YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: FInal Edition
Well friends, it’s the end of an era. If you’re still reading and following this blog, you deserve a medal—or at least a cup of coffee on me. It was not easy to decide who would fill the last slot in a line up of 12 artists who have impacted and influenced me deeply. I only made it about halfway through the list I brainstormed at the beginning of last year. There are so many artists I would have loved to pay homage to—Lauryn Hill, Sara Bareilles, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Corrine Bailey Rae, Billie Holliday, Alicia Keyes, Portishead, Bob Dylan…The list goes on. As I deliberated, there was one name I couldn’t shake from my brain. She has many names: The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady, Cindi Mayweather to name a few. This month’s artist is a big thinker, a creative icon, an entrepreneur and innovator, an advocate and inspiration. Her face has been everywhere the last couple months. The final Year of the Tribute artist is Janelle Monáe.
It’s quite possible you discovered her as an actress without realizing she has an accomplished career as an R&B artist under her belt. Perhaps it’s because she burst onto the acting scene this year with prominent roles in not one, but two Oscar nominated films—Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She killed it in both movies. (Get out and see them if you haven’t.)
She released her first EP The Audition in 2003. Her early career was shepherded by Big Boi of Outkast and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. Smart men of good taste as they are, they spotted something magical right away. Since then, she has released 2 full-length albums The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady under her own imprint label Wonderland Records and Atlantic Records.
She is most quickly classified as R&B but tends to shirk that label. To lump her in with mainstream R&B would be a disservice and an oversimplification. She is a leader of the pack when it comes to evolving and expanding the genre. Her albums are cinematic in nature with story driven concepts behind them and often feature interludes of dialogue and symphonic scores laced throughout. You can hear influences of 60s pop and jazz, afrofuturism—even science fiction in her music. Her alterego, a robot android from the future named Cindi Mayweather is the protagonist in many of the stories she tells. The android represents the outsider, the other, the segregated minority. Janelle Monáe takes up the cause of the other in her music as well as her life. She is very politically active and advocates for LGBTQ rights as well as increased opportunities for women and girls in the arts.
She has done notable work with an organization called Fem the Future (check the video here) "a grassroots movement led by progressive millennials working together to advance the awareness, inclusion, and opportunities for women and those who identify as women through music, arts, mentorship, and education. We are here and we are ready for our collective voices to be heard.”
She is incredibly versatile. She sounds amazing whether singing over a ukulele, a full horn section or wailing electric guitars. Whatever she touches comes out funky and fresh. She’s also a major Star Wars nerd. (BONUS POINTS) I am a forever fan. It is speculated that she will be releasing new music this year. I know I’ve got my fingers crossed.
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: penultimate EDITION
The summer before my senior year, I had a job working as the receptionist at a tractor store. (I think I also detailed boats and worked for a landscaping company that summer, but that’s neither here nor there.) That year, a group of my good friends all went to summer camp at a little place called The Malibu Club. It’s tucked away in a remote inlet in British Columbia. My friend Andrew brought me back a gift—the CD from the camp musician. Apparently, she was a bad-ass, guitar-looping singer songwriter from Nashville and all his camp counselors had mad crushes.
The album was Weightless; the artist was Katie Herzig.
That year, I fell in love with every track on that album. Katie was the first artist and songwriter who made me think, “I could do this. I might want to do this.” Fast-forward 5 years, and I found myself in the same position of camp musician belting out top 40 songs with a bunch of teenagers, sharing my original music each night and fending off over-eager male counselors like I was a defensive-lineman. (I wish I were joking.) Katie Herzig has been the most personally inspiring musician in my life thus far. For that reason and many others, she had to make the Year of the Tribute list.
For me, Katie Herzig is an artist who writes songs that give voice to feelings I’ve never been able to articulate myself. I think that’s the noblest cause a lyricist can take up—to go through the painstaking work of articulating your own grief, desire, infatuation and confusion so when people hear your songs, they feel understood. Have you ever heard a lyric and thought to yourself, “How did they know?”
Needless to say, Herzig’s music is comprised of heartfelt lyrics. She has an enchanting and unique tambour to her voice. Her production is full of rich soundscapes and symphonic surprises. She’s also a total #girlboss and multi-instrumentalist who does much of her own production. The tone of her music ranges from ethereal to playful, sultry to quirky to spiritual and absurdist. I would describe her genre as dreamy folk pop. Her four albums have become subsequently more electronic over the years, but have stayed true to her musical DNA. One of the meta-themes of Year of the Tribute is artists who have undergone an authentic, graceful musical evolution. I hope to follow in their footsteps.
