Melissa Ferrick is more than just your basic guitar-toting, singer-songwriter chick; she's an out lesbian, a 10-year veteran of the industry, a passionate songwriter with a full-bodied voice who can play the pants off any acoustic or electric. Like her closest contemporary, Ani DiFranco, she is best known for her energetic, live improvisational musical skills on stage and for her independent spirit. With three albums on the Boulder-based label, What Are Records (W.A.R.), she has become a cult darling for fans in search of high energy, adrenaline-driven, folk rock.
Through it all, Ferrick remains humble and down to earth. She embraces her abundant and adoring fans, yet shies away from the goddess rock star status often bestowed upon her.
Ferrick will swing through Colorado Springs for a show at 32 Bleu this Saturday. She was gracious enough to phone in from Florida and chat about forming her own label, her new CD Listen Hard, and her spot on the musical landscape.
Indy: Recently, you formed your own label, Right On Records. How did that come about?
MF: It was kind of an obvious thing to do. I gave W.A.R. three albums, and by the time I was done with that contract, it seemed obvious that I needed to be on my own label.
Indy: Is there more work involved?
MF: It's a whole other thing, yes, but I don't know that it is that much more work. I was working hard with the label, but there was a lot that was out of my control. Things as simple as, Are the posters being sent out? Do they look good? ... Or just getting e-mails and messages. So, yeah, there's more work in that respect, but what I realize is the less phone calls it takes to get to me, the better off. We've been moving out the middlemen, one at a time, filling up those holes with fewer people. Keeping it simple.
Indy: You have a new CD out, Listen Hard.
MF: Yeah, I'm really proud of it. It's the second on the label, and some great people contributed: Sara Lee (bassist for Ani DiFranco, The B-52's and The Indigo Girls), Jimmy Ryan (mandolin for Catie Curtis), Wil Masisak ...
I think it's at ten thousand units, without much promotion.
Indy: What's your take on why certain artists are never heard on the radio?
MF: Radio is a huge monster, which I don't really focus on. I think there is probably a lot of payola. Obviously something is going on. I mean, why a talented artist like Aimee Mann is not being played on radio, when she has been nominated for Oscars, is beyond me.
Indy: Do you think there is a bias against female artists?
MF: I don't know if it's necessarily just a girl thing. Hippie bands, for example, have a hard time getting play too. I think that it is more of having to conform to a certain structure, a certain mentality. But I do think it's awesome that so many women are out there and playing. That still doesn't change things. Everyone always lumps women together. I mean, we're just women, right? (laughs). Rolling Stone's cover for the Women in Rock issue is a good example of that. The women on the cover had nothing to do with rock. Why on earth wasn't Patti Smith on that cover, or anywhere in the issue, for that matter?
Indy: Where do you fit into all of this?
MF: The separate but equal thing has been going on forever. It's beyond me, and by that I mean that it's bigger than me. So I try to stay focused, and I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I try to focus on things like just being a good human being. The world is so crazy right now. You have to buckle down, hold on, and just do your part. For me, that's my music, the shows, the touring ...
Indy: You don't consider yourself an activist ...
MF: Well, I don't consider myself a political artist, though being queer is still a political statement. And I believe in being out. It's important; it's the right thing to do. But I don't consider myself a lesbian activist singer-songwriter. What does that really mean? That's huge. Not all lesbians are feminists, not all singer-songwriters are activists. I think that we label ourselves and that can be really limiting. But the fact is, when I leave a club, inevitably what I leave there is a representation of a lesbian, because that's what they know about me. If I can change one mind at a time, of even just one person at every club, whether that's the doorman, the bartender ... then I am making a difference.
Indy: Playing live seems to be a cathartic experience for you.
MF: I'm out here to save my own soul. It's what I do and love. It keeps me centered. And if I can get that feeling, that vibe, out into the universe, I feel like that's the gift of giving. I try to create space for openness and to make room for the music to be heard. I think that's when the music really gets in, and becomes meaningful to people. There you go; some bona fide, independent, 21st-century hippie philosophy.