A Q&A with singer-songwriter and lesbian icon Melissa Ferrick

Creative Loafing: You’re known for your intensely personal lyrics, but I’m hearing this album being described by fans and critics as your most personal record yet. What do you think sets it apart from past material in that way?

Melissa Ferrick: I think it depends on how you look at it. There are songs on the record that are a complete metaphor, written in the second person. They’re about me, but veiled. Maybe what people are reacting to is there’s a bit more of a blogger feel to it. It’s not as angry. There’s not as much finger pointing. The finger actually gets turned around the other way, towards myself, and it feels more grown up. It feels really good; it feels like this is progress. I think we all get better at not just telling the truth, but also realizing what the truth is as we get older.

CL: Tell me a little bit about what was going on in your life when you were writing the songs for this record. How does this material reflect that?

MF: It feels similar to [my record] “Freedom” [2000], because “the truth is” was also written when I was coming out of a break up. It’s similar subject matter and a similar life experience, but it feels so different at 30 when it happened than it does now at 40. My reaction now is much less angry and less out of control. I’m in a place where I maybe take a minute before throwing words on a page and deciding a song is done.

CL: Since this album helped you get through and over a breakup, how did that affect your songwriting process?

MF: I wasn’t able to write for a few months at all, and then started again in June/July [of 2012]. I wound up writing the songs in their sequenced order on the record almost exactly. When I wrote the song “the truth is” [track five], I could feel that was the turning point for the album and it was the turning point for me as well. I went from really sadness to trying to be in a place of forgiveness rather than anger and then I got through it. And I think the songs reflect that.

CL: You brought in a lot of great talent to help make this album.

MF: Anne [Heaton] is in Chicago now and Rose [Polenzani] is here in Boston. I had Natalia [Zukerman] playing lap steel as well as singing on it. It was all about their voices, I knew what I wanted and that was Anne, Rose and Natalia on background vocals. Trina mixed everything and Rafi was my engineer. I knew most of the main players beforehand. I always knew I wanted to make a record with Rafi, so I jumped at the chance.

CL: This and your last album, 2011’s “Still Right Here,” were released on MPress Records. What is the status of your own independent label, Right On Records?

MF: It still exists; it’s still alive. I signed a deal with MPress in 2010. When I started [Right On Records in 1997,] it made sense for me to go indie. … This was before CD Baby and Kickstarter. The whole industry has changed so much since then. Between 2000 and 2003 I would have to press 10,000 units to cover what I needed for distribution. Then from 2004 to 2008 it just dove as far as physical units go. The number of digital downloads skyrocketed and left me with an enormous amount of inventory. … It was a tough time for me. I had to refinance my house. In 2009 I put out an EP, “Enough About Me,” a horrible record. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do music anymore. I was burnt out, just tired. Then I started teaching [at Berklee College of Music,] and it woke up my writing. So I made the choice to reach out to people I know and emailed Rachel Sage, [founder of MPress.] The decision was based on making my records successful and not having that financial burden. It doesn’t mean I won’t put out albums again on my own at some point. But what I’m doing right now is awesome.

CL: You also spent some time on Atlantic Records, a major label, early in your career. What was that experience like for you?

MF: I loved being on Atlantic. It was a great experience. There were really big budgets and a lot of people who know what they’re doing. But then Jewel’s record had a hit and I didn’t; and Hootie had a hit, and I didn’t. So they dropped me in 1996. It was purely a decision based on units sold. It was a good experience and I learned a lot. I learned that I could probably do it on my own. I took what I learned and applied it to my own label.

CL: As an openly gay musician, did you ever have second thoughts about writing about your personal life and relationships in your songs? And were you ever concerned about your music being stigmatized because of it?

MF: I’ve never thought about that at all because I had been out for so long. Yeah, I think there is a stigma, but I don’t worry about it at all. Because if it’s good music, it’s good music. That’s what matters. It’s about so many bigger things. I don’t look out at the audience and think, I wish more men came to my show. Being out is effortless for me, but that’s come after a very long time. And I don’t take for granted being out and being queer and being able to hold my girlfriend’s hand and giving her a kiss before going on stage.

Melissa Ferrick will perform Saturday, June 8, 7 p.m., at the New Port Richey Library, 5939 Main St., New Port Richey. Free. RSVPs required. Email [email protected] or call (727) 853-1265. For more information about her music, visit melissaferrick.com.

Following the release of her latest album, “the truth is,” earlier this week, Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick will be in the area for a free show on Saturday, June 8, 7 p.m., at the New Port Richey Library.

With a career that spans two decades, Ferrick builds on her signature raw and emotive sound on "the truth is." By adding a touch of Americana and lush arrangements, she creates a more rootsy record. She also brought in a bevy of talented collaborators for this effort: Grammy Award-winner Trina Shoemaker (Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow) mixed the album; Rafi Sofer (James Taylor, Juliana Hatfield) took on the role of engineer; and fellow Berklee College of Music alum Paula Cole appears as a guest vocalist on the album’s first track, “Wreck Me.”

Atlantic Records signed Ferrick in the mid-1990s, at a time when artists like Liz Phair and PJ Harvey were making waves and the industry was intent on finding the next alt-rock female phenom. Eventually, as the industry evolved, Ferrick went on to form her own independent label, Right On Records, and for the past several years has been signed with MPress Records. She’s released 17 albums throughout her career, including four live records.

Ferrick will be back in the Tampa Bay area this fall, performing at Club Jaeb at the Straz Center on Oct. 28.

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