Articles About Ferron:
Below, from Sing Out! (early 80s)
I was listening to some CDs by LGBT hip-hop artists before speaking
with you and it made me wonder if you have ever been asked permission
to use any of your songs as samples in another artist's hip-hop track?
AE: If you were asked, is it something you would agree to do?
F: Oh, I think so. It's sort of a compliment, I guess.
AE: Yes, in a strange way it is a compliment. Your new album Turning into Beautiful opens with the song "More Than That," in which you sing "Hello my friends, I feel so happy to be back/To feel so clear and on the track" - can you elaborate on that sentiment?
F: Well, it took a long time to get the next CD out. I have a lot of thinking and sorting out to do. To finally be able to get it flowing and to realize, once again, that I maybe had something to talk about was really thrilling. A couple of things happened in between albums. I lost a couple of people. I thought maybe I wouldn't do music anymore. It was just a whole bunch of things. I'm really not a fast writer. I've always sort of had to test out my feelings because, primarily, whatever's going on, what I'm going to write about, is really about making stepping stones that I can live with. So, it takes a long time. I, maybe when I was younger, didn't have an audience in mind. And then for a while there was an audience that was so constant that it was hard to even tell how I felt. Then, it calmed down again to where I could shut that out and could write from an inner place.
AE: Are you saying that you felt that there was a period there where you were writing more for an audience than for yourself?
F: I think when I wrote Phantom Center, say in 1990, I had had some realizations about how I could have peace in my life, and how I could live in a particular way that helped me to feel good all the time. Well, most of the time. Before then there was a lot of stuff that I hadn't worked through. When I was writing that CD I would have thought that it was, hopefully, helpful for someone else. So I would have been aware of them in that way. Driver was sort of like the end of the cone; the pointed end. I got to this place where it was really just me in my life, whether I could be happy or not; be fulfilled. By the time I wrote Driver, which ended up getting a lot of accolades, it was interesting. It was an album that was just for me, and was also this attempt at the fourth dimension in that, could you create an album that was as peaceful in the music and created the space of peace as well as talking about it?
AE: It's interesting it turned out that way: an album that was perhaps your most personal would be the one that was so well-received. You mention that there were people you lost in between Still Riot and Turning into Beautiful. That's a nine year stretch between albums of original Ferron material. What would you say is personally the biggest difference between the Ferron of 1996 and 2005?
I was in the studio with Warner Brothers and they let me produce Still
Riot on my own. It was ironic that in the end there was nothing there
for the radio. They had really hoped for that. All along there was
always somebody there from the record company in the studio. Ted Templeman
said that Still Riot was a near-perfect CD.
So we brought it out, and within minutes I had hung myself, because they said there was nothing for the radio; they didn't want to do anything. It was kind of over. I was kind of amazed at how pleased I was with Ted Templeman's approval. I think that was the end of looking for approval. It devastated me that I had hung so much on that deal. Other CDs of my past were involved in it. It was hard to have taken the hook and then choked on it.
I've gotten letters and people have come up to me, and I know there are girls out there who are struggling with some of the same issues that I struggled with or am still struggling with. So to know that it can help them, or to just be the support that they need, it's sort of an easy thing for me to do. So it's nice to be able to do that.
AE: So the Ferron of today doesn't go in that direction?
F: (laughs) No. There's one person that has to approve now, and that would be me. And it was that before that. There was a slight glitch in there that I guess I had to learn about.
AE: One can hear a pedal steel guitar on "More Than That," "Already Gone," "Goat Path," and the title track, and an equally audible country feel to songs such as "Never Your Own." Have you gone Nashville on us?
F: No. I probably was drawing from my natural inclination toward country music because I grew up with it. I never really knew rock that well. I suppose I could have put a mesmerizing rock thump under those songs, and managed to be as intimate. But, it wouldn't have fit the rest of the CD. I just let everything be what it was, like it was in the old days. The song tells you what it needs; you don't tell the song what it needs. I'm not a pop writer, and I'm not anticipating being on the radio or anything other than: there are some people in places all over the world who just want to know what I'm thinking about. It helps them. They tell me it helps them, and I think well, that's great, because it seems to help me too.
AE: I think you're definitely someone who has a strong connection to the audience. The aforementioned "Goat Path" clocks in at over seven minutes, and there have been songs on your albums throughout the years that often exceed five or six minutes or more. What can you tell me about the significance of working in the long form?
F: One: I don't have A.D.D., I don't have a problem trying to stay focused on something for a longer time. Some things can be said "cutesy" and "succinctly" and other things really can't. There is a kind of mood that you want to create to the music, with the music, that it just ends up being longer.
AE: You can't create that kind of mood in two minutes.
