Victoria star Vince Vaccaro shines with ukulele

What: An Evening with Vince Vaccaro

When: Friday, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)

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Where: St. Andrew’s Presbyterian (924 Douglas St.)

Tickets: $15 at Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records and ca.brownpapertickets.com; $20 at the door

Vince Vaccaro isn’t the type of musician who waits for inspiration to come calling. On most occasions, he goes out and grabs it.

When it comes to musical projects, the Montreal native is at the mercy of his creative self. He has dabbled in electronic music, roots music, rock ’n’ roll and folk over the years, never staying in one place for more than an album or two. He’s a do-everything chameleon, with a gift for every genre he touches.

His latest artistic makeover is Koa, an album of songs written on and for the ukulele. Vaccaro, 33, has long used the tiny four-string, dating back to his days at Torquay Elementary in Saanich, when he first began plucking away at one in the school’s band room.

“Mrs. Sherman, my teacher, would let me in there at lunch,” Vaccaro said with a laugh. “I was that kid.”

Young music students often become frustrated, especially when learning a new instrument. But Vaccaro had experience playing both drums and guitar before coming upon the ukulele, which helped make for a quick transition.

He has gone back to his “uke” on several occasions over the years — some of his most popular songs, including The Dove, Catch a Fire, and Costa Rica, all feature the ukulele — but Koa marks the first time he has focused exclusively on the it for a full-length recording.

He’s happy with the results, even though it all came about somewhat by happenstance, according to Vaccaro.

“I think I just grabbed the instruments around that I felt connected to at the time, and made whatever piece of music.”

For the most part, that is typical of how Vaccaro has gone about his career; he follows a rotating cast of muses (the ukulele being one), and strikes when inspiration runs hot. He has left some opportunities on the table, and has made some decisions he would do over if he had the chance. But at the end of the day, Vaccaro is happy.

Constantly evolving, but happy. “After I made my ukulele album, I felt good about it, but the well of creativity of came up again. I was looking at Koa from a distance already, thinking, ‘Now what?’ ”

Vaccaro is already halfway through recording an album of back-to-basics rock ’n’ roll. The recordings came about after he found a collection of cassette tapes from when he was younger. The tapes, from bands such as Bad Religion, instilled in him a newfound level of energy.

“I started thinking, ‘What haven’t I said?’ I’ve sung a lot about the ocean, but I don’t consider myself an environmentalist, so I thought I should paint with a different colour. I decided to plug in, that’s how I would describe it. I went backwards.”

Another factor instrumental in pushing him toward a harder-edged direction was his standout performance at last summer’s Rock the Shores festival. For Vaccaro, playing to a loud local audience, which responded with a raucous ovation, was one of his career highlights — the type of set that kept his creative fires burning months afterward.

“It was insanely inspirational. It was the ultimate experience.”

Vaccaro said he dreams of becoming a mountain-dwelling guy who lives in a cabin and off the land. He is certainly a capable guy. When he injured his back a few years ago, he decided to make his own surfboard from cedar planks. Constantly searching for something to occupy his mind, he recently took up ring-making, using a blowtorch and the handle end of a spoon.

It has been suggested that Vaccaro — long one of Victoria’s brightest stars — should be more widely known, especially outside B.C. The Lambrick Park grad has played across the country, but eschewing the traditional touring-van route (in favour of one-off dates in key markets), his appearances have been sporadic.

He believes that has helped him in the long run. “I think a lot of people don’t think I have been as focused as I should be, but there’s more to life than being out on the road playing to empty rooms. I know a lot of bands try to do that, and get discouraged and quit.”

Vaccaro doesn’t measure career highs and lows in the same way others do. Have-idea-will-travel summarizes how he goes about anything in life. To wit, he will incorporate some impromptu elements into his concert tonight at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, the same way he went about making rings with no prior experience.

“I did it for the love of it,” he said. “There wasn’t any bull---t attached. I think it all has to go back to that.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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