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Melissa Ferrick is 'Still Right Here': Exclusive Interview

Melissa Ferrick is 'Still Right Here': Exclusive Interview

It has been five long years since singer songwriter and out lesbian Melissa Ferrick has released any new music. With her latest record set for release on September 13th and her devoted followers literally drooling to get a listen to what Melissa has been up to for the past half decade, her upcoming studio album, Still Right Here, serves as a definitive reminder to her fans that she is back and better than ever with what could be her most successful opus to date. Ferrick’s time away from touring and making music has allowed her to reflect upon her career, spawning enormous changes in Ferrick’s life. She returns with a new label (MPress Records) and an unprecedented new album which boasts guest vocals from friend and fellow artist Ani DiFranco and features riffs from guitar maven Kaki King

It has been five long years since Melissa Ferrick has released any new music.  With her latest record set for release on September 13th and her devoted followers literally drooling to get a listen to what Melissa has been up to for the past half decade, her upcoming studio album, Still Right Here, serves as a definitive reminder to her fans that she is back and better than ever with what could be her most successful opus to date.

Ferrick’s time away from touring and making music has allowed her to reflect upon her career, spawning enormous changes in Ferrick’s life. She returns with a new label (MPress Records) and an unprecedented new album which boasts guest vocals from friend and fellow artist Ani DiFranco and features riffs from guitar maven Kaki King.

The indie artist spoke to SheWired about her five-year journey to resuscitate her love for what she appears to do so effortlessly, which is create intensely personal songs with soul and depth.

20. A billiar ball

SheWired: Are you excited to be going on tour again after a five-year hiatus and playing these new tracks for your fans?

Melissa Ferrick: Oh my god, yes! The record comes out in September and there is a huge tour. I play Michigan Womyn’s Festival in August and then I have a show in Denver soon after that, and then I start touring Sept 6th, beginning in Cambridge MA.

Your new album features vocals from fellow artist and friend Ani DiFranco. How did you two meet in the first place and become such fast friends?

I met her briefly at a few festivals. Of course, I remember meeting her -- she doesn't remember meeting me (laughs).  But she was always someone that I just musically adore and I think she is the most important political song writer of my generation, probably since Bob Dylan. That being said, from a professional stand point of a song writer that admires another song writer, she really nails it… she nails speaking to the state of things very well. She is intimidatingly prolific with song writing and getting out that general liberal thought in world…and she does that effortlessly.

I met her in New Orleans, 2005, I think, and it was at a club. I was playing with two old band mates of hers so she was friends with those guys and [she] came down to the show. I met her back stage after the show and we chatted a little bit – just normal chat and then we all went to her partner Michael [Napolitano’s] house and had dinner.  And then I had some shows in Buffalo and I stayed with her at her house and we bonded and got to know each other. That was longest time I have ever gone without watching television, because she doesn’t have a television. So I just kept reading books, lots of books (laughs). And since then, we toured together and then toured again. It just happened very organically.

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Can you tell us how your collaboration with her on your new album came about?

Asking her to assist on the record wasn’t a difficult thing to do. I just asked her. She emailed me right back and I sent her two songs to choose from off the album, and she picked my favorite song off the record, “You Let me Be.” The next morning I woke up and she had sent me a three part background harmony for the song that was just unbelievable. What she came up with was just nothing I would have thought of, which is the whole point of collaboration. I was like, “holy crap.” I never would have thought to do that! We took it right to the studio.

You also collaborate with Kaki King on your album, what was it like working with her?

I met Kaki on a couple of occasions.  She came to see me play in NY and I did one festival with her and then I saw her play once in New York. It’s kind of like one of those things where you go to people’s shows because you dig them.

So I was working on some songs in the studio and I was online and saw that Kaki was online, I instant messaged her and was like “how are you?” and then I found out she was in Brooklyn at the time and I was in Williamsburg in the studio.  My producer Alex Wong was with me and I asked him if he knew Kaki King and he said, “Uh, she lives around the corner.  Yeah, I know her.” So I asked her if she wanted to come over and bring her guitar and she did and that was it. She plays on my track “Headphones On”  and it rocks.

21. A body spray canister

You are an amazing live performer. And one of things most enjoyable about you is your banter with the audience between songs. Do you enjoy that aspect of performing live?

