New Hampshire Public Radio Interview with John Walters on the "Front Porch" 9/21/01
[Excerpt of "The Great Sad River" plays...]John Walters: The voices of two talented performers from the seacoast, Harvey Reid, a long time singer and instrumentalist and Joyce Andersen fiddler, singer, guitarist and songwriter. they've collaborated on a new cd "The Great Sad River" harvey Reid has already been a guest on the front porch so we wanted to have Joyce in to talk about their joint project and her own music. Joyce, welcome to the front porch.
Joyce Andersen: Thanks so nice to be here.
When did you first pick up a violin?
Well I started taking lessons when I was nine. I started playing classical music and it wasn't until much later that I discovered fiddling. Like many people I hadn't been exposed to many other styles of music.
I had a brief encounter with the violin when I think I was about probably nine years old and I just never could get the hang of it. There's no frets or anything. It's kind of tough to start. I think a lot of kids who take it up quickly drop it. What hooked you?
I've always loved music, there was something musical inside of me. But I'm lucky that I stuck with it as long as I did. I think my parents had a lot of patience to keep paying for lessons, actually, but I'm grateful because if provided me with a lot of chops. I put it down in college, but what really got me going was when I discovered non-classical idioms such as bluegrass and old-time, that's when I really caught on fire.
Was that in college?
It was after, it was when I came back to the seacoast and I went down to the Pressroom. On friday night they have an Irish session there, they're still going at it.Tom Hall and all those folks. I learned my first fiddle tune and I went upstairs and heard Harvey Reid...it's just such a musically rich area...I got hooked.
What did you listen when you were a teenager, the usual stuff?
Yeah, the usual stuff. commercial radio, dare I say. Now I'm a big non-commercial radio fan I must say (laughter). But yeah, pretty much everything kids my age were listening to, top 40.
What, I don't know if you can define it, but what sparked your interest in traditional music as opposed to something that would be more contemporary?
Well...playing it. It was just that I could be a part of it. I had chops from being a violin player and when I started playing Irish tunes, actually playing the music is what inspired me. It's so fun. I fell in love with bluegrass music at the Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival and stayed up all night playing it...it's infectious when you're a part of it.
You had the chops in some senses, and in other senses I would think it would be very different to play fiddle as opposed to violin.
Yeah, it's not for everybody. I see some classical violinists try and play fiddle and it's just not their calling so much and you can hear that they're classically trained. I like to think you can kind of hear that I'm classically trained sometimes, but I also like to feel I can trick people into thinking I've been fiddling my whole life. [Laughter]
And also I would think you might want them to think not only that you were fiddling but also singing and playing a long time, and you just got out of the mountains of West Virginia.
I'm not trying to trick people, per say, but the music comes naturally. I just discovered it a little later than some people. No I wasn't born in the blue ridge mountains. I did grow up hiking in the White Mountains, though, [laughter] so maybe it translated somehow.
Mountain music of one sort or another. I wanted to play something from your solo album "The Girl I Left Behind" which came out last year. This is a song you wrote with a very traditional sound. It's called "Ramblin' Man" (plays Ramblin' Man) It does sound ageless, both the singer and the song.
Yeah, I'm proud of that one. That was one of the first songs where it really didn't sound like I had written it. It just kind of came through me. It's a mysterious thing how that happens.
What do you get out of writing in a traditional style? How does that fit you and your view of the world?
I love being rooted in music that has existed for a long time. When I sing traditional songs I can feel the women and men that have been singing those songs for ages before me. I feel grounded. It feels deep. And writing something that doesn't necessarily sound like it was written in the 1990s...I'd like for people to think it could have been written in the 1890s or the 1990s.
When you sing old songs, which you also do, are you harkening back to an earlier time or do you think they have sort of a special resonance today?
Well, it's funny, a song I'm singing a lot right now, has all the cliche lines from old-time country songs 'Who's gonna shoe your pretty little feet?' But that song is just a vehicle to express myself. I don't know that it matters when it was written. They are timeless metaphors. When I write music now I don't find myself wanting to write about the internet or email or cell phones.
Even though you have a website.
Yeah. So I'm very happy to be using the internet to my advantage. Having a website is enabling me to sell my recordings to people all over the country. But, the music..people are really hungry for authentic music that is not reminding them of the internet. I think we're overwhelmed by the modern day conveniences that we have and I think we like to escape into a time when things were more authentic. Harvey and I just played a gig down at Passim and in the middle of the show, nowhere near encore time, we played an old-time fiddle tune that's on our record, and people would not stop clapping. They just would not stop clapping, and we were just kind of looking at eachother and finally when I could get a word in I said "You guys need to get out more and listen to some more old-time music!" It speaks to people and I'm glad to be singing about things that aren't necessarily "Me Me M Me I I I" (a Patty Larkin song about singer/songwriters) [laughter]
The solo CD you put out last year "The Girl I Left Behind", the title track is a 47 second long fiddle solo which is kind of an unusual choice for a title of a CD. [laughter]
Yeah, some people thought that wasn't a great idea, but for me the title is perfect. I feel like the songs all fit it. A lot of the songs are about loss of innocence and the girl I left behind in one way or another.