I have often said I want to be Katie Herzig when I grow up. (Ask my mom, it’s true.) I stand by my statement. She has had an incredibly versatile career. Her music has been licensed for innumerable film, TV shows and commercials. She has opened for acts such as Brandi Carlile, Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson and The Fray—just to name a few. She was a contributing producer on Ingrid Michaelson’s album Lights Out including the hit single, “Girls Chase Boys”.
I never dreamed of being a professional musician and neither did she. She majored in journalism. I wanted to be a teacher, a medical translator, a linguist, anything but a professional musician. But no matter what I do, music continues to find me. It camps out on my front doorstep until I give it the attention that it deserves. It has led to my greatest adventures and opportunities. I stumbled upon this quote by Katie and I think it’s the perfect way to sum up this second to last Year of the Tribute blog.
“I never set out to do what I do, I just kept loving it and doing it. Then there was a moment when I realized that’s how I was making a living and it was a pretty crazy thing to realize. There were a lot of things I think I would have loved doing with my life, I think I just realized it’s less to do with what you think of or dream of, and more to do with what you just do…. over and over again, and that can always shift as time goes by. One thing leading to another.”
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: December EDITION
2016 has come to a close and I am left with a list of artists that could extend well into next year if I took a month to pay tribute to them all. This artist has been a strong contender from the start but she also allows me to give a nod to the greater movement she was a part of. This month’s Year of the Tribute artist is Joni Mitchell. She is a legend who has shaped countless legends. She is one of the 6 people in history who were ever born to have bangs. She is also the composer of my favorite lyric of all time:
And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.
Won’t you stay and we’ll put on the day and talk in present tenses.
The singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s—artists like Carole King, James Taylor and Bob Dylan shaped me as an artist greatly. When I was in 7th grade I usually opted for Simon and Garfunkel when most of my friends were listening to Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne. Shout out to all the friends who didn’t write me off as a weirdo.
Joni Mitchell has several hallmarks—her soaring soprano, her wild melodies that take unpredictable turns, her rolling rhythms that break all the rules…however, it is her lyrics that make her one of the most influential songwriters of the 20th century. Her lyrics are like brush strokes illuminating scenes and pains and stories. Mitchell herself calls herself a "painter derailed by circumstance". She began as a visual artist in her childhood and adolescent years. She painted and designed many of her album covers over the years. A very influential teacher told a 12 year old Joni "If you can paint with a brush, you can paint with words." And this is what she's been doing ever since. SIDE NOTE: TEACHERS—your words have tremendous power. Use them generously and wisely.
I’ll keep this blog brief, cause it's only January 4th and I'm already way behind on my new year's resolutions. I’ll be back with a new artist for January and February to make up for the 2 months I missed. Hoping to have Year of the Tribute truly wrapped up just in time for my EP Release this spring. Yep, I said it. EP coming to ya spring 2017. Until then, Happy New Year to you and yours.
Peace and Love,
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: November EDITION
After an accidental hiatus in October, Year of the Tribute is back. November traveled at the speed of light and nearly followed suit. But alas, I shall prevail over procrastination and chaos!
This month’s artist has won a whopping 9 Grammy awards. Her music comes from a deep and rich jazz tradition. Her hallmark is undoubtedly her pristine, yet sensual voice. I think she has influenced the way I sing and the way I style my vocals more than anyone else—save possibly my mother. But you can’t fight biology. (Thanks, mom.) This month’s Year of the Tribute artist is none other than Norah Jones.
Jones began her career with the release of “Come Away with Me” in 2002. It was the album that sky-rocketed her to mega fame—winning best record of the year, album of the year, best new artist, best pop vocal album and best female pop vocal performance all in one swoop. I had the sheet music for the entire album and I spent many, many hours locked in my basement in high school learning to play every song. ***NERD ALERT*** Since then, she has collaborated with music titans across numerous genres: Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, Danger Mouse, Dolly Parton, Q-Tip—of A Tribe Called Quest, Herbie Hancock and OutKast—to name a few. Her subsequent albums led her into the genres of blues, blue-eyed soul, folk, country and pop. Many are calling her most recent album, Daybreaks a return to her jazz roots.
