It Takes So Much Raw Nerve To Be An Artist
Skipping around to the present, this first quarter 2021. We are prepping for the new album, Mermaid Under A Desert moon – the lost sessions – 1987-2002. “Why is the album called this?” people are asking me. I have written 100s and 100s of songs over the last 40 plus years as an Americana singer-songwriter. I spent the last year going through DATS and hard drives and baking 2 inch tape and remixing and re-recording timeless songs I had written years ago – plus a bunch more recent ones I am sneaking in – to put this first of a trilogy of three albums out over the next 18-24 months. The project is ambitious.
The first single IS Mermaid Under A Desert Moon. I actually wrote the original version with the extremely talented Pacific Northwest guitarist Mike Mattingly. Mike and I wrote a lot of songs back in the day and were in the Lara Lavi band together for a spell. We wrote the original version of Terri’s Garden with Charles Neville on saxophone which was my first real hit off the Inside The Red Room album that came out in the late 90’s while the grunge era of Seattle was erupting.
Nothing like being an Americana artist during a period where everyone else was on a cathartic rampage in Seattle. Still this period earned me a record deal with A&M Records and a new term with Warner Chapel Publishing.
Mermaid Under A Desert Moon is about the duality I talk about a lot – about feeling displaced in the desert when I belong in the sea – metamorphically speaking. When I was going through all the music that was piling up all these decades I stumbled on a cassette tape of Mermaid. I never released this song. The original version – I can still remember Mike pecking away at a rudimentary drum machine in my Leschi lake house while we recorded the riff. The guitar hook is what really hit me with the song but overall. I never released the song for a couple reasons.
One, I felt like the mix was just so damn wet – reverb on everything. The second thing is my vocal style has changed over the years – seriously I truly believe it has improved. I don’t use a throaty glottal stop constantly anymore in my vocal delivery – I use other emotions and techniques to evoke the angst of a song. The other thing is, while singing for the SongCatchers, one of the vocal deliveries in a song called Give Me Freedom which my husband and bassist Maurice Jones Jr. produced – just transformed my vocal style to this dreamier smoother delivery with a more subtle note bending technique while still pushing the timing of the phrases kind of vocal that I was yearning to hear again in my vocal delivery. I felt Mermaid was the perfect song to examine this vocal style and give it another try.
So with all that in mind, I approached my son Cameron Lavi-Jones and my dear friend, producer arranger Phillip Peterson and asked if we could go into the studio and re-record this song for the new album. So technically it is a fresh recording, but the song was written decades ago.
I am very proud that the songwriting itself is timeless. The productions are a different thing as depending on the era, the mixes sound like the era they were recorded in. So back in the day, tons of reverb was the thing. Not so much now.
Cameron, Phil and I went into the studio – we dragged Maurice in to to play bass, and we started over. I didn’t have anyone prepped – I wanted a very spontaneous response to the original song – just me singing the melody to them and they heard the original enough to grab a few chord changes. I told them I wanted the new version to sound very little like the original version.
Cameron brought a ton of guitars including this 12 string tipple mini guitar from Brazil for a more mandolin sound. Phil brought his acoustic cello and his amazing energy and whirlwind of inspiration. Maurice was kind enough to give us space until his time to play came.
And then I just watched my son Cameron go into action producing with input from Phil. Cameron playing first acoustic guitars then drum sounds then electric guitars then the tipple, then helping produce the bass, then the cello – some of this we all did live and then recut some things but vocally, it came together like a spirit animal emerging from the ether. It sounded middle eastern and Americana and dark and dramatic and it swirled into a huge build and in the end, with even our friend rapper Macntaj adding some vocalizing somewhere in the mix, it was just seriously a masterpiece. It will be fun to hear where the mix lands with Cameron and our friend Justin Armstrong sorting through all the layers of track – good luck on that.
And all through it was Cameron – pushing and creating and unstoppable and what hit me was that as a mother, I had actually given him the greatest gift you can give an artist. I had given him the freedom to break the family chain of a life of perpetual duality and instead, be a pure creator without the chains of another unrelated irrelevant career to his life as an artist, a producer and an engineer.
That day into the night at Studio Sage is one I will never forget. I realized then that it takes so much raw nerve to be a working artist. I am blessed to be able to work a great deal on so many creative levels with my son Cameron Lavi-Jones who is just so totally the real deal.
And this title track for the new album is the evidence of who Cameron has become and what I am capable of as an artist collaborating with him.