Melissa Ferrick Is Back With Her 12th Studio Album

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Friday September 11, 2015

Singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick is out with a brand new CD, her 12th original album to date. Ferrick has been performing her deeply personal brand of "rock folk" for more than two decades. The self-titled album was officially released on July 31 and is currently led with her two singles "Careful" and "Scenic View." A vinyl release date is set for September.
Written in just over a year, recorded at home, and released on her own relaunched label Right On Records, the eponymous album is Ferrick at her very best. She has simply given fans an eloquent and honest acoustic album with an undeniable level of maturity. A completely solo effort in its process, creation, and release, Ferrick is marking the middle of her career with a perfect return to songwriting, and to herself. This wickedly talented artist is now embarking on a U.S. tour to promote her new music.

Ferrick got her first record deal with Atlantic Records when she was just 20, and released her debut album, "Massive Blur." She opened for Morrissey in 1991, and was invited to tour with him. But Atlantic Records dropped her in 1995, and she moved to Boulder, CO based W.A.R.? Records. In 2000, Ferrick founded her own label, Right On Records, and released a string of albums and EPs. Now she's back with her 12th studio album.

EDGE: This new album is an entirely solo effort. Tell readers a little about what goes into that.

Ferrick: When I left MPRESS, I had signed a three-record deal and had done two records, but I wanted to go back on my own.

I was not thrilled with being on the label; I get so nervously about being fiscally responsible about money I wasn't going to make back. But Rachael Sage owns the label, and she let me out of the contract. So I opened up Voxco.Audio (on her Right On Records label) with a fan who writes code, and created the company and website. I let people become A&R members with contributions, and that's how I financed the record.

Once the money came in, I had a budget of about $25,000 and had made it clear that I was going to have to make the record at home. So I bought a few new pieces of gear. I did the writing on my own, the playing, the engineering, hired a photographer to take my picture, mastered the records, and signed up with AUDIUM, which is very business-oriented but time consuming.

But I'm with good people and I know where things are. For me, I do need to be involved. I made 17 radio calls yesterday; you have to be willing to do it all.

EDGE: This is your 12th original album to date, and it's recorded on your own label, RightOnRecords. You haven't always been treated very well by the major labels; is it better to be in control of your own work?

Ferrick: Sure, absolutely. I would give self my own advice. If a major label is giving you a deal, you're crazy not to take it. But the world is different now than it was in the early '90s. I had a better time with Atlantic than on the indie labels, but I just didn't sell enough records. It's sad that major labels don't spend seven or eight albums bringing up an artist, but they sell soda, and clothes and cars. It would be different if I was selling out thousand seat theaters. But I sell 20,000 units, so it makes way more sense to own it all, because in the end I will make money off my records, and make a living on touring.

EDGE: You mention that the album in many ways marks a new beginning. How so?

Ferrick: It's kind of like the answer to my 2005 album "The Other Side," the only other record I've made on my own, production wise. I found that it was my best-selling album outside of my double-live album. That's just another sign that says to me, my fans like me on my own, they like to hear what I'm hearing, they don't want to hear record with drums all over it so they can't hear my guitar.

So I finally made a record where I could hear my guitar in the forefront, which I think is as important as the lyrics. And I'm a better writer, producer and engineer than I was a decade ago.

When I approached "Careful," was reading engineering interviews about mikes, placement, etc. and was inspired to create a new sound for myself: lighter, with more vocals, very thought-out, really focused work.

EDGE: Tell readers a bit about the story behind your new song "Careful."

Ferrick: I fell in love in a very unexpected way. Historically I'm a person who sees a girl, decides she's going to be my girlfriend, and we're together a year and a half and we break up. Then I wait around, target in on someone else and repeat. That's what I've done for a long time, but I'm with someone now that I've known for three years. She called me on Thanksgiving Eve, and told me she'd had a crush on me forever. I was totally blown away by this, and want to be very careful with it, which is where the lyrics "just come in and close the door" is from. I want to see what's going on. "Careful" just came from the gods. The bridge particularly. I had just watched a Stephen Hawkins documentary, and was writing notes on the origin of black holes, how a star collapses under the weight of its own gravity, and that moment is perfection. The bridge I rewrote a couple times, about a friend my partner and I have in common, who's going through an extremely different time with her husband. That inspired the last line, "We have watched our friends collapse under the weight of their own gravity." When everything falls apart, everything comes together. It's an important theme for me, especially as I'm releasing my own records and staying as outwardly focused as I am internally focused.

