An Interview with Multi-Talented Rock Musician David Victor
Chris: Hi everybody, my name is Chris Carter I’m the Executive Director at the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center. Welcome to Beyond the Stage. We’re here at the Advanced Creative studios in Livermore – thank you to Advanced Creative for hosting us! I’m here with David Victor, legendary rock and roll icon in the East Bay.
David: Oh I love that! Legendary status, when did I achieve that?
Chris: Well, you’re a legend in my mind!
David: Okay, well that’s enough, when the host thinks you’re legendary… (laughter)
Chris: Well, right here you’re a legend! David, I’ve known you for a couple of years now and you’ve performed at the Bankhead Theater stage and you have a pretty cool story to tell. This is fun for me too because I was a rock and roll kid growing up, and one of the first records I ever bought was Quiet Riot. When I was driving here I was listening to a band called Velocity that you might be familiar with and it kind of reminded me of the Quiet Riot that I listened to when I was a kid.
David: Yep, a very 80s, late 80s sound.
Chris: So I looked up your bio to do a little research…
David: Wow, you did your prep, I love it!
Chris: I’m not going to read much, but I’m going to read one line from your bio that I thought kind of encapsulated a lot of things. Whoever wrote it did a great job. It says David truly lived out a rock star movie dream, being plucked from a cover band into the namesake band, whose music he was performing as a cover artist – the multi-platinum band Boston with whom he appeared on two North American tours. He also had a number one classic rock hit in 2014 with the song “Heaven on Earth,” which I also listened to this morning! So why don’t we start with what I like to ask people … what were your roots? How did you come into music and the music industry and guitar? Where did it all start for you?
David: Where did it all start? Well let’s see … I grew up in Walnut Creek and I have a pretty strong memory of music. I have two older sisters. My middle sister was kind of the rocker and she got us into our own kind of music. My parents loved the Beatles and the Doors and the Rolling Stones, so I kind of considered that my parents music, so then what’s our thing, right? So my middle sister … I believe the first album she ever bought that was sort of “our music” was the Boston album. And kind of simultaneous to that, she had a boyfriend who had just started taking guitar lessons. In my mind, it was two weeks but actually after having played this riff a few times – the intro to “More Than a Feeling” – I think probably it was a few more weeks. So we’re sitting out one evening on our front lawn and he starts to play that. And I’m like, “Oh my god, how long have you been playing?” thinking this was some impossible dream. And he goes, “Two weeks.” And I thought, “Now THAT’S the art for me, if that’s all it takes – just a couple of weeks – I could probably manage that.” Although two weeks to a youngster, that’s an eternity!
So I started taking guitar lessons. I kind of always wanted an Art. My mother is a painter, my father was a great cartoonist, and my two older sisters are also painters. I was terrible at it, I had no affinity for it. But I had artistic aspirations, I guess you’d say, and I always loved music. Growing up out here it was all KFRC and KYA, and then when FM radio hit its stride, I started listening to KMEL and stuff like that, KSGO all kinds of rock and early rock and roll. Boston – when you heard that on the stereo, on FM – it just sounded unbelievable. It still sounds great to this day! But that’s kind of the genesis of all these rumblings, as they say, of rock and roll.
Chris: So I guess you could say you grew up around rock and roll and that was your early influence in music – good rock music!
David: Yeah you know, Beatles and all that stuff, you just need it in your DNA to sort of process what is good and what is not good.
Chris: It’s funny, when you talked about how he learned that that riff in two weeks, you know I play guitar a little bit – not like you – but I started in high school and I think that was one of the first pieces of music I learned too.
David: Great riff!
Chris: There is something about the guitar … where part of me thinks guitarists have a bad rap for being a little bit lazy. You know, it’s an instrument where you can just pick it up and, within a few hours, you could be playing a song all by yourself.
David: Yeah, in fact, for a while I had a thing called Strum and Spirits where we would go into corporate events and things like that. At the time I had about 45 guitars, and I’d bring them all in, sit them all down, basically just kind of give them a little presentation of “Here’s how to play guitar.” So my concept was to divide it up. Get a three-chord song and this part of the room will play the “A,” you’ll play the “D,” you’ll play the “E,” and pretty soon we’re playing “Wild Thing” or something.
Chris: Yeah, that’s what makes it such a great instrument. So you started learning guitar and then at what point were you playing in bands, like how long did that take?
