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.