Singer/songwriter Barrie Hart takes listeners on a ‘spiritual, emotional journey’ on new CD

Written by Sabrina Tinsay

In the beginning there was a young girl who learned hymns at church, and now in the 21st century, we have Barrie Hart, who is a passionate musician and a worshipper. Hart’s love and dedication for her savior is apparent in her album titled Whom Shall I Send? Hart takes us in a spiritual, emotional journey, thinning the line of religion. Her heart-wrenching call for devotion seeps through her songs “Bread and Wine,” “Here I Am,” and “I Worship You” calls for one to reminisce amongst one self with the goodness of God. Hart’s music background reflects her variety of her songs, from joy, pain, and glory, the One will always be praised with her passionate heart.

Sabrina Tinsay: Were you always a Christian artists throughout the years; if so, how did you stay strong with your belief that you would get through the perception of worship songs as something that would only be sung in a church?

Barrie Hart: No. My first “professional” work was singing backup for a local blues artist, Sarah Baker. I began singing on a worship team and then leading worship in the ’90s. The team that I led got the opportunity to play at the local Farmer’s Market in San Rafael, California.  We played three sets, 80% worship, with a few secular covers thrown in. It’s a big market, three stages.  We held the biggest crowd.  That’s when I knew.

Tinsay: Do you remember your first composition?

Hart: Yes. My first composition is a song called “How Was I to Know.”

Tinsay: Where was your first performance at?

Hart: My first performance ever was the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, California singing backup for Sarah Baker.  My personal first outside of church was the San Rafael Farmer’s market.

Tinsay: Your album titled Whom Shall I Send? has honest lyrics; did you always write your songs this way?

Hart: Yes. I don’t know any other way to write. My lyrics come from my experience…my heart…my view. I take great comfort in knowing that He “sees me as I am” and loves me. I know He loves my honesty.

Tinsay: When did you learn that you were going to focus on Christian music primarily?

Hart: I’ve actually done and still do both, but I’ve always known that I’m at my best when I lead worship. It is the best part of me. I believe I am first a worship leader and second a musician.

Published in: on October 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Canadian Angela Siracusa captures essence of country music

Written by Sabrina Tinsay

With her breezy vocals, Angela Siracusa captures the essence of country music. Siracusa’s latest album Drawn to the Flame has songs that can make one dance to their feet, sing along, and listen in complete stillness. In the song “It’s Not About Love,” once can decipher a sense of humanness and raw emotion spilling out into a piece of musical poetry. One song that stands out in Siracusa’s album is the title track, which is the cornerstone of her newest album. It is a great song to listen to during times of self-reflection. Without a doubt, Siracusa’s songs give us an assurance that we are not alone in this world, that a song can always mend a broken heart and make us smile any time of the day no matter where we may be. There is no doubt that Siracusa is a brilliant country musician with a new style.

Sabrina Tinsay: The country-music field is heavily competitive, especially among female artists. If I were a record label, what would you say are the qualities which separate you from the competition?

Angela Siracusa: I’m always open to the opportunity of being signed, especially because labels have superior distribution. I’m Indie right now, enjoying the successes without being signed. The best way to answer your question is what my manager told me when we began working together. He said so many female artists have the talent and the looks but invariably they lack the other qualities. In this business you can only go so far on talent and looks. It’s a tough business and you need the drive, the desire to keep you going when times get rough. You also need a great deal of intelligence and common sense as you will be faced with one career decision after another. If you have all these things coupled with personality, a desire to learn, and a strong work ethic, then you have the chance to rise above the competition. He says I have all these attributes and more, so who am I to argue.

Tinsay: Do you feel you’re at a disadvantage, in terms of being recognized by Nashville, by being based in Canada?

Siracusa: I feel I am at an advantage; they don’t call Nashville the “Music City” without good reason.  How many people get to travel and play in two great countries with amazing country fans in both?  I get to conquer both territories, spending about five months a year in Nashville and the rest in Canada. It’s important to my music business in keeping a strong artistic presence in Nashville. 

Tinsay: Where where you born and raised? Did you grow up in an environment wherein country music was constantly played?

Siracusa: I was born in Toronto, Ontario and raised in Woodbridge, Ontario. Country music was not the music I experienced with my friends but it was one of the major genres celebrated in my house. My mom has a love for country music and we would watch Grand Ole Opry, re-runs of The Tommy Hunter Show and Hee-Haw. Anne Murray, Debbie Boon, Linda Ronstadt and Crystal Gayle were some of my favorite singers. I’d learn their songs, then perform in front of crowds at weddings and parties. I knew early in my life my voice was made for country ballads. 

Tinsay: You did a duet with Walter Egan on his ’70s classic, “Magnet and Steel.” How did that come about?

Siracusa: My manager, Ken Kahler, called his long-time friend Walter Egan and asked him to listen to my demo songs. He then responded in an e-mail that he liked my voice and that he had some songs to suit my tonal quality, which he thought had a Linda Ronstadt tonal quality. I came up with the idea for the duet, and we just asked Walter and he said that he’d love to redo “Magnet and Steel” as a country duet. He co-produced the following songs, “Drawn to the Flame” and “Magnet and Steel.” Walter is so amazing to work with, a brilliant talent and super nice guy as well. 

