Chelsea Berry is one of the jewels of the Cape Ann music scene. Chelsea hails from Alaska but has made Massachusetts her home since her Berklee days. The music that Chelsea presents on stage and on her recordings is eclectic. She can mesmerize the audience with spine-tingling a cappella tunes and she can rock out with a full band, playing with gleeful abandon.
To learn more about Chelsea, visit her website. Check out this video of Chelsea singing “I Wonder.”
- You are a classically trained singer. What caused the shift to the “other side”?
- I’ve been playing and singing folk/pop songs ever since I picked up the guitar at 14. At 17, I was accepted to Montana State University on a small music scholarship and their music department was tiny. Classical training was all they offered. I was really there to ski and rock climb anyway so it didn’t make a difference to me. Haha. I kept up with my own singer/songwriter thing as well.
- You have recorded a variety of different CDs that show your softer singer-songwriter side and your rock side as well. Is there anything up your sleeve that we might expect in terms of style?
- I’ve been experimenting with lots of ideas and have some new tunes that I haven’t played out yet — I think I’ll debut them at this show. They are a little edgier than a lot of my originals tend to be.
- Tell us about your writing style. Can you write any time and anywhere? Or do you need to shut yourself away from the world in order to create music?
- Most of my songs are born when I’m walking in the woods, paddling a kayak, or skiing. Sometimes I can sit down at the piano or with my guitar and write but most of those ideas don’t become full songs. I think the freedom and ease I feel being outside combined with the steady rhythm of my movement gets my brain into a good creative space.
- What lessons did you learn at Berklee College of Music that have most stayed with you?
- Always remember to acknowledge and thank your audience, make sure you write in a way that puts the emphasis on the correct syllables in your lyrics, and don’t forget that there are a million other people out there who want to be a rock star, too — so practice hard and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. That last one wasn’t part of the curriculum, but it’s definitely something I learned when I was at Berklee.
- You’ve had the great fortune of opening up some pretty impressive shows for some big names in the music world. What are some of your favorite memories of these experiences?
- Let’s see. Almost fainting when I shook Chris Isaak’s hand and saw that yes, he really was that gorgeous up close. Singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in harmony with Livingston Taylor on one mic, us looking each other in the eyes and holding the last five notes of the song as delicately and beautifully as we can.
- In reading about you, you advise your fans (and people in general) to take care of each other. Has your experience as part of the Cape Ann music scene brought this lesson home for you? It seems to be a very close-knit group of diverse musicians.
- Absolutely. We promote and attend each others’ shows, support each others’ Kickstarter campaigns, sing on each others’ records. Bradley Royds sings backup for me. Kristen Miller travels miles and miles to watch her fellow musicians play. Joe Wilkins attends tons of other people’s shows. I go support Renee and Joe and make sure to wear my Renee and Joe Tshirt. We’re all in this together.
T Max is a musician, a graphic designer, an editor and a publisher and so much more. He’s one of the most vocal proselytizers of the New England music scene who has ever lived. Yes, he’s a force of nature. Musicians and music fans alike should be thankful that he spends every waking hour either making music or telling the world about the music that he’s discovered or rediscovered.
To learn a little bit more about T Max, visit this site. You also have to jaunt over to The Noise and spend some time checking out all the music content there. Here’s a video of T Max singing his song “Shake.”
- You’ve been an integral part of the Boston and New England music scene for how long now?
- I came to Boston (from New York via Martha’s Vineyard) and started performing there in 1980 in a new wave rock band called Art Yard. In different outfits I’ve played the Hatch Memorial Shell, the Boston Common, the Paradise, the Middle East and almost every other club in the Boston area. I’ve been playing publicly since 1965 — starting out as an underage teenager (thanks to my brother’s ID) in the bars of Long Island.
- What inspired you to start publishing The Noise? Tell us a bit about the magazine, where it’s distributed, what kind of reactions you get to it and so and so forth!
