I have always been immersed in music. I had music theory at a young age, and writing interested me as well. Yet, I didn’t think of making music seriously until I moved to New York City, where I was lucky enough to be surrounded in a sea of guitars and drowning in heartache. Logically, I grabbed an ore and started paddling.
At the time, I had newly discovered, through my lover or boyfriend (or not, depending on which of us and when you asked), that one could be dumped without “technically” being “involved” in a “relationship.” I wrote the lyrics to “Goodnight Sweet” through a stream of tears, mucus, and lyrics blotted on the back of a ripped-open envelope. The entire process was cathartic. I mixed a quart of storytelling and a tablespoon of music with a dash of experience, which ended up being the recipe for Folksinger.
Nobody told me I should do it, but, more importantly, nobody told me I couldn’t…so I did.
2.0 – Did you have a sense of how you wanted to sound before you could actually do it?
When I first picked up the acoustic, I only wanted to learn enough chords to write a song. Once I did that, I wanted to gather the guts to perform.
Musicians often seemingly throw around the number one-hundred. The aforementioned ex told me that after playing one-hundred shows, the butterflies in my stomach would diminish. Likewise, Rhett Miller [Old 97s] facetiously mentioned that after writing one-hundred shitty songs, a good one finally manifests as one-hundred-and-one. I like the idea of setting a goal and pushing myself to achieve it. So, perchance I’ll pen 77 more songs before I commit to anything as far as a definitive sound or style.
3.0 – Is your goal to be ‘Just Another Folk Singer’ or is that just truth in advertising?
Perhaps it’s a little of both, especially considering how being an “underground” composer is even more notable, in some ways, than being a mainstream performer. Describing myself is difficult, but I like how “folk” is synonymous with “people.” I must be in that definition somewhere. Starting from anonymity with the goal of being recognized as just another folk singer is a sensible goal.
Originally I took the moniker from one of my burgeoning songs, a story about a good ol’ boy who seeks out his own fame and fortune by living an exciting and corrupt life in order to create his own blues about which to sing. It’s a mashup on the old Crossroads and Dorian Gray stories, which mimics the sentiments, “Be careful for what you wish.” Raine Maida [Our Lady Peace] once told me not to become a musician unless I was ready to fight for my soul. The gist stuck with me, and I realized I wanted to write songs regardless of fact that I had no prestigious name.
I like the modesty in the moniker. When I was young, my mother told me, “Let others talk about you. You can handle it, and if they talk about you, then they aren’t talking about someone who can’t handle it.” Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will always amuse me. I am “Just Another Folk Singer.” What’s wrong with that? It has a nice ring to it.
4.0 – Who are your key influences?
Laissez faire singer-songwriters intrigue me. I adore the rich and raw “unreleased” songs as well as bare-bones solo performances.
Lately I really love Aaron Lee Tasjan. Aaron’s the hardest working musician I’ve ever met. I’d like to interrogate him or steal his feathered hat. Perhaps some of his talent will rub off or I’ll find some discarded candid poetry tucked in the brim. I’m definitely a hat-gal.
I doubt there would be a Mystie Chamberlin in the Folksinger sense if it weren’t for Michael McDermott. Michael’s songs are soulful and resonant, a real soundtrack for life. I recall a night in Jersey after a particularly passionate performance, including boot-stomping, sweat, and tears. He was cooling down. Between sips of beer, I played him a song for the first time. I was sinking in a puddle of anxiety, but he smothered me with encouragement as I hung onto his acoustic for dear life, as if it were a floating device. My fingers fumbled every note, but he sang along. I’ll never forget that.
Jesse Malin’s music is a constant comfort in this confusing time. Lately life has been hard-hitting. I’ve been laid-off, homeless, and beyond broke, but I survived. Jesse has a uniquely optimistic way of expressing similar struggles in a way that makes me feel like he’s always standing right behind me, which is both intimidating and strangely addictive. In February 2010, thanks to Jesse’s presence and generosity, I played my one-hundredth gig opening up for Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social.
Cameron McGill has been a brother to me. I traveled in the van around the Midwest with Cameron McGill & What Army for a short time when I had a green mane and wide eyes. I always unobtrusively observed everything from his drive to his craftsmanship to his showmanship. He’s another Dust Bowl Troubadour, a wandering minstrel whose songs powerfully emanate politics, experiences and feelings. I have Cam’s inspirational lyrics tattooed on the back of my neck: “All I know is Love and Rock N’ Roll,” and it’s as true for me now as it was then.
