Victoria Victoria — a five-piece outfit fronted by singer-songwriter Tori Elliott — took the Garage’s stage with no ado, Elliott lilting into her numbers without introduction. She and the band embarked on their slow burn of a set, Elliott serenading sweet somethings.
“I live in two cities/ I live on two streets/ And most of my rests are taken in my car,” Elliott sang, vamping on her keyboard.
A touch of chill had swept into Winston-Salem on Dec. 1 in perfect time for the Winter Warmer, a Phuzz Records showcase hosted by the Garage.
Label founder Philip Pledger’s retro pop-rock band Estrangers jangled along with its crispy guitars, bouncy bass and warbling synth. No One Mind, a synth-rock quartet from Raleigh, delivered a haunting set. Guitarist Ellis Anderson conjured swirling, reverb-soaked atmospheres with his Stratocaster and stuttered his vocals like the love child of Suicide’s Alan Vega and XTC’s Andy Partridge. Keyboardist Missy Thangs, dressed in black behind her Korg, wavered in the dark like some phantom, tossing tambourine and maracas over her shoulder like cast-off toys.
But before all that, Victoria Victoria opened with their brand of indie pop.
Elliott moved to Winston-Salem in 2012 from Chillicothe, Ohio at the age of 17 with her friend Hannah Riggin.
“I didn’t want to go to school right after graduating,” Elliott said in an interview. “Hannah had friends here. Winston-Salem, compared to my small town, was blooming with opportunity, so we just said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”
Elliott, who’d taken up piano at 14 and started writing a few years later, dreamed of playing music.
In December 2015, she and Riggin formed Victoria Victoria as a vehicle for Elliott’s songs, which she began writing as a teenager. Elliott sang and played keys while Riggin backed her up with harmony vocals and synthesizer. The band premiered that New Year’s Eve.
Over the past year, the outsiders received a hospitable response from the Winston-Salem arts community. Victoria Victoria added guitarist Ethan Gingerich and drummer Noah Lowdermilk, and produced an album, Coastal Beast, in August.
“There’s so many artists here willing to do things I can’t,” Elliott said. “I can’t film a music video or shoot photos for an album, but people have been so supportive and said they’d be happy to work together.”
Elliott continues to benefit from Winston-Salem’s artistic coziness. Ben Loughran played bass for Victoria Victoria at the Winter Warmer, a recent addition.
“He’s been filling in with us for a few weeks, but he’s been awesome,” Elliott said.
Another replacement became necessary earlier this year. Riggin moved after the album’s release to enter ministry school in California.
Thankfully, Elliott’s younger brother Noah Elliott could also play the synthesizer. He followed his sister from Chillicothe to Winston-Salem to join the band in Riggin’s place.
The fuzzy synth lines underlying many compositions provide an atmosphere to Victoria Victoria’s songs reminiscent to those of St. Vincent. Elliott’s expansive voice, ranging from a low alto to a sweet mezzo, and the dynamic arrangements of her songs also nod to Annie Clark’s spirit.
One tune, hand-picked for the showcase’s theme, exemplified the similarity.
“I’m going to play a Christmas song,” Elliott bashfully told the crowd at the Garage.
She admitted she may forget the lyrics due to the song being written when she was 17.
“It’s a little bit cheesy, but just the right amount that you want in a Christmas song,” Elliott admitted.
She began the song solo, her keyboard set to the plunky chime of a Wurlitzer electric piano, biting her lip to recall the words that indeed covered the corny holiday theme of togetherness.
“I’d really like to come home to you/ And I wish I could stay,” Elliott crooned.
A look to her bandmates, who stood at attention, and just a hint of guitar quietly joined Elliott’s keys. The synthesizer swelled as the bass drum locked the beat into place. Suddenly, Elliott’s sentimental ballad slid into a moderate neo-pop groove.
As the song concluded, Elliott promoted her album.
“Pick one up for your mom,” she deadpanned. “Pick one up for your aunt. They’re great stocking stuffers.”
Owing to Victoria Victoria’s relatively green status, Elliott counts on album proceeds to directly fund future endeavors.
“I can’t afford to make albums every three years out-of-pocket,” Elliott said. “I’m just hoping one release can go towards the next.”
As for new year’s resolutions, Elliott hopes to expand the band’s horizons.
“We are talking about some projects in 2017, but not a full-length album,” Elliott said. “Just some little things here and there.”
Elliott also stated her wish to book shows outside of Winston-Salem.
“This year’s been pretty good for building a home base,” Elliott said. “We’ve played in Greensboro a little and Ohio, because I have connections back there.”