Singer/songwriter Melissa Ferrick emerged in 1994 as part of a group of new female alternative singer/songwriters, much in the vein of Liz Phair. Ferrick began singing in coffeehouses after dropping out of college, eventually winding up in Boston. Her major breakthrough arrived one night when she replaced Morrissey's opening act less than an hour before showtime. Ferrick's performance impressed Morrissey and he invited her to open for him during the rest of the tour. The tour earned her a small cult following as well as a contract with Atlantic Records. She released her debut album, Massive Blur, in 1994 to good reviews; the critical reception for her stripped-down second album, Willing to Wait, earned even stronger reviews. Everything I Need followed in 1998, and in early 2000 Ferrick returned with Freedom. Capturing her enigmatic stage persona, Ferrick issued Skinnier, Faster, Live at the B.P.C. in early 2001.    by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Acoustic rocker Melissa Ferrick spent several years toiling away in the small clubs in Boston before getting her big break. In 1991, the then 20-year old Ipswich, Mass. native won an opening slot for Morrissey on a last-minute notice after his scheduled opener cancelled. Playing Boston's Great Woods Amphitheater, the Berkelee graduate's intense set was so impressive that the former Smiths' singer promptly hired her for the remainder of his U.S. tour, as well as for his subsequent tour of the U.K.

After returning from England, Ferrick was immediately offered a deal with Atlantic Records where she released her first two albums, Massive Blur (1993) and Willing to Wait (1995). Unfortunately, the incredible roll that Ferrick was on soon came to a screeching halt. Although her records were critically praised and her fan base had expanded exponentially through tours with Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, Lisa Germano, and others, the records themselves were commercial disappointments, and in 1995 she was dropped from Atlantic.

After spending nearly a year in career turmoil, Ferrick returned in 1997 with the live album, Melissa Ferrick + 1. The live recording, initially intended to be a demo, turned head and Ferrick was signed to the What Are Records? label. Melissa Ferrick + 1 successfully captured the energetic live vibe that had won Ferrick fame to begin with and received more airplay than her previous albums.

After several impressive dates on the 1998 Lilith Fair, Ferrick released Everything I Need in September 1998, followed by Freedom in 2000.

Joe Hauler, Rolling Stone magazine.

Singer/songwriter Melissa Ferrick has many reasons to declare herself free, and all of the talent to express it. Perhaps the most liberating part of Melissa's new project is that Freedom was written, performed, recorded, and produced almost entirely by herself, and certainly on her own terms.

As Melissa explains, "At first I was afraid of failing. There would be no one to blame if the album wasn't everything I was imagining in my head. But then I found myself enjoying the work and thriving from the challenge of having total creative control. Now it feels good to accept full responsibility for my own art."

Melissa did recruit friend and former band mate, bassist Marika Tjelios (Men Without Hats, Go Vangough), for assistance and the two spent one month completely engrossed in the project. Working with a modest independent-label budget contributed to Melissa's feelings of liberation. "For the first time in my career I'm not in debt. It's a relief to not owe my record label money and to be supporting myself by doing what I love."

Freedom oozes independence. Delivered with all of the inspiration and intimacy that makes her such a compelling artist, Freedom also holds an air of newfound grace and an ease of expression that perfectly compliments Melissa's deeply personal, yet universal lyrics. Her staccato voice soars and her acoustic guitar rings clear as each song tells stories of lust, love, loss, and liberation.

Melissa's personal attention to detail adds depth to the project, while precise and insightful lyrics leave space for individual interpretation. The result is a complexity and passion that's rarely seen in pop music today.

Although Melissa has never been one to withhold much, perhaps her boldness has recently been nurtured by industry attention and fan support. Her previous release, Everything I Need, was launched at the Boston Lilith Fair, where the album outsold every other artist release on the bill. The album earned Melissa Best Folk Rock Band at the prestigious 1999 Boston Music Awards and was nominated as Album of the Year by the 1999 the Gay and Lesbian American Music Association (GLAMA).