David: So, you know what that author of the 10 000 hours Outlier thing says, but I put in my 10,000 hours in those first two years easily. Just staying inside listening to stuff and drilling you know, wood-shedding, and I probably got as good as I ever have been within those first two years. I started playing in bands as soon as I could. In fact a buddy of mine just yesterday sent me a little flyer. I played the senior show in my high school – so I guess I would have been 17 – and we played “Eruption.” I played “Eruption” and we played “You Really Got Me.” That was our senior show thing. So you know you have to be okay to do that!
Chris: Definitely to do “Eruption.” The first time I performed was also in high school and it was when MTV Unplugged was really big, like in the early 90s, and we did this “Unplugged” show. I played with these other guys and we played “Down on the Corner” by Credence Clearwater Revival – that riff was a lot easier for me. We called ourselves Carter Clearwater Revival …
David: Nice! I like that … you could have been the first tribute band ever (laughter.)
Chris: I had a lot of fun with that! So you played in high school with a couple bands and then did you go straight into performing for a living, or did you do some other things in between?
“So it occurred to me that getting a college degree was probably a good idea,
because that would allow me to do the kind of music I wanted to do.”
David: It was kind of funny, I mean the whole Boston story just threads its way through everything. One of the early publicity pieces for Boston [said] this guy worked for Polaroid, he’s got a master’s degree and he was a tinkerer. He likes electronics and he put all his own stuff together. So it occurred to me that getting a college degree was probably a good idea, because that would allow me to do the kind of music I wanted to do. And that really is what I did. I didn’t quite have the success of the founder of Boston but I followed that path. I got a computer science degree from beautiful Cal State East Bay and went out and just got a job. Then, I just kind of started wood-shedding on recording music. You mentioned Velocity. The first album I did was in 1991 and it was just a solo album called Proof Through the Night – I put that out on cassette, if you remember those. Then in about 1996 I think, I put out the Velocity album – that was trying to be more of a band. I put a couple players together. The actual recording on the album was myself, this guy who I think still lives in San Ramon, Chris Dodge, great guitar player and the late Pat Torpey on drums. We just put this album out. That was the first real musical statement from me. I mean some of those songs, it’s embarrassing to say, I probably worked on for a decade. And you know, are they amazing? Ehhh, some of them are good.
Chris: So I noticed … they say every rock album has to have at least one or two songs where the title is a girl’s name. Is that just something every rock singer does?
David: Oh yeah! Well, I won’t go deep into this story but there’s just certain names that work, so you know… “Janine, you never know what you mean.” Okay, that kind of writes itself! So yeah, there was Janine and Julia Ann, so I wrote one for Julia Ann, one for Janine … they’re both kind of fun songs!
Chris: They are! One thing I like to ask people who write their own music is, what is your process? So for you, do you like to come up with the lyrics first, or do you do the music, or does it all just kind of come out at once?
David: Great question! I had this weird process where, once I was sort of coming into my own as a singer, I would kind of just make noises that I thought sounded like how I wanted the song to sound. I always say music is like the closest thing we have to magic, because it’s so hard to define why it hits somebody in a certain way. When I was growing up, I just liked guttural music, you know they call it crotch rock. I just liked how it made me feel. And a lot of my intelligent friends didn’t like that (laughter). But it drew me to it, for whatever reason – I just I liked the visceral energy of it. For me, I would hear a sound … like that first Van Halen album, it’s just giant – this amazing sonic quality that it had to it – and just how it made me feel, the feelings it inspired.
“Music is like the closest thing we have to magic,
because it’s so hard to define why it hits somebody in a certain way”
So what I would do is kind of make the sounds and the riffs, then go, “Now what am I gonna say?” Some of those songs, when I say a decade … One of the songs on that Velocity album, “Love is Dangerous” – I was like, “This song’s great, it needs a bridge.” I finally thought of a bridge. Then, I was like “Okay, but what are the lyrics?” I literally was driving to Pleasant Hill and I finally figured it out. I was on the 680 and I remember the moment where I was “Okay those are words that will actually work” and it’s done. Was it a top 10 hit? No! Does everyone love it? No! But to me, I listen to it and I’m satisfied because it all kind of fits together and works. So that’s really the process, just the sound and then making it make sense, hopefully, on the other end, lyrically.
Chris: I love that story. I try and write music too. Sometimes I’ll write something and it’s the same thing, it doesn’t feel like it’s complete, so I’ll let it sit. Now I’m getting older, I’ll come back to something I started 10 years ago.
David: And some of it’s good, right? It kind of re-inspires you, and you’re like, “Why didn’t I finish this?”