She is often categorized as a jazz artist, however, Jones has a slight aversion to being labeled as such. In an interview with British publication The Telegraph, she described her musical journey this way: “I’d played a million restaurants. I’d sung all the old jazz standards. And they are beautiful and inspiring but they’ve already been sung as well as they are ever going to be,” she says. “So I kind of moved away and I kept moving away, because the world of music is big and I was inspired to the left or to the right but not down the same lane I started out in.”
I think we have a lot to learn from that perspective. The world of music is big. As artists, we must never stop exploring. We cannot set up camp on the side of the road, get comfortable and make a home in one place. It is our creative duty to keep pushing the boundaries and to sail where the creative winds take us. I am thankful for the way she has blazed a trail in this department.
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: September EDITION
Rewind ten years. It was my junior year of high school. I was dancing around, goofing off with my girlfriends after school, belting out the lyrics “I’d buy you Rogaine, when you start losing all your hair.” Yes. I was definitely a nerdy white-girl in high school. (Not much has changed.) Quirky lyrics, sweet harmonies and just a little sass. That shit was like my T-Swift. She released her 5th studio album It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense last month so it seemed fitting to take a little stroll down memory lane. September’s Year of the Tribute artist is troubadour extraordinaire, Ingrid Michaelson.
A self-identified feminist, Michaelson doesn’t conform to standard pretty-girl tactics. Don’t get me wrong; she’s naturally quite gorgeous. In most photos she is sporting tousled hair and funky glasses.
Michaelson carries the banner for sexy nerds everywhere.
Ingrid is a New York native born to Swedish parents—both of whom are professional artists. She studied classical piano from an early age. Her background was in musical theater. Michaelson says songwriting didn’t really click for her until after college. I can totally relate to this. (I had all the building blocks of songwriting at my fingertips, but I didn’t actually start putting them together until college.) Her first big break came in 2007 when a music producer from Grey's Anatomy found her music online and featured her in the show.
***Side note *** Let’s all take a minute to say, “Thanks, Grey’s Anatomy.” Whether you’re a fan of the show or not Grey’s Anatomy has served as a launching pad for many artists over the past decade. (The Fray, The Postal Service and Mat Kearney just to name a few).
When Ingrid first hit the scene, she often touted her ukulele and sang cheery folk songs. With each album she’s released, she has taken a step forward in her stylistic evolution. She writes from guitar, piano and ukulele and has begun to do more collaborate writing. Over the years she has refined her sound and created her own niche in the genre of indie pop. Her more recent albums have a lot more electronic elements infused throughout She was heavily influenced by classical music and The Beatles as a child and cites artists Death Cab for Cutie and Regina Spektor as more current influencers of her songwriters of her songwriting. Her bright, clear voice that takes sudden and unexpected melodic turns reminds me of Joni Mitchell. Her songs, both simple and complex, maintain an honesty that can make you laugh or break your heart. Or both.
RECOMMENDED LISTENING: A Few Favorites, Old & New
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: August EDITION
When I started the Year of the Tribute project, I made a list of dozens of artists who I admire, who have shaped my music and the way I think about my vocation as a songwriter and an artist. The list was long—far too long to cover in this project. From the start, this month’s artist was the only non-negotiable. Over the last 4 years, she has influenced me more than any other. This month’s Year of the Tribute artist is Kimbra.
The first time I heard Kimbra, she was singing alongside Australian artist Gotye in the chart topping “Somebody That I Used to Know”. It wasn’t until after I had fallen in love with her debut album Vows and was devouring all her YouTube content I could find that I put two and two together.
One could attempt to categorize her. To you, I said “good luck”. Musically, she is on a level all her own. She writes lyrics that invade your brain like bubblegum pop and simultaneously make you reach for a dictionary. She has substance, smarts and style. Her musical influences include Prince, Nina Simone, Imogen Heap, Jeff Buckley and more. It’s clear that she draws inspiration from a very profound spiritual reservoir. The concept for her most recent album The Golden Echo comes from the story of Narcissus in Greek mythology. Her visuals are ridiculous. She seems to reinvent herself with each video she releases. Here’s one of my favorite examples.
