Today’s Feature, November 9th-10th: Melissa Ferrick

November 9, 2007 at 9:04 pm (Today's Feature)

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It’s as if she knew it from the start. Melissa Ferrick entered the world, pushed the doctor aside, grabbed a guitar and began telling it like it is. The truth isn’t too far from this story – being influenced by a variety of music at an early age, Ferrick was playing the violin, piano, trumpet and bass before high school. She eventually even taught herself the ways of the acoustic guitar and has been stunning audiences with her ferocious fingerpicking of complex riffs ever since. Blessed with unmatched ability, Ferrick has seen both the radiant and dark sides of the music industry. In 1991, she replaced the opening act for well-known artist, Morrissey, and stunned onlookers with her baffling musical prowess and honest message. Not long after, she was signed to a recording contract with Atlantic Records and released her first studio album Massive Blur in 1993.

After some time however, Ferrick knew that a label like Atlantic didn’t fit her needs. Her talent is expansive, unchained, unyielding. She needed a course that would allow her to live up to her potential; one that most musicians’ desire but few are able to fully take advantage of. Ferrick is one of those capable artists however, founding her record label Right On Records in 2000. She has produced several albums since then, spreading her confessional sound to intimate venues around the country.

Her latest release, “Live at Union Hall,” is “packed with her charming and witty banter, her ferocious guitar skills and her addictive fervor.” It was recorded in Brooklyn, New York, and swarms the ears of listeners with intensity and enthusiasm. While the live CD comes close, there is nothing like an actual Melissa Ferrick show. Ann Powers of the New York Times said, “Ferrick’s live shows define her popularityÉ she plays her acoustic guitar as if it were a full band and stresses improvisation in her vocals.” So do yourself a favor, by the CD, research into her film documentary called “Decade,” and see Ferrick soon. Check out her XXQ’s.

XXQs: Melissa Ferrick

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did you first get involved in music?

Melissa Ferrick (MF): I was four years old when I told my parents that I had “wanted to play the violin since before I was born,” so they bought me one. It was an odd thing for a 4 year old to say, so they figured they’d better get me one.

PEV: Growing up, what kind of music where you listening to? Who helped shape your sound?

MF: I was listening to the music my parents liked. Mostly stuff like Derek and the Dominos, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Stevie Wonder, Joan Armatrading, The Beatles, and a lot of Jazz specifically Miles Davis “this is how I feel about jazz”. I remember that record even visually.

As far as shaping my sound, I don’t know really… I started on violin then moved to trumpet which actually got me into Berklee on scholarship. As well I played bass guitar and started writing songs at age 16 on the guitar which I taught myself to play. So I think it is possible that all the theory, training, sight reading, and listening I had done throughout my childhood and through college helped me find a sound of my own on the guitar. It is the only instrument I have never taken a lesson on, oddly enough.. and I think that helped me find my own way on it. I remember just banging away on it in college to sing along to it-to sing how I was feeling and it allowed me to use words while playing (unlike trumpet) …obviously.

PEV: What was it about attracted you to that genre?

MF: The genre of singer/songwriter has always been a perfect fit for me. I love the way writing a song can release you from your own self-bandage and I love the aspect of just one artist. I find the solo thing to be really honest and brave and raw and I really admire those traits.

PEV: Was there a certain time when you said to yourself, “Music is going to be a career for me”?

MF: Yes, even as a kid I knew I wanted to be a musician. A conductor was what I wanted to be first, but I knew inside me that I wanted to be around music in my life (in whatever capacity) as a performer, engineer, producer, teacher; I just knew it was for me.

PEV: Tell us about the first live Melissa Ferrick performance? What was going through your head?

MF: Wow I actually don’t think I remember the first one of me like, playing my own songs and singing. I have been performing since I was so little, they all kind of merge into one long stream of getting on and off stage. I do however remember certain shows, like opening for Morrissey at Madison Square Garden, that one was really, really scary and my whole family was there and I was shall we say having trouble in the bathroom and Morrissey actually asked me if I was having trouble with that…I laughed and he said he had that early on with the Smiths. So, usually there is something that happens that gets you out of your own way and it remains through the performance. Once I am on stage the fear is gone and so am I. It is the time I live for, actually; the time on stage when my head isn’t thinking a mile a minute. It is concentrated and working I love that about playing music live.

PEV: Do you remember the first time you stepped into a recording studio to lay down your own tracks? What kind of feeling was that?

MF: Yeah, I was at Berklee College. I was hanging out with Paula Cole actually and I had a song of mine that I wanted to record. She sang back up vocals on it. It was really scary but as soon as I entered the womb of the control room I felt safe and again interested in the specific nature of recording and how very precise it is and at the same time how very experimental it can be. The mistakes that end up being brilliant ideas, and the time it takes to get down what you hear in your head is really a life long pursuit, for me.

PEV: Tell us about your latest release, “In the eyes of strangers”. How is “In the eyes of strangers” different from other music out today?

