She appeared on the Bay area scene about four years ago, an exotically pretty, shy girl with an acoustic guitar and a mysterious name:
She had a nebulous backstory: A Bulgarian immigrant, it was said, with some kind of trauma in her childhood. Even her age was up for debate; rumors spread that she could be as young as 15 or as old as 30 (a very young-looking 30). She wouldn't tell. Nor would she reveal much about her past. It was as if a talented kid had been dropped into the scene by a spaceship. She played countless local gigs and was amiable enough, but remained somehow remote.
And then she was gone, or mostly gone — relocated to Wisconsin with her new boyfriend and bassist/guitarist, Greg Roteik. She returned sporadically for gigs.
Now she's back.
On a blustery Tuesday afternoon, the new Geri X sits in the tiny courtyard of the small St. Petersburg home she shares with Roteik, who's attentively at her side. A stiff wind rustles through the canopy of trees overhead. Geri X laughs easily, talks openly, sharing anecdotes and observations while occasionally smoking an American Spirit. Her hair, pulled back on top, is black save for shocks of Kelly green that fall down each side. Tattoos snake
along her upper chest and arms.
Turns out she did have a tough childhood. She says her father, a renowned painter in Bulgaria, was abusive. She seriously contemplated suicide in her teens, once taking a gun from her father's collection and holding it to her head. When she began performing in Tampa, the cool remove that audiences saw was a defense, and the songs she wrote served to salve her pain.
Then in August 2006 she met Greg and it all changed. Today, Geri X is not what you'd call a sunny gal, and she admits to still carrying around considerable emotional baggage, but, she says, "The cloud has lifted."
The singer/songwriter now performs in a three-piece that also includes drummer Matthew Bennett. She insists she's not the boss, that it's a collaborative effort. Her music — to oversimplify it, an edgy brand of neo-folk with confessional, at times achingly intimate, lyrics — has matured. Her new album, her sixth full-length, the aptly titled Anthems of a Mended Heart, came out Jan. 13 on the Tampa-based 24 Hour Service Station label. The music will be available on all the major digital-download sites, and CDs will find shelf space in select retail stores.
Everything's just about in place for Geri X's next move: making a serious career out of making music. "I want to pay my rent and my bills without having to fall back on working at a pet store or Starbucks or selling cosmetics [her current day job]," she says. "If I have a show, I want to think of it as going to work: 'I'm working at New World Brewery at 8 p.m.' To me, that's success. I don't have to be world-famous. It's not about major popularity. I want to do this for a living."
Eight months on the road, four months at home, give or take, is part of the plan. She has a legitimate shot at the kind of success she seeks, and you could argue that it should've happened already. Her ardent fan base is what drew Marshall Dickson, owner of 24 Hour Service Station, to Geri X.
"Matt [Bennett] brought the story to me," he explains. "She sold in the neighborhood of 20,000 CD-Rs on her own, with a coffeehouse fan base. I've seen the receipts. That is something real. I think she'd reached the point where her business knowhow had peaked. I want to make a bigger story out of it. If you've sold 20,000 copies of CD-Rs and you're still working a full-time job, something's wrong."
Dickson says that if Anthems of a Mended Heart moves 5,000 units it will turn a profit, and he'd be ecstatic if the album sold 20,000. He won't project numbers but believes Geri X has the goods. "She connects with her audience in a way that's very raw," he says. "They find something in her lyrics and her delivery — it's totally genuine."
Geri X's ace asset is her voice. It's a nail file to the heart, unsettling, captivating. While she has solid pitch, the singer embraces her imperfections. She's sublimely undisciplined, more concerned with pure expression than craft. Geri X inhabits her lyrics, and has a knack for making her vocals conversational even while carrying a tune. You can hear her hurt. She's by turns brash and tender, volatile and vulnerable.
On Anthems, that voice is pushed way out in front of strummed acoustic guitars, basic bass lines and distant drumming. The boys don't harmonize on the choruses, but then the choruses can be hard to determine in her intuitively penned, elliptical songs — songs that can take a couple of listens to catch onto, songs that don't sweat rhyme schemes or follow expected chord changes.