We were big fans of Beth Bombara‘s last release, 2017’s Map & No Direction, which we described as garage-Americana. Well, she’s on the way to making its follow-up but, as an independent artist, needs a little help. So she set up a Kickstarter campaign to make it happen. She took some time out from making the album to answer our questions on everything from her first memory of music to her hometown of Michigan.
Hey Beth, what have you been up to today?
Well, I just made myself a pour over coffee, eggs and toast. And I’ve been listening to mixes of the upcoming album and making notes. It’s pretty nice outside here too, so I planted some Kale and broccoli in my garden.
Tell us about you, what’s your first memory of playing music?
I remember going over to my grandma’s house and plunking keys on her piano when I was really little. She would always make sure I washed my hands before I touched it. She also had one of those clear plastic covers over her sofa to keep it nice and clean, which I always thought was weird.
What’s your journey into an artist who has released albums been like?
Every time I put out an album, I have this irrational fear that I won’t be able to write any more songs. It’s a little daunting to put out music that will inevitably be compared to a previous album. Everyone is going to judge it. But that’s not the point. I’ve really grabbed on to this quote by Andy Warhol- “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” It’s good to remind myself that I’m making music because I really enjoy it. Not because I’m trying to prove something to anyone.
What can you tell us about your current Kickstarter campaign?
The campaign will make it possible for me to release a new record. There are lots of fun pledge levels, but a really big perk is getting to hear the full album a month before it’s even available to the public. Here’s a sampling of some other rewards: a limited edition colored vinyl, bowling with the band, a pizza party in the studio, and even a hot air balloon ride with me.
How come you’ve gone down the crowdfunding route?
It’s the best way for an independent artist to release an album. I like being able to offer exclusive things and one-of-a-kind experiences to fans. Some people are turned off by the idea, but I think it can be a great way to involve others in the album making process. I’ll be posting special updates as the album process moves along, and sharing stories about making the album, along with special acoustic videos of new songs. It’s a great platform to share these sort of behind the scenes things.
What can you tell us about the new album?
I’ve been working to cultivate a positive headspace this past year, cause being a pessimist isn’t helpful (even if it seems reasonable at times). I hope some of the songs reflect that. I think sonically they do.
That’s why I’m calling it Evergreen: ever-youthful, ever-wide-eyed, but still strong. To be able to weather whatever life throws my way.
We’ve all seen the news…the planet is struggling in every way, but we’re also reaching new heights/depths of understanding. I’ve lost loved ones this year, but I’ve also witnessed close friends bring new life into the world. Life is a balance, never totally bad or totally trouble-free. That’s my meditation on this record.
How did you go about writing the songs? What’s your process look like?
To start, I’ll just take my guitar and jam on ideas while recording a voice memo on my phone. I’ll revisit that the next day and if a chord progression or lick is grabbing me, I’ll make a note of it. I have voice memos that are just vocal melody lines too. So, those become seeds of a song and grow from there. It’s not uncommon for me to have music written out for a whole song, without the lyrics.
For about three weeks, Kit and I were waking up every day, making coffee and sitting at the kitchen table with a big roll of blank paper. We’d tear off a section for each of us, cover the whole table with paper and just write. A lot of the lyrics got hashed out that way. I have other spots I like to work on lyrics alone too, usually a park or somewhere outdoors.
Obviously money is a big thing for independent artists, i.e. not having any/enough, but just how difficult is it really?
The two most difficult things for me have to do with healthcare and learning to live without a steady paycheck. If the US had universal healthcare, it wouldn’t be a burden. I know artists who stop pursuing their careers just to hold a job that allows them to have insurance. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has certainly helped people in my position be able to obtain some sort of health insurance. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. It’s also emotionally straining to have an income that fluctuates month to month, season to season. Things seem the best when I’m out on tour, but then everyone needs time to rest and recharge before going back out again. It’s certainly difficult, but I have no regrets.
What are the other difficulties in being an independent artist?
Don’t compare yourself to other artists, especially ones bigger than you. You’ll become jaded really fast. No one else does what you do, your path is unique. Follow it, don’t give up, and focus on becoming a better you.
What’s the most expensive part of the album cycle?
Depends on a lot of factors, but one could be who your producer is. My band and I produced this record, along with our friend John Calvin Abney on keys. They’re all great players, and everyone had ideas to contribute. If you want to work with a well-known producer, that could be your biggest expense. But there are great producers out there who just aren’t famous yet. And if you have a great producer, but mediocre songs, it won’t mean anything. Dropping lots of money on an album doesn’t guarantee it will be great.
You’ve said that Map & No Direction was written at a tough time for you personally, how does it feel, listening back (or playing live) those songs now?
It’s nice to have captured those feelings, and then moved on from them. It’s a good reminder to myself that I made it through some tough times. I still enjoy playing them live.
I love the US, and am fascinated by the towns and cities. Tell us a bit about your hometown in Michigan.
Michigan is a peninsula. Well, technically two peninsulae. I grew up on the lower peninsula, close to one of the “big lakes”, Lake Michigan. So I have an affinity for large bodies of water. There’s a lot of farms where I grew up. It’s nicknamed “Michigan’s Salad Bowl”, because of the crops grown in the muck fields of wet, fertile soil that once was an ancient river bottom. My grandparents had a dairy farm, and grew soybeans a few towns over. I spent a lot of time as a kid getting into trouble on the farm. As I grew older, some of the farms were bought up by developers and turned into subdivisions with lots of houses. So there are lots of places I remember being wide open spaces, that now have houses, shopping malls and restaurants. There are still farms there, but the city has crept in on it a little bit. And the ‘big city’ (Grand Rapids) is only a short 20-minute drive away. If I want to go see a concert, or go to a museum, or find the best coffee shop, that’s where I’d go.
What’s coming up for you in 2019?
Have van, will travel 🙂 New album, and I hope lots of touring.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
There’s a general attitude of not being taken seriously. I’ve had times where sound engineers don’t take me seriously as a guitar player. They put my guitar really low in the mix, like it’s not important, and turn the other guitar way up. We definitely have two guitars in the band for a reason. It’s not just for looks.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
If you want to preorder Beth’s new album then head over to her Kickstarter page and choose one of the levels.