Chris: Or you’re a different musician now and can figure out how to make it work. One thing I’ve discovered too is what I write about now, I would never write about 20 years ago or vice versa.
David: Right, so those lyrics might have trouble fitting together.
Chris: It’s “Wow, what kind of person was I back then versus now?” So you were playing in this band, Velocity, and you were doing some cover work, tribute bands and …
David: That started later. I guess the short story is we did Velocity. Velocity had a song, actually three songs, that got played on this rock station that had just started in Salt Lake City. Those three songs went to number one on their playlist – we were outselling Metallica at the record stores in the Salt Lake City metro area. We were starting to get noticed and we went out there. We ended up going out there five times doing different shows. First one was a club date, it sold out. A larger club next time, a little theater the next time, and this was over the course of 18 months. We just kept going out and finally we did a show. We opened for Quiet Riot at the Wasatch Event Center and, as we walked on stage, there were people chanting, “Ve..lo..ci..ty!” And I was like “Ohh, this feels good!” It was so organic too, because it was the way you were supposed to do it. You’re supposed to get your song played, then people vote that they like it, and then you start getting this momentum. But the thing that happened for us, it was not Clear Channel, a different broadcaster, bought the station and changed broadcasting to country western or something. And it was gone, it just wiped us off.
Chris: The format changed…
David: Right when it was trying to build. Then Clear Channel bought everything else, so that ended any other outbreaks. We had some airplay on KZQZ in St. Louis, which is like the 100,000 watt flame thrower. I actually called a guy in St. Louis because somebody sent me an “electronic mail” – which was new at the time. It said “Hey, I heard your song playing on the radio.” So I called a record store and I asked has anybody asked you about this? He goes “I am holding a copy of your album in my hand selling it to somebody.” I don’t know how that worked because we hadn’t sent any, we didn’t have distribution or anything. It was just the weirdest thing! But I thought, “This is really starting.” And then when Clear Channel completed their sales, they were like if you play “Back in Black” 20 more times a week, you’ll get 0.003 percent more listenership, so all the advertisers just went “That’s what we want.”
“It was the way you were supposed to do it.
You’re supposed to get your song played, then people vote that they like it,
and then you start getting this momentum.”
Chris: You can still buy Velocity online. I saw it on Amazon and it’s on Apple Music, so if anybody wants to listen to it…
David: And CD Babies, where we have them and digital downloads, so yeah, still available.
Chris: So let’s fast forward a little bit, because you did eventually land in the band Boston. That’s an interesting story … how were you discovered for Boston?
David: So I moved to L.A. in 1999 and played in a couple cover bands. There’s a publication down there, Music Connection, and I saw an ad for a band looking for a singer who could do Boston music. I was “Oh, I always loved Boston,” so I tried out. And the band was great, nice guys, and I asked how many dates are we going to play? They said “I don’t know, five or six a year.” So we put the band together and we rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. And let me just stop here and say one thing, “Wear earplugs kids, wear your earplugs!”
Chris: I was just going to ask how your ears are doing.
David: Not good. I mean right now I’m getting a noise floor of sssss. And that’s just from rehearsing with that band … we were smoking, with no ear plugs, just blasting away in the corrugated tin warehouse we were rehearsing in … not good. As the lead singer, you’re usually standing right behind the drummer, and the drummer’s on those cymbals. Not good for your ears!
So we played a few shows. When the lead singer from Boston passed away, I remember my wife and I were in a Bed Bath and Beyond – all these weird remembrances of places – and I just felt a lightning bolt. I was just like, here I am in this Boston tribute band. Was I that caliber of a singer? No way, but maybe they’d be looking for another singer someday. So it was interesting, two years passed, and they got another singer in the band and I thought, “Okay, we do our thing, they do their thing.” But then two years after that, I got a call and the guy said, “Hey, how would you like to come out and record a song on Boston’s new album?” So, of course, you know it was just an amazing opportunity! I actually had a vacation scheduled, ironically, out in Cape Cod, Massachusetts that we were going to in two weeks, so they didn’t even have to buy a plane ticket. I just flew out there and during the course of our little stay, went up to the studio and met the founder and did the song that they wanted to audition me for. That all went okay and I ended up joining the band.
Chris: You toured a little bit with them too?
David: So I did that recording, then it was two years later before the band started touring. Of course, I wanted to start touring that day! But contemporaneous to that, I put a band together called Bostix and we did the music of Boston. I thought, whenever they call I want to be in shape, because to do the songs in the original keys like the amazing vocalist Brad Delp – may he rest in peace. Just amazing, to me, one of the top three greatest rock singers of all time and he never gets mentioned. I mean, you know, it’s the usual suspects and not him, and he should be mentioned.