It’s funny because I struggle at times wondering whether or not I should do that, but I think it’s important to keep to enough talking but not too much. I fetter it a bit more now days. I teach a course on song writing at Berklee University and I feel that--because of that experience--I am better at it now, at explaining the song writing process and the lack there of -- the process that actually doesn’t exist.

And one more note on that subject-- I am careful when I do that at every show because what [songs] mean to me aren’t what they mean to the people that hear them. I don’t like to set up an experience that might not be an audience member’s experience. Sometimes it’s better to do that after.

Do you like working in the studio vs. performing live?

I love it. I love the studio. I love them both but, they are both so different. But I have an affinity for the record making process.  I’m better at it now in the way of patience and knowing what else I need to do from a production standpoint. I’ve produced eight of the songs on the record so there was a lot of preproduction and arranging and finding parts that had the right sounds.  I’m not as hard on myself about that process. I allow myself to record things and erase them. The erase button is a great button. The more you can be willing to have something sound stupid, the more opportunity you have to stumble upon something special.

And of course, the fact that I get to be in one place, sleep in my own bed and listen to my own rough mixes on my own stereo in my own home and in my own car is something that I really appreciate and am grateful for, rather than…you know, with the touring you are traveling around and sometimes you are in a rental vehicle and it’s kind of the same things every day, but also completely different every day.  So you drive, you play, and you check into hotels and you drive, and you play – it’s different people every single night. So there is some sense of weird familiarity with what you are doing, but also a sense of, ‘where am I again?’,  ‘Is the bathroom on the right or the left?”  ‘Where is the Whole Foods?’ ‘Where do I get coffee?’ All those things you approach every single day rather than being in one place where you know where all that stuff is.

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You have a new record label, Mpress Records, and are off your own indie record label, Right On Records. How is that working out? Do you feel you have the creative freedom you had when you made all the decisions?

I have all the freedom in the world. I wouldn’t have signed with them if I didn’t let me do what I wanted. It’s actually probably the biggest relief I have felt in a long time. There are a couple of things that happened. After I put out Good Bye Youth, which I think was 2008, I didn’t write. I went through a two-year period of not writing.  And I got this teaching gig and I really loved that and wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this anymore the way that I had been doing it. Actually the truth is I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore the way I was doing it. First of all, the isolation of it was really bad for me. You know the no help.  I mean even though I have the fans help, it really was just me and my manager, who is my best friend, who I now don’t work with anymore because it was ruining the friendship and it was stressful and that needed to change.

And then I started to write again at about late 2009/2010 and I started writing a bunch of songs realizing that freeing myself of the invisible obligation to  put records out on my own…that fans weren’t going to hold that against me that it wasn’t from Right On Records. What they wanted from me was for me to feel comfortable and at ease with my art.  And the financial burden of putting out 8 records in 10 years… well the truth of the matter is I almost lost my house.


I was underwater and continuously putting out money to make records, record records, make t-shirts, send them out, make the website, hiring an engineering person, and hire a publicist.  And all that money had to come from somewhere, and I didn’t have that kind of cushion because when I started making my own records in 2000 I was coming off of deals with other labels. But I wasn’t making any money so I didn’t start out with any capital. It really wore me down and made me unable to be an artist and I think that was probably why I wasn’t writing. I would spend ten hours a day working on the internet trying to figure out, who to hire for this, or where to make t-shirts and how to reduce my interest rate and I wasn’t writing any songs. So it wasn’t fun anymore and I always said when it wasn’t fun I’m going to stop doing it.

So what changed everything for you?

I ran into my friend Rachel Sage, who I have known since 2000 -- who makes her own records--and she signed this kid. I saw him play and he was amazing and talented and he said he was with this record label MPress and I was like, ‘that’s Rachel Sage’s label.’ So I didn’t know she was signing other people and he was going on and on about how great it was there and the distribution is amazing.

So I had a conversation with Rachel and Joe Jentry, who is her label manager, and we talked and I told them what I thought I would need and they thought about it and we did some negotiating and came to an agreement and it’s been great.  I have a publicist now who books my shows, so I am getting opportunities now that I should have had before. You know…. but maybe not.

