Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Spending Time With The Ball & Chain

The best part about this journey of writing about music here as well as exploring it on Time For The Blues is making connections. Over the past decade, I’ve been able to connect with musicians who were artistic heroes as well as discovering many more who have become friends. I’ve been able to make friends with many people who have listened to the show or read a story here.
I’ve even managed to reconnect with old friends who had been lost to time and distance. Most recently, I’ve been able to reconnect with an old friend from college. I was on my second or third major and Lucinda McDermott was a young talented freshman. She was one of those kids who got cast in shows and made her mark as a performer while I was one of the guys who did all the research and wrote about the theory of theatre.
Oh yeah, I was chasing a dream.
Little did I know that several years later, thanks to social media, we would touch base and rekindle our friendship from all those years ago. And discovering that she and her husband comprised a kick ass band, Ball & Chain was just the icing on the cake.
Recently we were able to find time in their busy schedule and got a chance to talk about music and a few other topics.
Professor: Ball & Chain has a very interesting sound. Americana with an edge. I hear rock, blues, some country, and attitude. How do you describe it?
Jon: We like "Americana with an edge." When we formed Ball & Chain, which is odd to say because we've been playing together for over 20 years in one formation or another--but we called it "stripped down rock."
Lucinda: Some venues tried to force "folk rock" on us which is so not right. I have literally rubbed that chalk written sign out.  And yes, blues, new country, some southern rock influences and more recently R & B.
Professor: How did you two get together? Did the music come first, or the relationship?
Lucinda: Music. So. I was hanging out working in Richmond, VA after a cruise ship gig. I had been the featured singer, and had loved the various musical collaboration I'd experienced. I wanted to get more songwriting and recording experience before heading back to NYC. I asked around and was guided to Matthew Costello, who I met, and who I started working with in his studio on writing and recording on a weekly basis. After a few months, I wanted to return to NYC for acting and singing, and had the goal to hook up with an original rock band. Started looking in Public Notice Music section of The Village Voice. There were about 3 interesting ads looking for a front person. I set up some auditions, and one was with this guy who asked me to meet him at a diner in the Bronx. That was Jon. He says he got a pretty good return on a $15 ad. At the time, the band was called Tongue N Groove--which did not work for a lead female singer--at least in my mind, I didn't want to be a part of THAT kinda band (at the time, a couple of the guys were builders) . . . So with me, the band became Ransom.  The relationship came later.

Professor: You have a very talented family. Do your children ever get into the act, or is that something they let mom and dad have to themselves?
Jon: We would LOVE to have them sing, play, whatever with us, because yes, they are very talented. You have to remember they are just out of being teens. No teen wants to do anything with their parents. However! We have recorded a song together for my brother at his request. I hope we can do more.
Professor: How can two people make such a big sound?
Jon: Hmmmm. I think it has to do with our influences. We're not shrinking violets.
Lucinda: This is totally my perception: When Jon writes a song, he hears it fully produced in his head. And he comes from a time of Spector, the Who, Beatles, Motown-- and he hears that. We would LOVE to have a full band. But the logistics are frankly too hard, and heartbreaking when it falls apart. So, two is manageable. But we find ways between instrumentation and harmony to add texture. Recording wise, especially on the last album, you're hearing what Jon hears in his head. Still, I think we manage to surprise folks live with how full a sound we make.
Professor: Who plays what?
Lucinda: Jon plays guitar and keys. I play guitar, acoustic bass, mandolin, harmonica, hand percussion. Both of us sing.
Professor: You’ve released two CDs. Take me through your process of putting together an album. Do you start with a song and have that lead to another, and eventually an album or is it more of a catch as catch thing?

Lucinda: Jon has been writing since he was in his late teens. He has a phrase, "I'm either on input or output." When he's on input, he tends to go back through the archives--and the archives consist of old notebooks, cassette tapes, some reel to reel. . . demos, etc. . .  There is always a ton of material. In between that are new songs. Sometimes one of us has an idea--mostly Jon, and the other will have input. Jon has the most input on melody because he has an ear for that surprising chord.
Jon: Lucinda challenges lyrics a lot--and brings lyrics to the table.
Lucinda: I would say that we've been on a learning curve per collaboration. I'm not always nice, but I'm learning to be nicer! (laughs) Mostly I'm learning that because I've learned to admit he is much better at songwriting than I am. So, to answer your question--- when we feel we have a nice cohesive collection of new and older re-worked songs--there's an album.
Professor: You’ve only recently returned to Richmond after years in Salem, then Williamsburg. Is it tough getting established in a new town?
Lucinda: We weren't actually in Salem, we were in Radford, VA for 12 years. Then a year in Williamsburg. And yes, it is tough as hell getting established in a new town. We feel once someone opens that door, and it only, only takes one door-- and we can be heard, that's all it's going to take. It is definitely a challenge starting over. But that's life.
Professor: Who are your major influences?
Jon: I think my favorite writer is Pete Townsend, Beatles, the British Invasion, singer songwriters of the '70's, more contemporary Neil Finn.
Lucinda: Bessie Smith, Joplin, Baez, Annie Lenox, Kate Bush, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Stewart, Crowded House. I learned to sing harmony listening to Simon and Garfunkle, Beatles, CSNY, The Band. I also grew up in Rockbridge County where there was a new wave of Old Time in the late '70's along with the Grateful Dead playing everywhere, so that roots foundation is definitely something that is my foundation. That along with the 78s my dad played of Bessie Smith and Art Tatum.
Professor: Is it tougher to get a following with original material?

Jon: Yes.
Lucinda: People want to hear what's familiar. However-- Having done this for some time now-the real listeners, people who genuinely love music, live music listen to our originals intently. It's a different kind of engagement we get with our original songs than with the covers. And we do our best to bring something new to the covers which I think we're very successful at. But the keen engagement we experience with our songs is the best feeling in the world. And that is as meaningful in a small listening room in Southwest Virginia as it is in a huge venue elsewhere.
You know, music just touches people on a soul level. And to do that is a wonderful thing. It's like real magic--not slight of hand.
Professor: For folks who want to get to know you better or buy your CDs, how can they find you?
Jon: Great question! People can connect with us at any or all of these places:
 Also write to us! JonPiro1@gmail.com

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