The timely revelations of Sherry Rich
The timely revelations of Sherry Rich
Sherry Rich is just about to release Dakota Avenue, a rare gem of an album she recorded ten years ago with her friend, producer and co-writer Jay Bennett of Wilco at the band’s Loft in Chicago. A number of things conspired to stall the release of the album, not least Jay Bennett’s tragic death in 2009, but also parenthood and movements between Nashville and Melbourne. She spoke to Unpaved about living in Nashville, growing up in a musical family and getting back to the art she does so well.
Interviewed by Les Thomas
Ten years after recording, it’s great that Dakota Avenue is seeing the light of day. How does it feel to hear and play these songs again?
It sounds strange but after all that time I was almost wishing it would go away, especially after Jay Bennett died and I felt so regretful I hadn’t finished it while he was still alive, but I was always hoping we’d finish it together. When I first took out the recorded tracks again I was scared they would sound dated and tired to my ears. But it was quite the opposite and then it became a quest to mix the songs and get it out into the world. About half of the songs on the album have been in my live set for a long time, so playing them always felt good. I have Doug Robertson back in my band now [from the Grievous Angels days] and it’s terrific to have him sing the high harmonies. Having a new band always gives old tunes a new breath of life.
Dakota Avenue sounds like a very cool part of Nashville to live in. Given your musical history, growing up with a country-folk musician mum, playing from an early age, it must have been exhilarating to find yourself in that setting in such auspicious company.
We lived in an area called Sylvan Park on the westside and many of the streets were named after states: Indiana, Nebraska, Illinois and so on. A lot of musicians lived around there. I’d go to a cafe and see Don Everly and then to a restauarant and see John Prine … Gillain Welch at the laundromat and Emmylou and Bela Fleck pushing trolleys in the wholefood supermarket. Great star spotting for roots music fans!
I’d visualised living there for many years and yes it was living the dream in many ways. Especially going into the big BMG building and writing with the staff writers and hanging out down on Broadway’s legendary honky tonk bars. I also got to do many road trips around the US on the back roads and really experienced many cities and beautiful countryside. Shows in New York City opening up for Buddy Miller on New Years was a highlight.
Reality set in after that when I was stuck at home with two small children and my husband out on the road with no family around to help. That was when I was very frustrated because I was in Nashville, but couldn’t work as a musician … another reason why this record took so long to come out. I do miss Nashville and the friends I made. So many great musicians from all over the world flock to the place and I found a very supportive community there. I’m hoping to go back to the US in 2013 and play a tour to support the record, perhaps with a few of the guys who played on it: Leroy and Rick and Alex.
I can only imagine what kind of chapter the last ten years have been. How does this release frame your perspective of that decade?
I finally made myself watch the Wilco movie I am Trying to Break Your Heart a month ago. Up until then I didn’t have the guts because I knew it would bring back too many feelings seeing Jay and the loft and all. But it was actually great to see him again in action on the screen. Releasing this record is much the same in that I’d been ignoring my own solo music and waiting for the right time to return but a bit scared to take that road again. Now that it’s finally out there and I’m on the ‘comeback trail’ it’s not as hard as I imagined. The decade in Nashville is something I cherish, but I love being back in Australia.
Your multi-instrumentalist husband Rick Plant has a great deal of experience as well and shares a strong musical pedigree. How did you meet?
Actually we met through Jay and John Stirrat and Ken Coomer [then in Wilco]. He had played in bands with them and when I needed a Nashville band they suggested I call Rick. One thing lead to another you might say and here we are 13 years later! Rick and I had just got together when we recorded Dakota Avenue so that’s another reason why it’s special. One or two of the songs are about him, although I’ve only just revealed that information. (laugh)
How has parenthood influenced your musicianship, writing and touring? Do you have any reflections on your musical upbringing now that you are a parent and musician yourself?
Becoming a mother definitely took up way more time and brain space than I’d imagined. I just couldn’t practise guitar or write the way I previously had because I felt like I had no thoughts of my own. It’s only now that my kids are 7 and 10 I feel like I’m getting back to that place and also that I can be away from them to do some touring away from home. That’s another reason why the time is right for Dakota Avenue to come out. My mum was a guitar teacher and she and I performed together from the time I was about 8 years old. I was very shy and sometimes felt forced into it, so that’s something I don’t do to my children. That said, they are surrounded by music and it’s almost a second language in our house. I was listening to Rick having a guitar/drum jam with our 10 year old son and it’s the best!
Sherry Rich and the New Folk Heroes launch Dakota Avenue on Saturday 14 July at Caravan Music Club.
First published at Unpaved.