"Performing and being on the stage at a young age helped me a lot," Vanda said late last week during a phone interview from her home in L.A.
Listen to Michelle Vanda's song "Paradise":
Indeed, Vanda initially fell in love with musical theater at age 3, landing a part with a small acting company in suburban Blue Island. At age 7, she starred in the summer show at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in Mount Greenwood.
Her parents, Ray and Julie Vanda, own Video Playground in Mount Greenwood. When she was 10 years old, her father added a recording studio to the back room of the video store at 10437 W. Kedzie Ave.
"My dad is a musician and so are my brothers, so I have a pretty musical family," said Vanda, who attended St. Christina Catholic School in Mount Greenwood.
The studio was a way to diversify the changing video rental business. But it also introduced Michelle Vanda to many different artists and musical genres, and she wrote her first song at age 13.
Vanda began turning away from the theater and toward a career in music while in high school at Mother McAuley. Songwriting became her escape, and she has more than 200 self-written songs in her catalog as a result.
Listen to Michelle Vanda's song "Alone":
While still in Chicago, she began working with producer Craig Bauer, who won a pair of Grammy Awards for his work with Kanye West. Bauer has 30 total Grammy nominations and produced three of the tracks on Vanda's recent release.
Armed with these tracks, Vanda moved to L.A. about 1½ years ago. She quickly formed a band and within six months of her arrival was performing on Sunset Boulevard and signed with a manager.
"It was really hard at first," she said.
Vanda said she strategically released the EP and partnered with the group to help build momentum toward the Dec. 12 release of her first album. She worked on the yet unnamed album with Brad Dollar, a producer in Northern California.
She's hoping that the upcoming release will propel her to pop stardom, saying she struggled to find her voice in some of her earlier work and believes that's reflected in her latest EP.
Nevertheless, the singer who spent her teenage years working at her parents' video store has big dreams for her career. She's hoping the soon-to-be-released album leads to a tour.
"When I tour, Chicago will be my first stop," she said.
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