I worship Butch Walker’s candor and wit, but I really want to be Rhett Miller when I grow up. If I can hone my craft to be as affecting and clever as these great American songsters then maybe I’ll feel like I’m home.
5.0 – What’s your favorite part of performing in the Village?
My favorite part is a tossup between A.) getting to see amazing musicians and performers in intimate settings of urban rustic ambiance, and 2.) not knowing who I will run into on the street. There are always things to do and people to see, and vice versa. As I wrote in Dramaville, “Nothing’s ever boring out here on the brink; you see the daylight coming, but the night’s still young.”
Part of the reason I moved to NYC was because of the support of the East Village art scene. The Antagonist Movement existed four years by the time Jesse [Malin] introduced me. Perhaps I was unknowingly searching for such a crusade with which to involve myself after I finished art school in Chicago. I wouldn’t be performing if it weren’t for the Antagonists…and of course their Antagonism (one could coin the –ism).
6.0 – Do you cover any artists when you play live?
I currently cover 33 artists and bands. I’ve done nearly every song by Jack’s Mannequin on the “Everything in Transit” album. I’ve also played a number of Embrace (The English band, not the D.C. one, which is also outstanding) songs as well as a few by Okkervil River. I appropriated Mike Jordan’s “Whiskey and Water” after hearing Michael’s [McDermott’s] cover. The Long Winters have a poignant song called “Honest,” and I implemented that and Editors’ “Smokers Outside The Hospital Door” into my set because I identified with them.
Some songs I am still learning. Tommy London [The Dirty Pearls] and I attempted to duet Cinderella’s “Shelter Me.” Our doing was a memorable, monumental failure; I keep begging him for second chance. Also, Silvertrick has a classic song called “Forget Hollywood.” I’m still working it out for my acoustic routine.
I’ve covered multitudes of music from Missy Higgins to The Libertines. Daniel Johnston and Whiskeytown get as much attention in my attention-book as Kenny Rogers and Jenny Lewis. I’m not biased; I play what I like.
7.0 – What kind of guitar are you playing, any story behind it?
My uncle from Memphis passed away in a motorcycle accident on March 17, 2010. I’d been to Memphis merely to visit Graceland. After he died, my father bequeathed his Martin to me. It’s my only family heirloom, and it’s from an uncle I never knew. The guitar is missing a pickup, however it echoes an opulent timbre. Ironically the first song I played on it was “Guitar and Heart Strings.”
When I perform, I play a Daisy Rock Butterfly Jumbo acoustic-electric. I like Daisy Rock because my hands are petite, and the Daisy Rock necks are easier for me to play (Daisy Rock isn’t paying me to say that…it’s true). It’s lighter than my Martin, which is important for me and my back. Besides the sound and weight, it’s pretty. The butterfly motifs remind me of my mother, who sported a butterfly tattoo on her breast. Perhaps it’s my way of keeping her near mine. My first guitar was a pink Daisy Rock Wildwood Acoustic; I still have it, although it has been retired. However when I compose or relax, I usually break out the lil’ pink guy.
My baby is a pink Squire Bullet Strat Electric. She was a gift when I left marketing for music. I received her after stumbling up five flights of stairs around 6 a.m. the night Hurricane Irene was scheduled to make her New York City debut. That sounds like a story to tell when she’s older, doesn’t it?
8.0 – What are your plans for the New Year?
Besides writing 78 songs, I would love to get in shape and learn how to kayak. Conceivably I’ll hit the road.
9.0 – Any hot tips on new acts in New York folks should check out?
Brothers NYC is one of my new favorite bands. They have this great whiskey-fueled, honest, old-style rhythm-and-blues rock-and-roll sound. Carla Rhodes, a rock-and-roll ventriloquist and comedienne, puts on a hilarious and charming show. Damon Daunno is a man of many talents. The Ramblers, Mahoney & The Moment, The Madison Square Gardeners, The Dirty Pearls and about a million others I haven’t name-dropped already.
10.0 – A spaceship touches down across the street from Niagara; who steps out of it?
I imagine the job prospects on Mars are more ominous than in NYC. Perhaps it was fired, dumped, and wanted a new beginning so it jumped on the next craft to Earth in order to couch surf Brooklyn with some recent acquaintances it met at a show. Considering more than half of New Yorkers have come here from somewhere else, I wouldn’t be surprised.
I fancy it would be just another eccentric extra-terrestrial, who has come here following, with blind belief, its dream described in the words immortalized by Frank Sinatra, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you New York, New York.”