This record I made is the best record I ever made. There is no doubt in my mind. There is no doubt that it sounds the best, the production is the best and it definitely doesn’t take anything away from my live performance. It just accentuates it.  It has the best songwriting, it has the best 10 songs I have had in a long, long time.  So if there was a time to do it and play in front of indie folks and see if I can get some attention in that way, then I don’t know when a better time is for me than with this album. This record just feels stupid good (laughs).  It feels really exciting.

You write songs from such a raw emotion space, dealing with breakups and lost loves. Do you have a hard time performing these songs over and over? Are there songs you ever want to shelve because they remind you of too painful of a time?

Yeah, there are a couple of songs like that. There is a song on Good Bye Youth called, “Getting Over You,” which is really close to my heart, so that’s hard to play live. And that one comes to mind now because I’m still kind of reflecting on that time in my life. But most of the time it depends on what space I’m in. I hear other song writers say when they play old songs they don’t necessarily revert back to that time in their life. Well of course, they don’t actually revert back to that time, it’s not like if I play “Some Kind of Nerve” I become a 28-year-old again with that girlfriend that I had that broke up with me, but…. I do, kind of. I know what that song is about. I know where I was when I wrote it, I can remember writing it. There are a lot of songs I have like that and I certainly do, while I’m playing them, think of that time even if it is for a brief moment.

But also, if I play a song like “Some Kind of Nerve,” because it’s like an old school, old Ferrick favorite, the reaction from the crowd is such that it makes me smile.  And that makes me happy because they love that song and then you see other girls like, “Oh man I love that song because that is exactly what happened to me.” And they sing along with this energy like, “Yeah! I am done falling in love!” And they are just in it with you and that is awesome.  But at the same time, in my head I’ll be thinking, “ugh” because I remember I was in San Francisco crying hysterically in the shower when I wrote it.  But I bet these girls in the audience are having these moments too.

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Your song Drive, an absolute crowd favorite.  At 7.5 minutes long, is that song exhausting for you to play? Are you ever just not in the mood to play it?

Sometimes it’s everything I can do to get out from playing that song, and then people will see me later and be so upset I didn’t play it. And actually it was these fans that helped me change my mind about it. I remember one particular time I was leaving a show and this girl walked up to me and said, “I had a great time at your show, but um, I drove eight hours to hear you play ‘Drive’ and you never played it.’ I was like, “You know, this is dumb of me.” I’ve got to play it because there are a couple of things I should be grateful for and one is that I have more than one song that people want to hear.” Second of all, who the hell am I that I don’t want to play the song they want to hear?! You go your whole life, you write over 125 songs and you get one that everyone wants to hear, and now you don’t want to play it?? Well, get another job! (Laughs).


On occasion, you have meet and greets after a performance – how important is that connectivity to your fans?

It is very important and it’s the hardest part of the night because you are exhausted and yet you want to connect with every single person. And I’m glad I do it because that is when I sign something for someone whose friend is in the hospital, or someone tells me that my music helped them come out, or I get a lot of personal stories and stories about people overseas that are serving and playing my music. I love to do it. But it can be the most challenging part of my job.

What kind of music do you listen to while driving in your car?

I pretty much only listen to classical music and NPR. And if I’m gonna jam out to a summer hit song… I listen to the most obnoxious pop radio station out there so I listen to Justin Bieber, or Ke$ha or Nicki Minaj.

Wow. I have to tell you, this is shocking news.

Yeah well, I like to listen to that music because it is brainless to me. Well I mean, I either put that on or I listen to this station in Boston that plays 50’s and 60’s and all the classic R&B – you know like, Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan. Their instrumentals are so killer and no one arranges songs like that anymore. But yeah, otherwise, if I’m going to the beach or a game, or I don’t know where I am going, but somewhere with my friends: Nicki Minaj and like, Lady Gaga. I love that kind of stuff.

Do you ever listen to yourself?

Yeah, but not because I think I’m great.  But because I always listen to the newest record I made in my car really loud for about a month and then I never listen to it again. I have a song called “Nebraska” and I haven’t listened to it in a while and then I did and it was so upsetting I had to turn it off. Now all I want to do is rerecord it. I’m thinking, “It was a good idea Melissa, good trumpet part, but maybe you should have done this... “ I love my new record though, if I talk to you in six months I might still be listening to it.

You can catch Melissa on tour this Summer/Fall. Check for tour dates here. 

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