Note: The following was written by Megan Parker and it appeared in today’s issue of 72 Hours. We don’t know the first thing about Megan Parker, but we’d be willing to bet she’s great. Check it out:
Step aside, Aphrodite, there are four new goddesses in town and their names are Anna, Adrienne, Ashli and CassiRaye. These gals are part of the musical acts Joy on Fire, The Dirty Middle, Cheshi and CassiRaye, respectively. On Sept. 9, they will be strumming, humming and singing their way through Goddess Jam, a celestial night filled with freebie foods, an art gallery, a pop-up consignment shop and some downright heavenly music.
The event is slated to celebrate the release of Sass Magazine’s fall issue. The night of the jam, 200 East Art Haus will transform to a Mount Olympus of sorts as it hosts these divine songstresses and their musical entourages. And while they won’t be plucking lyres, you can expect to hear them rocking out with guitar, ukulele and saxophone.
Local businesses will be on hand to give out an assortment of complimentary goodies like hors d’oeuvres by Renaissance Chef and cake samples from Cakes to Die For. And what could be a better complement to a Goddess Jam than actual jam? McCutcheon’s will be giving out mini jam jars to round out the plethora of party favors.
So enough of the hype. Let’s get to know a little bit about these female musicians. With styles ranging from ethereal folk to punked-out jazz, these four leading ladies had a lot to say about how they create their music and the influential women in their lives.
JOY ON FIRE
INSTRUMENTAL PUNK JAZZ/FUZZ ROCK
How did the band come up with the name Joy on Fire?
It was three years ago we changed the name. The original name was Supersharpshooter. And people thought it was hard to say. … John Paul Carillo, our bassist and lead songwriter, said it was the name of some weird electronic song back in the ‘90s. He really liked the image of a giraffe on fire in Dali paintings. So we were thinking of Giraffe on Fire. But then we decided on Joy, like the emotion, and it could also be a person.
What made you choose to play the saxophone as an instrument?
It was my mom, actually. She’s a clarinet player. She wanted me to be in band in elementary school. I told her I didn’t want to be in band. I tried clarinet for a week and it just didn’t stick. Before sixth grade, she said, “How about saxophone?” After I started lessons with Julie Robinson, I fell in love with it. She’s such a great teacher. I actually did more classical saxophone originally. And my granddad played saxophone and clarinet. Music ran in the family a little bit.
Who has been a strong female influence in your life?
My mom, for sure. It was just her and me for a long time, and she was super supportive and doing the single mom thing and working. She was going back to school when I was young and she was doing her degree in computers and she didn’t know anything about computers, and this guy in her class was like, “If you have any questions, feel free to come to me.” And she ended up getting A’s on all the tests and eventually that guy had to come to her for help at the end of the semester. And she’s really supportive of me doing the music thing. And when I decided to study music for my undergrad, she was just 100 percent behind that. Other parents could have said something like, “Oh, do something reasonable that’s going to make money.”
You’ve toured up and down the East Coast. What’s your favorite part of going on tour?
I just like being on the road, meeting new people, playing new places and re-energizing the music. And getting to spend time with the band. This past May, we played about nine shows in the span of a month, and it was just was like a mind-meld between the three of us. It’s just living the music and real life doesn’t matter. It’s really special. I love it.
You do some of your own composing with John. Tell us about that.
John and I have another ensemble that’s been on hiatus for the past year or so. But that was when I started composing. We added amplified string quartet to the trio a while ago and it kind of made it its own thing. So that’s when I started composing and then I did my masters degree from UNC Greensboro in composition. That was the first time that I had written for ensembles that I wasn’t in. Right now, most of my composing is for other ensembles, and I’ve been to a couple festivals, like the Bang on a Can Festival this past July, so I got to write something for a mixed ensemble. So I did wind and strings and percussion and piano.
And what kind of genre is that composition?
It’s post-minimalism, if you want to call it that. There are the minimalists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Those are kind of the more household name composers. And then this whole — I don’t know if you want to call it a movement — but everyone who has been influenced by those [composers] are taking pop and rock and progressive rock and adding it to the western classical thing. So it’s kind of like a mishmash of all these genres.
Musically, do you have a favorite frontwoman?
She’s a composer and also has her own ensemble. Missy Mazzoli. I saw her a couple years ago in Baltimore. And I was really excited to see the composer-led ensemble. Another older composer who I got to meet was Julia Wolfe. She’s just incredible. She writes such badass music. She’s in this collective of composers so it’s her and then two composers, Michael Gordon and David Lang and people always think that when they write together, that her music was written by one of the guys because it’s so hard-hitting and in-your-face.
THE DIRTY MIDDLE
You write the lyrics for The Dirty Middle. Can you tell me about the writing process you have for your songs? Do the lyrics come first, or does the melody?
