For Melody Walker…Dreaming is F-R-E-E
Mention the word “free” in this economy, and there’s a good chance that folks will click on my post today to find out what we’re giving away. Or so Melody Walker is hoping. Because she has a new album out and it’s yours for free. Or at least the digital version is yours for the taking, and you’ll find the download link for it at the end of this piece.
Along with her musical partner Jacob Groopman, my young friend Melody Walker has produced an album of exceptional tunes and tones that I believe that this community will respond to. This is indeed a community, a much different animal than the paper and print model. And this woman is actually a full-fledged member…with her own page, friends, several well written posts and she often contributes insightful and intelligent comments to the blog posts of others. So she’s one of us. This story takes you from our first contact over a year ago, through the agony and ecstasy of the creative process, living one’s dreams and navigating the choppy waters of today’s music business. It’s a long story I suppose, but hell…for a free album, at least you can do is read the damn thing.
One night about 400 days ago, Melody Walker found her way to the No Depression website and made the decision to become a member of this community. She signed up and created her page, uploaded pictures of herself, some videos and three songs that she had recently recorded. At exactly 2:00 in the morning on January 31st she posted her first blog entry. The title was a bit on the long side: “Gold Rush Goddess” – Melody Walker on writing an eco-feminist old-time folk song with an Afro-Cuban twist”. I make a habit of reading pretty much every community blog whether they get featured on the front page on not. I figure that if somebody wants to take the time to write something that’s special to them and share it, at least I can do is take the time to read it.
Melody’s post was about how she got the inspiration for a particular song after a long day busking at an art-walk in Eureka. That’s in Northern California. She and her friends ended up at a seedy bar owned by the local alleged KKK leader named Whitey, which featured topless dancers in the back room. While that subject alone might have been of particular interest, something about Melody’s writing style caught my eye.
Here are the second and third paragraphs:
“Just as we were about to get the hell out of there, an old friend from the Menstrual Mondays open mic we used to host, walked up in a white trench coat and invited us to come back and watch her dance. We had no idea she did any such thing, so we were of course curious. We haggled with Whitey for a while, and he finally let us all in the back for a reasonable group price.
Our homegirl Jess, a.k.a. “Cherry”, was not your average stripper. She had her darkness, but she was also an excellent songwriter and singer, so we weren’t too surprised when she put on Tom Waits as her first dance. She was way better than we expected and she completely enchanted us, with her swirling long dirty-blond hair and seasoned undulations. Since we were only one of two groups in the back room, we got more than enough attention, and in some kind of strange transference, all of our hard-earned busking tips wound up tangled in her thong after just a few songs.”
Busking…an open mic night called Menstrual Mondays…stripping to Tom Waits…tips tangled in her thong. I admit to having been enchanted.
There was more to the story, a link to the song, the lyrics, a few pictures and a final paragraph that made me scratch my head and wonder who the hell this young woman was and what she was talking about:
“The ending “holler” is actually a folkloric Yoruba chant for “Oshun”, the Afro-Cuban goddess of gold, rivers and flirtation. My global vocal group AkaBella had done an arrangement of a series of songs for her, and we had learned them directly from our Cuban song teacher Reynaldo Gonzales. I guess I didn’t realize until the song was written that my “Gold Rush Goddess” was not a new archetype at all, but an incarnation of many mischievous seductresses that came before her. Maybe that’s subconsciously why I decided to be Kali-Ma for Halloween that year!”
I’m a simple man. Making music is a passion, as is listening and writing about it. Every day songs come rolling through the air and into my ears and mind. Quite often I don’t listen to lyrics. The sum of the whole, and all that jazz . Other times I carefully follow along and listen to each word. When artists create something special, I’m often guilty of just accepting the gift without wondering from where, how, why and whence it has come from. So when the composer shares in detail, and especially when she starts rambling far above my intellectual capacity, I get curious.
And so began what is now an almost thirteen month email conversation with Melody, which at times feels like a scene from the wonderful movie My Dinner With Andre, where Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory share their thoughts, stories and dreams over dinner.
2/20/11: hi melody…i must tell you, i loved the three songs you have up on your page, as well as the videos i watched on your website. and i really liked the blog you wrote talking about “gold rush goddess” and how it came about. it’s always special to me when i hear younger people taking up the folk traditions. i’d love to get the mp3’s if you want to share them. send me a link or i can share my email with you. i’m a forcibly retired music biz guy and would offer you some assistance, but it’s such a fractured business model that the best i can tell you is to get your music out there and play your butt off. you sure have the gift…very impressive.