- Ahh — The Noise started in 1981. I saw an opportunity to help publicize all the great musicians I met. There were way too many talented musicians for the mainstream newspapers and magazines to cover. For 28 years The Noise focused on Boston’s underground rock scene — and then it graduated to all kinds of music in New England. Distribution is heavy in the Greater Boston Area and the North Shore — we also hit Providence RI, Portsmouth NH, Portland ME, the South Shore, Cape Cod, the Lowell area, and Western Mass. Many musicians grew up with The Noise in Boston, getting their first media exposure, and then moved out of town. The most common message I get from people who moved to other parts of the country is — there is absolutely nothing like The Noise here. Since we’ve spread out our distribution, I’m constantly running into old readers who are excited to re-find The Noise in their neighborhood. In general musicians are grateful for the coverage they get in The Noise — we review more musicians than any magazine in New England and we’ve also been around the longest.
- I’m fascinated by your passion for rock opera. Can you tell us a bit about the productions that you have been involved with?
- When I was young my dad used to sing like Mario Lanza and I would mimic him. He was just glad to hear me sing with that operatic voice, and told me I should combine opera and rock. I don’t think that’s what I was consciously doing years later when a lightbulb went off in my head to organize the best Boston musicians I knew to do a live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. Boston Rock Opera’s shows sold out all the time. We did many other rock operas, including the Kinks’ Preservation, the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Who’s A Quick One, Harry Nilsson’s The Point and Tim Robert’s Crackpot Notion. After Boston Rock Opera, I led Sgt. Maxwell’s Peace Chorus (me with a cellist, drummer, and a backing choir) on a peaceful mission performing my own Why Do We Go to War? Then went on to write and perform Shake, a musical Earth tale with narration (like The Point). It was fun to create musical pieces that were larger than a song, but I’ve gotten that out of my system now and aim at just entertaining an audience. I like adding my own life stories to my shows, because I always find it interesting to learn more about a musician than just hear his or her music.
- And you’ve written your own rock opera called Why Do We Go to War? I’d love to hear more about that. I’m assuming you’re a pacifist and the music reflects that. . . .
- Yes, I am a pacifist — and Why Do We Go to War? reflected my basic feelings about war. The bottom line, though too simple for most people, is Thou Shalt Not Kill. Besides performing the show with Sgt Maxwell’s Peace Chorus, I also designed it as a one-man folk rock opera and performed it solo all over New England. It involved singing, playing, and also doing narration and acting. I’d actually go through the physical movements of a soldier non-intentionally killing a young boy he knew when his officer ordered him to fire on people running from the triggering of an improvised explosive device. The story is heavy with the hardships that relationships go through when they are affected by war. I think I was asking my audience to take in maybe too much of that heaviness, and that’s why I’ve moved on to a more audience-friendly show.
- Thinkin’ Up a Dream is your latest solo album. It is true that you had a creative outburst upon your move to Gloucester and that’s how the album came about?
- I regularly have creative outbursts. Over the years I’ve been a graphic artist, and artist in wood, and a serious chess player (yes, I consider that a creative outlet). But with the art of music there is a double-fold level of excitement: 1) there’s nothing like going into a studio and creating your own music — I’m currently mixing in the sound of geese at the Topsfield Fair (they are amazing at keeping time, and they work cheap). And 2) getting up in front of an audience and showing them who I am — the live element allows anything to possibly happen. Thinkin’ Up a Dream is definitely my best recorded work to date. It’s serious. It’s funny. It has something old, something new, and something blue. Seriously.
- What’s unique about the Cape Ann music scene? How would you best describe it?
