Melissa Ferrick Interview

Melissa Ferrick

Melissa Ferrick


Earlier this year, Erica Feliciano, had some time with awesome indie artist Melissa Ferrick to ask about her tour…

Melissa Ferrick is once again on tour and performing songs from her new album, Enough About Me. On June 11, 2010, she performed at Lincoln Hall in Lincoln Park. The L Stop got the chance to speak with Melissa Ferrick just before her performance.

The L Stop: Enough About Me is mostly a cover album. How did you decide to do a cover album? What brought that on?

Melissa Ferrick: I had been kind of planning to do one for a bunch of years. But I had grand expectations for it. At first I thought I’d do all of my favorite female singer/songwriters, and then I’ll do all of my favorite male singer/songwriters. Then I thought, well maybe I’ll make a double album. I kind of go to extremes with my ideas, which I don’t find surprising (laughs). And then as it got closer to me doing a song at a time, I did “Deathly” by Aimee Mann. And then I did “Creep” by Radiohead. So I had done one of each. I also did “Call and Answer” by the Barenaked Ladies, an old song that I’ve always liked. Then I thought, well maybe it doesn’t need a theme. I can just do songs as I am kind of learning them and then play live for fans that can be like, “I love that song. That’s so old school. I can’t believe you did that.”

So I had seven songs done. And I was telling Bryna, my manager, about them. I said, “Look, I’m just doing them as I go and not planning anymore.” I had “Bad Habit” and “Hypocrite” produced and in my same machine at home, from Goodbye Youth, and Bryna was like, “you really need only one more song to make a record. Why don’t you go play the crap out of Patty Griffin’s ‘Moses’ the way you do live, because the only version of that is from Valentine Heartache. And it has the drum and bass on it, which is a little slower, and your live version is really intense. So just go upstairs, turn on all the microphones, and just play it. That’ll make ten, and we’ll have a record.” So it was really like that. Not a lot of planning, which is a really good thing sometimes.

But, sometimes you can over plan records or try to make them thematically and, meanwhile, people are buying singles. People buy songs. I mean, my fans buy my records and enjoy them. The hardcore fans enjoy the artwork and the ideas I had behind it, but generally people are like, “I just want ‘Creep’” or “I heard that version of ‘Creep’ and I really want that and I really want the ‘Bad Habit’ produced version.” People really seem to be responding to that, which is awesome. But, for an artist, and any artist in any medium, to go through so much hell in our heads about how to make it a package is still part of the art that I don’t ever want to lose. I want to always care about that aspect and I believe that there are people who do, also, care about that aspect.

TLS: What is one of your favorite songs to perform? And why is it your favorite?

MF: Usually it’s always the newest song I’ve written. And I’m writing a lot right now. I have a new song called “Love Falls In.” I mean, “Love Fall In”… “A Love To Fall In.” I don’t know what it’s called yet. (laughs) So, I’m using the word “love” not as a verb, but trying to use “love” as a noun. And I love playing this song live at every show. I just wrote it two weeks ago. I first played it Memorial Day weekend, and people responded to it really well. So I’m really psyched about it. I love a good, new, fast song.

TLS: How do you come up with the title for a song or for an album?

MF: Well songs usually tell you what the titles are going to be on their own. Usually it’s just the chorus. Whatever the chorus is, if it’s a great first line. Except I have a history for not coming up with the right titles for songs because all my fans will be like, “Can you play the coffee table song?” or they’ll use a lyric from the song. The coffee table song is a song called “Trouble In My Head” from my album Willing To Wait, which is my second album. And I love that song, but everybody always remembers that line, which is “the coffee table song. I’ve got coffee on the table. Yeah the coffee table and the first smoke of the day.” And I think everybody remembers it because you say “I’ve got coffee on the table, yeah the coffee table.” It’s an Ani-ism. You know, where you use the same line? A lot of writers do it. But Ani is the best at it. So I just use her as my adjective.

But, usually the song just kind of tells you. I have always thought about doing it where I can put out all of the songs, have people listen to them, and then have fans vote on what the title should be. Like, I can put a record out, not tell them what my titles are, and then put a record out with the Melissa titles and the fan titles. So now if someone else does this, you’ll know that it was my idea first. (laughs)

TLS: You’re from Massachusetts but I read that if you were to reconsider relocating anywhere in the U.S. it’d be Chicago. Why Chicago?

MF: It’s the greatest city in the United States, I think. I’ve never lived here. I’ve lived in L.A., New York, and Boston. So, west coast and east coast. And I was just saying, on the drive up here, that I swear to G-d if my family was closer that I would live here. I think it’s a beautiful city. First of all, the art is amazing. There is a great art community here. There’s a great queer community here. And a green community here. Tons of great hippies here. And Obama is from here (laughs). There’s a great history of messed up politics and great politics here. So I think that all makes for a great city. And it’s clean. It’s really clean. And it’s a healthy city. And the people. Beautiful women here. And men too. Bryna and I were both saying that. I was like, “there’s so many pretty women.” It’s kind of weird. Everyone here is really pretty. Like, people still don’t want you to mess with them too much, but there’s a Midwestern kindness to the people here.

TLS: What’s something about your Chicago fans that keeps you wanting to come back and perform, besides the city itself?