She incorporates a lot of looping into her live performances. She uses the TC Helicon Voice Live Touch 2. After seeing her perform in Seattle, I was inspired to get one myself. I’ll be experimenting with it heavily for this month’s cover video and original song. I speak from experience when I say it’s a complicated and intimidating contraption. She is masterful with it. She creates harmonic landscapes so groovy and gorgeous that you don’t even notice she’s performing a cappella.
She is very well spoken in interviews. The way she uses her platform for causes she believes is inspiring. Most notably, she has done significant work with an organization called Tirzah that partners with women leaders in their own nations to combat poverty, exclusion from education, modern-day slavery, HIV/AIDS, and violence against women and girls. I watched a video diary Kimbra published, heard about Tirzah. I did a little more research and it quickly became my favorite non-profit. I am fortunate enough to know the women who run Tirzah. They’re the real deal. I highly encourage you to check it out and consider supporting their work.
This blog has been very tricky to write because I my level of admiration for her is so tremendous. I could gush for thousands of words but I’ll spare you. Instead I will leave you with a few videos and let you see for yourself. I am so thankful for her work and her influence on my art.
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: July EDITION
Five years ago today, the world lost Amy Winehouse. She was arguably on her way to being one of this century’s greatest vocalists and writers. Her 2006 album Back to Black won 5 Grammy awards. Her short career influenced countless artists spanning multiple continents and genres. Her sound was distinct—her life both inspirational and devastating. This month’s year of the tribute artist is Amy Winehouse.
Caveat—This month’s blog borrows heavily from the biopic Amy. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do. Amy Winehouse was an old soul in a young body—albeit a tortured one. She studied jazz and all the great songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King from an early age. She had a general disdain for pop music—calling it “watered down”. Amy didn’t necessarily write pop hits, but there was honesty in her music. Nearly everyone interviewed in the movie emphasized her genuine emotion and her pure relationship to her music. Tony Bennett, who collaborated with Amy near the end of her life, stated she had the all the makings of a truly great jazz singer, placing her in the same category as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
Her life was filled with extreme highs and lows. She threw herself into things. She suffered from depression starting in her teen years. Her mother described her as strong willed and stubborn. Her former lover described her as having a nature of self-sabotage. She battled bulimia, self-harm, alcohol and substance abuse as well as mental illness throughout her entire career. Winehouse wasn’t oblivious to her inner demons. Music was both her solace and the catalyst that drove her toward destruction. “I write songs because I’m fucked up in the head and I need to get it on paper and then write a song to it and just feel better about him. That’s something good that’s something bad.”
Before her career exploded, Amy had no expectations of fame. In a prophetic off the cuff statement she said, “I don’t think I could handle it (fame). I think I’d go mad.” When fame struck with the release of her single “Rehab” her bulimia and alcohol abuse began to spiral further out of control. She married her longtime lover, Blake in 2007 and both began abusing cocaine and eventually heroin. On an alcohol binge in 2011, her body finally gave out. Amy died at the age of 27 joining the ranks of several other popular musicians who also suffered tragic deaths at that age. Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain are sometimes referred to as the 27 Club.
Her legacy is tragic and tainted. It’s difficult to find an interview that doesn’t center on her addiction or wild lifestyle. However, her sound and her music will undoubtedly reach far beyond the span of her years. Amy Winehouse like most of the artists I’ve featured on this blog created her own special cocktail of a genre, blending jazz, soul, Motown, hip-hop and ska. Her lyrics were timeless, untouchable. I’ll let the music speak for itself with some recommended listening.
STRONGER THAN ME
TEARS DRY ON THEIR OWN
BODY AND SOUL with Tony Bennett
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: JUNE EDITION
I must begin with an apology to my faithful readers and fellow travelers on this yearlong journey I am calling Year of the Tribute. After I published my April blog, I dropped off the face of the planet. April was filled with frenzied apartment hunting—which is no joke in Los Angeles. My fiancé and I were scrambling to find a place until barely a week before our wedding. Between moving, wedding planning, getting married and honeymooning, I blinked and it was June. I’ve got a ring on my finger and a roof over my head so I’m ready to get down to business. It felt right to pay tribute to this month’s artist for several reasons. Not least of these, we danced to his song “Adorn” as the first dance at our wedding. My husband is a hip-hop dance instructor so a slow ballad waltz was out of the question. June’s Year of the Tribute artist is Miguel.