Also in 1999, Melissa performed at WBOS Earth Day and WXRV's Riverfest, and enraptured audiences at the infamous Newport Folk Festival. Melissa participated in an exclusive Tower Records Liquid Audio performance at the 1999 NARM convention in Las Vegas. Now Melissa's performance is available for purchase via the internet using state-of-the-art Liquid Audio technology.

The Respond Project, a compilation cd featuring Boston female artists and benefiting women and children victimized by domestic violence, features an acoustic version of the song "Everything I Need" and was recently awarded Album of the Year by Billboard Magazine.Melissa's fiery live shows are an infectious experience, exhibiting her magnetic personality, quirky sense of humor and outstanding musicianship.

With the release of Freedom, Melissa continues to perform in front of packed houses, while her notoriously loyal and swelling fan base often travel over states, and even the entire country, to get their "Ferrick fix." It's rare and refreshing to see a devoted following assembled by years of hard work, especially in these days of fleeting fans encouraged by huge advertising dollars spent. "My relationship with my fans is an inseparable part of my music," Melissa explains. "Since I'm on the road so often, much of my song writing is inspired by my experiences with the audience. I'm so grateful that my fans are as dedicated to my career as I am."

From the celebratory title track, to the vulnerable "Win 'em Over," the catchy "Hold On," and the sexy fan-favorite "Drive," Freedom is testament to Melissa Ferrick's reputation for seamless song writing and daring creativity. Most importantly though, Freedom is Melissa's expression of gladness for being a musician and her gratitude for the privilege.

"Melissa Ferrick" by Amy Steele

"It's a we thing, not an I thing. It's the first word of the constitution. It's universal." -Melissa Ferrick

Freedom is defined many ways for singer/songwriter Melissa Ferrick. The most obvious being the title of her fifth album. She also produced and co-wrote the songs for this album with the help of her friend and former band mate, bassist Marika Tjelios. And finally, freedom is the independence of expression that has made the critics, fans and superstar icon Morrissey stand up and take notice.

Ferrick earned a scholarship to Berkeley College of Music in the mid-eighties. Soon after, she bought a guitar and began composing her own songs. Then in 1995, at the age of 20, Ferrick rather boldly handed Morrissey her demo tape. He liked it so much (especially a song at the end of the tape called "Hello Dad") that he asked her to complete his tour as the opening act.

After a short time on a major (Atlantic Records), Ferrick signed with Colorado based indie, WAR (aka What Are Records) and found a home there. In 1998, Ferrick broke out with the album "Everything I Need" selling 10,000 copies. This landed her a slot at the Boston Lilith Fair. She won Best Folk Rock Band at the 1999 Boston Music Awards and her album was nominated for Album of the Year by the 1999 Gay and Lesbian American Music Association (GLAMA). But Ferrick insists that an earlier album "Plus One" remains the fan favorite.

"Why?" Ferrick pondered from her home in Massachusetts. "It was live and there was no ego involved." On "Freedom" a relatively low-budget ($5000) independent release, Ferrick was forced to resort back to basics. On a major label, she recalled, the focus was to sell units rather than to make the type of album she wanted. Success was measured by monetary instead of artistic value.

"It's simple, not produced. This makes the record real. It's two musicians making a record with everything they've got. Less production works with the more heartfelt style of music I do. I'm happy with the progression. Voice and guitar are at the center. Just stay out of the way of the song, that's the way it is."

On W.A.R. Records, money is not an issue and she can focus on the sound and feeling she wants to evoke through her music. Having invested so little money to produce and record this album, Ferrick knows that she can sell enough copies to be successful.

"This album has sold 2,000 records in one week which is a huge success. It's unbelievable. It is harder to get distribution but there are hard core people working at the label. They are really involved. They care not just about me personally but about music. It's a we thing, not an I thing. It's the first word of the constitution. It's universal."

