Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Singer-songwriter Michelle Malone bringing her honesty, energy to FitzGerald's next week


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

You might see singer-songwriter Michelle Malone spending as much time listening to other bands at next week's American Music Festival as she is on stage.

The Georgia-based musician, www.michellemalone.com, will perform July 1 at the 31st annual American Music Festival at FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. Malone, along with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Marcia Ball, Junior Brown, Joe Pug, The Iguanas and Ronnie Baker Brooks are among a long list of acts set to play at the festival, which will run July 1 to 3.

Tickets are $30 a day, and more information is at www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.

Malone's rootsy songs have received critical acclaim and have been featured in several TV shows and movies over the years, including an upcoming episode of "True Blood."

One of her songs, "Don't Want To Know," was recorded by the Indigo Girls, earning her gold and platinum records.

I had the chance to talk to Malone about her upcoming performance at FitzGerald's and why she makes music.


Q - So you've played at FitzGerald's before?

We're excited about coming back. I love playing up there. We love coming to the festival. Owner Bill Fitzgerald has had us I guess three times now, so it will be great.

Q - Yeah, it looks like a good bill. Marcia Ball is returning, and she's a favorite at the festival.

And the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I'm really excited about them.

I had been playing in Chicago for a long time, but I never really felt I found a home until I started playing at FitzGerald's.

Q - What do you like about FitzGerald's?

It just has this great vibe, and the people there love music, and they come with an open mind. They will come hear bands they've never heard of before because Bill books them, and they trust Bill, because he has great taste in music and he loves all kinds of stuff.

We played there a few months back, and we were playing on one side of the venue, and the other side of the venue had a Beatles tribute band.

Q - After you perform your set, do you like to sit back and listen to other bands?

Sure, yeah. That's what I really love the most about playing festivals. You get to hear a lot of other great music, and meet a lot of other great musicians.

Q - I see you have some other stuff going on. Your song, "Restraining Order Blues," will be part of a "True Blood" episode next month. I've noticed that you've had several of your songs featured in TV shows and movies over the years.

Are you have a fan of "True Blood?"

Well, I've never seen it. I don't have cable. I don't watch a lot of TV. I'm excited to see the scene they use, because I can't figure out how a restraining order can be put on a vampire.

Maybe someone will send me a copy, or I'll find it on YouTube or something.


Q - Is that song based on an actual experience?

More or less. It's a fun story that I made up in my head. As a writer, you have to make what you're writing worth listening to. You have to dress it up, and make it fun and presentable to the world.

Q - Why do you think your songs fit so well in TV shows and movies?

Oh, I don't know. I think it's timing and luck. It's just like getting a song on the radio, or selling a million records. I think so much of it is timing and pure luck, frankly.

There are so many great artists out there you will never even hear of.

Q - Does it ever surprise you how your songs are used in these television shows or movies?

Honestly, I've not seen any of them. I just make music and sing, and these songs take on a life of their own, and they travel, and go here and there.

They live with this person and that person. You know how personal music is to anyone. They just go where they go and do what they do.

I think it's great. It's like kids, they grow up and move out.

Q - Hopefully, more people are getting introduced to your music through avenues like that.

Absolutely. There's all kinds of different ways to get introduced to new music.

Q - Speaking about new music, it's been a while since your last album came out. Are you going to be playing any new songs for people at the American Music Festival?

Yeah, probably. But I think most of my music will be new to people to begin with.

I'm writing for the new record. I haven't recorded anything yet, so by and large, it's not ready for public consumption, but I might have something together by then.

Q - What should people expect from the new album?

I have no idea. But at a show, we play a lot of times generally from the last three records, more Americana, blues-based, slide guitar type of stuff.

Since I started playing slide, it's kind of altered my sound. It is a little more bluesy, and definitely rootsy. So they can expect that.

Q - Speaking of that, I'm sure that a lot of people over the years have described your music in a lot of different ways. How would you describe your music?