With their current singer Tommy Dicarlo, I joined the band and I thought “Well, they like my voice but they’ve got a lead singer.” I ended up singing “Peace of Mind,” which is my favorite Boston song of all time, “Amanda,” which was their number one single from 1986. And the chorus of “More Than a Feeling,” on that first tour I did with them in 2012. It was incredible. I remember sitting in my hotel room at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida – which has since been remodeled. Have you seen that hotel? It’s a Les Paul shape standing on its end, it’s just a really cool hotel and like a mini arena. I was doing my first show there, just looking down at the venue going, “I’m here, you know, I made it … from where I started on my front lawn in Walnut Creek to debuting with this band in 2012.” At 50 years, or I was almost 50 when the show happened. So stick to it, kids! (laughter)
“I’m here, you know, I made it … from where I started
on my front lawn in Walnut Creek to debuting with this band in 2012.”
Chris: That’s great and there was a thread throughout your life with Boston. So the fact that you actually got to perform with them…
David: It wasn’t like I randomly joined just some band. That’s why that rock star quote is kind of apropos, because it’s like he was in a band that was doing tribute to what seemed like Judas Priest, and then the Judas Priest of that movie Steel Dragon, they call him. At the time, I think Arnel Pineda had joined Journey and that was about it, in terms of singers from bands that did that music joining the band. The actual singer from Boston never played in a band, never went to a karaoke night, he just got up on stage at the tribute to Brad Delp in 2007 or 2008 and sang like a bird. Just amazing. An amazing player, musician and just an incredible human being.
Chris: You mentioned your ears, how are your vocal chords?
David: Vocal cards are fine. In fact I think I’m singing better now than I have ever sung in my life, which is why it’s sort of tragic and ironic that my ears are giving up the ghost. But I didn’t grow up in a musical family, so it took me a long time to go, “Okay that sound that you hear, that you’re processing, maybe you’re expelling air and your vocal cords are vibrating, and it’s making a sound, but is it the right sound?” Just those half steps, that’s the thing, just understanding. Even now when I sing something without any musical cues or whatever, I understand where those notes should be.
There’s a note in “More Than a Feeling” where you gotta hit a falsetto and then you’ve got to go a half step up at the very end. When I first would sing it, even in that Boston tribute band, I’d sing it (sings) and then higher (sings), but it’s not “the” note. You got to get it to that note. I started doing a kind of a move on my guitar when I was warming up backstage. I’d play (makes sound) and say, “That’s the note, you’ve got to get to that note.” So you warm up on that and know there’s just a certain amount of horsepower that you need to get to that next step. Some people just sing like birds out of the womb, but that’s not me. It was a long progression of 50 years!
Chris: That’s a good lesson in vocal training, playing the note.
David: Before you sing, matching it, hearing those beats. You know when you tune a guitar (makes sound) and then you’re in tune. If somebody had told me that when I was 16, it would have saved me a lot of embarrassing moments on stage!
Chris: Well let’s talk about what you’re doing now. One thing that I think is really exciting is that you have this non-profit organization called Harmony and Healing, still in the music realm. Tell me a little bit about Harmony and Healing.
David: Sure, thanks for asking. Harmony and Healing was born out of an experience I had while I was in Boston. We, me and just the one of their official photographers, went to the Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach. To the pediatric oncology ward, which is one of the most poignant places you can be, and it was with a charity that wanted to do music and food and art, a little bit difficult to organize. We only ended up doing it twice, but it was just so moving, spiritually moving to me. I just thought, “Oh this is how you’re supposed to do music, this is why music is so incredible.” Because these are kids and they didn’t really have any affinity to Boston, but just singing and making those sounds they were drawn to it.
So I always wanted to do more of that and in 2019, I finally just said I’ve got to put my own thing together and just try to do this in some local Bay Area hospitals. So I put Harmony and Healing together and started going out to different hospitals saying, “Hey, can we do this here?” I found a few takers and Stanford Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford was one of the early adopters. Just going out doing acoustic guitar and singing. Learning some songs that were a little newer than Boston. One experience, where I was playing for one youngster, doing a Boston song. And he’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s pretty cool.” Then all of a sudden I switched and I was doing a Snow Patrol song and he recognized it. You could just see like his eyes got big, “Oh, that’s what’s going on here!”
