Back From an Extended Hiatus and a Bout of Writer's Block, Melissa Ferrick Reminds us That She's Still Right Here.
It’s been five years since her last solo studio record, but on September 13, Melissa Ferrick’s Still Right Here arrives to soothe fans’ cravings for honesty, talent and soul. An album that includes collaborations with Ani DiFranco and Kaki King and her own self-penned songs, Still Right Here manages to pair spontaneity with intention.
Pumped with enthusiasm, Ferrick chatted with GO about the significance of her newest album.
GO:What have you been working on since your last studio album, 2008’s Goodbye Youth?
Melissa Ferrick: After I made Goodbye Youth I had a really serious writing block in my life. I rode it out, got offered a teaching job at Berklee and took it. As life was chugging along I thought, maybe I’m done making records. And I was okay with that. I got to a place where I still wasn’t writing and felt kinda happy. I thought I would try to find a wife and settle down. In the meantime I had put out Enough About Me…
That’s your “covers” album of songs by your favorite artists.
Right. Learning how to play other people’s songs is one of the ways to help get out of a writer’s block and not go crazy. I need to be doing something. So I put that out and realized that if I was going to start writing again and make another record, I needed to ask for help.
For the past decade you’ve been your own record company, Right On Records. Was that losing its appeal?
When Aimee Mann was putting out records by herself, I wanted to do it too. Then it was ten years later, I was exhausted and in a lot of debt, and couldn’t do it alone anymore. I thought to myself, I think I’ve written ten of the best songs ever and I really want to make an amazing record so, who can I call that will help me?
Did it feel strange to have a team behind you after so many years?
Yeah, I had been working for ten years by myself. In New York, I had a meeting with MPress Records and negotiated a three record deal. It’s really great. They’re distributing my record and financing everything. I think that’s one big difference and certainly recording with Ani DiFranco, Alex Wong and Kaki King. I just brought in some talent that has been around me, people who’ve known me. Enough About Me I did all by myself, and Goodbye Youth was a solo record so, it was time to pull out some of the cannons.
In addition to collaborating with her, you’re also touring with Ani in November.
Yes! We’ll be in New York so everyone should come… Westhampton, Brooklyn and Town Hall. She’s become a wee comrade of mine. I don’t know Kaki as well, but I invited her over to the studio in Williamsburg when we were recording and she started plugging stuff in and just doing her thing. It was unbelievably inspiring. I love her energy.
What would you say is different about this album compared to your previous records?
There are a couple of things that are different. My writing is stronger; so are the performances on the record, especially my vocals. People usually say, “You’re so good live!” and my goal was to make a record that conveyed the same energy and immediacy of my live performances.
At a show during your tour for Goodbye Youth, you said that one of your favorite songs to play from the album was When Thom Sings. Is there a song that has just as much meaning for you on this album?
Probably Singing in the Wind, which I wrote on my ukulele. It has a completely different voice and lets my fans see a different side of me. I had been dating someone who was ten years younger than me—again. Singing in the Wind is a song about realizing that sometimes I sleep with people I should really just be friends with. It’s inspired by one evening when my girlfriend decided to go out with her buddies and drink and I was left at home, which is what you’re supposed to do when you’re 28 or 29. We just had separate paths; we were in different places. I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to relax and watch a Red Sox game with my girlfriend.
You were also teaching at Berklee College of Music when you started this album. How did that come into play?
They have a five-week program for 14-to-17-year-olds from all over the world. I teach performing, singing and songwriting. I’m not really a big believer that you can teach someone how to write a song. I know you can teach arrangement and song structure but I believe that either you have a talent for writing or you don’t. It’s about nurturing that. What [my classes] ultimately entail is a huge audition for three students to get into shows that I put on. I mentor the kids one-on-one, which means that I buy a lot of coffee for 16-year-olds and encourage them to be themselves and keep writing!
They give back to me so much, too. I came out of writer’s block because of one particular student from New Jersey, Joey, called me on my own shit. I told the students to write a song about something they didn’t want to write about and they all wrote really honest songs. When they were done, Joey asked, “So, Ms. Ferrick, are you gonna play a song you wrote?” And told him I didn’t write one and he said, “Well don’t you think that’s hypocritical?” So I went home and wrote Checking In. It’s about my inability to admit how deeply and profoundly I was in love with someone and how it affected the relationship. The song put words to that loss.
Now that you’ve reclaimed your songwriting inspiration and you’re touring in support of Still Right Here, can you give us a hint of any surprises in store for your die-hard lesbian fans?
Um, besides the fact that I’m seriously single and interested in making out? Yeah, I’m unbelievably single and I feel fantastic about it.