By James Barker, Staff Writer
As much as I love country pop and the music coming out of Nashville, sometimes I prefer a more traditional sound. So I was delighted to interview Melissa Carper, who will be releasing her second solo album: ‘Daddy’s Country Gold’ this Friday, March 19th. We’re also thrilled to host the exclusive premiere of ‘Old Fashioned Gal,’ which Carper has described as her “gayest song.” (At bottom.)
With a mix of classic country, western swing and jazz, and her own modern lyrical, vocal and songwriting style, “Daddy’s Country Gold” is one of Country Queer’s most eagerly anticipated releases of the year.
Carper has been working to perfect her craft for a number years, which is evident when you hear the quality of the songs on the new record (which includes reworked songs originally recorded as part of the trio The Carper Family.) From listening to her parents’ classic country records, to discovering jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, to seeing street performers in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and traveling between music hubs like New Orleans, New York City, Austin and Nashville, Carper soaks up musical influences wherever she goes.
The songs that Carper has already released from the new record are impressive, with their classic sound and lyrics that are nostalgic, yet vital; poignant yet with a warm sense of humor. (Check out my colleague Eryn Brother’s review of the lead single ‘Makin’ Memories’.)
It was lovely to talk to Carper about her music, the new album (including the story behind ‘Old Fashioned Gal’), and what it means for her to be an openly LGBTQ+ artist.
How would you describe your kind of country music?
I think it probably has a lot of a traditional feel and sound to it. I love listening to the old country music: Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn. And that’s kind of what I grew up with, listening to my parents’ collection and we had a family band, we played that old country music. It feels like it’s been a part of me since I was a little kid and I’ve just only grown to love that kind of country more and more. When I write a song, I think that influence definitely comes out.
So yeah, I’d say traditional and a lot of the songs on ‘Daddy’s Country Gold’ have a little bit of western swing influence and jazz influence and I love that kind of music too. I also fell in love with all kinds of old jazz vocalists once I discovered that music and that’s definitely been an influence as well.
What do you think the particular appeal is of your kind of classic country for listeners in 2021?
I guess for folks who like that old, traditional sound, I think we did capture that in this recording, and we recorded with a live band in a room and get that real raw sound. Personally, I love any recording that sounds that way. The more real and raw the better I love the recording. It doesn’t even have to be that high quality of sound. I feel like people will appreciate that sound, especially having gotten used to more slick produced sounding stuff out of the country world and maybe it’ll actually sound kind of refreshing to go backwards in time a bit. That’s what I’m hoping, at least.
I love all kinds of music, all kinds of the Americana stuff coming out, it’s just nice to have that diversity in the sounds and to still have a more traditional sound as well if that’s what you want to listen to. I feel like there’s been a resurgence in that with recordings that are coming out.
What can listeners expect from the new album?
I guess a mix of everything I just was mentioning: some kind of traditional sounding country songs, a little bit of western swing and a few that might even be considered jazz. They can expect to hear an incredible band backing me up. I got to record with some amazing musicians in Nashville:
Dennis Crouch playing bass on most of it, I played bass on a few and he also helped produce; Chris Scruggs on guitar: rhythm guitar and also steel guitar; Jeff Taylor on piano and some accordion; Matty Meyer on drums; and then Billy Contreras on fiddle: my girlfriend Rebecca Patek also plays fiddle. Also Brennan Leigh, Sierra Ferrell and Noel McKay add some beautiful harmonies so it’s pretty full band representation on a lot of my songs and all the musicians just did an incredible job. I couldn’t have imagined it turning out more beautiful, I’m so happy with it.
I’m really looking forward to hearing the new album in full. One of the new songs: ‘Old Fashioned Gal’, which you originally did with The Carper Family, what was it like revisiting some of these songs that had been recorded before?
I did want to showcase them and get them out there. This is only my second solo album and it feels good to have an album that represents my songwriting, and the entire album is my songs. In terms of a fresh sound and take, the musicians that played on the album are responsible for that, I would say, and the producers envisioned what each song would be instrumentally. So Andrija Tokic, who also recorded the album at The Bomb Shelter, also produced, and Dennis Crouch produced too.