Miguel grew up in Los Angeles—a place I am slowly learning to call home. As a child he was influenced by R&B, funk, hip-hop, jazz and classic rock. He started writing music in his early teens and knew his way around a recording studio by the time he graduated high school. I found it interesting that his mother raised him going to church three times a week. Although the content of his songs is not exactly Sunday school appropriate, he displays great spiritual depth and self-awareness. Language of sin, salvation and redemption pervade his lyrics. He is a fascinating juxtaposition of influences both personally and musically.
He is technically part of the new wave R&B movement. (Frank Ocean, Janelle Monae and Elle Varner also fall into this category. Some of my faves!) His first album All I Want Is You was pretty commercialized, straight down the pipe, made for radio R&B. In his subsequent albums Kaleidoscope Dream and Wildheart, his labels have been less heavy handed. As a result his rock, soul, indie pop and electronic influences were allowed to grow. When he released his first album 5 years ago the lines of genre were much more defined. His evolution as an artist reflects the way the landscape of the music industry has changed in the past 5 years. Lines of genre have blurred. Rules have been bent and broken. Without the constraints of a label reminding him the boundaries of traditional R&B and “urban” music, his sound has grown more authentic, more purely Miguel with each album.
My own perception of the type of music I can and want to make has taken a similar turn. 3 years ago when I started having conversations with hip-hop artist Andy Mineo and he wanted to collaborate with me, I thought he was crazy. What does a rapper from New York want with a Norah Jones singing, classically trained pianist from Montana? When you look at me, you’d expect me to be a country folk singer, but that doesn’t mean I have to be. Since I met Andy, I’ve had the opportunity to write songs with and for him, and I’ve had the chance to work with several amazing hip-hop and R&B producers I really admire. I’m grateful for artists like Miguel and like Andy who see beyond conventionality because it has enabled me to do the same.
I signed on to Andy's new collective of artists called Miner League this spring. I'll be getting down to work on my debut EP in Philadelphia at the end of this month. I am sitting on a pile of songs that are dear to my heart. Each song could turn out sounding a dozen different ways. I hope that this project surprises me. I hope it comes out sounding so genuinely me, that it is hard to classify. Only time will tell. I promise to keep you posted.
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: APRIL EDITION
Fun fact to share before we dive in to April’s Year of the Tribute aritst—the 4 artists I’ve studied so far in this project are from 4 different countries. It wasn’t intentional. Sort of a happy accident. Makes me grateful for the world we live in where music transcends borders and can be shared on a global scale. This month’s artist is a small town girl from England with a blue-collar background who began writing and performing her songs on the café circuit all over the UK. Over the past 5 years she has evolved into Ellie Goulding—queen of electro-pop-folktronica that we know today.
Her voice has a very special signature with a husky low range that jumps seamlessly into whistling high notes as clear as crystal. At times she sounds like a veritable 21st Century Joni Mitchell. Her intimate, airy melodies could just as easily be sung over a folky guitar ballad as the electronic pop tracks that fill her albums. Somehow her music feels equally appropriate when you’re heartbroken in your dorm-room and when you’re blasting music on a late night drive. Those same songs are loved and played by EDM DJs all over the globe.
Much like January’s artist, Chet Faker, Ellie Goulding’s lyrics have more depth than your typical pop or electronic artist. My songwriting roots are in folk music as well. The past couple years, I’ve been trying to meld my folky storytelling with a pop sensibility. I love Ellie because she gives me a new perspective on the types of textures I can take on with my own voice and lyrics.
Another aspect that I really admire about Ellie Goulding is her physical discipline. If you take a look at her instagram, it’s hard not to notice she is dedicated to her fitness. Girlfriend is ripped and we all know that don’t come easy. Pre-show burpees, intense plyometric workouts, you name it. What I love the most, she’s not overly sexualized or stick thin, she’s got a rock solid body and she works hard for it. As a woman, I find that to be a very positive self-image and I’m glad someone of her pop-star status is giving a realistic glimpse into what it takes to have and maintain the body we’re all told we should try to attain. This past year, I’ve decided to stop trying to lose weight or get “just a little big skinnier” and instead I’ve focused on building strength and muscle. I feel better than I ever have about my body. I just want to be healthy and strong (partly so I can carry the 90 pound piano that I lug around to gigs). But hey, motivation takes many forms.
I love Ellie and I hope you do too. If you’ve been hiding under a dark rock somewhere and managed to miss this sparkletronica sensation, here are a few of my favorite Ellie tracks of all time. Keep your eyes peeled for this months cover. It's gonna be a tough decision!