MF: I think I make records that bow to the song. It isn’t all that different than other records out now that are singer/songwriter albums…I don’t really love a ton of production. I also don’t love a kind of layering of sound that just muck up the lyric and the song and the definition of the guitar. I am constantly thinking of ways to record better and more accurately. What happens with me live seems to be a real difficult thing for me to capture on a recording. Ethan Allen (producer) of this record I think did a great job of getting me to just sing my ass off.

All the vocals are one takes and that certainly helps the performance…I think I will forever be chasing the magic that happens live for me on a recording in a studio. The good news is I want to keep trying and I am not the first artist to have this predicament.

PEV: When you write music, is there a certain atmosphere you surround yourself in?MF: Alone usually in the living room with the TV on mute and the computer on. I can’t write around anyone else. I am trying to co-write with my friend Lori Mckenna . We got one song out but other than her I haven’t written with anyone else, although I suspect I may give it a go with Maia Sharp in the near future.

PEV: In all your travels, which city, International or US do you think offers the best appreciation for art and music. As well, which has been your favorite to perform? Why?

MF: I would have to say as far as US cities it would be Chicago, NY, Minneapolis. I say these three because generally they have proven to be the best listeners at a live gig, I think Minneapolis is in the top three because it is so close to Canada,. Who wins the award for best listeners overall. The fact that the Canadians run some of the most amazing Festivals I have ever been to (or been a part of) is some of the reason that they are such great listeners and supporters of the arts. However Chicago, and NY, have always been my favorite cities to play in, besides the obvious Boston (where I am from).

PEV: How is life on the road for you? What are the best and worst parts?

MF: This Question is so difficult to answer short…ummm…best parts: I get to do what I love for a living. I get to travel and play music and meet people I never would have met unless I did this. I love it so much; I feel blessed to be doing it.

Worst parts: The lack of community in my home life, because I am not there. The missing of birthdays and holidays, and family, the lack of friends in my life because I am not really in one place long enough to culture the friendships, as well as intimate relationships, seem to be next to impossible to retain.

PEV: Have you come across an up and coming artist that you think we should all be paying attention to?

MF: Nicole Reynolds

PEV: If you could collaborate with one artist, alive or passed, who would it be and why?

MF: Bruce Springsteen. I think he is a great writer and seems like a likeable guy and I would like to hang out and have coffee with him and play nerf football with his family. I don’t know he just has somehow retained such a real sense of humility in his career-I really admire that and the fact that him and his wife have somehow navigated this crazy musician life and stuck together and have had a family…wow it is like amazing to me. So yeah I would say Bruce and Patty I would like to have dinner with them. And then stay up all night writing and recording a song. I would imagine there would be a lot of laughter too.

PEV: What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?

MF: I play golf

PEV: You offered and industry first by setting up a direct digital download from her website, which in turn allowed fans to help fund your album. How was this process received and why aren’t other artists doing this as well?

MF: It was received really well by my crew and the industry but, I actually don’t think the fans even got that they were participating in something no one else had done,.. That’s why it was so surprising to me that no one else had really done it yet. The fan just wants the music they don’t care how it comes across their computer-they just want it. I am trying to get my entire catalog up on my site for direct download. The whole indie music scene used to be more indie than it is now. The removal of the middle man is so frightening to the industry it just sent the industry into a frenzy. I mean, now we don’t have Tower records anymore,. The physical CD will be next to extinct soon, really just for hard core fans at live shows to have the artwork. I wouldn’t be surprised if we even see more vinyl being pressed soon for the ART like a t-shirt from a show or something… people are getting their music via the internet, it is easy and fast and cheap-cheap-cheap so there is no need anymore really for labels unless you want to sell a soda or a car too… Major labels are all run by larger ones that sell more expensive things, using the music to help sell the more expensive product. The true independent artist has the best of both worlds right now. It is a great time to be an independent artist. You can choose to align yourself with other companies to help expose your music and your face, or not. You have the power. You make the choices; but at the same time you are selling your music and checks are coming in the mail. I never saw a check for selling my CD’s until I opened up my own label. I think that tells you something.

PEV: What is currently in your CD player or who are you listening to right now?

MF: Ani’s Cannon I love the new recording of her older songs. And Tegan and Sara’s new record.

PEV: When you are not performing or traveling what do you like to do in your down time?

MF: Watch movies and sleep and play with my nieces and nephew.

PEV: What can people expect from your live performance?

MF: Watching someone give everything they’ve got for an hour and a half.

PEV: In one word, what best describes Melissa Ferrick?

MF: Wave

PEV: What is next for Melissa Ferrick?

MF: Making new tracks at home I have some new songs and I am on this new kick that its all about singles now not records. I am going to start putting up songs one at a time as I finish them…then when I have a handful of them, I will put together some artwork and press some CD’s. While doing that I am touring the US finishing off this last album with a bunch of Solo shows, then it is winter break and we will see what happens next year.
For more information on Melissa Ferrick, check out www.MelissaFerrick.com

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