Well, I've been making music for 25 years and I've put out 10 records. I've grown and changed a lot over 25 years, as everyone does.

I don't make the same kind of music I did when I was 20 or 30. I'm going to change and so is my music.

I think the last two records had a common thread in that I played slide and they were rootsier, and definitely more organic.

People can always expect that from me. I'm very down to earth in general as a human, and very organic to begin with.

I don't mince words or do drama. My feet are on the ground, and I like to think the music is a reflection of that.

Q - What made you want to play more slide guitar?

It was just out of necessity. I was in the studio recording a song, and I felt that the song needed that, and there wasn't anybody there to do that but me at the time. It was at night, and the band had already gone home.

So I just pulled the slide out and started fiddling with it. In the studio, you can cut and paste your parts together and make it sound like you know what you are doing.

And then I had to go out and play the song every night, so I just kind of learned to play as I went.

It changed the way I approached guitar and changed the way I thought about music. It's more fun, it's playful.

To me, it's free and reckless. I love it. That's kind of the way I approach the guitar any way. I'm not a really technical player, but I'm very passionate about what I do.

Q - You've had a long collaboration with the Indigo Girls. I understand that they actually persuaded you to pursue your musical dreams.

We all met in college, and they were already playing. I was writing and playing basically in my bedroom.

I kind of needed a little push to get out there and do it. They definitely persuaded me to follow that road.

They had me sing at their shows, and we started writing together and collaborating and singing together. That's really how all that started. It was very organic.

We were kids, and no one had a record deal or anything like that, so it was really just born out of fun.


Q - Are you surprised how their career has gone?

No, not at all. I've seen a lot of friends from Atlanta go on and do real well, and I'm always really happy for them.

It's great for Atlanta, it's great for them, it's great for the music scene. It's great for the world when there is great music out there that people can relate to and feel good about.

Q - What do you think it is about Atlanta that produces such great musicians?

I have no idea. It goes back a long way. Georgia has a very rich musical history, Lena Horne, Gladys Knight, Ray Charles, you name it, James Brown, the list just goes on and on.

I don't know what it is in that little corner of the world. But it's something, I think.

Q - What you were saying before about your music being down to earth and honest. Is that a common thread with other musicians from the South?


It could be. I think it is more of a common thing with Georgia, than the South in general. There are other towns that are more music industry oriented, and I think that changes the direction of the music, it puts it in more of a cerebral avenue.

We enjoy being with each other and playing music for fun. I believe first and foremost that you do it because you cannot do it, as opposed to saying, "I'm going to do this to get rich and famous, and if I don't, then I'm going to quit."

Well, maybe you should quit now.

Q - You have gotten a lot of critical acclaim over the years, and the song that you wrote with Amy Ray, "Don't Want To Know," won gold and platinum records when it was recorded by the Indigo Girls. What kind of moment was that, receiving those gold and platinum records for that song?

It was really special for about 48 hours, and then you kind of forget about it, and go back to your life.

It was so humorous in that it didn't mean a damn thing outside of my little brain. 

Q - When you sat down to write "Don't Want To Know," did you think it was a strong song?

Never. I didn't even think it was that strong of a song. It just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

We wrote that song before I even had a record deal or publishing deal. We were really just sitting around a campfire having fun, playing guitar. That's all it was.

Q - You make no bones about the fact that you are a lesbian. Do you feel the need to address that in your music?

I don't. I don't necessarily identify with groups that would have me as member to begin with, as the saying goes.

I don't necessarily consider myself a lesbian, per se. That's changed over the years in my mind. 

It's what I do with my personal life, and I like to think that as a human being, I can relate to other human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation or if they are a Christian or a Buddhist or a vegetarian.

It's just something that adds to me as a human being. I don't just run with Democrats, and I don't just run with vegetarians, and I don't just run with gay people.

I'm human and part of the human race, as opposed to a little subset of that.