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: March EDITION
March is Women’s History Month and last week celebrated International Women’s Day, so I thought it appropriate that I spend this month paying tribute to the “First lady of neo-soul”. Her powerful voice and music has been shaping the landscape of hip-hop and R&B for the past two decades. Her list of collaborators is enough to inspire extreme jealousy in anyone—Common, Questlove, Q-Tip, D’Angelo, Andre 3000, J Dilla—just to name a few. She has often been compared to the great Billie Holiday. This month’s Year of the Tribute artist is the one and only Eryka Badu.
I came late to the party when it comes to Eryka Badu fandom. I was playing a show at a community college in Tacoma, Washington a couple years ago. Someone approached me after the show and said, “You know who you sound like? Eryka Badu.” In the moment, I had no idea the caliber of the compliment I had just received. I politely smiled, shrugged it off and thanked him. When I got home I searched Spotify for her music—and after several failed attempts at spelling her name, I stumbled upon her first record—Baduzium. I was instantly drawn in by her voice and her seamless blend of hip-hop, soul, R&B and jazz.
Eryka Badu was discovered when she opened for D’Angelo in Dallas, Texas in 1994. She and D’Angelo greatly helped to define the genre of neo-soul. Their groundbreaking work in the genre paved the way for other artists like Lauryn Hill, John Legend, Janelle Monáe, Alicia Keys and many others. Neo-soul emerged in the late 90’s and is described as a blending of R&B and soul music, but with more surprise ingredients. Neo-soul is more likely to throw you a jazz, hip-hop, funk, or world music curveball than its mainstream R&B or soul music predecessors.
Her lyrics are both conscious and transcendent. Her vocal style is powerful and soulful without being belty or booming. As a vocalist, I naturally express and emote in a more understated fashion. Sometimes I feel pressure to sing in a more showy pop or R&B style, but it always feels forced. Acts like Eryka Badu and Norah Jones are clear evidence that you don’t have to sacrifice emotion when you turn down the decibels.
Badu recently broke a five-year silence last November when she released her new mixtape But You Caint Use My Phone. She covers Drake’s wildly popular “Hot Line Bling” and many of the tracks feel like a social commentary on social media and technology’s increasing pervasiveness in our society and relationships. Her single Phone Down has been stuck in my head for months. Here are a couple of my favorite Eryka tracks.
LOVE OF MY LIFE
In other news, I’m really excited for this month’s YouTube cover. I’ve got some wildly talented collaborators on this one. Stay tuned!
year of the tribute: February edition
There’s a critical moment in the life of every adolescent when they discover an album and think, “This is my music. It’s not my parent’s music, not my friend’s music. This isn’t the “cool kids music,” but I love this. I identify with this. It makes me feel things—like real-deal-holyfield things. This month’s artist was one of the first who did that for me. It is my great honor and pleasure to announce that Regina Spektor is February’s Year of the Tribute Artist.
Upon reading up about her, I discovered a surprising amount of parallels to my own life and musical journey.
- We both began to study classical piano at the age of 6.
- We both have tiny hands—which presents problems when you’re pursuing a career in classical piano. Curse you Rachmaninoff! (But seriously, I’ve never met an adult with smaller hands than me)
- She started her music career relatively later in her life—I am the same age as Taylor Swift and Adele. They achieved platinum record status while still in their teens. I didn’t even really start writing music until I was in college and didn’t start messing around with recording until I was 21. In a world where I feel like I’ll never catch up, or that I arrived too late to the party, Spektor’s story is encouraging. Regina, you give me hope!
- She cites folk, hip-hop, jazz and classical influences (ME TOO! ME TOO!) Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday and Frederic Chopin made the short list. That’s about as legit as you get folks.
- We play the same list of instruments (Vocals, piano, guitar, flute). She also plays bass guitar because she is undoubtedly still cooler than me.
- She moved to the United States as a child and grew up in a Russian Jewish family in New York City. This is where our lives take a 180-degree turn from one another. I grew up in a small town in Northwest Montana nestled in the middle of the Rocky Mountains and lived in the same house until I was 18 years old. But that’s another story for another time.
What I love about Regina
- Her songs are littered with abstract and unexpected stories and pictures. Upon first listen they sound a bit nonsensical. My theory: the quirkiness in her music and lyrics allows her to make hard-hitting existential statements without leaving the listener feeling heavy hearted.