Tinsay: Is there a large market for country music in Canada?

Siracusa: Indeed! Millions of country fans span across our country. Our CCMA’s and CMT Canada and the thousands of country radio stations and venues deliver the traditional and the new country music to Canadian country fans.

Folky Filipina singer/songwriter Frances Ancheta driven by modest ambitions

Written by Kit Burns

Singer/songwriter Frances Ancheta isn’t aiming for global stardom. The young Filipina acoustic-pop artist is instead simply wanting her gently rolling unplugged narratives to be appreciated, to find homes in the ears of listeners. Given that so many musicians today enter the field with MTV fantasies in their imagination, Ancheta’s modest ambitions are touching and reflected in their down-to-Earth pleasures of her debut album Now We’re Here.

Kit Burns: Your music is acoustic but the influence of ’80s English alternative rock, especially Morrissey, is evident in your voice. Are these stripped-down arrangements really what you’re aiming for or do you dream of a full electric band?

Frances Ancheta: The stripped-down acoustic sound is actually what I was aiming for, interestingly enough. Although I listened to all kinds of music, including alternative-rock bands, I was always drawn to their unplugged acoustic songs. For some reason I was fascinated by the fact that many of my favorite musicians started off writing classic songs with their simple instrument, their voice, and either a tape recorder or a pen and pad of paper. I always admired this ability to create something profound by doing something so simple. As far as a full electric band, I wouldn’t mind any collaboration in the future, but for now I feel like I can continue my development in acoustic arrangements.

Burns: Growing up, what artists did you listen to the most that inspired you to write and sing songs?

Ancheta: I listened to and enjoyed all kinds of music including old-school R&B, jazz/old standards, classical, reggae, flamenco, Hawaiian, folk, and above all the alternative/modern rock of the ’80s and ’90s – too many groups to mention! I loved the Smiths, the partnership of Morrissey and Johnny Marr was the ultimate songwriting combination of original lyrics and music that captured beauty, irony, and sadness all at the same time. I also enjoyed the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, R.E.M. I appreciated the songwriting talents of Neil Finn of Crowded House, who I admire for his skill and resourcefulness. As I got older I really was moved by Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Ben Harper. I also enjoy Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and Norah Jones.  

Burns: Are you involved with the Filipino-American music scene in San Francisco?

Ancheta: Yes, to a certain extent. I was born and raised in San Francisco so I’ve been able to witness the beginnings of a few Filipino organizations supporting Filipino American arts; for example, The Yerba Buena Pistahan Philippine American Arts Exposition, which I performed at last year, and Bindlestiff Studios. I know people who were performers, vendors, or organizers of the event. I try to be as supportive as I can with Filipino American events. However, I sometimes wish that these events would showcase more culture, history, and life for Filipino-Americans today. They try, but I’ve been seeing more often lately business/corporate-related booths such as the cell phone/cable company or a bank that happens to have Filipino staff representing the organization for that event. I still currently network with a few Filipino-American musicians I met during the open mike scene, including Olga Salamanca and Kapakahi, and I am happy for their success. In terms of trying to perform at various Filipino-run venues, my results have been mixed. I don’t think they quite know what to make of my sound at times, and they’re not sure how serious I really am. But for the most part my encounters with my fellow Filipinos have been positive.

Burns: What are your goals with this CD?

Ancheta: My goals were simple: To create a quality CD reflecting the crafts of good songwriting, artistic expression, and musicianship; to create a CD worthy of respect from appreciators of good music, something that I can be proud of.

Burns: What influences your songwriting? 

Ancheta: Many things influence my songwriting. Personal experience is such a big factor; many of my older songs helped me to deal with past relationships as well as to sort out my direction in life. I’m a pretty introspective person, and for better or for worse I tend to ruminate on things a lot. Songwriting helps me process my introspection at times and let things go. It helps me turn my negative feelings into something positive. In addition, my desire to understand other perspectives and points of view also influences my songwriting. In fact, some of the songs on the CD were based on imaginary situations and my interpretations of how certain people might be thinking or feeling. There were actually a few songs that I wrote for a friend’s unreleased movie, where I based the songs on characters in the screenplay. Most of all, a big influence is my desire and hope for the best to come; my belief that life will work things out in spite of all the ups and downs.

Singer/songwriter Andrew Portz summons ghost of old Tom Petty

Written by Carson James

While many Americana artists openly cop vocal signatures and guitar riffs from Johnny Cash or Hank Williams, Sr., singer/songwriter Andrew Portz jumps further into the timeline of alt-country ancestry. There’s no denying the influence of vintage Tom Petty on Portz’s rejected snarl and speaker-busting jangle. When Petty first appeared in the late ’70s, his roots-rock angst was an anomaly in a rock & roll scene ruled by disco on top of the charts and punk overthrowing the underground. Perhaps it’s fitting that one of his spiritual kin is breaking away from predictable Americana staples and embracing the unfashionable Petty.

Carson James: Would you describe your lyrics as personal? If so, are you writing about your own experiences here or that of others?

