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Saturday, 19 May 2012

In conversation with Melisa Kelly

So what's the deal with Melisa Kelly. Tell us a little, or a lot, about yourself?
The pen sketch would be 'I'm a young woman who possesses a powerfully emotive voice and has a penchant for belting out songs that wouldn't sound out of place in a juke joint', but where did that come from?
Fill in the gaps for us as most people outside of Ayrshire are still to be introduced to you.

Melisa - Well I was brought up on a steady diet of blues,soul and rock'n'roll from my Dad.
Pretty much all my early memories are of music being played.
It became a bit of an obsession in my teens where I would listen and memorize words and ad libs of famous singers, Nina Simone, Etta James, Little Richard and Stevie Wonder.
Stevie wonder was a big one,
I could sing you any of his songs including improvised wails. But since a year and a half ago Ive been writing and performing my own songs in Ayrshire and Glasgow which I guess are a mixture of all those influences I was brought up with.

Just now you've been gathering some well deserved praise on a local level.
Apart from the obvious attraction that is your voice do you think that people are keying into something that feels less manufactured than what the mainstream is offering? Are we coming full circle with auto tuning and such being something that people are increasingly shying away from?

Melisa - I think I'm quite lucky that I'm so bloody old fashioned because it makes me different in a really familiar way.
I think my songs are honest and I don't try to be anything Im not, and I tend to dispense with the whole deep symbolic lyrics in favour of 'you pissed me off and here's why'.
People were destined to get sick of studio singers and insta-bands. I think were getting back to the good old days when you just had to be a good live performer, thank god.

Are the plaudits starting to give you the confidence to start spreading your wings a bit? Or are you just sort of allowing yourself to be swept along and crossing your fingers and hoping good things will happen if you just keep playing?

Melisa - I really have found my feet thanks to a cracking crowd of friends. When I first started I felt like a pork pie in a room full of caviare but it made me want to try harder and get better and it still does.
I only really learned the guitar 18 months ago because no one would play my songs for me. I have allowed myself to be swept along at points but I still like to put in the work because the good press shows it helps.

Who would you say has been an influence on your music?
When I listen to you I hear everything from Etta James to Little Richard filtered through indie pop and folk.
It's a heady brew and you could be at home sharing a stage with either Imelda May or Mumford and Sons and it would still fit.

Melisa - Like I said its everything from Little Richard to Otis Redding, then there's Etta James and Aretha Franklin, AC/DC and Janis Joplin.
My influences and tastes can be schizophrenic at times but it was always singers with balls I was drawn to, especially women that sung like men, raw and uncaring.
Women that weren't afraid to look unattractive or broken.
I'll never get sick of Nina Simone's performance of I put a spell on you from 1968. She looked like she happily die right then and there, I get chills every-time.

You are a keen supporter of local unsigned bands and acts around Ayrshire. Who would you rate?
Is there anyone that you have seen that you just think 'Wow, just wait until the world hears this.

Melisa - There really is a ton of talent in Ayrshire, more than I ever thought. I only moved to Ayr three years ago and I had no idea. Anna Sweeney makes me love indie folk, which is hard because I struggle to like anything that doesn't have jazz chords in it.
Jamie McGeechan makes me sick because he's talented, doesn't know it, and hes a diamond, so not fair!!
But definitely Tragic'O'Hara blew me away when I first saw him and then when I saw him again.
The real tragedy would be if a wider audience didnt hear him, magic!

Currently you have an EP available, but it sounds less representative of where you are at in the present with each month that passes.
Is there another EP or even an album on the horizon?

Melisa - Were preparing for the next EP which will be a lot closer to what the album will sound like next year.
Everything keeps evolving the more we play it live. Songs like the Flesh is Willing just aren't relevant any more where as songs like Aint gonna tell you again have taken on a life of their own.
Im really looking forward to our next EP though, were recording it in July and all Ill say is were stealing the concept from one of the best.

You did a rather lush video for 'The Flesh is Willing'. Was that an exciting time for you with the EP and video coming out?

Melisa - It was a fucking nightmare, and it was brilliant.
I was bankrolling and organising everything myself and if Id have known the trouble it would cause me I might have been reluctant to do it, but Im so glad I did.
Filming the video with ELgato was fun and camp as knickers.
On the lead up to the launch night for the video and the EP I was a wreck, panic attacks and everything. All I kept thinking was 'my names on everything, 'if it shit its all my fault'. But is was so well received and I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out.

At the moment you are fronting The Harmless Thieves. Has this been one of those matches made in heaven?
How has this musical relationship influenced your song-writing and performing?

Melisa - Its been great, I always played my songs and then heard other instruments and I got really frustrated at times, so when the band was made it was like heaven.
All the things I could hear but couldn't produce started happening and the difference has been night and day.
Im very proud of my band, I've been extremely lucky to be surrounded by both talented musicians and just really lovely people.

I've often commented to people in bands and solo artists who have been doing well that they can often suffer from the big fish in a small pond syndrome and that for some reason they seem unable to transfer what they do to a wider audience.
Do you see that as a problem in general, and if so then how can it be addressed?

Melisa - Its never really occurred to me that the band, myself, and the music wouldn't translate to a bigger audience.
I think that's a lot to do with us being so adaptable, we can play for four or four hundred people in Troon or Glasgow and it still makes sense. When it comes to performance I never really think of 'Im good in Ayr can I be good in Glasgow or Edinburgh'. I look at it more like 'will this crowd like us or will they not'.
Certainly I think its harder for acoustic acts but talent always shines through.
When I saw Laura Hyslop play at the Box in Glasgow to a packed house with just her and the guitar singing Tom Petty's American Girl people lost their minds.
I think there's a lot to be said for persistence to.
Breaking out into places like Glasgow is always hard because of the competition but at the risk of sounding trite you have to believe people wanna hear you, if you don't believe how the hell do you expect a Glasgow audience to believe your worth staying in the bar for. 

Questions for Melisa and the band, bookings, want to grab a CD? Click this.

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