"The lyrics just kept writing themselves at truck stops and dive bars until suddenly I realized that I had a barnstormer of a song in my hands" We chat with Secret Emchy Society
Hey Cindy, how’s your day going?
Hi! It’s good, we just adopted / rescued a kitten named Shooter a couple of days ago so I’m covered in scratches, but pretty much high on kitten fumes which is a great place to be.
So... where are you right now?
I’m currently on my back porch in Oakland, CA trying to hide from a pending sunburn, but still enjoy the breeze since we’re getting a little heatwave this weekend.
Tell us a bit about you, what do you do for fun?
Well the good thing is - I can have fun doing almost anything. I’m a tomboy femme from rural Michigan who has lived in the Bay Area of California for 20+ years. I’ve been a published poet, radio DJ, arts curator, and musician for a heck of a long time and have been an actively touring country musician in one band or another for the past 10+ years. Fun to me can look like taking our rescue dog to the beach, watching the movie Fame for the 1,983th time, playing cribbage, picking lemons from the tree, creating new rye whiskey cocktails, going for bike rides, taking dance class, practicing songs, lake swimming and sunburns, or reading with a cup of tea. There are so many ways to embrace all the nuances of life - and I really just try to embrace them all.
You just released your new record, The Chaser, what can you tell me about it in two sentences?
The Chaser is a love song to chosen family told through drunken adventure songs that take place in the David Lynch film of my dreams out in the wooded mountains of the wild West Coast.
Which was the first song that you wrote that made the record? And what’s the background to it?
The first song I wrote for the album was 'Grackle' which ended up being a duet with my producer / lead guitarist, the Canadian songwriter Tolan McNeil. The story of the song is about a straight / queer couple that try to make it work through the strength of friendship and love - but it doesn’t and nearly breaks them both. The heart of the song to me is that idea of looking back upon a best friendship, a love that was so important and thinking "Who are you now? Who was I then" and trying to figure out the path forward in the present. Is there a way to come back together as the people you are 20 years later and find your way back to a friendship?
One of my favourites is the opening song, ‘Everything Was Fine’, what can you tell me about that song?
Ha! ‘Everything Was Fine’ is SUCH a story song. I wrote it over the course of two years while traveling up and down I-5 (in the US) and Highway 1 (in Canada) during the wildfire seasons. From Los Angeles to Uculet there were a lot of hours on the road and unexpected adventures. The flat tires, the goth bar flies, the median of the highway being on fire, ash raining on the car for 500 miles from the burning trees - it was all just a part of my daily life and I just kept on driving through it all from show to show thinking to myself that everything was fine. The lyrics just kept writing themselves at truck stops and dive bars until suddenly I realized that I had a barnstormer of a song in my hands.
‘Leavin’ Powell River’ is another song I really like, what’s the story to that?
In May of 2017 I played a show with Carolyn Mark and Billy Gruff at the re-opened McKinney's Pub up in Powell River which I had been hearing so much about. Carolyn and I were on tour and the show was bookended by gigs in Vancouver and Robert's Creek and I was just excited to discover this hidden enclave that folks had been telling me so much about. I just loved it. The show was great and the crowd was wonderful, the wine was plentiful, and I loved the idea of this town where you could only come or go via air / water even though it was part of the mainland. As Carolyn and I were driving to the ferry the next day - I got full of longing and nostalgia and paths not taken (like I tend to do), and it started raining, and well... the song began.
If I only had three minutes, what song of yours should I listen to?
I would say 'The Chaser' but it’s longer than three minutes long! If you’re feeling rowdy I’d say ‘Whiskey Fighting Terri’, if you’re feeling nostalgic I say ‘Dance Like the World is Ending’, and if you’re feeling wanderlusty then it’s ‘Everything Was Fine.’
I’m in the UK, you’re in the US, what’s the one thing you like best about the UK? (That you know of.)
