With the wind at his back, singer Joe Viba sails into 2021 with his first solo album and is part of a musical-theater release that got widely noticed, garnering an estimated 3.5 million listens to date.
His passion for performance developed during his days at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Viba lived in Oak Park from fifth through 12th grades, attending Irving Elementary and Julian Middle School.
One of his best friends, John Clay III, whom he met at OPRF, motivated Viba "to pursue music and theater and the whole creative arts industry," he said.
"I was inspired by his work ethic and the things he could create so I thought, why not indulge?" Viba said.
Clay currently has a career in acting and appeared on Broadway in Choir Boy in 2019. He also appeared in two productions of Leonard Bernstein's Mass at Ravinia.
At OPRF, Viba participated in Show Choir, A cappella Choir and spring musicals. He found the results — such as performing with Show Choir downtown and getting on the news — awe-inspiring. He said it showed the "energy you put into something you love can turn into something else if you take the time to really put forth a genuine effort."
He also credits his family for bringing song into his life at an early age.
"My whole family sings — my sisters and brothers and my mom — so I watched them sing around the house," Viba said. "You go to church a couple Sundays; you learn a hymn; you sing just causally every now and then," that was the home he grew up in.
After graduating high school in 2013, it took some time before he became motivated by academics, which Viba said he realized was necessary to advance a career in "everything he became so fond of." While going to college, he worked professionally in regional theater. From there, he landed contracts to perform on cruise ships in Broadway-style shows, such as Rock of Ages, or in "production shows" with others. Viba also had a short stint singing opera.
The lifestyle brought steady work, the opportunity to see the world, and more experience and opportunities. Contracts could last six months, and when he started, he was only home for five days between contracts.
When COVID-19 arrived, Viba had been at sea performing since November 2019. His gig ended suddenly in March 2020. Upon arriving in the U.S., he and others from the ship were quarantined for two weeks and then flown home.
However, he already had a project in the making. Between cruise jobs, Viba had been living in Brooklyn, New York, for a year with Clay. Looking for work, he tried for "everything" during that time and landed a singing part for the Original Concept Recording of Starry, a musical about Theo and Vincent Van Gogh.
But it was more than talent that helped get him in the door. He had a Van Gogh painting as his Facebook cover art and posted about listening to Lianne La Havas, who recorded "Starry Starry Night" for the Loving Vincent movie. Viba said when the team saw this they thought, "He really does enjoy the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Let's listen to him and talk to him and see what he can do."
Viba sings on nine of the tracks on the original release. Matt Dahan is the composer/lyricist and Kelly Lynne D'Angelo is the book writer/lyricist. When Starry was released in January 2020, it got 1 million listens on Spotify that month alone, according to Broadway World. By February, it was on iTunes Pop Chart at #14. In November, a deluxe version with three more songs and a CD was released. It is still getting 600 to 700 streams per day, he said.
Still grounded from his cruise career, he is looking at the bright side.
"Coronavirus has provided a really good opportunity to research," Viba said. "When you're on a ship, the accessibility to knowledge … about music production, marketing and engineering is limited because of the quality of the Wi-Fi in any given day.
Having reliable, accessible Wi-Fi on land, and having less to do during COVID ("No parties!") has given Viba "the perfect opportunity to learn something."
He began working on his solo album, influenced by living on the water. Viba not only sings, he composed, mixed and produced Flora & Fauna. The album, with its neo-soul and R&B sound, was released on Dec. 25. It is currently getting 80 downloads a day, but as he works on marketing, he hopes to increase that number. He now has a music manager to help advertise, rebrand and market.
Viba said he completed Flora & Fauna in three months and is now working on other projects — a rock song inspired by the November election campaign, another with a singer who is based in the UK that he met while working on cruises, and something with singer/songwriter Myyora who is picking up momentum, according to Viba.
He works out of his home in Glenview, where he has all his own equipment to produce music. Viba doesn't feel that the pandemic is keeping him from creating, even when collaborating with musicians overseas, and he uses Zoom and sharing of high-quality audio files to work on projects at home.
"I have to be honest, I am learning a lot," he said. "There's a learning curve. And I realize to get better, I need to put out a bunch of music all the time."
To download music or learn more about "Starry," visit starrymusical.com. More on "Flora & Fauna" and Joe Viba: joeviba.com/home.
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