Is that anything about your own state of mind, about sort of stepping into a full time career on your own in music?
Well sure. I hadn't put it that way, but that makes sense. It's true. I am definitely leaving the side gal behind and I'm stepping into more of a solo and duo role. And that in itself is a loss of innocence. [laughter] All the work it involves.
Well you did spend a long time being a side person...side man..
Yeah, about 10 years...side man is fine, I'm used to it. I was a Sour Mash Boy, too, so the gender specific thing doesn't bother me.
Not to get off track, but what's a Sour Mash Boy?
John Lincoln Wright and the Sour Mash Boys. He's a legend in Boston. When I lived down there I played country music with him.
So I suppose being a side-man, or Sour Mash Boy, is a good way to start out and you probably learn a lot that way. Did you find over time that that just wasn't fulfilling enough? And that's why you went in the solo direction being the front person?
Yes. You end up playing whatever gig calls you up and so it was a great way to learn a lot of different styles as you said, but eventually, yeah, you start to feel a little unsatisfied and I wanted to get more focused. And when I started singing I wanted to sing lead. And in order to sing lead you need to be more in the driver's seat of a musical situation.
Is that what got you beyond fiddle and into singing and also you've picked up the guitar and you write songs as well as singing traditional songs. You kind of have to have that whole package if you want to be out in front on your own.
Definitely. And Harvey's been really encouraging. Since I moved back to the seacoast he has encouraged me to play solo shows: bar gigs, three hour gigs where I'm holding down the guitar and singing lead and... Trying to get there attention [laughter.] Yeah, it's a great training ground. And I still love to play bars and it's amazing the people you'll hear playing the bars in the seacoast area. But then that gets you ready for the concert settings.
Wanting to be the front person, it must have been a tough decision to actually do that, I mean that's a big leap.
It's scary. Making "The Girl I LeftBehind" was scary. But the response to "The Girl I Left Behind" has been very positive, so I'm not so scared anymore. I feel like I'm doing something right.
Your two musical heroes are Ralph Stanley, traditional bluegrass, and Billie Holiday. To many that would seem like an odd couple.
I was driving along one day thinking about Billie Holiday and Ralph Stanley sitting in the backseat of my car, thinking,'wow, what an interesting couple that makes!'
It would probably be a good song.
You think I should write about that? [laughter]
Could be. Well just to show the Billie end of that connection this is another song from your solo album "The Girl I Left Behind." This is an old tune called "Giving Everything Away." [plays the song] "Giving Everything Away" from Joyce Andersen's CD "The Girl I Left Behind", a fine old collection of vinatage double entendres. Where did get that song from?
Well, I must give Harvey credit for that. He's been holding onto that song for many years and as he says, he's just not the man to sing it. [laughter] I am the man to sing that song.
Is there a different approach to singing. Your voice was obviously different on that song than it was on the traditional sounding song. At least it seemed to me.
Yeah, I don't really understand how that happens. I'm singing from the heart. I'm singing what comes out. Swing music does feel a little different when I sing it. Partly because of the melodies. And swing music is pretty easy to sing, somehow. I find it like falling off a log, singing swing music. But I'm not doing so much swing music these days...because I don't have a swing band. [laughter] Maybe when I'm in my golden years I'll get a swing band together, but I'm really happy to be focused for the first time in my life on doing stuff that I can do solo and as a duo mostly.
How did you and Harvey get together?
Well we met ten years ago back in that period when I was discovering all of this wonderful music this wonderful music that had been hidden from me.
Not through any conspiracy or anything...
....well...I think it is, actually. I mean commercial radio, for instance. It's hiding a lot from the American people. I'm just so thankful that I woke up and I started seeing all of the live music around me and then I started finding out about bluegrass festivals and non-commercial radio and....but you asked me how I first met Harvey. I heard him in the Press Room during that time and got my first non-commercial CD, speaking of non-commercial. It was his 'Coming of Winter' CD. And I got that and learned a fiddle tune off it and showed up about a week later with one of the tunes learned and played it for him, as he says, 'flawlessy' in the back kitchen of the Stone Church at the 20th anniversary hoot there. And he was blown away, I really suprised him. It was about the only tune I knew and he said 'well let's play another one!' and I'm like...uhhhh
Yeah! [laughter] But I was very greeen so I went off for about ten years and came back knowing a lot more about different styles of music and we're quite a compatible team musically.
You rather blithely said you went off for about ten years there, but you were playing in what...Nashville?
Nashville, New York, all over the place. Some overseas trips..I was in Japan for a month playing country music... Of course. [laughter]..at Cowboy World.
Was that a theme park?
It was in Osaka. It wasn't a theme park it was just a bar and they wanted to get some American girls playing country music in there.
