New Sound Magazine March 2008 IssueDetailed interview with Vermont Jazz/Blues/Soul Artist –
HALF PINT *NSM
So, why do people call you Half-Pint? *Half Pint
- I noticed several Blues artists of the past have nicknames, and I liked that and wanted one for myself. My musician friends started calling me Red Hot Mama, but I was never too sure about that! I've been told several times that if you only heard my voice without actually seeing me, you would assume I am a woman of some size when considering the size of my sound and yet I'm under 5 feet. Thinking about how powerful contrast is and wanting something relative to the Blues scene, I decided to go with Half Pint, a nickname I remembered from childhood afternoons listening to Laura's dad from "Little House on the Prairie" call her that. It's all a bit goofy, I suppose, but I'm happy with it nonetheless. *NSM
I think everyone starts to sing at a very young age, but when did you realize that you could sing? *Half Pint
- My parents sent my three sisters, my brother and myself to Harand, a theater/sports camp in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. I was just about 9 and this was my first exposure to musical theater, and I was cast as "Puss" in "The Master Cat." By the end of the summer, I had fallen in love with performing.
I returned to Arizona and was entering 4th grade when I decided to audition for a community theater run of "Madeline." I honestly wasn't sure if there would be a spot for me, and when I called to see if I was anywhere on the cast list, I was floored and elated to learn I had been cast in the lead role of Madeline. In that moment, I realized not only that I could sing, I could sing well. *NSM
What is your ideal recording environment? *Half Pint
- What a fun question. There are so many different recording environments to consider and get excited about, but you did ask for my ideal, so I'm going with - an empty train-car somewhere in the Vermont mountains.
I definitely think the recording environment plays a big role in the vibe captured within the recorded music. The idea of a deserted train-car, for me, brings feelings of mystery and history into the project. Cassandra Wilson recorded one of her albums in a train-car; I love the album.
I must also mention that recording live is of great appeal to me. Having my audience present is the best way to fill up my space with powerful vibes and I notice a difference in how I'm performing when I'm live vs. in the studio. Recording in a contained environment has it's perks, for sure, but that live vibe is where so much of the magic lives. *NSM
Is it fair to say that you would rather perform live than in the studio? *Half Pint
- Though I love working in the studio and look forward to recording my second album, I am definitely a live performer at heart. Hearing the audience respond and seeing their emotional state change in front of your own eyes is quite exhilarating. *NSM
If you could name one aspect of your music career that you feel you need to work on what would it be? *Half Pint
- Well, I would like to learn to read and write the language of music so I can better facilitate communicating with the band members what I want or need musically and be capable of preparing my own charts.
I am presently learning to play the guitar and it's coming along with turtle-like speed. Curling my fingers around the neck is a challenge on its own! But, I'm determined to learn even if it takes me what feels like forever.
I also have been dabbling on the piano. (My 9 year old daughter gives me "lessons" every now and then.)
At some point, I may take a music theory class; I'm sure it would be worthwhile. *NSM
What made you want to learn the guitar and piano? Was it to better understand music or have you always wanted to play those instruments? *Half Pint
- My answer is both…I’m certain I will better understand music and its form as I continue to explore the guitar and piano and dabbled around on both instruments as a child. I’m going for both because sometimes I feel like plucking or strumming a sound and other times I feel like touching and pressing to create a sound. Plus, the guitar is easy to pack up and take along when in the mood to grab a “lesson” from a friend (because what I’ve got so far could not pass for playing!) *NSM
Your musical influence list is pretty amazing and diverse. Can you pick a couple of your biggest ones and explain why they have had an impact on you musically? *Half Pint
- Billie Holiday- She is all emotion and I love that about her art. I remember not understanding what was so popular about her sound the first time I heard her, but with a subsequent listen, the magic of her authentic expressions secured my loyalty as a great fan of her work.
Janis Joplin- She is also all emotion, but unlike Billie, she has no inhibition about expressing with bursting jolts of power and sexual tension. As a vocalist, she was a free bird and I definitely value that. It certainly made for impressive vocal art.
Koko Taylor- She sings from her gut and by the time her sound makes its way out of her mouth, it's pretty darn meaty. Her growls and yelps are such primitive sounds and have a perfect home inside Blues music. When I sing from my gut, it feels powerful and hearty. Nobody belts the Blues better than the "Chicago Queen of Blues," Mrs. Koko Taylor! She is definitely an "earth shaker," still performing today and should not be missed! *NSM
If you had the chance to choose one artist (dead or alive) to perform with, who would you choose and tell us what it would be like. *Half Pint
- It would be an incredible thrill to perform with James Brown. I saw him perform live in Rochester, NY just a few months before he passed and it was smokin' hot! I would love to wait in the wings as he began to sing, "It's a man's world, but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl." Then I would take the stage, take the song, take the moment and make it all mine; with James joining me in a duet at the tail end of the performance. *NSM
How do you prepare for a show? *Half Pint
- I come from a theater background and we liked to rehearse prior to the performance. I have come to find that the majority of musicians don't feel the need to rehearse, so ultimately there's a good deal of improvising on stage. Though we map out a set-list and select keys, most of the choices about a tune are "talked down" on stage just prior to performing it. This can leave room for error, but more often than not, it makes way for something spontaneous and magical!
