The New-Old Sound of America

Melissa Ferrick chats with GO about her rootsy sound, her tour this year and the one thing she ca not live without on the road

This month, beloved singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick released her eleventh studio album, The Truth Is. Everyone at GO is totally stoked to hear this “raw, rootsy” summertime set of jams—it’s the perfect soundtrack for a getaway to the ocean, lake, backyard or beyond. Like you, Ferrick is gearing up for festival season and took a moment from packing the essentials to share some stories and bestow some wisdom.

There seems to be a nostalgic trend toward revisiting classic Americana themes in music today that the public really connects with. How have you drawn from the “Americana tradition?

I feel like I have always been an Americana artist, as I look back at my catalog now, but in the mid ’90s we called it rock, then the late ’90s it became folk or folk rock, then it was singer/songwriter. Now it’s Americana. So for me, identifying as an Americana artist just seems to make sense as I am American, and more of a singer/songwriter rock ‘n’ roller than a folk artist. In looking up the definition of Americana, which I did do before defining myself as an artist in that genre, the description seems to fit me perfectly: “American music merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.” Yep, that pretty much describes my music, I think.

What is one of your earliest memories of discovering the art of making music?

Oddly, my earliest memory of making music is writing songs on the piano. I describe it as odd because I don’t play piano well at all, and have never recorded or written a song on the piano since childhood. I was very young, probably five or six, writing little songs at my grandmother’s house on her piano, right-hand-only melodies with words. My memory is of feeling complete joy and release. I also recall the feeling of “time stopping.” I have come to know this now as living as close to in the moment as I am currently capable. This separation from my ego, the achievement of this type of meditative state, this feeling of “being the zone” is what I chase and why I play music.

You’ve got 17 albums under your belt so far, correct? If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

It’s eleven original full albums. The other six releases are either live records or EPs, but as far as what else I would enjoy doing, probably anything in the music industry, be it producing, A&R, managing artists, being a booking agent, or working as a guitar tech. But I also am teaching now at Berklee College of Music part-time in the Songwriting Department, and I have found that to be really fulfilling and challenging.

You have a lot of tour dates coming up this summer. Are you looking forward to being on the road? How do you channel the touring experience into your music?

Yes, I am really looking forward to all of the touring I have coming up this year! I am playing out live now with a four-piece band for the first time, and this has really turned around my love of playing live again. The people I bring out to play shows with me are fantastic musicians—and just as importantly—amazing new friends who help buffer my sometimes-defeatist mind back into what’s important, which is enjoying my life and the reminding me that getting to play music for a living is a real gift. As I travel and play live I try to gather as much information as I can, how I am feeling, what I hear people saying, what places feel and sound like, sensory stuff mostly, and I write a ton of this information down in my phone. The idea for me as a writer is to then translate these pieces of information into stories, into songs.

What can you not leave home without before you set out on the road?

A vehicle, my phone, phone charger, my guitar, and my ATM card. Really, these things are the minimum requirements. If you mean a personal “thing,” when I tour I always bring my own pillow and blanket. Backstage napping and sometimes dodgy hotels make these two items necessary.

A lot of GO readers are heading out on the concert and festival circuit this summer. Can you bestow any advice for the rookies?

If you are traveling in a car don’t forget to bring your EZpass, or equivalent, because they are usable in many states throughout the country. There’s nothing worse than being in, say, Illinois without being able to take the “fast lane” through tolls. Also, traveling with your own French press and coffee is a great idea, as one never knows if good coffee is going to be available at a venue. Also, when seeing a show, if you’ve got to get up to go to the bathroom or whatever, please be courteous to the performer and audience and wait until there is a break in songs to both leave your seat AND sit back down.

Also, clapping after the performer plays a song is really a great idea. Lately, given the amount of time we all spend interacting with screens instead of human beings, I have noticed a serious loss of  the common courtesy of clapping after a musician finishes a song. I always say to my audiences, “Please remember, you gotta fill me up so I can give it back to you.” So cheer your artists on because your clapping keeps us going and makes you a part of the experience.

The Truth Is is out now from MPress Records.

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