Ferrick's songs are self-referential, exploring love and relationships: trying to keep it together with "Hold On" (Tell me I'm the one you've been waiting for/ all your life), the bitter spite of "Some Kinda Nerve" (Makes me think you know/ that you never even knew me/ makes me understand/ that the whole time it was you/ just using me), and the resigned, start all over again nature of "Then So It Is" (I drive myself crazy/crazy in a constant spin/that one day soon ya know/ I'm going to get my life/I'm gonna get my life/ back together again).

"I write about me and my life. I'm a self-obsessed writer working life out through my music and my art. It's a vehicle for me to learn about myself. Words come out and it happens fast, like a 5-10 minute free-write. I'll learn from those lyrics. It'll predict the future. Sometimes there's a deeper part of myself that I'm not willing to admit to until later."

When Ferrick writes she draws material from her own very personal experiences such as her former three-and-a-half year relationship in which she said she was on the road a majority of the time and so self-focused that she only spent about eight months with her girlfriend. "It's good to get out all emotions: sad, bitter and fuck you, I hate you, you hurt me." She now tries to involve her friends in her musical life as much as possible. "I sacrifice friendships and lovers for what I do." Although, she has few regrets she spent all of her twenties (the past ten years) on the road touring.

"Is it worth it, are you happy? I don't want to do the small shows ten months a year when I get older but I want to continue to make records. It's a blast. Being on stage, that's what I live for. I bitch and moan the most but also love it the most. There's a natural babyness reaction. There's trying to find I've never felt discriminated against about sex or sexuality. If I were aware of it, I would be so enraged. I'm out. I'm here. I'm playing my music."

Ferrick feels like a role model to young girls who are confused about their own identity like she was as a youth growing up. "As a teenager, I didn't know where I fit in or who I was. I was Irish-Catholic and thought I would get kicked out. I have these 15-year-olds coming out, coming to my shows. They are confused and don't know what they like or who they like but they want time. They don't have to be anything. And I'm the resting block."
"No more Miss U-Haul"
Newly single and feeling free, Melissa Ferrick rocks her lesbian fans with fierce club dates and a bare-knuckle new CD. Reviewed by Karen Iris Tucker

Between Cokes and Camel Lights at Fez, the chi-chi Manhattan music venue, 29-year-old Melissa Ferrick is explaining why she decided to call her fifth and newest CD Freedom. Seated in a cushy corner nook, the powder-blue–eyed Ferrick reveals that she’s been single for just 60 days, having hopped “from U-Haul to U-Haul” for most of her 20s.

In her first interview in support of her latest release, the Massachusetts native speaks about her trials in finding the ultimate romance. “It’s the quintessential lesbian love story,” she says of how she’s jumped from one failed long-term relationship to the next. “I’m in love, and then I’m not, and then I’m already with someone else.” This may be why Ferrick has reigned as a kind of queen of the anti–love song ever since she released her debut, Massive Blur, on major label Atlantic in 1993.

When the company dropped her after her second CD, Willing to Wait—allegedly without promoting it—Ferrick continued to tour relentlessly, garnering a huge lesbian following in the process. She later jumped to tiny indie label W.A.R.? (short for What Are Records?), where she traded in her coddled big-expense days for creative autonomy.

Like her musical heroes Shawn Colvin and Joan Armatrading, Ferrick can dangle a crowd on the lilt of a lyric and nail the nuance of a conflicted feeling with one well-sung word. And the skeletal but riveting Freedom showcases Ferrick’s ability to evoke emotions from bitterness to bliss. Finessing the work on a shoestring budget of $5,000, Ferrick and her bassist, Marika Tjelios, produced, mixed, and recorded the songs on a digital four-track. Recorded in a one-room apartment, the entire disc was made using only Tjelios, Ferrick’s acoustic guitar and vocals, and some drum loops.

“I slept on a couch for six weeks. I was unhealthy, I wasn’t eating, and we were stealing coffee from the café that my bass player works at,” Ferrick recalls of the painstaking process. But Ferrick’s a resourceful alley cat of a performer, and the angst she suffers seeps alluringly into her croaky, staccato vocals and percussive acoustic guitar strums.