It’s different for every song. I have a lot of songs that I really feel compelled to write about some things and the lyrics will come first. Or sometimes I’ll get a tune. And a lot of times, my husband who’s a bassist, will come up with a tune. And then we get Mike Ponyboy Blues, on lead guitar, and we’ll show it to him and he’ll help us fill it out a little more. So it’s definitely different every time.
Are there any common themes in your lyrics?
Honestly, I write a lot about my depression and a lot of my songs are about that. I talk about a lot of feelings, so I try to put what I’m feeling into words and then into a song.
Do you have a favorite frontwoman?
Susan Tedeschi. I saw her play in May. She’s a solo artist and right now she’s with a band called Tedeschi Trucks Band with her husband Derek Trucks, and they have a 13-piece band with a horn section and backup singers. We saw them at DelFest in Cumberland and it was amazing.
Do you had any influential female figures in your life?
I’m a preschool teacher in Middletown and my lead teacher is so amazing. She just knows how to keep the kids engaged at all times. And kids are out of control and she’s in control and she’s totally calm. And I really see how everything is not as big of a deal as sometimes we make it and everyone’s going to go home happy and healthy. She’s been a really inspiration.
What does your band name mean?
It’s a almost a socioeconomic play on words. If you think of everything in our lives as a bell-curve — pretty poor on one side and pretty rich on one side — hardworking on both sides. But we’re right in the dirty middle, not doing too great and not doing too bad. We’re kind of just Average Joes every day that are getting things done.
Have you played any really memorable shows?
I really remember the last time we played at Cafe Nola around the beginning of July and they had just moved the stage from the corner and they moved it where the booths used to be and I don’t know what it was, but everything sounded so great and we were all just really on it. Nights like that. The place wasn’t packed, but it reminded me “This is why I do it.” I was just so excited that we were hitting every note and we were all on it, and we were just rocking out.
Are you excited about Goddess Jam?
We usually play three-hour sets and this is going to be the first in a really long time that we’re only playing for 45 minutes, so we’re really going to be able to select the songs that we want to show off. We do play a good amount of covers, but I think at Goddess Jam we’ll probably just do all originals.
How do you feel that being in these different groups [Adrienne and the Merrylanders and The Dirty Middle] has shaped you as an artist?
Definitely working with the different musicians and letting their talents rub off on me. Every time I work with the guys in The Dirty Middle, we just get so much work done and it’s a good feeling to have that product come out. Sometimes it’s almost like a music lesson that we’ll teach something to each other every day that we practice and we’ll address new avenues to improving our musicianship.
DARK INDIE ROCK
Let’s cut right to the good stuff. Your Bandcamp website says that controversial topics are explored in your music. What specific contentious issues can we see in your work?
One song that I do that particularly on is “Lovesong.” It seems that it’s about loving someone and struggling with that sometimes, but the main inspiration for that was when my girlfriend and I started dating and she had to come out to her family and how hard that was for her. We view the world right now as being very progressive, or at least we should, but there’s a lot of people out there who think that same-sex relationships are wrong and that we should be condemned, and I write about that in that song. And that’s really hard. I actually played that song the night after the Pulse massacre and it touches very deeply with me on a lot of levels. … I’m also very Earth-aware and green and I try to live as green as possible, so a lot of other ideas I bring up are how we’re destroying nature and, within that, we’re destroying ourselves. And how do we really come back from that? Can we come back from that?
Who writes the lyrics for Cheshi?
I write the songs and the lyrics completely. So I have an entire song written and I bring it to [my bandmates]. And I let them have their freedom and expression within that structure.
Do you have a favorite frontwoman?
Oh my gosh, that is my sole inspiration. I look at all the people who have influenced me: Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith. Sharon Van Etten. I pull my main inspiration from female vocalists and songwriters because I feel like there’s that depth and emotional intensity— not that it’s necessarily lacking from male songwriters — but I feel like women have always had that power in their voices and in their lyrics that I just connect with, always.
Outside of the music industry, do you have a strong female influence in your life who has inspired you or shaped you?
The women in my family are all very strong, super independent. My mom practically raised us. I’m actually dedicating my first album to my grandmother. She fought MS, leukemia, cancer, and she still is growing strong and won’t let anything stand in her way. So I look to her for a lot of inspiration.
How did you get into music? What drew you picking up the guitar or singing?
I’ve always had a lot of emotional intensity, and I always needed a way to get that out somehow to make sense of my life and what I’m doing. So from a young age, I was drawn to art and music. And I pursued art and I went to school for fine art, and then when I graduated I picked up the guitar again and I was like, “This is what I need to be doing.” … But I do a lot of different things creatively and it just depends. I like being able to feel what I’m doing at that moment, which is why I think I’m drawn to music so much more than art.
Musical groups in general who have influenced your sound or who you enjoy listening to?
As of late, I’ve been listening to a lot of Black Sabbath and the rapper Jonwayne. I’m all over the place with my inspiration. As long as you’re honest and you have that emotional intensity, I’m there. I love David Bowie. Any given day, I’m all over the place. I love ‘80s synthpop. I’ve always dreamed of starting an ‘80s synthpop band.