2/21/11:Wow Ed, Thank you so much for the kind words. I currently perform in a duo with my partner Jacob [Groopman], and my goal for us is to really start hitting the national house concert / listening room scene (we have just started regionally here in the bay area), and first and foremost to record a full-length album to share the music and have something else to support us on tour. We both have managed and booked other bands of ours before, so we have quite a bit of experience.
For the next several months as Melody began making plans for her album, we traded dozens of emails about how to approach promoters, her website, target audience, musical interests, time at college, her folks and her childhood growing up in the small town of Martinez in Northern California, her brush with celebrity in India (read about it here), the three song EP she pressed, her attempt at “crowd-funding” a full length album, ideas about how to promote and market an album in these tough times and thinking and sharing deep thoughts about what she wanted her life to be like and where her career could take her.
4/23/11:Hey Ed, I made myself a new website. Also, I took your advice and signed up for Reviewshine, which has been relatively immediately fruitful. I got a random contribution to my CD campaign from the UK and after a little research I found out he was one of the bloggers I reached through Reviewshine. Amazing.Thanks! Melody
7/25/11:Well, I raised $5,700 total toward making my album and am headed back into the studio in a couple of weeks to do another four or five tunes. It is sounding really good, and I’d be happy to send you a track or two if you wanted to give any thoughts on production. I saw Dolly Parton last night and it inspired me to write a ND blog post. Melody
9/13/11: It’s been a while since we have talked, but I’ve been waiting for the right time to get back in touch. The album is pretty much tracked (10 songs in the can) and will be ready to mix and master in October. I’ll have it in-hand by November, but I’ve decided to wait and officially release it in February. I’ve really been trying to nail down the hardest question of all: What do I want? How can I know how to get there if you don’t know where I want to be?The things I know I want: I want to write songs that are so good everyone wants to sing them and they take on a life of their own. I want everyone in America to cringe/secretly smile when someone busts out my tune at a campfire, and they can’t help but sing along. I want to be played-out, but not necessarily by myself. I want music to sustain me financially and spiritually for the long term, and to preserve my own dignity and integrity in the process. I want to make sure I can keep growing and creating great music. Independence is very important to me. Interdependence is great too, but any sort of corporate dominance is out of the question. Melody
9/21/11: – There is no ‘secret sauce’ on a song becoming popular or well known, its like lightning striking…it’ll happen but you don’t know where or when. You do your best, you keep moving forward. That’s all there is. Every musician in the world I’ve ever met wants to know how to sustain a financially viable career. I could have told you how it was done once upon a time in the past, but today you’re looking at a life of a low income career path (at best), with a part time day job more the reality. If you really, really want to make money in music, move to Nashville, join the songwriter circles and pray real hard somebody loves your words and music. Songwriting is the only sure thing to save you from a life of cleaning houses. But beware that it only works if you’re writing something that lots and lots of people will actually buy. At about nine cents per song per sale, do the math. Ed
9/29/11:I’m definitely focusing on the “casserole” circuit in the near term, because it’s the sweetest, kindest sort of gig for where I am right now…. I just know that to ever get into bigger gigs… theaters, festivals etc. I am going to need some kind of “break”. And while hits and breaks are a little like lightning strikes, it wouldn’t hurt to go fly a kite out in the rain, right? I know I can’t really “engineer” buzz, but I still think there is room for super creative ideas and content to be more buzzworthy than not. I have often fantasized about the “Nashville stock songwriting” thing… ever since I was a kid, really… but I’m not sure whether it would be my cup of tea. I guess there’s really no way to know unless you try. I wonder if there’s a way to try out a Nashville co-write session just to see how it works? Maybe I should take a look at the Nashville Craigslist. Melody
10/10/11:Hi Ed. My new album is being mixed and mastered as I write you, and I need to come up with the final track order within the next few day. I have some ideas, but I really need some more ears on this one (but please don’t share). I’ve uploaded my best guess to Soundcloud (at the private link below), and I’d really love to get your thoughts before I send it off to be pressed. So, when you have a moment to hear a whole album… maybe doing some dishes or working on the computer…. please flip it on and let me know how it goes.Melody
Well I did flip it on that night and listened. But there was also some other things going on in my life at the time with several health issues that were keeping me busier and more occupied than expected. So I never did reply, and that could have been the end of the story, at least as far as I was involved. But she sent me a physical CD when it was finally pressed, and reached out to me in December. And then the emails began again.