Several of the CD’s songs betray the recent demise of a three-and-a-half-year relationship she had in Los Angeles. “My ex is, shall we say, a little hooked up in Hollywood,” Ferrick says dryly. “There was this air about her that always made me uncomfortable. She was always lifting me up on a pedestal to get her into the right parties.”

The split between Ferrick and her ex culminated when the artist came home from a tour to find an empty house. Deciding to return to her parents’ home in Boston, Ferrick booked a flight and, without skipping a beat, picked up a beautiful woman at the airport. She later drove across the country with her for eight months.

“I’ve always had this twisted response to love,” says Ferrick, “and I wonder, Will I ever have what my parents have? Is that possible?” For now, the singer is enjoying being single, though she was shocked recently by a night out at a Boston club.

“I felt like a fish in a bowl,” she says, clearly mystified by the increasing level of recognition she now experiences. “Nobody talked to me. They just kind of ran by me and pointed.” Ferrick hesitantly approached one woman she’d been eyeing all night. “I was really nervous and told her so. She said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ Everyone thinks I’m going to be like, ‘Oh, you want me,’ like I’m that kind of person.”

But Ferrick can’t deny her sexy stage persona and the trademark flirty between-song banter that utterly enchants her fans. “It’s true,” she relents, “but I’m really shy, and in the end, that’s what shocks people most about me.”

Tucker writes for Time Out New York, Interview, Paper, and Acoustic Guitar.
P o p
Everything I Need
By Melissa Ferrick

Reviewed by Carrie Bell

Life as an up-and-coming musician isn't easy: the endless hoping for a hit; the nonstop touring in dilapidated clubs and bars; the constant ass kissing of every booker, promoter, A&R guy, and label head from Los Angeles to Milwaukee. It's even harder when someone has come before you who shares your schtick and has had more success with it. It's a tale Melissa Ferrick knows well.

Long referred to as "the other Melissa," Ferrick found that the guitar-heavy folk-pop lesbian singer-songwriter stance wasn't roping in the mass of America for her the way it had for Melissa Etheridge. Which was surprising considering that the Boston-bred, Berklee-schooled Ferrick was touted as one to watch by many—including Morrissey, who invited her to open his 1991 U.S. and U.K. tour. She returned to a flurry of major labels promising to cultivate her career. She chose Atlantic, put out two records with lackluster label support and without a hit, and was unapologetically dropped. She lost her passion and a long-term girlfriend.

With the release of Everything I Need, her first studio album since her Atlantic days, recorded for Boulder, Colo.–based indie What Are Records?, Ferrick has finally shed the excess baggage and made a record that truly represents herself.

Gone are the trendy production gimmicks and the arena guitars. Here is a sparser sound, a clap-your-hands-and-tap-your-feet feel that captures the essence of live Ferrick, and a brutal honesty that shines through the intimate lyrics and raspy, affected vocals.

Producer Rob Laufer, known for his work with diva-in-training Fiona Apple and Welsh songstress Katell Keineg, helped shape this clear musical vision and sat in on piano and bass. Vinnie Colaiuta (formerly with Sting and Frank Zappa) throws down drum, bongo, and cow-bell beats, adding a touch of samba to "Asking For Love," energy to the Ani DiFranco–esque jam "Particular Place to Be," and gloom to the melancholy "Stand Still."

Although Ferrick rips through her guitar lines and blows a flügelhorn to boot, the voice remains her best instrument. Her staccato vocals often crack when conventional music wisdom says they should soar, making you feel like she's reliving the yarn she's spinning. Optimism and pessimism spar wildly in her torn songs of love, loss, confusion, anxiety, and new beginnings. Everything I Need details Ferrick's journey from a cold, dark time in her life to a new, revitalized era. The title track gathers all these themes into one incredibly catchy sing-along anthem that ironically asserts, "I'll never write a hit song." With this kind of sincerity, talent, and range, she already has.

Bell is a reporter at Billboard.