If it was up to me, I’d probably have played the song the same old way, so it was wonderful to get these musicians in on it, to make a fresh sound. What ended up happening with a lot of the songs, and I didn’t anticipate this, is we kind of played them at a slower tempo than what I had gotten used to playing them at, which gave them more breath. The more you play a song over and over, what I’ve noticed that I do and has happened a lot of times is I’ll speed it up; you know, you kinda get bored with it, but a lot of times it’s not necessarily where the song sounds its best. Sometimes when you first start playing it at its natural tempo, is a little slower. That happened on a lot of the songs and it was really nice.
I can definitely hear that. Can you say a bit about ‘Old Fashioned Gal’, what the song means to you, and what you hope your listeners take away from it?
That’s actually in reference to an old girlfriend of mine. We met in Austin, Texas and she wanted to move back to West Virginia eventually, and live in the country. She would talk about that, and I actually did live with her in West Virginia for a few months and in some beautiful country. That is represented in the song, a lot of the flowers and the atmosphere of being in the country, and talking about ramps which is kind of an Appalachian thing. It’s similar to onions, but it’s different and they only grow in a certain area. That song was kind of a love song that came out that period of my life.
One thing I appreciate about this song and one of your earlier songs, ‘Christian Girlfriend,’ is hearing openly LGBTQ+ lyrics that just feel naturally part of the country social world, and that’s something that I find really quite affirming and powerful just to hear that in a country song.
Oh, thank you. That was on ‘Arkansas Bound’, my other solo album – and I’ve also played that with a lot of bands. ‘Christian Girlfriend’ I wrote a long time ago, maybe even 20 years ago now, and a lot of that song comes from being raised in a Christian family. I was brought up to believe that it was a sin to be gay, and so I struggled with that for a long time.
The references in the song, a lot of that is kind of being sarcastic and trying to incorporate a sense of humor, but in something that was actually quite a struggle, and so I created this confused notion of what I need is a Christian girlfriend, and some of the lines in there about ‘the good Lord willing we’ll have a couple babies’ and all that. I’m glad you found that one out there in the world. A part of that song too is the notion that you can be a Christian, and you can be gay, and it’s okay and that actually Jesus’ true message is to love and accept everyone.
Amen to that! Sometimes there is this perception about who country is and isn’t for. There are a lot of conversations currently happening in the country music industry right now after T.J. Osborne coming out and Black Lives Matter, about who’s made to feel like they belong, or that they don’t belong. What are your thoughts on the conversations that are taking place in country right now, and where would you want them to go?
I guess I’m not even quite aware of what the conversation is. Somebody told me about Osborne coming out, that’s great. I feel like the more that people playing traditional sounding music, country music that are coming out, the world is going to be more accepting the more they see it; so it’s great that’s going in that direction, and I’m happy to be part of that.
Country Queer is a publication that is all about elevating LGBTQ+ voices in country music and Americana; was there anything you particularly wanted to say to our readers?
I’m just really happy and proud that I can be a part of it, part of what feels like a movement. I’ve been able to have several interviews now from different folks from Country Queer and have gotten in different publications. I just feel proud that I can be part of it and introduce folks to my music.
What’s coming up next for you?
The [album] release is March 19th, and I will be doing a release show here in Texas, and then I have some shows up in Arkansas. And I just booked a Nashville show for June, where I’ll be getting a bunch of the folks that played on the album to play with me, and that show will be at the Station Inn, June 17th, and I know they have a way of watching that show online – and that’s going to be a good one because I’m going to have Dennis Crouch on bass. I’ll actually be playing rhythm guitar because I want Dennis on bass and then I’ll have a lot of the folks that were on the album, so I’m excited about that one.
I also do a Monday night live stream from my Facebook page (Melissa Carper Music) and I do that 6pm Central time. My girlfriend Rebecca plays with me, so we’ve been doing that about a month or so. We have a band, me and my girlfriend, called The Buffalo Gals Band, and we have a live stream we do every Wednesday night at 6:30 Central time. When I play shows, that’s the main group I play in these days, just the duo with my girlfriend.
‘Daddy’s Country Gold’ is out March 19, on all streaming platforms and CD and Vinyl of the album are available to order from her website: http://www.melissacarper.com.