"Right Where I Should Be" is Joyce Andersens report card on her life and career. Why shouldnt she be pleased with "As" across the board? Glad to be living in York, Maine; glad to be living and collaborating with Harvey Reid. Best of all for a working musician, thrilled with the early response to her second solo album.
The Boston Globe has called for an interview. Minnesota Public
Radios morning show wants to interview her and make the album its feature
play for the week. An Illinois DJ has put her on his personal Top 20 chart where
she currently rests at #3, just two slots behind Bob Dylan. And it hasnt
even been released.
Shes come a long way, baby, from the young Durham girl who
began playing the classical violin at age 9 and, growing up, listened to Top
After graduating from the University of Vermont, she made a living for 10 years singing and playing in the bluegrass bands of her native New England, the jazz clubs of New York City, for a short time, on Nashvilles tour bus, and in Japan.
Incidentally, she loved Nashville, leaving for an affair of the
heart. It was exciting, going every Tuesday night to see the best bluegrass
in the world, Del McCoury and the Sidemen. Playing fiddle tunes with them in
the back room and her first fiddle gig on the bus tour were blasts, too.
From there it was a lengthy list of recording and performance credits. At Bostons renowned Berklee College of Music she studied jazz fiddle, and music theory and was exposed to a lot of music. In retrospect, the best part of her Berklee experience may have been her opportunity to play in rock, bluegrass, and country bands.
Right now, Andersen says, she is "focusing on becoming an
artist in my own right, a singer/songwriter who happens to play a mean fiddle."
She likes to incorporate the fiddle into her songwriting and she plays it in
a variety of styles.
Her mastery of the fiddle is no mystery. As with most gifted people
who hit it big, she also works very hard. Most of all, shes thankful she
fell in love with bluegrass at the Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival in Maine
because it forced her to become more serious about the instrument.
Andersen is convinced the best way to become a real fiddler is
to stay up all night at a bluegrass festival playing at whatever jam sessions
you come across. "Not bad homework if you ask me."
She loves Billie Holiday and the swing standards from her days
at Berklee. (As an aside, Andersen never met Holiday but has met some of her
other heroes. She has concluded that meeting them, warts and all, is not always
for the best.
Every year Andersen joins up with Childsplay, a fiddle orchestra
of talented fiddlers who play in old time contra dance and Irish style. "They
remind me of how much great fiddle music is out there."
In 2002, they went to Sweden, "land of the beautiful fiddlers,"
and she added some Swedish tunes to her repertoire. Now she also knows more
Swedish tunes than any others from Scandinavia. Since shes Danish by heritage
and loves Norway, she covers all the bases by describing herself as "Scandihoovian."
She and musician Harvey Reid also play tons of festivals, mostly
during the summer months, keeping her on her "A-team" fiddler toes.
She is always searching for new material. "Pretty Sylvia," about a strong, sassy woman testing her lovers courage, came from songs collected by Anne and Frank Warner. She was thrilled to discover their main source was a N.H. woman in the 1940s.
Andersen started taking voice lessons in New York City "so
Id know how to get out of my own way." Mission accomplished. From
that point on, it was just practice and more practice.
Songwriting, on the other hand, is still mysterious, despite her
obvious knack for the perfect phrase, the right mood, and melody. "If I
understood how it happened, Id be writing songs all the time."
Inspiration comes from a myriad of sources. "Another song,
something someone says, a feeling, an event, but how that translates into a
fragment of a lyric with a melody? Well, thats just the mystery of it
all. "I usually get very excited when Im onto something though. I
can feel there is a song there and I have to be open enough for it to come to
me, but not too controlling."
Sometimes you know what to say and sometimes the songs lead the
way. On the new album, for example, "Thomas" and "Molina Ericksen"
started writing themselves, obviously informed by Andersens love of old
songs. "Thomas was modal sounding and a little creepy but it
ended up having quite a positive ending which I wasnt expecting,"
Laughingly, she points out the "high brow" heritage
of the "Strange Elation" second verse. A letter from dance legend
Martha Graham to Isadora Duncan, an equally legendary danseuse, had rattled
around in her head for eight years. Andersen uses it as a mantra "in times
of doubt. Many of the songs have both ache and happy ending. Quoting from the
opening cut on the album, the haunting "Strange Elation," she reminds
us that the two are "always in close relation, joy and sorrow."
As for achieving and handling success, Andersen doesnt seem
concerned. "Harvey (Reid) is a great model of how you can take matters
into your hands in a business that can be frustrating." Shed love
to have someone backing her, but shes not going to worry about it either.
Besides, she says, "The big labels are dead and Im way too old and
independent." She was reminded, while talking with her Mr. Everyman seatmate
on a flight back from her California tour, "There is no shame in being
an independent artist anymore (e.g., Ani Di Franco). Im part of a generation
that may not know any other way to do it." Still, "If youre
making music that moves people, you have to find a way to get your music to
Andersen is just beginning to get her music to the people. In
the meantime, she has no big tours or new albums planned. She and Reid will
do their usual summer festivals and may put out another duet album in the wake
of the success of "The Great Sad River."
Andersen has no regrets about leaving New York, Nashville, Japan,
or any other of the previous ports of call for her and her fiddle. Like the
violin, she has left the touring life in the rear view mirror, although she
likes to visit occasionally.
It was fun "to work up the waltz on my CD, its a bit
violinistic," but, generally, shell save the classical stuff for
her old age. She loved the diversity of New York and gets a rush every time
she visits but Nashville and New York, like most big cities, are difficult places
for gigging musicians, who almost have to pay for the privilege. In the countryside,
life is easier.
Whatever happens, Andersen is the quintessential happy camper.
"Im as thankful as ever to be living in the musically rich Seacoast
area. I love being able to go out in Portsmouth any night in the week and hear
good live music. Its not like this everywhere. Were lucky."
Yes, we are. With live musicians like Joyce Andersen and the hundreds
of others who have forsaken the touring life for the Seacoast music scene, our
cup frequently runneth over. Support your local musicians.