I have two! The first - when I was last in London I ended up being surprised and delighted by the friendliness and forthrightness of folks. It was my last night in town and I was having dinner alone and ended up making friends with a gay Irish social worker who told me my accent was as subtle as "bricks in an alley" and then tried to take me to a drag show. The show was sadly cancelled and he ran off with a new friend, but then I got adopted for the night by another Irish family who lived in London and their father was visiting. The patriarch had never met an American so they kept refilling my whiskey glass and hauled me along bar-hopping while their Dad talked to me about the States and American history. It was a strange and wonderful night - and left me with the absolute best impression.
The second - my people are originally (mostly) from the UK and Cornish Pasties were a huge part of my childhood. So… Cornish Pasties are absolutely divine and one of my favorite favorite favorite things to get when I’m in the UK.
I usually ask, what have you got planned for the rest of 2020, but I’m not sure any of us know… so, what’s the thing you’re looking forward to doing most when things settle down?
There’s a music festival I play up in the woods on Vancouver Island every September - and I’m really hoping that things are open enough by then that I can still make the 16 hour drive up to play songs and camp with my musical family up there. So - fingers crossed for that. Aside from that - I’m just hoping the songs make it to the ears that need to hear them. Whether that’s 10 people or 10,000 - I just want to get the music out there by whatever means necessary since hitting the road for the summer months isn’t an option like during normal times.
Diversity generally, and gender specifically, have been talking points in country music for a good while now, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
You know - walking in the world as a woman I think that I don’t know what opportunities necessarily don’t come my way because of my queerness or my gender. I mean - no one comes out and tells me about it. I once had this funny experience with this music circle I sometimes attend. It’s mostly older guys - and one night a fiddle player turned to me and said ‘Thank you for being here. It’s so much better with you here. I mean you know how it is when it’s all guys...” And I just looked at him and said - “no, I don’t.” And I wasn’t being snarky - but I don’t know what it’s like to have that all-male experience. In the same way - I - at least for now - don’t know what I’m missing out on. But hopefully the music speaks for itself and those barriers keep getting knocked down. I think that’s the thing is that folks of any gender can write a song that I identify with, that I feel invited into the songwriters experience. If it’s a good song I think that it’s accessible to rural, urban, queer, straight, young, or old folks of all kinds.
I believe you’re from Michigan originally, what one thing would you tell me about your hometown?
Michigan as a whole taught me a lot about standing by your values, appreciating art, and doing the right thing no matter how unpopular it is. It also taught me how to find magic in the woods, the joy of night swimming in lakes, and the beauty of a star light night out in a cornfield. My hometown itself was pretty racist when I was growing up - which woke me up to the need for social justice work, examining my own behavior and privilege, speaking up for diversity and inclusiveness, and taking on progressive values while I was still very young.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
If you haven’t yet heard the charm, sass, and classic country of Victoria, BC’s Carolyn Mark - run don’t walk to get her album ‘The Pro’s and Con’s of Collaboration’ - it’s a work of sheer brilliance.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
Best Emchy cocktail recipe! It’s a Rhubarb Whiskey:
Official Recipe for Rhubarb Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup peeled and chopped rhubarb
Boil 1 cup of water, add 1 cup sugar, stir until sugar is completely dissolved, add 1 cup coarsely chopped and peeled rhubarb, lower water to a simmer, let simmer covered for 20 - 60 minutes. The syrup should taste rhubarb-y but the rhubarb should stay mostly whole. If you overcook it the rhubarb will turn to mush and the drink must be renamed "Rhubarb Swamp Whiskey" still tasty - but much chewier. Once your syrup is ready - put into glass mason jar to cool and then refrigerate. Let sit at least one hour (a full day is better for flavor).
Once your rhubarb simple syrup is cool, add one part syrup to two parts rye whiskey (brand of your choice but don't go too high end, that insults the whiskey and brings bad luck - I suggest Old Overholt). 1-3 ice cubes recommended.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
I love a dark and oily roast coffee with just a dram of cream.