EDGE: In "Stars Outnumber Our Hearts," you sing, "you've got the kind of smile that holds me down." What's going on behind that song?

Ferrick: A guy from the Boston Herald is obsessed with that song; he said it's the perfect song. It came about because I gave my students an assignment to write a song about a very short amount of time. They handed in songs and I didn't, so I tried my hand at getting myopic. I made a bunch of it up, more fantasy writing about the little town I live in and going out for a dozen oysters. I wrote it in August, any my birthday's in September, and the line comes because my girlfriend has a fantastic smile. It was a hot night on my own, during a crazy meteor shower, but I'm okay going home by myself because the person I'm with, I'm committed to.

EDGE: You are also a part-time Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. What's a day in the life of a music professor look like?

Ferrick: I teach my students that ultimately if you want something done, you have to do it yourself. It's such a hard job! My dad's been a teacher for 49 years, and I had to call him and thank him for it, because it's an enormous amount of work. But I'm at college level, teaching kids who are paying a lot of money to be there. It takes a lot of preparation, but I'm also very good at what I do because I take it seriously; I think about these kids at night, worry about them. Some really stand out; they're great young writers who have brought me so much joy! I love that I'm around young people who are just discovering my music, and love that when I play them "Careful," they don't know my 20-year history, don't pigeonhole me, don't care that I'm gay or a woman -- it's so different now! The course is called Launching Your DIY Career, and Berklee has been very good to me, allowing me to teach less so I can continue to make records and tour. I'm even bringing one of my students on the road to open for me.

EDGE: You'll be touring this album soon. Where can fans see you perform?

Ferrick: There are lots of dates coming up! It's all on the website. I'm on tour with Joan Armatrading this month and October, then in December with Loudon Wainwright III. I'm pretty booked throughout the fall, hitting Chicago, Buffalo, Ann Arbor, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

EDGE: You've shared the stage with a lot of talented artists, among them Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, John Hiatt, k.d. Lang, Joan Armatrading and The Indigo Girls. Which pairing did you most enjoy, and which artist out there do you still want to perform with?

Ferrick: k.d. Lang really sticks out in my memory; she's unbelievable. Watching her run a sound check is like going to school for a decade. I've been a fan since her cowpunk days. I remember when I got the call from my agent saying, 'I have good news; you've got a date to play with k.d. Lang, but's it's tomorrow night in Boston.' I drove through the night 15 hours to make that show. I had dinner with her, met her, and it was a great experience. I didn't get to meet Bob Dylan -- he walked by and nodded at me -- but everyone else was great. Emily from Indigo Girls was sweet, and very psyched when she learned I love to play golf. That kindness goes a long way. I was taught that originally by Morrissey, who listened to my demo tape and paid me to open for him, put me up in a hotel with the band, when I was all by myself and only 20 years old.

I'm a huge Ryan Adams fan, and I'd love to play with him. Also Rufus Wainwright; he's one of best melody writers today. I would love to work with Thom Yorke from Radiohead, but that's pie in the sky. Writing or being in studio with other people are big goals for me. I would love to write for other artists, maybe write some country pop songs for Taylor Swift, or get her to cover "Drive."

EDGE: You're an eight-time Boston Music Award winner and Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards (GLAMA) winner. Where do you keep your awards?

Ferrick: They're on the floor in my recording studio, next to a chimney. Last year I won an Alt-Country Music Award, but never got the award, and mailed them to ask for the trophy. The guy wrote back and sent me a certificate, which I have yet to frame. But all my Boston awards are on the floor. I have a goal for a black and white photographs with the stars area in my house, but have never done it.

EDGE: What's next for Melissa Ferrick?

Ferrick: I have a couple bucket list things that are really starting to bother me, and I want to do them. I really want to write a book, and I've been putting it off for five years. Kathleen Warnock in New York has been mentoring me on my memoir, a funny chapter-by-chapter book about my life. I think I should do that, write funny stories like Tina Fey. I want to get my sense of humor out there. The other thing I would really like to try is something off-Broadway, to get my feet wet. I used to do theater as a kid, and love it. If I could find a year of my life, I'd go audition and probably fall on my face, but I want to try. And of course, I'll keep making records.

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.