|No Longer Second Fiddle: Carrie Rodriguez, November 12 at the Redstone Room|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Wednesday, 05 November 2008 02:34|
Carrie Rodriguez has always gravitated toward the spotlight, even if it's taken a while to get there.
"My mother said that when I was in Montessori school, they would put on these plays," she recalled in a phone interview last week. "And I would always have the part of the tree or the plant or something. And my mom asked the teacher, ‘Why do you keep giving Carrie the role of the tree?' And the Montessori-school teacher says, ‘Because no matter what I do, Carrie's going to end up on the front of the stage, singing and dancing, so I can afford to give her the tree role. I need to give the shy kids the main roles.'"
The career of Rodriguez, who will be performing at the Redstone Room on Wednesday, November 12, has followed a similar path, except that she cast herself as the tree. She started in classical music and then aspired to be a sideman, playing fiddle for other artists.
"The largest part of my life I've spent accompanying other people and trying to make what I'm doing fit and embellish a song that's already there," she said. "That's my most natural thing, is working off of somebody."
She's now released two solo records - the country-heavy Seven Angels on a Bicycle (2006) and this year's pop-ier She Ain't Me - following a trio of studio collaborations with Chip Taylor. Rodriguez has gradually taken control of her music: Taylor wrote most of her first solo record, while she wrote or co-wrote all but one song on She Ain't Me.
"For the first time, this new album is really much more me," she said. As for the pop sound and the relative lack of twang, she said: "That's just how they came out sounding."
Rodriguez's solo debut recalls the intricate polish of Lyle Lovett's big-band country, with significant contributions from avant-garde guitarist Bill Frisell and pedal-steel player Greg Leisz. Like Lovett's music, it has country clothing but lives somewhere else.
The big-haired Texan has been an obvious influence on her. He is a friend of her father, David Rodriguez, and included one of his songs on his Step Inside This House tribute to Lone Star State songwriters. He also had her sit in with his band at a sound check while she was a student at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
That audition didn't go well, but at his show that night she was inspired by fiddler Andrea Zonn to abandon classical music. "I want to be able to do what's she's doing," she recalled.
She eventually got to perform one of her father's songs on stage with Lovett while a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Her new record is surprisingly different from the first, and it seems to deliberately avoid anything too country. Rodriguez said her label didn't pressure her, but the songs seem to fit the company's aims. "If you get labeled as an Americana artist, people put you in a category and sort of leave you there," Rodriguez said. "I know that the label was hoping that this wouldn't just be considered an Americana record."
It's not that Rodriguez is uncomfortable outside of roots music. Her voice is both expressive and adaptable to the material, sometimes sounding like Kasey Chambers on the country stuff and Jenny Lewis on songs less tied to a genre.
Producer Malcolm Burn, Rodriguez said, has "this super-dark, warm kind of overall sound that he gives things. So it's never going to be bubblegum."
And she wrote several songs with Gary Louris (formerly of the Jayhawks), even though they'd never met before their scribbling sessions. "I just had this feeling that the two of us together could write some really cool songs," she said. "His melodic sensibility really speaks to me. He writes really simple, direct songs that have beautiful melodies. ... I feel like my melodies and the music part seem to be pretty dark all the time. ... He's to me a little bit more sunny, bright-sounding melodies."
She said her reason for writing with other people is simple: "I like seeing how other songwriters do it."
Slowly, Rodriguez has grown into her own singer/songwriter, with encouragement and help from performers such as Taylor, Alejandro Escovedo (with whom she toured as both an opening act and a band member), and Lucinda Williams.
"I now can express more emotion with my voice than I think I can with the violin," Rodriguez said. "Maybe that's just because I haven't been practicing as much on the violin."
There's something "immediate and direct about the human voice," she said. "I just love being surrounded by music, and then I love singing and being a part of that. It's a very physical sensation."
Yet she didn't considered herself a singer or a songwriter. Even after Berklee, Rodriguez had no sense of her path. "Singing never occurred to me," she said.
Taylor asked her if she had ever done backing vocals, and "I think I lied and said I had. I really wanted the gig." She didn't write a song until she started working with him.
She still doesn't consider herself a singer.
"People ask me ... what I do," she said, "and I still often answer, ‘I play the violin.'"
Carrie Rodriguez will perform at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street in Davenport) on Wednesday, November 12. The show starts at 8 p.m., with Romantica opening. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information or tickets, visit RedstoneRoom.com.
For more information on Rodriguez, visit CarrieRodriguez.com.
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