What do you think influences what you choose to listen to at any given moment?
I know it’s so cliché, but I guess just how I’m feeling at the moment. If I want some rawness and realness, I listen to some lyric-heavy rap song. Sometimes I’ll listen to the entire “Cats” musical [laughs]. I mean, it just depends.
Is there a memorable show you’ve had recently that stands out in your mind?
Yeah, last winter when there was a huge snowstorm and no one could drive, we were booked for a show at Nola that night. And I just remember it being so amazing because the place was packed and it was full of all the local people who could walk there and it was just a beautiful night. I mean, it was snowing and storming. That was the one that sticks out to me.
How did you get your start in music?
It started with my dad. My dad’s a musician. When I was little, he used to play in heavy metal bands — death metal bands, actually. Kind of a long stretch from what I’m doing now, but still the same soul and the same passion. He played every day. I have memories of my father coming home … and he would just come home and shred on the guitar and I always looked forward to that and felt that pattern in my life. And once we moved and I started middle school and life got hard as a teenager, and everything was changing, but that was the one thing that stayed the same. That my dad was always playing and he got to the point where he was sharing it with me and I got my first guitar, he put me in lessons. And it was just this means of connecting to my father and connecting to myself. For a long time I played behind closed doors just for my own sanity, my own means of processing reality.
You play guitar and ukulele. Are there any other instruments you can play?
Singing bowls — like crystal Tibetan singing bowls. They’re beautiful. There’s a shop in Shepherdstown [West Virginia] called On the Wings of Dreams. They sell them. It seems like the smaller they are, the teenier and higher pitched they are, and as they get bigger in size, the tone gets deeper. You can feel it in your body.
And when you’re playing them, do you play on one or do you have an assortment of sizes in front of you?
Sometimes an assortment. On my album, which you can listen to for free online, there’s a song called “Open,” and that’s a singing bowl song where I’m just playing one and singing over top of it. On the subject of instruments, I am so fascinated by so many instruments you might not have heard of. One of them is the mbira, or the African Thumb Piano. It’s a handheld piano made out of a gourd. And also the hang drum. It’s definitely in the works for me to get one of those.
Tell me about your lyric writing. What is your songwriting process like?
When I started writing music and I first picked up the guitar, it was means for me to process my reality, and then that later on became a channel of healing. And once I became conscious of that, I was able to use music as a channel for healing and for other people also. There’s two different ways I write music: Sometimes I sit down and I say, “OK, I’m going to write a song.” And I find that that’s usually a really stagnant way to write music, or I don’t often finish it that way, or it’s a slower process. And there’s other times when the song just seems to come and I don’t have much control over what’s coming. And I find that those songs come into being in five to 15 minutes.
What was the catalyst for writing and launching your album?
In 2012, I was in my first ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a brew between two plants, and is traditionally taken in the Amazon rainforest. It’s a hallucinogen and traditionally it’s used with a shaman for healing. And that’s moved to the United States and there are some private groups practicing who are protected and they are able to practice in D.C. Through that experience, from 2012 through 2015, I was in these ceremonies on a monthly experience in exchange for playing my music. And that just launched me into a totally different headspace where I was able to be really open with some really beautiful people who helped me to grow really fast. I believe that plant has a spirit and she was behind a lot of the music that came through that album. And the people in that community lifted me up and said, “Where can we hear your music?” and I didn’t have it online, I didn’t have an album. They said, “You need to release a campaign and we’ll fund you.” I created the Indigo campaign … and within 24 hours, it was over 100 percent funded.
So the Goddess Jam sounds like it is right up your alley.
For a while I’ve been wanting to come together with other women. And I have two women that I’m going to be bringing with me, Naomi and Kim Moon. So when I heard about this opportunity, I thought it would be a great chance to really showcase these other women.
Who is your favorite frontwoman or songstress?
Right off the bat, I think of Jill Scott. I grew up listening to Fiona Apple and Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine. And Lisa Gerrard, the lead singer of Dead Can Dance. I connect to her the most because she once stated in an article that a lot of her songs aren’t in any language at all. You would listen to them and you would think that she was speaking a certain language, but as long as she’s been singing she’s just used sounds as a means to communicate. It means something to her and because it means so much to her, it translates.
Who has been a strong female influence in your life?
All of the women in my life. All of my grandmothers. I was blessed to have known all of my grandmothers and my great-grandmothers. And I actually still have my great-grandmother. I think about her every day. She is the brightest light I have ever known in this life. She told me when I was a kid, “There’s nothing you can do that would make me love you less,” and that was inspiration for a song that I wrote. And my mother has been a rock, a fiery rock. My high school art teacher — she studied painting and I was under her wing for a long time. And I decided to go to college to study painting because I wanted to be just like her.