Grey DeLisle – A remembrance of things past
However, she had spent much of her childhood nurturing her mother, who had had a drinking problem before joining the church; and once she was out of the house DeLisle realized she was attracted to the adrenaline that alcoholics and drug addicts supplied. “I had this need to take care of people, and I realized this was becoming a problem, so I had to get out of it,” she says.
She attended Al-Anon meetings to fight her addiction to enabling and nurturing alcoholics, and found some beautiful inspiration among the people at the meetings. “Nothing will inspire a country singer more than going to an AA meeting,” she says. “People stand up and tell these stories, and they’re just heartbreaking.
“I think my strong faith makes me a better songwriter. I love story songs, and when you’re writing about these characters, you can’t be judgmental of them. I love songs that say, ‘It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done,’ and I try to create songs like that, songs with characters who are vivid and real.”
DeLisle had been raised to sing. “When my family got together, we sat out on the porch and played music and sang,” she recalls. “We’d sing whatever came to us, even if it was a TV jingle.” An only child, she had also been in charge of amusing herself. “I performed in plays, did voices, wrote and recorded songs from a young age.” She had also been exposed to the churning, passionate music of the Pentecostal church, often in her own living room.
During a brief stint in stand-up comedy, a casting director told her that her humor was too corny for Los Angeles. She did, however, suggest that DeLisle try out for some voiceover work in cartoons and commercials, to take advantage of her talent for mimicking voices.
Today, DeLisle is one of the industry’s most in-demand voice talents, appearing on countless shows. She is most prominently featured on the PBS children’s series “Clifford The Big Red Dog” (as Emily Elizabeth), Nickelodeon’s “The Fairly Odd Parents” (as the evil babysitter Vicky), and the Cartoon Network’s “What’s New Scooby-Doo” (as Daphne). She also does lots of work in commercials (including ad campaigns for Levi’s and Ford), and on videogames such as “Final Fantasy: X-2” and “Star Wars: Bounty Hunter.”
“It’s the best job in the world,” DeLisle says, particularly of the cartoon work: “There’s nothing better than making little children smile.” Her success in the field also allows her to make her own kind of music. “Let’s face it: If I was waiting tables and had to deliver a hit record for a record label to deliver me from that, I’d end up making a crappy record,” she says. “Since I don’t have to rely solely on the money from the record label, it allows me to make music that’s really good and genuine.”
Her roles in cartoons also take her to many schools, where she not only talks about the television shows but also introduces the children to her singing and autoharp. “The arts are being cut from so many schools,” she says. “And this lets me introduce children to the power of music.”
Her first two self-released albums, The Small Time (2000) and Homewrecker (2002), received critical acclaim and earned her a following on the west coast. A third self-release, Bootlegger, Vol. 1, which DeLisle calls “a very rough live record,” was released in 2003.
Homewrecker received a glowing review in Billboard that caught the eye of Sugar Hill. “I always said I’d never sign with a record label, but when I met with the people at Sugar Hill, I knew it was the right place for me,” DeLisle says. “During the making of the record, they respected me in all ways and gave me free reign to make the album I had envisioned.”
The resulting album takes DeLisle’s music in a new direction. The Small Time was organic and traded genres on every other song, while Homewrecker “rocked out,” as DeLisle puts it. By contrast, The Graceful Ghost plays like a finely constructed novel, full of stories and vivid characters.
In a voice that is equal parts Kelly Willis, Tammy Wynette and Bobbie Gentry, DeLisle delivers twelve songs on an album that is held together by a love for mountain music, which is surprising since DeLisle was raised on the sunny California coast. However, she has been a lifelong fan of the Carter Family, and has always loved themes common to much mountain music: heartbreak, loss, and redemption.
“I’ve never experienced living in Appalachia, of course, but there is a similarity to my own family’s experience,” she reasons. “Living in those mountains in the past was a hard life, and my own ancestors in Ireland and Mexico experienced that, too.” DeLisle’s father, who is Dutch-Irish, often sang old Irish ballads to her, and her maternal grandmother, who is Mexican, told her the many tales of poverty, despair, and ultimate beauty of her ancestors’ lives in Mexico.
“And there’s that feeling of community you find in mountain music,” she continues. “The old-fashioned values, the sense of togetherness. That’s the way my family was. Plus, no other music honors the past like mountain music. It keeps stories alive down through the ages.”
DeLisle wanted the album to be “like a little snapshot of a time that’s past. People still yearn for that,” she says. “This record is sweet and innocent and moving, and I think people see that as an escape. It’s something we all want.”
The Graceful Ghost covers the old-time landscape well, from the aforementioned devil-beauty of “The Jewel Of Abilene” to the ancient-sounding ballads “Katy Allen” and “Sawyer”. There is the tender gospel hymn “Sweet Savior’s Arms”, which very much pacified DeLisle’s mother, who thought her daughter “was going to hell for recording Homewrecker.” DeLisle’s mother loves the new album so much that she’s asked for copies to give to everybody at her church.
There’s also the Johnny Cash beat of “Sharecroppin’ Man”, and the haunting, poetic “Walking In A Line”, which she sees as an homage to Hank Williams’ “Sweet Love Ain’t Around”. DeLisle’s beloved Louvin Brothers would have been right at home singing “Tell Me True”, while “Turtle Dove” is dedicated to A.P. Carter and is about “the way he longed for Sara after she left him,” DeLisle says. “I had such a sad image of him, waiting for her to come back.” All the songs were written by DeLisle except for “This White Circle On My Finger”, originally recorded by Kitty Wells. DeLisle wrote “Black Haired Boy” for Hammond, who duets on the song with her. In fact, DeLisle’s courtship with Hammond informs most of the songs, she says. “When you fall in love with a musician, you know that you’re going to be separated a lot, but I really missed Murry when he was on the road.”