After watching the wonderful show a few Sundays ago at The Focus Inn, I was able to catch up with Rebekah Fischman and Victoria Lavington, the singer/songwriter duo that make up the band Molly Pitcher. Rebekah and Victoria classify their style of music as “Alternative Folk”. Personally I think they defy any classification, but that’ll have to do since I can’t think of a better one. Hmmm, since this is a review, I supposed I should try to describe them. How about a dash of Carly Simon, a bit of Patty Griffin, a hint of James Taylor, does that help? Hey, I know, how about if you just go have a listen? Go to their web site and click on “sounds”. All four songs are good, but make sure you check out “No One Loves a Folk Song” and “Susan”. Their writing is powerful, their performance skilled. Speaking of which, much has been written about the blending of their voices and their subtle harmonies, but perhaps my daughter said it best when she asked; “Daddy, is that the same lady singing twice?”
Rebekah and Victoria graciously agreed to answer a few questions to give us some insight into how they do what they do.
Guitar Noise – Can you describe how the songwriting process works for each of you?
Rebekah – I’m a relatively new songwriter and so far I have found my process to be consistently inconsistent. The first few songs I wrote were just lyrics and then I tried to put a tune to them. I find it very easy to write lyrics that way but very difficult to wrap a tune around it. I suppose in the beginning I had so much I wanted to say that the lyrics were most important. Now, although I still have something to say, I find I alter the method. Some of my better songs came when I imagined just one phrase of words and music together in my head and built a song around them. Sometimes I’ll just noodle around on the guitar or piano and find chords that sound interesting. Usually when I do that I start singing random sentences. It can be as obscure as “The dystrophy of you is inevitable now” or as ridiculous as “where’s the mail, where’s the mail, where’s the mail”
Victoria – Most of the time, it starts off with me trying to practice the guitar. Then I find some new chord or progression of chords that I’ve never played before. The sound usually evokes some sort of emotional response and a lyric line comes into my mind. More lyrics come, I can usually write the first verse or chorus fairly easily. Then I leave it alone for a couple of days. I think about what it is I want to say, I clarify it in my mind and work on it bit by bit over the next few days or weeks. A few songs took me a few years to finish.
GN – Have you ever dealt with a time when you just couldn’t find the inspiration to write? What did you do about it?
Victoria – I’ve encountered those times on several different occasions. It’s usually because my life is too busy and hectic. I don’t force myself to write during these times. I find that when there is more time a whole bunch of ideas come out and I go through a writing frenzy for a while. My dry spells have been known to last for 2 years at a time, but I don’t stress about it because I know that the floodgates will open again.
Rebekah – Yes. And again, yes. It was really starting to bother me until I heard an interview of, I think it was, Trace Atkins and he said “Not every song is going to be a home run. Sometimes you just have to get up to the plate” That really calmed me down. When there is REALLY no inspiration I go to a huge pile of half written songs filled with half written lyrics and see if I can find anything worth working on. The problem is that I usually only come away with poems that way. Victoria and I sort of made a pact that we would only write when something meaningful came to us and we’ve kept to it so far. If we really get stuck, I think we’ll try writing together and see what happens. In any event, I find that a good long commute home on a sunny day will always lead to introspection and eventually something resembling a song.
GN – So you just got back from the Kerville Folk Festival in Texas and you’re off to the Falcon Ridge Festival in July, do you still get stage fright? Do you have any words of advice for our readers who might be going to an open mike for the first time?
Rebekah – I am a very nervous performer. I am never fully at ease before a show or on stage. The two things that unnerve me the most are mike/amplification fears, and not being well rehearsed enough. These are the two pieces of advice that I can relay to open-mike singers. If you are very well practiced, you will feel much more at ease when you get up on stage.
Practice a lot more than you think you should. When you’re playing your song and you forget a guitar chord or two, being well rehearsed will allow you to find where you are and correct yourself instead of completely loosing it.
Also, take your time before you start your song. Are you REALLY comfortable? Is the mike too high or low, are you in tune? Take your time making sure that you’re set up well and you will be more comfortable. In general, open-miking is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do but it’s the only way to move ahead. It’s like pulling off a band-aid. Just do it! I find that if you are real and honest with your audience “Wow this is out of tune…” they will respond with interest.
Victoria – The day I stop getting stage fright will be the day I die. It’s my way of knowing I’m alive.
For my first open mic, I didn’t let anyone know that I was doing it. I figured that if I totally bombed then at least it would be in front of people that I’d never see again. It took me 10 years of playing in my bedroom before I got the nerve to play out in the public…I wouldn’t recommend this though to other aspiring singer songwriters, just get out there and give it your best shot, you have nothing to lose. Who cares if a whole bunch of people you’ll never see again laugh at you and you never know they may not laugh; they may clap!
GN – On your website you write “Where has the melody gone?” Can you elaborate a little on what you mean by that? And while you’re at it, what do you think makes a good melody?
Victoria – It just seems that the trend in music for the past ten years has been to have one melody line that is repeated over and over. I try to let my emotions come out in different ways throughout a song. I can’t say what makes a good melody for everyone. For me, it’s just a tune that sticks in my mind and makes me hum it when I’m doing the dishes or whatever.
Rebekah – The trend in music now seems to be finding a phrase or a chord progression and repeating it often. More like speak-singing. A lot of trills, a lot of embellishment, a lot of really great vocal riffs. Songs today seem to be more like that than the long languid songs of the seventies a la Carpenters, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Jim Croce, even some of the power ballads of the eighties.
Our songs seem to be a little more melodic and reminiscent of an earlier time. I think what makes a good melody is a lot of variation. Some notes high (Victoria is really good at that) and some low. Most important, it’s a song someone can hum a few seconds, hours, days after hearing it. A song someone can sing well who doesn’t have such a great voice.
GN – What happened to “Arrabella York?” (a song they performed). I really liked it, especially the rhythmic quality of the verses. Why wasn’t it included on the CD? How did you make that decision?
Victoria – We decided to save “Arrabella York” for our second CD, which we are presently recording. It is part of a trilogy of songs that I wrote and so we chose not to split them up.
GN – What’s next for Molly Pitcher?
Rebekah – More of the same. Documenting life and love melodically, recording it for posterity, finding people who enjoy it and singing for them. We will be going on a tour of the northeast this summer so we’re really looking forward to that. Mostly, we just feel grateful to have found each other and we probably will bask in that till we’re old and gray.
Victoria – We’re organizing a mini tour for this summer and like I mentioned before, we’re recording our second CD.
GN – Any parting words or suggestions for our readers?
Victoria – Don’t sit in your room for ten years.
Rebekah – All songs are valid. Some of my worst songs have gotten recognition, and some of my best ignored. Just be honest. It takes real courage.