MF: Well, I do really well here. I’ve historically played to really great crowds here, in Chicago, since starting at Schubas in ’94/’95. I remember I did a tour and my dad was tour managing me when Everything I Need came out, I played Schubas. That was in ’98. I remember playing here in 2001 at Double Door, right after 9/11, to an almost sold out room where we were all afraid to go out. It was October and was on the film Decade. And I just remember that night specifically.

I’ve played with a bunch of people. I’ve opened for Ani [Difranco] at the Chicago Theatre 2 years ago. That was amazing. And that came out as a record. Ani put out the bootleg “Live At Chicago,” with me. The only way to get it is through the RBR [Righteous Babe Records] website. And the encore is on there too. It’s a great record. Ani is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time.

TLS: When you’re not performing or writing music, what do you do with your time?

MF: Nothing. Really. (laughs) No. That’s not true. I spend a lot of time with my family. I spend time with my sister and her kids, two nieces and my nephew. They’re 12, 9, and 6. I go to a lot of their baseball and soccer games. I love Facebook. I love Three Towers Solitaire. I play a lot of games. I also watch a lot of movies. I love movies. I have Netflix on my PS3 and through the mail. I’m a big movie freak. I like dramas that are like any sort of James Bond/CIA/Bourne Identity. I like shows like that, mental dramas. I like movies that you have to figure them out. I actually like Sherlock Holmes. I like any sort of mystery. Not the bloody stuff though. My favorite movie, recently, is called Orphan. It’s so creepy. And it’s head trippy. You don’t know what’s going on until the very end. Anything that has twists like that. And there’s this show on PBS called MI5, which is kind of like 007. And there are no commercials. It’s on at 7pm on Tuesday nights. But, you know, I’m not home all the time on Tuesday nights.

TLS: You can always DVR it.

MF: Right. I can DVR it.

TLS: Do you have any routine that you do before your shows?

MF: No. Not really. Usually I sleep before my shows.

TLS: Am I interrupting your sleep?

MF: (laughs) No. I usually have a long time before I have to perform Like, tonight I’m playing at ten. On a normal night, I would have been here at five. Sound check at five-thirty. Had some dinner. And then usually do an interview. Doors would be at eight. Opener at nine. And then I’d go on at ten. I’d usually sleep until the opener went on. Or just lay down and be quiet. Because otherwise I get too revved up, I think.

TLS: I read that you didn’t come out until your teens. What advice would you give to your young queer fans who are afraid to come out or are planning on doing so?

MF: Well, I think you know when you know. I told my parents when I was sixteen, almost seventeen. But I knew my family was going to be cool. I knew, instinctively, that I wasn’t going to be thrown out of the house. Or beat up. Or any of the number of things that can happen to people. I come from a pretty hippie, liberal family. So I knew that there would probably be some tears and some concern. My father was fine with it. He was mostly sad because he knew that life was going to be harder for me. That my life was going to be more difficult because of discrimination. And my mother just thought that I was either going to quit school or that I had realized that I was gay. My mom has told me, now, that she knew that I was probably homosexual when I was four. So, I think parents know. But I think we, as individuals, also know when we’re ready to admit and tell. I think that if it’s a safe place for people to tell their parents, if you’re ready to take that leap and say that I don’t want to live that false life anymore and I’m willing to relocate or go live with someone else, then do it. But I think knowing somewhere to go that’s safe is probably good, if you’re afraid of your safety, like a halfway house or a friend’s house to go live with. Some kids have to wait until they go off to college, like eighteen or even forty. I know a woman, in my hometown, that didn’t come out until she was fifty. She’s fifty-five now.

TLS: What is one thing, musically, that you’ve yet to accomplish?

MF: It would probably be to work with a really great producer. Somebody who’s made records, like a Daniel Lanois. He makes U2 records. Or Steve White, who made REM records. There are a bunch of cats in that realm. Shoemaker is another great producer and engineer. I’d like to work with people of my older generation. Of course those are producers, now in their fifties, that have made records like in the late ‘80s, like the Smiths’ early records. Records that you can always look back on. The kind of people who’ve worked on vinyl and 2inch tape that have worked with bands that you didn’t have to do all the work through a computer and had to fix the vocals. People who really know how to do magical things to tape and to boards with machines and to make them sound different and original. I would like to work with more producers of that caliber.

I’ve worked with some really good producers, but only a couple. Such as the guy who made In The Eye of Strangers, Ethan Allen. But, he’s the same age as me. And the guy who made my first record is a pretty successful producer. My second record was made by a woman, Julie Last, and myself. She was an engineer. She wasn’t a producer. It was her first production. But I wanted to work with her because she made a Rickie Lee Jones record that sounded amazing. Everything I Need was made with Rob Laufer, who’s a brilliant producer and a guitar player. I think it would be really cool to work with somebody that has made commercially successful records. Commercially successful records in our world, not like Justin Bieber commercially successful, like indie commercial.

TLS: Do you plan on making another movie, like you did with Decade?

MF: You know, I was thinking about it the other day. Well, first of all, I don’t have a concert film, which I think is just bizarre. But, I haven’t filmed anything and I’m getting ready to make a new record. So, we’ll see.

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About Erica

Growing up Erica knew she’d be one of two things: 1. A lesbian 2. A writer. Lucky for her, she turned out to be both! After graduating from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Creative Writing, she moved back to the Midwest. In Chicago she found a community, a home, and her wonderful wife. Besides writing for The L Stop, Erica spends her time script writing. She hopes to, one day, write and produce good quality films and plays. If you ever see Erica around, feel free to say hi. She loves meeting new faces.


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