A few things I can and actually do prior to a show include; a vocal warm-up, drinking water, becoming quiet, visualizing myself on stage and changing my outfit several times! *NSM
You mentioned that you found most musicians “don’t feel the need to rehearse” before a show. Are you referring to Blues musicians or musicians in general? *Half Pint
- No, not musicians in general (in my personal experience). For the most part, the Blues musicians I have worked with don’t feel rehearsals are vital. I can only conclude that they like to improvise and lean toward the idea that rehearsals can snuff the freshness factor right out of the equation.
On the other hand, the Jazz musicians that I’ve had the pleasure to work with subscribe to the theory that rehearsals will create confidence in form and from there improvisation can run free.
Ultimately, I love both the Blues and Jazz musicians and would always root for rehearsing with either group. When needed, I’m not opposed to a little push for rehearsals! Balance is a key thought here. Truth is, the definition of balance can vary a great deal. Oh, those variables! For one, rehearsals build confidence (which is a most alluring quality) and when the band knows “what’s up” the band can relax and let their passion come through their instrument with out inhibition. For two, rehearsals provide a great venue to bond with the other band mates in a ’behind the scene” kind of way. And finally, if you rehearse you’re more likely to sound better and sounding your best is the biggest part of the picture. I think of James Brown and his approach to rehearsing…he was a tough cookie, to say the least, but more importantly, his band(s) were TIGHT and that was due mainly from hours of rehearsal. *NSM
Have there ever been any crazy mishaps while you were on stage? Tell us what you've had to deal with and how you've handled it. *Half Pint
- Honestly, nothing crazy has yet to happen on stage that tossed me off my game.
I do remember being dropped on my face when performing in a musical and I was back on my feet before I ever hit the ground. I was the ghost of Fruma Sarah in "Fiddler on the Roof" and I was sitting on top of my partners shoulders covered in a huge white sheet. We entered the theater and proceeded to travel down the aisle toward the stage with a bright red spotlight on us. As we approached the stairs that led up to the stage, my partner became blind by the spotlight and tripped on the stairs…and I went flying!! Well, it ain't over 'til the little lady sings!! For the record, I no longer travel on shoulders when taking the stage! *NSM
You mention that after your family moved to Vermont you felt more alive and began to crave performing again. What is it about Vermont that made you want to reconnect with the music scene? *Half Pint
- So yeah, I do mention in my bio that I "began to crave performing again," but the truth is that I never stopped craving performing.
My last involvement in musical theater was when I was pregnant with my daughter. At that point, I turned my performing interests into developing a restaurant concept, securing investors and seizing a location all in an effort to create a space that was about theater of food (I've always loved cooking for people). I saw myself as the "director" and a "performer" of a daily show. My employees were my cast and my menu was the meat of our show. In the end, this endeavor sucked more life out of me than uplifted me, and the decision to close this "show" was reached and activated. I decided to take a step back and reflect on my choices and ultimately I realized that though I loved the idea of theater of food, it was a secondary dream to my desire to be in the entertainment industry.
It was time to put my "first" dream first. I packed up my family and moved to Vermont for a summer of reflection and by the time the summer came to an end, I was certain that I didn't want to return to Arizona and that I needed to be singing or I might shrivel up into a pile of defeat.
Being in Vermont grounded me in a way Scottsdale never did. Maybe because the presence of money, competition and success didn't rise to the top. Feelings of genuine heart and the pursuit of inner happiness seemed to be the priority of Vermonters' and I related and gravitated towards that.
During this summer of reflection, I wrote a song called "Happiness Is A Place Called Vermont" that helps express how I was feeling about Vermont and have included it below. Happiness is a place called Vermont.
That's where I want to be.
A sweet life in Vermont,
Where my soul runs free.
There's magic in the ground.
Heartfelt people everywhere.
Not one of them gives a damn
'bout the size of your wallet.
They just don 't care.
Friends come together at the Bean,
An indie artists' dream.
Some folks head for the world class Flynn,
A night at the theater, takin' it all in.
Ah, that sweet life in Vermont.
That's where I want to be.
Happiness is a place called Vermont,
Where my soul runs free.
Those greenest mountains, how deep they care.
Granting the colors of autumn, for all to share.
Yellows, golds, reds and greens.
My heart floods with hope,
My soul simply beams.
In the summertime,
There isn't a care.
We pick berries in the sun,
Then head downtown for a fair.
There's magic in the ground.
Heartfelt people everywhere.
Not one of them gives a damn
'bout the size or your wallet.
They just don't care.
Oh, that sweet life in Vermont.
That's where you'll find me.
