Melissa Ferrick releases album with a performance feel
There are two ways in which a singer/songwriter can touch her fan base: in the studio or on the road. Although Melissa Ferrick has proven herself to be an accomplished studio artist, having worked with both Atlantic and WAR records, it is through the intimacy and intensity of her live music that she has formed her identity as an artist. Her music demands to be heard live. Those that had not heard her live performances were only getting half the picture. Up until now, that is.
Ferrick's latest album, Listen Hard, combines the passion of a live performance with the engineered polish of a studio album. Listen Hard is the second release on her independent label, Right On Records, but it is hardly a sophomore endeavor.
This offering joins Ferrick's collection of seven studio and two live albums, and proves to be the most technically ambitious and lyrically mature release to date. Listen Hard flickers with quicksilver purpose and bridges issues of vulnerability, heartache, anger and self-assurance that speak of an artist who has found her identity as a performer.
She recently took time out after her Birmingham, Alabama, show to speak with the Technique about her latest album, touring the country with a grueling concert schedule and her life as an independent artist. Technique: In May it will be a year since Listen Hard was released, quite a while for an indie artist to hold onto an album. How are you approaching the promotion and touring for this album differently than with previous albums? Ferrick: I'm intentionally trying to hold on to the album longer than usual without releasing anything new. Records really should last about a year and a half, so I'm giving it time to get passed around. Technique: Listen Hard has a definite edge and sounds a lot more like a live show than previous studio albums. Has this evolution in your sound been intentional? Ferrick: It's definitely intentional because playing live is my greatest strength. Vocally, the album is all one-take performances because I was trying to close the line between live shows and studio work.
It's a struggle to make a record that replicates the energy of a live performance. Listen Hard is a CD I'm proud of. The one thing all of my albums have in common is that I think I've consistently gotten a little better with each one. I don't feel like I've ever put out a lesser album than the previous one. Technique: Listen Hard is the second album you've put out on your own label. How do you feel that the production process was different than on your first independent album? Ferrick: We recorded Valentine Heartache, my first indie album, in my parents' house with the engineer and drummer, Brian Winton, running cords under doors all through the house. This time we were in a real studio with a sound guy that made sure every track sounded great.
Starting with Valentine Heartache, I've written more honest songs. I don't play many of the songs from that album live because they are barebones songs and very personal. On Listen Hard there are songs like "Marie in the Middle" and "Fighting Chance" that are real and written honestly.
The only song that doesn't really fit in is "Back in Love" because it's more of a quintessential pop song. It's on the album, though, because of the great line of: "Can you love me til I'm strong enough, can you love me for the both of us?"
All it sometimes takes is a great line and a great chorus for a song to work. Succeeding in making an album with 11 or 12 songs you're completely happy with is hard to do-there's hardly any CD that you listen to from beginning to end without skipping a song. Technique: Do you feel critics and others often stereotype you as being yet another indie, lesbian, guitar player? Ferrick: Anyone who puts me in those categories does it because they just don't know what to think of me. I don't really fit in and folks are looking around a show thinking "There're men here too," so anyone who uses those stereotypes for my music just doesn't know what I'm about. Technique: What do you do in the van when you are driving all over the country? What kind of music do you listen to? Ferrick: We listen to all sorts of stuff-all kinds of music. We also play a lot of video games because we have PlayStation 2. We watch a lot of movies and I like to drive most of the time so I like to listen to the movies.
We sometimes have a friend that opens for us so it's nice to have someone new in the car besides just me, Jen [the road manager], and Brian Winton [Ferrick's drummer]. Right now we're touring with Anne Heaton and we were with Stephen Kellogg in Birmingham. As far as records go, we listen to Lyle Lovett a lot [and] Ani's new double live CD-it's just great-and Aimee Mann-those are just a few we listen to a lot. Technique: How does being on the road almost constantly affect the way that you write songs? Ferrick: It's very difficult for me to write on the road-I never do it unless I just write some quick pop-sounding song. I always write at home, and whenever I have a break I usually write five or six songs then.
I will be home for a few weeks in May, so I'll do a lot of writing then. This really affects the amount of material I am able to produce, so I can't put out albums as fast as Ani DiFranco and some other artists.
I am releasing a live CD this year for the fans. I also signed a licensing deal in Canada, and they are going to release Listen Hard, and the first single will be "All for Me." Part of that deal is that I won't release anything new for a year to give the album time to get radio play. Technique: Any venue horror stories? Ferrick: Most venues are great and there are just too many great ones that we try to hit every tour to name. I'm looking forward to being back in Atlanta, and I've heard the Red Light Café is a great venue.