Interview with Melissa Ferrick


Photo credit: Erica Beckman

The day before out lesbian singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick took
stage at this year’s annual music festival
South by Southwest (SXSW)
, we relaxed on a grassy hill outside the
Four Season’s, enjoying some music, fresh fruit, and chit-chat about
her new album, coming out, and what it’s like to be a woman in the
industry. When did you first pick up the guitar?

Melissa Ferrick:
16. My aunt had a guitar under the
bed, from the sixties. I was already playing violin. I played violin
since I was five. And I played piano and stuff so I was a musician
already. I knew how to read music. She gave me that guitar so I just
started batting stuff out on it.

Then I went to Berklee College of
Music, when I was 17, on a trumpet scholarship. I was still playing
guitar and starting to write songs with it. I knew I wanted to be a
songwriter. That’s really where I honed my craft … playing in the
dorms, writing songs.

AE: You mentioned being able to play quite a few
instruments. Have you ever brought any of that into your live shows?

MF: I’ve taken my trumpet on tour before. I made a
record called The Other Side where I played all the
instruments. Right now I’m working on some stuff for a new record that
comes out in the fall that I’ll probably branch out a little more
with. I just bought a really cool little baritone ukulele.

I think
it’ll be cool to tap into some of the other instruments I play, but
not in the same way The Other Side was. It will be a
different arrangement that I’m really excited about.

AE: Many people tend to define you as a folk musician. Do
you agree?

MF: I think I’m more of a rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter. Folk music is a very particular type of music and I think
I get classified that way because of the storytelling. My songs are
stories about my life, but that’s not all folk music is.

Folk music
reminds me of songs that everyone sings along to like “this land is
your land” which is a gorgeous song, but I don’t write very political
songs or songs about the great struggle from a country’s perspective.
I write songs about personal struggle. I think that is relative for
what people call contemporary folk music.

AE: Like Dar Williams?
Yeah, but way rockier than Dar. More like Amy Ray
on her solo stuff.

AE: So if Amy and Dar had a baby…?
Maybe if Amy and I had a baby it would be Dar.
Dar and I are actually going on tour together across the west coast.

AE: A lot of your songs reflect what’s going on in your
life good or bad. When things are bad is there anything that lifts you
out of that?

MF: I usually like to sit in my sadness. When I’m
down in the dumps … I try to remember that my life is that way because
I made it that way. The ocean helps alot. As much as I know going to
the beach for a walk will help, it’s really hard to make myself get
out and do that sometimes. When I’m working, I’m around so many people
that when I’m home it’s good to just hunker down and be with myself.

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