A simple life in Vermont,
Where my soul runs free.
In conclusion, I believe that there were several things that culminated into my commitment to pursue my singing dreams when I first arrived in Vermont... It's important to mention that my cousin was a professional musician in Burlington and after going to several of his performances I realized that I kept saying to myself, "I should be up there singing with him." I thought about getting involved in the local theater scene, but the idea of being myself on stage without costumes or a character to portray had tremendous appeal. I was always successful as an actor and the idea of being a lead singer in a band was wildly stimulating and somewhat daunting, but not trying at all was far more daunting to me…so I placed an ad in Seven Days (which I saved as a favorite memento) and had one hell of a response! It's all history form there, baby!! *NSM
You have a number of amazing musicians performing on your songs. How did you come across them? *Half Pint
- I was living in Arizona and knew I was going to move back to Vermont in just a few months. I was eager to map out my life in Vermont and manifest my music future, so I decided to start looking up Vermont recording studios, bands and musicians in an effort to figure out what it was going to take to do my next recording project. (Even though I wasn't physically in Vermont yet, in my mind I was definitely already there!)
I knew Vermont was rich with talent, especially in the Jazz and Blues genres. I must mention that the musical climate in Arizona was more Country and Metal, with a tiny Blues scene.
Ultimately, I was able step into a friends recording studio to have the pleasure of recording a demo with Fred Green, a talented local funk band, and wanted more experiences like that. I was hoping to pass the demo on to a local Vermont music "producer" who could mentor this project. I felt like such a "newbie" and was salivating at the idea of making a mastered recording with guidance from someone with experience.
I found my cousins' album that was recorded in Vermont and I turned it over to see where he had done the recording. I looked up the studio on the Internet and wasn't compelled to make a connection there. I searched further until I came across Charles Eller Studios in Charlotte, and I was immediately impressed with the site, Charles, his studio, the tone and vibe present and decided to email him. I told him a bit about myself, what I wanted to make happen once I arrived in Vermont and attached my demo recordings.
I had no idea if this would amount to anything, but off the email went and to my complete surprise, I received back a lengthy response which included the desire to work with me on a full-length Blues cover album with "The Unknown Blues Band" backing me! "Kilimanjaro," the internationally successful Jazz band is "The Unknown Blues Band," by the way!
My manifesting was truly working! Once I secured the band, I went hunting for additional local musicians to provide harp, horns and a little of this and that. I found these musicians through all sorts of connections…names that Charles Eller suggested, names from my cousin, names from my vocal coach, Craigslist ads…it appeared to me that the Vermont music scene was dense, full of talent, cross-pollinated and very welcoming of my sound and project.
Before I knew what had hit me, I had corralled thirteen local top-notch music makers into my project. At that point, I decided that I wanted every participant on this project to be a local Vermonter and, with the exception of the album manufacturing, that goal has been achieved. *NSM
Describe the journey from meeting these musicians to making the record. *Half Pint
- I first met Charles Eller, my pianist and the studio owner, via email. We then chatted on the phone about tunes to consider, how many should be up-tempo/down-tempo, dates of availability and the such.
Though our plans were to record during the month of July, I returned back to the West coast for family reasons, and we postponed the recording until October. The recording dates arrived, and I eagerly showed up to the studio at 10am. The thought of belting the Blues at 10am was somewhat questionable, but I signed up for this and moving forward was the only direction I was willing to accept from myself!
We recorded almost everything in 2 full days and let me tell you, "The Unknown Blues Band" floored me with their effortless music magic. After playing together for more than 20 years, they were able to have "it" in the pocket with no more than three or four takes. It was simply amazing to be present and a part of these creations.
Over the next several months, I would pop into the studio in between my mother duties to preview the tracks, decide on which track would make the album, punch (replace one riff hopefully for a better one) ever so gingerly where it seemed prudent, check the over-all times of the tracks…and ultimately decide to replace one recording for a different song all together and add two additional, streamed down "porchy" tunes.
Originally, we were to record two tracks with me on vocals and Paul Asbell on guitar, but the time was never right, so I moved forward with my buddy Bob Mackenzie on Harp and Geoffrey Kim on guitar. We enjoyed making those two recordings, and I think it shows up on the final product.
We mastered all 11 final tracks in December of 2007 and, since the beginning of the new year, I have been waiting on one last license. I've thought about dropping the song off the album so I can get it out, but instead I keep pushing for the license. Though I have received the "go ahead" from the publishing house that owns the rights to this particular song, I have yet to receive the license and without it, DiscMakers (my album manufacturer) will not print the album. I think I may have to show up at the publishing company's office and pick up this license in person. I really think I'm going to do this, because waiting is not what I'm attempting to manifest!
NOTE...as I post this interwiew I am marveling at how I still haven't received my last license...I'm drawing a line in the sand on Oct 1st (that will be almost a year since we completed the recordings...yeah, that's waiting long enough)! IT'S TIME.
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