Melissa Ferrick, a guitar toating angel on a mission has complete control over what she wants out of her career, and life. Can I get any luckier, here I am the Publisher of a very cool webzine who just so happened to interview Melissa Ferrick for only our 2nd issue. Most Publishers would die to have gotten that opportunity in such a short amount of time.
After being released from Atlantic records 5yrs ago Melissa teamed up with “What Are Records,” and Freedom is her 2nd cd to come out of that winning relationship. Melissa has developed an unbelievable way of performing which doesn’t always fit the folk singers stereotype. She floats on stage bearing a shyish grin and her acoustic guitar, prepped with plenty of backup strings to accommodate her need for speed while strumming the chords.
Her body seems so fragile and vulnerable but once this woman unleashes her guitar she becomes in total control of everyone in the room. Melissa’s approach to her guitar playing is “Turn it up,” as loud as you can make her guitar on stage or on the cd that is how loud she wants it.
Its this approach that makes her folk peers wonder, is it right for a folk singer to go to such extremes as to make her guitar louder than her vocals? Shouldn’t folk singers play nice happy songs about love and the earth and not about a scorned lover who feels rage towards that which brings her pain? Melissa Ferrick answered these questions and more during our interview.
Erin: The new cd fittingly is called Freedom, was this more a proclamation of your freedom from the Atlantic Records label or did it encompass more than that?
Melissa: Well they dropped me in “95” so no it had been 5yrs since I left that label. I think that freedom meant alot of things for me making this record. I made it with Marika my bass player, we made it in her apartment and we recorded it on a digital 4 track. For gear heads, its unheard of to make a record on that. We had a 5,000 dollar budget so we bought one good microphone and this digital 4 track machine.
The whole album was recorded on mini disk, its very difficult to make an album with just that. Neither one of us are really engineers or producers by name, we are just musicians. For someone like me who has made a bunch of albums its rare to get an artist who has made records that would suddenly stop working with producers and make an album by herself, there was a real freedom in that. I did this by myself and stood firm on my ground, I didn’t want anyone in our space, it was just me and Marika.
I knew the record I wanted to make I knew the way I wanted it to sound. If I don’t do this right now I’m going to second guess myself. I am trying to figure out how to transfer what I do live onto a record without making a live record. It was a very long, tedious process for me.
Erin: Having just the acoustic guitar and bass did you feel that just those two instruments made it more challenging for you to set the mood that you wanted or was that really the type of sound you wanted to convey?
Melissa: I really wanted my acoustic guitar loud, even louder, and it will get louder. Marika has better ears than I do and she is an older and more experienced musician. I put blinders on and all I can hear is my guitar, so I don’t hear anything else. Marika and I have played together since I was 18, she produced Willing to Wait with me and I knew with a 5,000 dollar budget we couldn’t afford a drummer, so we bought the drum machine.
So I figured everyone else is using drum machines and instead of getting in the way it created more space for my vocals and my guitar. We just kept the loops down, they are there you can hear it but its not overbearing and its consistent so it doesn’t change, almost like a background color. If you think of the record as a painting the drum machine is the wash that you put down first before you paint. It held up everything against it very nicely.
Erin: I know you have probably been asked this a million times but I have to ask because I was extremely shocked about the last song “Drive.” Is it really something that you had written just to write or were there other reasons for being so honest?
Melissa: Its a couple of things, in my own head anyway. I try to end my records with where I think I’m going next musically, I also end my records with the song I have most recently written. “Breaking Vows” on my 1st album was written while I was in the studio and I really like that song, I was in a bad way at that time, I was very lost and very angry. My biggest battle in my life is love and that is pretty apparent from all the albums is my struggle with being able to fall in love and am I really in love when I think I’m in it and certainly sex and my sexuality.
How have I expressed it or how I have not expressed it on a record and Drive was a very freeing thing for me to write. If you knew me or were in the truck with us (laughing) I am a scorpio I think sexually alot, in a good way, my thought process, my visual copacity, my voyeurism, I’m very into it. I have been listening to alot of Janet Jackson who I have never listened to before. I wasn’t aware that you could say those things on a record, you would get arrested if you breathed heavy or something.
It was great to have a vehicle to get rid of some of that stuff and folk singers aren’t supposed to do that and I’m not a folk singer, I’m a songwriter. I get to express myself in all different ways and I can become whatever I want. My fans love Drive, its the most popular song and I really thought they would think I was out of my mind. It was written on a dare from a girl I was with at the time and she had dared me to write a song about sex, just like Janet Jackson. I got in that headspace of what would I do, what would I do to you, how would I do it, what would it look like and that stuff that I haven’t done, I haven’t tied you up.
You don’t know who I am singing about, sex wise, you would probably assume I was singing about a woman. For someone who doesn’t know I’m gay, (laughing) I don’t know who that is but there is no he or she in the entire song. I didn’t realize that I had done that until my mother brought it to my attention. Whats great about this song is that I don’t limit my audience, its about sex and sexuality, its a great song whether it be a man or a woman, it fits. When I say “This is where I wanna live, right here between your hips,” my mom said a man can have hips, but you never hear anyone say wow he has nice hips.
My mom suggested I change it to lips and I thought its a nice line as well but now this is one of those moments when I’m gonna change something and why am I going to do this so some straight guy won’t be scared because he now knows I sleep with women or am I changing this because I want to. This is what I wrote and this is what I mean. When I’m right here between your hips, when I have my hands on your hips and I’m kissing your stomach that is right where I wanna be.
When my face is below your belly button that is exactly where I want to put my head down, that is where I wanna live, I love making love to someone and resting my head on their stomach, its beautiful. There is nothing more beautiful to me than the thought of two women doing that.
Erin: In the music industry being a woman has always been a point against you. Now you being gay and a woman people would have written you off awhile ago. Do you think that it gives you the confidence to do better knowing that people are waiting to knock you down because of who you are?
Melissa: The fact that I have survived as long as I have, I know there have been behind the door discussions about that Melissa Ferrick just will not go away, and I’m not going to go away. I don’t’ have any enemies in this industry in fact I think I have alot of fans at major labels and they just all watch in wonder, she just won’t give up she just keeps selling out. I didn’t break at Atlantic and everybody thought I was going to, there was a 6 month period when “Happy Song” was going to be a huge hit and I was going to be famous and have alot of money. When that doesn’t happen nobody wants to be around you cause they feel like bad luck.
In a sense really its spine growing I gotta keep doing this and find out who my friends are the ones who stick with me. As far as being a woman and being out I absolutely refuse to let that be an issue. I won’t deal with people who won’t deal with me. There are so many women that haven’t used their sexuality, their being a woman, its not a chip on their shoulder, oh well they won’t play me cause I’m a woman or its because I’m gay they won’t play me, I’m defeating myself if I use that as an issue. On radio stations adding a certain amount of women and men in one week its sexual discrimination. Before Lilith Fair you couldn’t be a woman opening up for a woman. Sarah has completely erased that whole idea. I am really getting into being out…Ellen is really inspiring me. (Laughs)
Melissa Ferrick is not going away, as a matter of fact she just keeps getting stronger. With all she has on her plate right now its a wonder she is able to stay so grounded. Throughout the entire interview I was so focused on everything she had to say that most of my questions never seemed to come out just right. Aside from being talented she is one of the most intelligent women I have come accross. At Melissa’s shows she radiates an unbelievable amount of energy which carries over into her cds. My suggestion would be to catch one of her shows in your travels through the world of music, you will not be dissapointed.