When visiting the magical city of San Francisco several years back I was wandering the streets of the Castro with my friend Michael McDonald, and as he was ruminating on the nature of San Fran he stopped and said, “Oh darling you simply have to meet Veronica!” No more was said. He rang, she came, we chatted. In waltzed this vision of 1950's petticoats and gloves. I was smitten.
We chatted with her this morning after her album release party. She sounded as sultry and sleepy as a jazz singer should.
Congrats on the new album, darling!
Thanks. This is my first CD in a while; the last one I put out was in 2005.
Tell me where you have been singing.
We did a very long residency at Enrico’s in North Beach. It was a classic 1950’s venue.
We were there every week for three years and developed loads of great material there, and when Enrico's closed we moved on to the Razz Room. This album is sort of a ‘best of’ the last several years and we wanted to get it recorded. The material is cool jazz and bluesy reflections.
Where were you before you made it to California?
Small town Illinois in the middle of nowhere! I wrote a song about my hometown- Gillespie-home of Black Diamond Days - the coal festival. Can you imagine? It’s on iTunes. I turned the festival into a metaphor of my youth.
I then headed to college in a nearby town and got a teaching degree in music.
What brought you to Frisco?
I had a boyfriend at the time that I had grown up with. He had an older brother in San Francisco and my boyfriend fell in love with the idea of being in the bay area. I had never been out of Illinois so I was thrilled! I had never even seen the ocean. My parents' idea of vacation was seeing an Amish Village. So it was really an awakening. I just fell in love with it.
Tell us about your first days in the city?
Well, the second night we were here we went to the Fairmont hotel and and heard Lainie Kazan. She was amazing! She is from the Eydie Gorme sort of school; you know - breezy swing. We had all of her albums from the 60s so to see her was a total dream.
Another thing we did was drive through Golden Gate Park to the ocean since I had never seen one. I still didn’t see it since it was dark by the time we arrived! But what struck me was the silhouettes of the trees against the sky - so different from Illinois. It felt like that scene in Suddenly Last Summer when Katherine Hepburn was in that Arboretum. It was wild. It blew my mind how different it was.
Old movie reference alert! Love it. What happened next?
After I broke up with my boyfriend I was Veronica full time. Any time I imagined performing and singing it was always as a woman. It sort of made sense that way. I put together a band in 1991 called the Veronica Klaus Review. We opened for the Ohio Players once which was pretty cool.
I didn't always know Jazz was my passion but when I was in high school I loved vintage style. I would not have wanted to live in the era but I certainly appreciate the clothing and design of the 40s and 50s. It was isolating in Illinois so I didn’t have much exposure to jazz but when I was in college I started to discover more jazz at the record stores. The first album was The Best of Etta James. I went nuts over that one. Through that album it opened up me to the rest - ballads, Jimmy Scott, Dinah Washington as well as Etta’s R&B and funky stuff. I began to buy records voraciously to get to know that whole world.
To what do you contribute your success?
I did have the good fortune of being around a lot of talented people in the scene I was in. The underground queer scene in the early 90s - Justin Vivian Bond, Rodney O’Neal Austin and others. There was so much art going on. I think what I did that served me well was really staying true to what interested me and what made me thrilled and not just doing what people liked or pandering to the sensational. You have to do what makes you happy.
I finally have this product that I can show to people and I am really trying to get some air play for it and to use it for bookings and travel. I love San Francisco but I want to travel and see the world!
Follow Veronica on Twitter @VeronicaKlaus