1/19/12: Last time we talked (on Facebook), you were literally just about to listen to the CD I had sent you. So, I wanted to follow up and see how you liked it, and if, by chance, you love it enough to consider writing a glowing review…Melody
1/19/12:Greetings from the old guy. If you want the honest to god truth, I think it’s one great recording. I’ve been listening to it off and on since we last exchanged emails, and it just keeps getting better as it becomes more familiar to me. As far as writing a review, it’s my least favorite thing to do because I’m really terrible at it. And I don’t like to do them. I much prefer doing an artist profile which is a lot more work but generally more satisfying to me and more “usable” to the artist. It takes me a bit longer to do those. Ed
1/19/12:Thanks a MILLION Ed. And get well soon [from your tooth extraction],but make sure you keep on enjoying my album on those painkillers! 😉 One last request: I’d like to make sure Jacob Groopman gets in the story a fair amount as well, as he is on board with this project full time now and has many accomplishments to his credit as well. Melody
1/19/12:The last time I took painkillers back in November was for ten straight days. I got so crazy that my wife had to hide the car keys and the kids said that I thought I was living back in 1967 again. I’ll make sure to mention Jacob. Ed
2/20/12:Do you know how good your songs are? Ed
2/24/1:You do know my dad wrote “Stars Align”, right? [And “Dreaming” is a Blondie cover.] Just want to make sure he gets due credit… it’s not obvious except in the liner notes of the disc. I rely on him for the one sweet love song on the disc (I’m no good at those). Melody
Along the way, with conversation about booking agents and publicists, radio promoters and self-distribution, corporate greed and how to make a buck selling your music…Melody came up with an idea. “I might actually go the way of the Milk Carton Kids and offer the CD up for a completely free download. Maybe by donation. Not sure. Hard copies will be full price, of course. What do you think?” Guess you figured out that I sure liked that idea, because here we are.
Just a few days away from Melody’s “official” album release titled Gold Rush Goddess, and a tour with Jacob up and down the left coast has been booked with more dates being added. As a writer, or at least a make-believe on, I don’t think I’ve ever had more source material to pull from. In addition to what I’ve shared here, we have emailed back and forth probably seventy times. At this point I could easily write a book about Ms. Walker. So before I wrap this up, and give you the download code, here’s a few more things she shared over the months:
Mom: “My mom is a huge influence on me [for her] drive and entrepreneurial spirit. She started a small auto body shop because it was the trade she knew, being a painter with her sister in her dad’s shop in Tahoe as a teenager. And although it’s taken me years to convince her to call herself a feminist, she definitely instilled feminist values in me from a young age.
Dad: “My dad is a great influence too, as a songwriter and musical community organizer. He started the Martinez Music Society and ran open mic nights and a sunday blues jam at a local pizzeria. He also started a Free Folk Festival in Martinez, and helped me put on my own outdoor local punk and metal festival called Freak Fest when I was 14.”
College: “I’d rather not talk too much about the old college education (Note from Ed: Too bad Melody…I think its interesting), but I went to school at Humboldt State University and got a music degree. I was focusing at first on piano, then on world percussion and 20th century art song, as well as composition and some jazz..
Jacob Groopman: “He is one of the most talented and versatile musicians I have ever met. His level of mastery on guitar and mandolin is ridiculous and he brings that musicality to every instrument he plays. With the heavy jazz background, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of American folk music, world music styles and rock & roll, his ideas are simultaneously fresh and fully-steeped in the many traditions he calls home. He really brings the deep deep roots and the hot hot licks to this duo, not to mention solid harmony vocals. I think we have a unique blend, as we both have big, bold voices.” (Note from me….Originally from Richmond Virginia, Jacob moved to the San Francisco area in 2004 after graduating from The Oberlin Conservatory of Music with a degree in Jazz Studies. Since then he has established himself as a highly sought after player and teacher.)
Bryan Osper: “My good friend Bryan who played and sang on three tracks of the record, died in a car crash in early December at the age of 26. I turned 27 for both of us this year. He didn’t quite make it that far. He did get to check out the final mixes in the fall though, and he told me how proud he was of me and to be on this record. He was formerly of the bluegrass band the Bucky Walters and he was one of my first friends in college.
I know Melody would like to dedicate her album to Bryan’s memory, and will note it on the next pressing. But since this is the virtual world, I think I’ll go right ahead and dedicate this download and this post to his memory. May he rest in peace.
Enjoy the music, spread the word, support local artists and go see live music.
To get your free copy of Gold Rush Goddess, click on http://melodywalker.bandcamp.com Just go there and click “Buy Now” and you can name any price you like, including $0.00. This “pay-what-you-like” concept is an exciting new way for us to make sure that everyone gets to enjoy the album today, regardless of whether or not their means allow it. It’s also a cool way to let extra-generous fans express how much they love it. Pay or don’t pay – we’ll never know – the important thing is to go on and get your copy TODAY! 🙂 Below you can stream the album too…while you sit at your computer at work.