One of the things that I experienced while I was in Boston and just translated to Harmony and Healing is this experience where you’re in Boston, but nobody knew who I was and it didn’t matter. It says Boston, you’re doing the music, it sounds great, so you ARE Boston and it’s OK. They’re having this moving experience and when people would come backstage, they’d go “Man, I saw you in Long Beach in 1976 and you still sound great.” I’m like, I was at Foothill Junior High in Walnut Creek, but … thanks? They’d go, “Sign my album!” They didn’t care that I wasn’t actually an original member, they just were having a moment.
So fast forward to Harmony and Healing and when you give people those moments, where you help them to have a memory that’s a pleasant memory, you can just see their eyes light up, they just wake up. It goes straight to their soul. It’s almost like walking down the street, you smell a smell and you have a memory. Music does that too – no intellectual capacity necessary – you’re just going right into the feeling centers of your soul. And that’s what I love about music, that it’s a healing thing. In fact there are music therapists now. That’s a real job musicians can get now. There’s a program out at UOP. You can get a music therapy degree and do music for a living. You can make a nice living. I know a lot of musicians that have been really rocked by the pandemic and I like to encourage people to do things with music that are career choices that can allow you to pay your own health insurance!
“…when you give people those moments, where you help them to have a memory
that’s a pleasant memory, you can just see their eyes light up,
they just wake up. It goes straight to their soul.”
Chris: So where can we find out more about Harmony and Healing?
David: So harmonyandhealing.org is the website and davidvictor.com is sort of the link tree for everything. I have David Victor Presents, my music production company, Harmony and Healing, and Boom Cycle which is my day gig, digital marketing.
Chris: All that stuff going on, I don’t know how you manage all that, that’s incredible. We didn’t even get to talk about David Victor Presents. I know you have a lot of a lot of great bands that you’re working with…
David: Some who are coming to the Bankhead …
Chris: Yes, we’re looking forward to this awesome Queen band. So we’re going to wrap it up. I have a couple of other quick questions for you. We’re going to do a little fast Q and A.
David: First word that comes to my mind …
Chris: So what’s the last piece of music you listened to … or what are you listening to right now?
David: For some reason, going through my head constantly is Creed “Higher” (sings). I don’t know why … just the drums in that song, it just has a good gutsy vibe!
Chris: It’s awesome. Okay, do you have any guilty pleasures for music …
David: Oh yeah, well that’s one, I just named one!
Chris: Like if I walked in, you’d turn the channel really quick and say, “Oh, I was just checking the weather…”
David: What’s funny that band, they were super legit when they had a hit, then it was like “nobody likes them anymore.” I always just loved pop music. You know, I mentioned KFRC. I love The Spinners and The O’Jays, you know, all this pop-y music from the early 70s. That’s definitely my guilty pleasure, that I like the Bee Gees and all that stuff. But it’s great vocal music, it’s amazing.
Chris: One last question, because you mentioned Van Halen a couple of times. David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?
David: Okay…so both are great at what they do. If you just said, “Who would you rather sing like?” I mean Sammy sings, right? Sammy’s an amazing vocalist. There’s a video I want everybody to go try to find, it’s the record plant and they’re doing Montrose, Sammy’s first sort of real band, is doing a recording like on the King Biscuit Flour Hour or one of these old-timey shows. And Sammy weighs like 105 pounds and he’s got these headphones on – they’re the size of watermelons – and he’s singing his ass off and it just sounds incredible. You got to hear that! David Lee Roth … fantastic showman. Nobody’s better at just putting on a show. I just loved how Van Halen combined his incredible musicianship with putting on a show. There were a lot of great musicians that most people never heard of. I went and saw Alan Holdsworth at the Baked Potato in Studio City a few years back. Incredible player, a guitar god – didn’t care about putting on a show. Thought every show he did stunk. And it was like, “No, you’re incredible, it’s incredible what you’re doing.” There’s some musicians that just want to hide and play music. I love combining the music with the show.
Chris: Thank you, David Victor. You’ve got a lot of great things going on, a super nice guy and doing a lot for the community. I’m so happy to know you and to have you be a part of what we do at the Bankhead Theater.
David: Thrilled to know you, Chris. Thank you so much for this opportunity and, as you can see, I could just ramble on all day about music.
Chris: Oh we’re going to keep talking for another hour after all this! All right. Thank you very much everybody. Have a great day!
Find out more about HarmonyandHealing.org
And see David Victor onstage with SuperGroup SF at the inauguralHarmony and Healing Benefit on Saturday, November 6!
Explore the other Interviews with Chris Carter in the Beyond the Stage series: