I love lippy dames, no-nonsense broads with a good sense of humor and a low bullshit threshold. It makes perfect sense, then, that singer-songwriter Bess McCrary and I hit it off right away. (We met in the ladies’ dressing room of a big band gig where we were both doing the “canary” thing, and within five minutes were cracking each other up.)
Her first album, “For Happy,” is made up entirely of Bess’s original songs, and is a tribute to her mother, who passed away in 2008 after a long battle with cancer. Bess then faced a bout with cancer herself, and was unsure, in the wake of her treatment, if she’d be able to sing again. Luckily for all of us, Bess (now healthy!) kept singing and writing, and her second album, “Resurrect Me,” is slated for release this year.
And so, without further ado, let’s kick off the first “Spotlight On…” post of 2015. Thank you, Bess!
Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
My extended family was very musical. My paternal grandmother could hear a song once and play it on multiple instruments. Same goes for one of my first cousins. My talents always seemed so small in comparison; they were untrained prodigies who seemed almost casual about their abilities. My mom also loved to sing and filled the house with music from her diverse record collection. She put me in acting classes at age four because I was, ummm, fibbing a lot. I was taught to harmonize around age six by my dad and just fell in love with all things music and then, all things that involved a stage and then, on a good day, some clapping!! Oooooohhhh, the clapping!! I remember the day it bit me and filled me with what felt like the best feeling EVER. [Ed. note: THANK YOU for being so candid about how much we performers crave (need?) applause!]
In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
Naturally: Writing songs. I put my first song down on paper when I was 13. I learned very quickly that our culture loves a good song, and I could sing about anything, no matter how dark or terrible, if I just made that sh*t rhyme.
Challenging: Writing good songs. Am I allowed to say, “Touché” to myself?
If you were to choose another profession, what would it be, and why?
A neurologist who works in psychiatry. Humans (myself included) are all cuckoo. It soothes me to know why, and I’m a neurology buff. I believe F-MRI machines and other modern factors will lead medicine to conclusions about mental health and illness that will force us to remove the stigma and make [treating mental illness] a part of our general preventative health culture. I think it would be an unbelievably fascinating, challenging, and rewarding profession that would accomplish some real change in the world. Or I would like to be one of my cats. Those two really have it good.
Imagine that you can hire any musicians (from the past or present) for the gig of a lifetime. Who is in your “dream band?”
OH. Oh! I can’t. I don’t even. Where would I start? I’m going to be a cheesy cheater and say that I just love my regular band!! I want to keep hiring them, and would certainly do so if I got this “gig of a lifetime” right now. It’s true, so why not give them props, right? David Cook, who is my killer MD and keys player (and oftentimes producer/arranger/co-writer). Bill Campbell, who is my kick-ass drummer, Jeff Hanley, who plays the best bass for me, and Al Street, who matches my musical weirdness on guitar like nobody else. We just got out of the studio for my second album and I can’t even explain the service these guys paid to the songs I wrote.
What are your current musical obsessions? Who/what is in steady rotation when you listen to music lately?
While making production decisions for my upcoming album, I was obsessed with the production on Kimbra’s album, Vows, and also production on Sarah Blasko’s newest album. For inspiration in songwriting, I’ve been turning to world music and of course and as always, the radio.
My next two genre-forays are into country and the wide world of musical theatre!! I can’t tell you much about the latter because details are still falling into place but let’s just say…I’ve always wanted to write for the stage! As for country music…I just keep writing country songs these days. So there’s that. I’m excited to hone my craft while increasing my catalogue!
I can dilate and constrict my pupils at will. I taught myself when I was 14. It’s probably my best parlor trick. Probably!!
Bess is performing this Friday, January 9, at Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 3) at 7:00 pm. She’s also been chosen as a 2015 artist-in-residence at the Serenbe Institute. Look for her new album, “Resurrect Me,” this year.