F: Well, you can. But, if it's a nice mood, why would you want it to end? It was a hard thing to talk about Betty (Spears), her dying, and how I felt about it (in "Goat Path"). Sometimes what happens is the first couple of lines start and they set the tone and the meter, and then I just try to adhere it. If I went back through that song I don't know what I could take out to make it shorter. It would be like if you wrote a letter and then you took out page three.
AE: Everything belongs. You have been touring in support of Turning into Beautiful. What has that experience been like for you?
: Well, all the new material is sandwiched between all the other material
that people want to hear. The fact is by the time I'm off stage, and
if I had to sing everything everybody wanted to hear before they ran
home, I'd be on for another hour. Because people yell: "Do this,
do that." Well, you know, it's over. I mean, I've already been
up here for an hour and a half, two hours.
I think the clubs are getting hit with some kind of tax that has changed their feelings about putting acts in. It used to be that I would go somewhere and I would get a hotel room, or maybe we would talk about the travel or something. But, none of that is there anymore. Some of the places don't even want to guarantee; they only want to pay you eighty percent of what comes through the door. Which is honest. But, if it's not your town, it's a tricky thing. Because you would expect a promoter to do that. I can't tell if it's that.
I didn't sing to young people, I didn't keep downing my writing, so part of it is that the audience I sing to would be happier going to a 4:30 show. I'm going to do a 7:30 tonight in New York City, which is very early in New York. But, I guess what their doing is we'll do a show and someone else is coming in after us. It's kind of like, hurry up, get through the show, get everybody out, and get someone else in. I can't imagine that Joe's Pub isn't going to have someone else tonight at 10:00.
AE: Would you say that the response to the new material has been good in general from the audience?
F: Yeah. People are really moved by the song "In the Mean Time," the song for the lost and found father. That was uplifting to me because, oh good, people are still willing to have a feeling.
AE: That's great to get to see that kind of reaction, too. Speaking of live shows, to this day, I still talk about your 2003 performance at the Queer Is Folk Festival in Chicago , particularly when you were joined on-stage by Bitch & Animal. It was a beautiful, spectrum crossing collision of women's music performers. Do you feel as strong a connection with the current generation of women's music artists as you did with others?
F: It was a historic moment. And right now I'm staying in Bitch's apartment in New York City . We became friends. What she wants to do right now is re-record just her and me and one other instrument and some Ferron songs to get out to a younger or more sideways crowd. It's where I can't seem to go; you can only be in one place at one time. She says [she asks people], "Have you heard Ferron?" and they say "No," she plays them the song and they immediately love it. And she moves in different circles than I do. She wants to make a CD of her and me doing my stuff and have it be accessible where she takes up space.
AE: That is the most brilliant idea. I think it's a perfect meeting. For obvious reasons, I don't get to go to Michigan to the Women's Music Fest. So, perhaps in the past you and Bitch have played together, but to see you at Old Town School on stage together was like seeing history being made.
F: We have so much fun together. It works because it's mutual respect, really. I see what she's doing [and] it's really great.
AE: On your website, you mentioned perhaps doing "another cover CD of women's songs -- by Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, and some of your Canadian peers. Is that something we can count on seeing in the near future?
F: Yes. That's how I got into making this CD. k.d. lang had come out with Hymns of the 49th Parallel, and I was joking around and said I should just do Canadian Hers. (Laughs) She's (k.d.) covering a lot of the guys' tunes. I thought it would be king of cute, but then I worried about getting sued or something. I don't think it's ever wrong to say I wish I would have made this CD or written this CD because there are certain songs that just break you down sometimes in the middle of night. It's also a way of saying "listen, when I couldn't make it, I listened to you."
AE: Absolutely. What higher compliment is there to pay someone than to cover their song? Also, it's a way for you to claim the song as your own, too, because you're not going to do the exact same version; you're going to do your version.
F: Yeah. I remember one time we left Philadelphia. My girlfriend and I just decided that we would follow poems instead of money in 2003. We sold everything and just drove across the country to change our life and to write. So, consequently, I did do Turning into Beautiful and she's almost finished a novel.
But at one point I was living in a yurt. Krissy Keefer, who's a leader of Dance Brigade, has some land up in Northern California and we wanted maybe to make it an intentional community. We stopped there and ended up living in this eighteen foot diameter yurt for about nine months. One night while I was there by myself I happened to listen to "The Dreaming Road" by Mary Chapin Carpenter very late at night and I was in little bit of a crisis of the soul. I heard that song and I just fell apart. It was acknowledging my feeling lost, and also my gratitude that there was a song that I could have as a soundtrack behind it (laughs). It really mattered to me. I kept listening to that song, and it kept calming me down.
did for me what other people say my songs do for them; I just played
it over and over and over. Finally, it was 6:30 in the morning and
I had pulled all of my molecules back together. But I couldn't help
but write to Mary Chapin and say "listen, thank you." So,
for instance, that would be a song that I would put on Canadian Hers,
even though she's not Canadian and I am. (laughs)