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A world away from Los Angeles, but ‘it is well with my soul’

By From page A11 | December 13, 2011

Vatrena King. Courtesy photo

Vatrena King. Courtesy photo

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What: Gratitude Concert featuring Vatrena King, with guest Laura Sandage

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Odd Fellows Hall, 415 Second St., downtown Davis

Tickets: $20 general, $10 children, available at Armadillo Music, 205 F St.; Davis Waldorf School, 3100 Sycamore Lane; or at the door

One might not expect homespun lessons on gratitude and acceptance to come from a singer who has received career advice from U-2, toured with Melissa Manchester, worked for the brother-in-law of Arnold Schwarzenegger, recorded with Barry Manilow, and had a long-term, recurring role on a hit TV show.

But then, Vatrena King’s life in a Winters farmhouse with her two sons is far removed by geography and culture from her former existence as a “first call” (in demand) Los Angeles studio singer.

“Last night, before the gig,” King said, talking about a small benefit concert she performed at a private home in Winters, “I was dressed for the show, and I realized ‘I need to put away the chickens!’ ”

King laughed, shaking her head. “It’s at these times, when I’m all glammed up for a concert, and I realize that I haven’t put away the chickens or fed the goats, that I think, ‘If my L.A. friends could see me now …’ ”

I first heard King sing at a fundraiser for Davis Waldorf School. At the time, I knew her slightly as another mother, one who worked in the school office. I didn’t think anything of it as she took the microphone to emcee the evening. And, then, this trim, tidy, contained woman burst into song.

“Holy cow! This is our bookkeeper?” I thought. Hitting high notes flawlessly but carrying the dark, rich depths of a jazz or gospel singer, this wasn’t a school auction voice.

King’s music, and her approach to it, carries the varied chapters of her life, each adding a layer to a voice that has matured beyond that of the twentysomething aspiring recording engineer who sang in a girl-pop band in her spare time.

“Larry (Mullen) and Adam (Clayton, both of the band U-2) came to see one of our shows. Bono and the Edge had to work.” King chuckles.

“That sounds so weird, doesn’t it? But they were so supportive.”

At the time, King, who holds a degree in music production and engineering from Berklee College of Music in Boston, was “the first girl hired in the studio” in a production position. She struck up a connection with the members of U-2, who advised her to go solo.

Solo turned out to be a good move for King, whose production career ranged from A&M recording studios to Special Olympics work for Bobby Shriver to a position with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

However, though King had majored in production and engineering as a practical channel for her musical interests, “sometimes it turns out that the sensible path is not the path for you.” King eventually found herself “on the other side of the glass” as a recording session singer.

Perhaps her highest-profile role was a recurring part as one of Vonda Shepard’s back-up singers in the bar scenes of the TV show “Ally McBeal.” King describes the period immediately after the show ended as the perfect jumping-off point for a high-powered career.

However, King, whose oldest son was born during the “Ally McBeal” years, found that with two children, “I wasn’t pursuing the jobs the way I should, and I wasn’t raising the kids the way I wanted.”

It was time for a change.

King and her family relocated to Winters, a shift about which she says she has “no regrets.” As her sons have grown, King has resumed her professional musical career, but with a slight twist.

“On this new CD (‘Dancing in the Light of the Season,’ 2011), five songs were recorded in the neighbor’s barn,” she says.

While she describes Los Angeles as a place with “such a pool of talent, you never had any nervousness about finding someone for a gig,” in Winters, she records with a fiddler, bassist and accordion player, and couldn’t be happier.

King and guest Laura Sandage will perform a “Gratitude Concert” in Davis on Sunday. The Winters event was a prelude, benefiting both Heifer International and Covenant House.

“Here,” she says of her performances, “there is almost always some charitable element. L.A. wasn’t like that.”

Though in Los Angeles she had “almost lost joy” in her singing, that is far from the case these days.

“I Googled a song I sang the other night,” she said. “It’s an old one called ‘It Is Well With My Soul.’ The guy who wrote it had lost most of his family. It’s about accepting what comes.”

King smiles. “It is well with my soul.”

Christy Corp-Minamiji

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