How did you and Harvey start playing together as a duo?
Over the years, since I met him 10 years ago, he would have me be his side gal here and there at concerts and it wasn't until...well about the millenium, that I moved back here. I didn't know I was going to move back here but Harvey convinced me that it was a great place to be musically and that's when we started playing.
This is from the Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen CD which is called "The Great Sad River" and I wanted to play a little of this because it's a great example of their vocal harmonies. (Plays 4th of July) Do the harmonies come naturally? I mean did you start singing together right off or did you have to develop that tightness.
They come pretty naturally. Harvey's been singing harmony since he started playing music. That's really what got him excited about music in the first place. And for me, my ear has really developed over the last few years for harmony singing. We never know who's going to sing lead or harmony and we just figure it out song by song, whichever works better.
There's one reference to working out harmonies in a hot tub.
See, I read carefully. So that's one way to work.
Yes, we having the advantage of living together so we can sing in whatever room we happen to be in. We don't have to make elaborate rehearsal schedules.
Which is an advantage, but then I suppose in a way you're always working too, I don't know.
Exactly, you hit the nail on the head. I guess I've decided that when you do what you love to do and you expect to get paid for it you end up pretty much doing it all the time [laugh.]
When you're, relatively speaking, trying to establish a career of your own, do you worry about being cast as Harvey's side kick?
No I think "The Girl I Left Behind" is really a statement. I feel very confident that I come across as an artist on that. Harvey has been very encouraging and he is very interested in me being my own artist.
And not doing just duo gigs. Not doing just duo CDs.
Yeah, and I don't want to see him just playing with me either, I want him to go off...plus, heck, we're going to get sick of eachother [laugh.] So I love going off and doing solo gigs and he's been doing that his whole life and of course he still needs to do that.
Do you share Harvey's disdain for the music industry in general or do you have any thought of someday getting back out there again.?
Well I feel like I'm in it more than I ever have been. I've had brushes with the big time...playing on the Conan O'Brien show, getting calls from Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire band leaders about playing in their bands. I feel like now that I'm not worrying about living in Nashville or NY, now that I'm settling down where I want to live, I'm more successful than ever. People are learning about me across the country because of sending out my record to all these radio stations and being on the web...I am in the industry, in a tiny little way, but there's a ton of us out there that are making our own records. It 's all the rage! And a lot of people aren't resigning with their record companies and they're making their own records. It's a great time to be an independent artist.
I get the feeling there's not much middle ground anymore. There's the big big business where you've got to sell millions of albums, play big arenas, and then there's the independents, who are doing it on their own terms, like you and Harvey. And there's not whole lot of room in the middle anymore. I don't know if it's hard to become really successful, maybe you don't care, I don't know.
It depends what your definition of really successful is.
True, if you're lying in a hot tub making harmonies...
Yeah, living in a nice house in a nice area, not being out on the road 300 days a year. We can go play for 100 people in a coffee house, sell a lot of CDs and it's a great way to survive.
Well, Harvey spent his time in the bigger music world as well, and if you ask him, it doesn't take much prompting to get him to sort of start telling stories or grumbling about things he's gone through in the big music industry. Do you have any particular horror stories to tell or anything that you experienced when you were out there in Nashville and NY?
I played with a "hat act" out of Nashville, when they were signing a lot of people, back in '93. A lot of them sounded very similar. He didn't end up making it huge, but he could have, some of his contemporaries did. Anyway we'd get on the bus on Wednesday night and get back on Sunday, that was the kind of circuit we were doing. And I just remember they were having him take steroids to gain weight and get bigger and then they decided, no, he needs to lose weight, so then he went off the steriods. He didn't seem to have much artistic vision, he was just trying to satisfy whatever whims the record company had in making him a star.
Did that steroid thing come along after Billy Ray Cyrus?
Probably, yeah [laughter.]
And I suppose if you're in music to make money it's ok to sort of taylor yourself to what the audience expects, but if you want to pursue your own vision, you can't do it in that system.
True, but I am in music to make money [laughter.] I need to survive. I believe that there are people out there that want to hear an artist with their own artistic vision that's not being manipulated by commercial radio.
And here someone up there just playing the guitar or playing the violin and not with the drum machines and synthesizers.
Yeah! People are so hungry for authentic music. Just look at, for instance, the "Oh Brother" sound track, which without any commercial airplay outsold all the other country records. That's incredible news for us folks that are playing authentic music. People are hungry for it. Hopefully it wasn't just because it was a movie soundtrack. Hopefully it was something deeper.
Actually I think that about the time the movie came out the CD was already doing quited well. So now maybe they'll take that hat act and dress him up in overalls and have him go unshaven like George Clooney. Right [laughter]
I'm very happy that I'm not going to have to keep following the different trends, but I'm also very happy that I happen to be playing music right now that is almost trendy. People are really into roots music these days.
Well, thanks for coming in today and best of luck.
Thanks very much for having me.