumpet in middle school when I signed up for the band. Trumpet wasn’t my first choice of instrument, but it grew on me after a while and I started to like it. I dabbled with piano through my childhood (It was the instrument my sister played) but really studied it more formally in college. 

GGM:  Who were some of your early musical influences that created the musician you are today?

VI:  When I was a kid, my father had a great love for classic rock. He would play records from Toto, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Genesis to name a few. I always thought that what he played sounded great. My grandmother also bought me Michael Jackson Thriller, and that album was my favorite when I was really young. As I got more into modern rock, I really liked Slash from Guns N’ Roses. I liked his sound and note choice when he soloed. Later on, in High School I started listening to jazz and really got into Pat Metheny. To me, his playing seemed to spark something in me, and I could really relate to what he was playing. I think the combination of all those styles has really shaped how I play today. 

GGM:  Having attended Berklee College of Music, what did you major in? 

VI:  When I first got to Berklee, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I initially thought about Music Education because I had the idea that getting a degree in that would mean a stable job when I graduated. I tried it out and realized that classroom teaching wasn’t for me. I finally settled on Music Business, and it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. I learned so much about the ins and outs of how the industry operates. After graduation, I was able to work with Pat Metheny’s management team for several years, and I got to really see how the industry operates. It was a great experience and I got to meet a lot of amazing people.  

GGM:  I understand you were one of the top finalists in tryouts for lead guitarist in Beyonce’s band several years ago. That must have been exciting! Can you share with us that experience?

VI:  I had gotten a phone call from my musician friend, Bari, and he said that Beyonce was holding open auditions nationwide for an all-female band and he thought I should try out. I went to the audition the next day, and it was mobbed with female musicians. She only had auditions in about 5 or 6 major cities, so, some people had come from a quite distance to audition. They took Polaroid photos of everyone and had each person play 60 seconds of anything we wanted while they video recorded it. They told us that those chosen would be informed by a certain date. That date came, and I didn’t hear anything, so I assumed I didn’t make the cut. So just after midnight, my phone rang, and it was a Beyonce representative, and he asked if I could be on a plane to NYC in the morning. I said “YES!”. They had put together complete bands from each city they held auditions at, and I was the guitarist for Atlanta. We all started playing, and they started cutting people, and mixing up the lineups. Beyonce and her father were there, along with Kelly Rowland. I made it through several rounds, but didn’t get the gig in the end. It was a lot of fun, and I learned so much from that experience and met a lot of talented ladies. It was great to see how things operated on that level of professionalism. 

GGM:  Back in 2009, you won the Gibson SG Gal competition. What was the process for the competition?

VI:  Once again, I had a friend call me to let me know that Gibson was having a performance based contest in search of a woman they could call “SG Gal.” I had about a day to get the video submission done before the deadline, so I quickly recorded about two minutes of freestyle improve. I uploaded my video along with hundreds of others. After the deadline, Gibson selected 10 videos that people would vote on to determine the winner. I was just happy my video made the cut, and I was thrilled to have actually won the contest. I received a Gibson SG zoot suit model. I was very grateful and was thrilled to have won. 


GGM:  You have a new band lineup now. Can you tell us a little about how the band was formed and what type of music you play?

VI:  The new band is a rock trio called BAST (named after an Egyptian goddess). The band consists of Hugh Ellis on bass, and Tony Panzarella on drums, both of whom I have played with in other projects. We have been together since the Fall of 2013. We started this band from scratch. We got together weekly and wrote brand new material with a few songs I had some nice space to shred on. Once we had some songs, we recorded a five-song EP with producer/engineer Mike Froedge at Open Sky Studios here in Atlanta … which was a blast. The band is pretty straight forward rock, but some of our most recent material has a slightly different sound. I think our sound will evolve as we play together more, and I am very lucky to be in a band with two guys that are such awesome people, creative musicians, and great songwriters in their own right.  

GGM:  What is your gear set-up for performances?

VI:  My current rig is a Marshall JCM 800 through and Orange 2×12. I prefer tube amps and their warm sound. I have a pedal board with various pedals that I rotate in and out, but basically, my set up is pretty simple. My main guitar is my left-handed Gibson Les Paul Traditional.  

GGM:  Do you have any new material or plans for any upcoming tours?

VI:  We are constantly writing new material, and can not wait to record some of the music we are working on. We have some show dates coming up in the fall, but aren’t planning any tour runs until the Spring of 2015. 

GGM:  The band recently signed with a management company which should open up some great opportunities. Where do you see yourself in five years?

VI:  Yes, we are working with Dog and Pony Industries. The owner/president Gille Amaral really likes the band, and is always keeping an eye and ear out for opportunities for us. We have paired up with one of her other bands, The Missing Letters, a Minneapolis based rock band, for shows and are looking forward to touring with them in the future. In five years, I hope to continue making good music with great musicians, and I would love to get more involved with film and TV music. 

GGM:  Along with playing in BAST, you also teach guitar. What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a beginning guitar student?

VI:  The best advice I can give someone who is beginning guitar is to not give up. Guitar can be difficult in the beginning when your fingers and hands are getting used to playing on a new, weird instrument. Your finger tips may hurt, and your hands may tire easily, but as you gradually play more, you get stronger. With guitar, you really get out what you put into it. Just stick through the initial hump, and after that is when the real fun begins.

 Five 5 Facts about Vanessa Izabella:

First concert ever attended?

Top 3 songs on your playlist?
Queenie Eye- Paul McCartney;
Rival Sons entire Great Western Valkyre album;
and I Can’t Go For That – Hall and Oates

Dream performance would be with:

In one word, what does music mean to you?
Sanity 🙂

Other than music, my hobbies are:
Traveling and gaming

For more on Vanessa and BAST, click HERE.


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