A new voice under the trees: Viva Corless begins her musical mark on Sacramento

Viva Corless. Photograph by Graeme Plant.

By Casey Rafter

The second studio effort from Sacramento folk singer Viva Corless is, according to the young songwriter, her tribute to Sacramento.

Released in November, “As Long As I Can” consists of songs Viva wrote between the ages of 15 and 18 and features players from her former stomping grounds: the Mira Loma High School music club. Viva’s philosophy – that greatness comes from building and nurturing community – is obvious throughout the album, but perhaps most evident on its second track, “Sit Next to Me.” The song opens with a line that echoes Viva’s sentiments about the beauty of the region, the people she’s connected with, and how she operates as a young musician:

“You can sit next to me, the spot’s wide open.”

Viva originally planned to record “As Long As I Can” in-studio, but scheduling conflicts with a producer reset efforts to zero. With a week remaining before her departure to UCLA to pursue a degree in theater studies, she solicited assistance from her former music club comrades. According to her, every musician on the album is a teenager from Sacramento.

“I was either going produce it myself or it’s not going to be out there,” she recalled, “and I realized that it’s better to keep creating art and putting it out there because that’s the only way you get better. A lot of these songs were recorded in my high school band room. That, in itself, is what this album is about. Sacramento is the through line here. Garden Road is about Garden Highway and the beauty of Sacramento.”

Viva’s musical pursuits are a family tradition carried on by her mother, who tried her hand in the Sacramento music scene in the 90s; her grandfather who — tenaciously, at 90 years old — plays in a bluegrass band called “A Boy’s Night Out”; and her classical pianist grandmother. 

“I’m also a musician, and I ended up with this kid who – before she could talk – would never stop singing, and I wondered, ‘Is this what I get? Because I actually want her to stop,’” joked Diana Williams, Viva’s mother. “She was always singing, performing. Also, she was always writing … songs were a piece of it, but she’s writing stories, she has a million journals, notes to herself, poems … Writing is processing what’s happening, whether it’s information or emotion and that has been very natural from the get go.”

Ninefingers, a musician and the coordinator of Sacramento Songwriter Circle, said that he shared the stage with a then-16-year-old Viva in 2022 while attending his first Sacramento Songwriter’s Showcase. The event is designed for songwriters to share their songs with a crowd of artists in exchange for feedback. Ninefighters said Viva’s age did nothing to hold back the wisdom she displayed when dissecting her songs.

“Each time that she would answer one of these questions that people would ask, I was really struck by the depth of each of the answers,” he remembered. “And the songs are really good. This is a different level of self-awareness and understanding when it comes to approaching what it is that we do.”

Before meeting Viva’s father, James Corless, Williams said the open mic scene in Sacramento was just as nurturing as it appears to be now. She crossed paths with Grub Dog Mitchell and other scene-setters at Lunas, like Kevin & Allison Seconds. She compared Ninefingers’ enthusiasm to lift up his fellow artists to the same kind of energy that Kevin Seconds provided her and others for years.

“It feels like this poetic thing; I have this girl now who is soaking up the exact thing that I loved about the year that I lived in this city when I was much younger,” Williams observed. “The supportive environment that she has received in Sacramento is phenomenal. It’s the small town-ness. I don’t know that we would have gotten that in a place like San Francisco.”

But Ninefingers sees Viva as playing her own role in giving others confidence and direction. He said it’s one thing to be the 41-year-old musician trying to lead the pack, and quite another to be a young adult, inspiring creativity in fledgling artists.

“You do need some people holding the standard to lead the way,” Ninefingers pointed out. “Those people will then have their own energy to start expanding and helping other people; that’s really the only way that any of us get anywhere.”

Photograph by Graeme Plant

Viva’s new album starts with a bang: A demo of “Eat Your Words,” previously released as a studio single in 2021. After forcing the song’s apparently judgmental protagonist to take their medicine, the mood shifts to a softer tone.

Though the song eventually evolved into the title track of her recent album, Ninefingers included a demo of Viva’s song “As Long As I Can,” in the debut issue of his zine, The Sound.

Viva’s brother, Harry, played bass for the title track of “As Long As I Can.” Outside of the family, she called on Nora Riddle for cello on “Sit Next to Me and Wings.” Xander Ferris Higa played drums on “Feel Better” and the title piece, while Brandon Smith, president of the B-Sharps during Viva’s time in the music group, played bass for “Feel Better.” Viva’s fiddle player for the project was Will Monnet, a former stage-mate during her reign as Lady Macbeth at Leonardo DiVinci Middle School’s Shakespeare Club.

“It doesn’t have to be this perfectly framed debut album and I think there’s something to be said about the vulnerability that comes with the rough production,” Viva reflected.

In her mother’s eyes, Viva is a driven young woman, hell-bent on producing her artistic expression regardless of setbacks and roadblocks. Viva carries a torch as a beacon to other developing artists. By immersing herself in these creative communities — both in music and in theater — she provides direction just as easily as she finds it.

“Sacramento is a home for me because it’s cultivated all this great music and it’s allowed me to grow into myself,” Viva emphasized. “I have grown such an appreciation for that mentality of everyone lifting each other up. Not just out of necessity, but because they genuinely want to. I think that’s so beautiful.”

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