To reinforce the fact that lesbians do have a sly sense of humor, singer/songwriter Melissa Ferrick titled her excellent new disc of cover tunes “Enough About Me” (Right On). Especially funny is that the disc closes with a pair of her own tunes. But before that, Ferrick performs respectful renditions of songs by Aimee Mann (“Deathly”), The Postal Service (“Such Great Heights”), Radiohead (“Creep”), Barenaked Ladies (“Call And Answer”), Patty Griffin (“Moses”) and U2 (“One”), among others. She puts her distinctive mark on each and every one. I spoke with Ferrick at the time of the disc’s release.
Gregg Shapiro: Did the cover of Bush’s “Glycerine” on your “Goodbye Youth” disc have anything to do with doing an album with all covers? Or had that been percolating for a while?
Melissa Ferrick: I think it’s both, actually. …The response to “Glycerine” was so overwhelming for me. …That song reached people that I don’t normally reach. …A lot of guys, straight guys … were like “I love this version. Who is this girl?” The idea to do a whole album of covers had been brewing for a little while. My goal at the beginning was to do a double record of all male singer/songwriters (and) all female singer/songwriters that I love, and call one side “For the boys” and the other side “For the girls.”
GS: Do you approach better-known songs such as U2’s “One” and Radiohead’s “Creep” differently than less well-known songs, such as McKenna’s “How To Be Righteous”?
MF: I don’t know if I do. …I want them to sound different, I want to interpret them. For “One,” changing the time signature and putting it in six rather than in four automatically made it sound different. … I thought, just do it like a sad song. I feel that it is a sad song. …It’s more of a love song to the world, rather than to a person, with the economy and everything. As far as the other (less recognizable) songs, sure, “How to be Righteous” was easy… I think that I played just a little bit faster, and just put a beat behind it. I don’t think that it’s that much of a stretch. “Creep” was the song that I did right before “Moses” in the same evening. I called Bryna (Gootkind, Ferrick’s manager) and said, “I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’ve gone too far and I can’t get back to when this song was cool, when it sounded good.” Then I went online to search my name on YouTube. …In the top 10 most-watched videos was me playing “Creep” with Ann Heaton. …It was one of the most watched videos and everyone in the audience is singing along. I thought, “This is dumb. I should just do ‘Creep,’” so I went upstairs and did it. It’s actually my favorite one.
GS: All the songs are great choices and you make each one your own, even “Creep” and “Deathly.” But the Barenaked Ladies’ tune “Call and Answer” really took me by surprise, because it doesn’t seem like a Melissa Ferrick song.
MF: Yeah …I love that band, I have always loved them. I’m also incredibly happy with how that came out, because it stretches me. There’re no acoustic guitars on the song, it’s all electric. The loops are crazy. And I did all the background vocals. …I just wanted it to be very swirly and beautiful. … It sounds so different than their version. I was thinking of what songs I wanted to do, and Bryna said, “Just think about songs that you’ve always really loved.” And I thought about that song. I remember being in Seattle, in a car with a guy from Atlantic Records. …It must have been ’94 or ’95. …This guy from the label was driving me (to a radio station) and he said, “I want to play you this band, they’re from Canada, they’re called the Barenaked Ladies and I just signed them.” And he put the cassette in. …I just loved the song.
GS: As it turns out, it’s not really a case of “enough about me” because you close the disc with a couple of your own songs.
MF: I know. Yes, that’s my sense of humor (laughs). I thought that you would appreciate that (laughs).
GS: Why did you choose “Bad Habbit” and “Hypocrite” from “Goodbye Youth”?
MF: …They’re two of my favorites. I’m pretty proud of a lot of the songs on that record. I think that “John’s Field” is right up there, as well as “When Thom Sings” (Lake Effect Snow). “Hypocrite” had literally been sitting in my studio for a year, done. …It had the drive in it I had always heard in my head... I wanted my fans to hear what I heard. ...And “Bad Habit,” that was an homage to Lucinda Williams. … I am a big fan of her work. So, I wanted to do that kind of “Ball and Chain” song with that real loose shuffle feel behind it. …I love the way that it came out.
GS: In addition to your regular tour dates, you are also playing PrideFest in Milwaukee on June 12. Do you regularly do Pride festivals or is this a new thing?
MF: No. I always hope to, because, for a lot of queer artists, I think June is a saving grace for us. It’s not quite festival season yet and you can count on June to have the opportunity to travel … see and celebrate gay Pride with other communities. …Those queer dollars really help fund me through the summer, so I am able to go do festivals where you are playing for the exposure. With gay Pride … they already know who I am. I’m just looking to celebrate with them.