- She pushes the boundaries and defies everything you know about pop vocals. She chops up words, she raps, she beat boxes, she sings in a crazy high whistle falsetto, she croons—sometimes she does it all in the same song. She breaks the rules in the most beautiful of ways.
- She puts on an incredible live show. Her voice is as crystal clear in concert as it is on her records and her virtuosic piano playing will leave your face at least a little bit melted.
Here are a few of my favorite Regina tracks of all time as well as my homage to her iconic song, "Fidelity".
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE: JANUARY EDITION
Welcome to Year of the Tribute: January Edition. I’ve never been a regular blogger and I’m not entirely sure I can do justice to some of my favorite artist and writers on the planet, but I’m just going to go for it and try not to overthink things. My purpose in this blog each month is twofold.
1) To present a crash course in the music of each of these artists: what’s great about them—how do they make the world of music a better place?
2) To identify how they’ve specifically influenced me and figure out what I can learn from them. What do I want to steal for my own tool belt?
January’s artist is Chet Faker. I got the chance to see him perform this December in San Diego. Since I’ve been binging on his music for the last month anyway, it seemed like an obvious place to start.
Although he’s classified as an electronica artist, his ability to transcend genre is almost unrivaled. His name is a giveaway of the jazz influence in his music. His pseudonym is a nod to the great jazz trumpeter and vocalist, Chet Baker. The use of imagery and story within his lyrics align him much more closely with the folk tradition than with his pop or electronic contemporaries. It comes as no surprise that he cites Bob Dylan as an influence. Rhythmically, threads of R&B and hip hop run strongly through everything. His gravelly voice is as soulful and passionate as it is laidback. It shouldn’t make sense, but once you hear it, it makes OH SO MUCH sense. See for yourself.
I discovered his music last summer and spent some quality time with his full length release Built on Glass. He makes sense of all the genres that swirl and war within my own writing.
Here are a few takeaways that I latched onto…
· He’s not afraid of funky R&B bass lines. Most of his songs are piano-driven and use chords that are more complex than run of the mill pop, but they’re still palatable to most listeners.
· He lives in the tension between freeform storytelling lyrics and extremely catchy hooks—Brilliant.
· He builds momentum within his tracks. Most tracks begin with a simple piano motif and by the end you’re swimming through a sonic ocean of awesomeness. Music critics everywhere will probably shudder if they read that last sentence. I don’t have the words to describe what I’m talking about so you’ll just have to see for yourself.
That pretty much sums up my study of Chet Faker. And this blog wraps up the easy section of my Tribute project. Now I’m off to do the real work of writing a song that encompasses all of those takeaways. Here's my rendition of Chet Faker's "Gold".
YEAR OF THE TRIBUTE
I’ve always had eclectic music taste. You can probably relate. How many times have you been asked the dreaded question, “What kind of music do you listen to?” 9 times out of 10, I wind up stuttering and groping for an answer. This is not because I don’t have favorites or because I don’t listen to music, it’s because I love so many different things. As an artist and songwriter, that feeling is intensified when people ask, “What kind of music do you make?”
Last spring I took a road trip from Monterey, CA to Los Angeles. The drive through the heart of John Steinbeck country inspired some musings on this topic. There are so many incredible musicians and writers who inspire me. They range from folk to R&B, from pop to electronica. Sometimes it seems like they’re completely unrelated. It’s a challenge to figure out if all those influences can coexist within my music and make sense together. I recently read the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. The author encourages the artist to embrace her influences. If you like something, steal it. Don’t plagiarize. Study and honor the art that has shaped you. Transform it. Remix it. Make it your own.
The book cemented the idea for this project. In attempt to celebrate the music of the many artists I admire and to hone in on my own musical style, I dreamed up a yearlong project I’m calling 2016 - Year of the Tribute. I’m hoping this project will distill all my influences and that my own voice will emerge fresher and clearer than ever before. I decided to incorporate a blogging element partly for accountability. So if you decide to join me on this journey, feel free to call me out if I’m failing to deliver. Here’s the plan…
MY GOAL for 2016:
- Choose 1 artist each month who has deeply influenced me and immerse myself in their work
- Cover 1 of their songs and post on YouTube
- Write and record a song in my own voice that emulates their style.
- Post a reflection blog each month
Should be fun. Hope you join me.