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Nico Vega singer finds her calling on a different stage.

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

Intense, passionate, playful and unapologetically sexy, the tiny lead singer of the opening band may steal the show Wednesday at the WOW Hall.

Aja Volkman, who grew up in Eugene and graduated from South Eugene High in 1998, fronts Nico Vega. The Los Angeles-based band, which recently signed a deal with MySpace Records to release a debut album in spring, will open a show for Johnossi and the Shout Out Louds.

Nico Vega's five-song EP, "No Child Left Behind," is available now. It showcases the wild-yet-controlled vocal style Volkman has cut loose since a college drama teacher encouraged her to sing some 1960s songs in a play.

"This acting teacher had really pushed me to do this live," Volkman said by telephone from a studio, where she was about to meet the band and producer Dave Cobb and make final tweaks on songs before going on tour. "She was kind of hard on me to do this.

`By the end of the year I was like, 'What am I doing in theater school when I can feel like that?' '

That was her first year of college at the California Institute for the Arts. And what was the feeling she got after performing songs such as the Janis Joplin classics "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Piece of My Heart"?

"This is who I am. It's me at my most honest," she said. "It's vulnerable, but I feel like it's the most honest I can be.

`I think it's just like anyone else - like why it's so easy to sing in the shower - because you are vulnerable and you are alone and it sounds good to you."

A lively, uninhibited performer

What the 27-year-old Volkman does on stage is a far cry from belting out Tina Turner tunes while shampooing.

Nico Vega is well-known in the Los Angeles area for its live shows. It was featured as a Los Angeles Times buzz band in 2006. The trio also caused a stir at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Nico Vega has never played Eugene. But judging by videos found on the Internet, Volkman performs in an unselfconscious way that shows how completely she trusts her band and the audience.

She jumps, squats and crowd-surfs. She shakes her hair, crawls across the stage and does goofy little dances.

And she does all this wearing no shoes and very little clothing.

"The less the stuff that I have to wear, the better," she said. "I usually wear a leotard. I can't think about the way that my body looks.

`I have to just be OK with it and trust that it's OK. I don't feel provocative."

Even in publicity shots showing off her toned legs, there's almost a wink in her demeanor. It's clear that any sexiness is a byproduct of her feeling free enough to act as she wants.

"As long as I am comfortable, then other people are comfortable and it's the last thing they are focusing on."

Volkman's vocal style, as the Los Angeles Times points out, is "old-school." But comparisons to Joplin or other '60s icons end at her raspy, raw delivery.

Nico Vega's mission is to be a positive influence on the world, so Volkman makes a point of staying healthy: eating well, exercising, not overindulging in alcohol or other substances.

"During this time period right now, it's just so important for us to get moving and inspired in a direction of growth and unity and togetherness, and I think that is going to have to come from art," Volkman said. "My hope is to be a part of that.

`Whatever it is that connects people and makes them feel special enough to be positive in their lives."

No self-loathing, tragic figure she.

The band, which has an unmistakable chemistry, shares songwriting credits. And its messages reflect the philosophy of all members being their best.

"Gravity" and "This Too Shall Pass" are both about not letting other people drag you down. "Wooden Dolls" deals with society's way of silencing rebels and discouraging meaningful human contact.

The quirkiest song on the EP, "Medicine Man," is about giving and expecting loyalty. And in "Be Giving," which in places borders on psychedelic rock, Nico Vega sings about freedom, generosity and de-emphasizing the need for possessions.

"It has to start in the entertainment industry, because people gravitate toward that," Volkman said of the cultural shift her band wants to be a part of. "If the people who are the tastemakers aren't tasteful, then it's just sending people in whatever direction.'

The rest of Nico Vega is Rich Koehler on guitar and Dan Epand on drums. The band formed about three years ago after Koehler saw Volkman doing a solo acoustic performance.

At that point, she almost had given up on living in Los Angeles. But she said meeting Koehler gave her a new sense of artistic purpose.

"You have to have a pretty definitive voice. We're on a path where we are learning what that is.

`We can't pretend to know anymore than we know, because we are just babies in that sense. But I want to help get people to a place where they feel confident in themselves.

"That's what the mission is to me. It's not just making cool music for people to listen to. It's also a way of life and telling people it's OK to be creative and do what makes you feel good.

`You don't have to abide by rules."

The Shout Out Louds are touring in support of a sophomore album, "Our Ill Wills." The third band on the bill, Johnossi, a duo from Stockholm, is touring behind a self-titled North American debut.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Former Eugene resident discovers singing, not acting, is her passion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 5, 2007
Previous Article:BRIEFLY.
Next Article:Nellie McKay has no interest in acting her age.

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