- The geographic placement of Cape Ann has forced the scene to be pretty insular. That said, the talent is amazing and wide ranging. This show — “Cape Ann Invades Marblehead” — is the tip of the iceberg, and offers a glimpse at the range of musical form. Chelsea Berry is an unbelievable powerhouse of a voice in a young body that reeks with maturity beyond her years. Willie “Loco” Alexander (check out who’s on the December issue of The Noise) is a super creator who is willing to change his successful musical direction and go to places where no musician has gone. Andy Pratt is a rock legend (I’m sure of this because I read it on his business card) with the biggest legit hit of all — “Avenging Annie” — you can’t take your eyes off him when he performs. And I’m the new kid on the block with a fanzine and live performance that just keeps ticking. As you, Kathy, once said about me — I’m a force of nature — and I promise I’ll remember to wear clothes for this show. As I’ve said privately and publicly, me & thee is my favorite venue. The sound of the room, the people who work there, and the audience, are far more than any artist can ask for, and I’m looking forward to returning to that lovely stage, where the word “peace” hangs high above every performer’s head.
Willie Alexander. I go way back with his music — back to the days when you’d find me at punk and rock clubs more often than you’d find me at a coffeehouse. And who would imagine that a few decades down the road that the twain would meet at the me&thee in Marblehead?
Willie’s contribution to the Boston music scene is legendary. From The Lost to the Boom Boom Band to The Confessions. Willie was inducted into the Boston Hall of Fame in 1987 — the same year as The Cars. One interesting comment by journalist, Sally Cragin, in Willie’s bio states that his songs are “keen observations of the neglected and down-and-out” and went on to comment that the description sounds similar to the work of one of America’s most written about songwriters, Woody Guthrie. An apt description for sure. Willie Alexander’s music doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter. His music embraces it with a real cool beat.
To learn more about Willie, visit his website. There are dozens of videos of Willie available online . . . . from various phases of his life. Take a spin around and witness the history of this fabulous musician. Here’s just one example.
- You’ve been dubbed “The Godfather of Punk.” Is it difficult living up to that title?
- I think of myself as a 2nd generation rock. & roller having started with THE LOST, performing in 1964. The music I have always played has been influenced by rock & folk & blues & jazz & Afro Cuban music — American music that started in Africa & New Orleans
- Every decade I am called something different. They started calling me a veteran in the 70s -– the godfather thing
- Any particular reason why you got the nickname “Loco”?
- The Willie Loco nickname has served me well since 1962. I combined Willie Bobo and Joe Loco. two faves of mine.
- Your musical career has been long and varied. What has been the most fulfilling aspect of it?
- The most fulfilling aspects of my career are playing my own music are the times when people tell me how much they enjoy certain songs or shows or bands I played in over the years. Feeling I have made real connections wit the people. It was really exciting playing when i started in The Lost & it STILL IS!
- You’re probably tired of being asked about your time in the Velvet Underground. But I’ve got to ask. How weird was it to replace Sterling Morrison? I’m sure you had some definite highlights and lowlights during your tenure with the band. Care to expound?
- I really don’t think about the Velvet stuff. I usually say I was too out of it to remember but there are recordings & some ain’t bad. I used to just toss them when I would get them in the mail (of the 1971 live VU shows). All of them on Captain Trip Records in Japan.
- How did your music evolve after the punk movement?
- The music comes through me from (you name it). i am just a slave to the rhythm.
- Your work with the Persistence of Memory Orchestra and the A-Train Orchestra sounds intriguing. How would you describe the music you play with them?
- I am exploring it still & don’t know what is ahead or how the next recording will sound (in 2 days !!!). I love horns and drums as much as guitar based thing.
- I’ve read about your work as a visual artist — particularly your unique collages. I got a kick out of your description of it as “glorified trash.” But I’m sure that it speaks to your creative soul. Do you have any particular themes to your collages?
- My music and collages all come from the same creative impulses, I think. I love found sounds and images and random things and other world’s music. Sound is music to me. Everything goes. I am just lucky it comes through me and I can use it.
- Anything special you’d like to say about the Cape Ann music scene?
- I love being in Gloucester and all the fine musicians I have met here. I am looking forward to playing at the me & thee!!!