Andrew Portz: When I write songs, I like to weave together personal experiences, fiction, and history in an abstract way. “Three o’clock in the mornin’/Staring at these records on my wall” is what I was actually doing when I wrote “Rollercoaster Ride.” The rest of the song is just lyrics that I thought sounded cool, and I really do dig rollercoasters.
James: Do you write the words down first or do you come up with riffs initially and then add lyrics on top of it?

Portz: I just write songs the way they come to me. I usually hear a melody and a lyrical hook in my head, and I start to work with that. I wrote “I Can Hear You” in about 20 minutes starting with the opening guitar riff. When I wrote the song “Blue Lake California,” I came up with the melody along with lyrics that I dropped because they didn’t fit the sound of the song. The story of “Blue Lake” came to me much later during some time I spent there recording the early demos for the CD.

James: Some artists I’ve spoken to in the past believe that the environment they’re in can have an influence on their words. Has this ever happened to you? If so, can you provide examples from your record?

Portz: I think your environment can influence the words as well as a song’s feel. I wrote “Road Trip” sitting around a campfire, and it has that sound to it. We went into the studio and tried to recapture that vibe with the banjo and harmonica.
James: What song on Blue Lake California has the most meaning to you and why?

Portz: “You and I” has a lot of meaning for me. It was the first song I ever wrote that made me feel like, “Hey, I can do this.” I wrote it years ago for my wife. It’s a song about everyday people and what they go through in their relationships.
James: Is it harder to write sad tunes than happy songs? Or is it the other way around?

Portz: Some people drink, some people get stoned. I write songs. That’s my way of dealing with the down and outs. When life kind of gets good it’s a lot harder for me to write.

Singer/songwriter Steve Madewell uses dramatic textures to enhance song experiences

Written by Carson James
To these ears, Steve Madewell is a painter as well as a musician. Too often in this genre, we give such an emphasis on the craft of songwriting that we neglect the creativity needed for the arrangements. Not so with Madewell. Here is an artist who spent as much time and effort into making every track on his album Arrow Creek sparkle like his words. Let’s take a trip into Madewell’s world, one that spans historical events and geographical territories.
Carson James: You differ dramatically from many other singer/songwriters, past and present, by placing as much emphasis on sonic texture as your lyrics. Are you influenced by movie composers, too? If so, which ones?
Steve Madewell: Well, a song is a story set to music. For me sonic texture has a tremendous impact on the power of the message in the lyrics. Arrow Creek is very sparse, and I was working to make the texture of the music that is there as dramatic as I could, especially for what I was working with, including emptiness. I can listen to some songs for years and never hear the lyrics because I can’t get beyond the texture of the music. Speaking of beyond, the song “Beyond Where I Have Been” was a lyric that I liked, and I had a kind of Gospel thing in mind. Every recording I did sounded way too “march” like. So much so that I wouldn’t even share a demo with Caroline Quine, who was helping me with the project. I was in the barn one night trying to work it down to the essence of the tune, and scotch played a big role in that effort. I recorded the version that is on the disc that night and sent it via Internet to Caroline. She really liked it and when I played it back it was like, “Who played that?” But it got to where I needed it to be. So, yes, texture is important – no, critical. I appreciate a good sound track. Some of my favorites include Hustle and Flow and T-Bone [Burnett] is at the top of my list. Eddie Vetter’s Into The Wild is great and I’m Not There has a killer soundtrack. I think Once is not only a good soundtrack but that recording sequence does a great job depicting what that whole scene can be like, too.
James: There’s substance to your lyrics, but you write about a variety of topics beyond the formula of love found and lost, especially the plight of a Native American hero on “Who Will Weep for Me.” Are these subjects personal to you in a deeper way that we, the listeners, are not aware of?
Madewell: I hope they are just as deep to you as they are for me. An interesting thing about “Who Will Weep For Me” is the connection that the story makes with the loss of a family farm, i.e. a way of life (and even the loss of the neighbor who is telling the story) and the loss of Logan’s family and subsequently the loss of the Native American people’s way of life. It is a song as much about suburban sprawl as it is anything. I have worked on many farms as a kid and young adult and that way of life is truly in decline. I heard a Native American address a land conservation conference, and he delivered an invocation in his native language which he interpreted. He asked the attendees to be blessed with their efforts to protect and preserve the rare and endangered plants and animals on Earth and to be blessed in their efforts to protect open space, but he also asked for someone to work to protect his people from extinction for in his tribal subset he was one of only 19 remaining. The two ideas fit together. And the Chief Logan story is one of many many heart-wrenching events that occurred in the early history of this country. As a general observation, people have no idea what has historically gone on around them. Consequently, they have a limited sense of where they live, limited value or reverence to their surroundings and inadvertently a diminished sense of self.
James: “Is This What We Have Become” questions the shift in priorities of baby-boomers, namely the idealists of the late ’60s. Do you feel that people have become increasingly materialistic over the past few decades? Why do you think that happened?
Madewell: That song came out of the experience of having in a very short period of time several people from my past look me up and tell me how screwed up they were and one asked me to forgive them for something that happened 30 years ago. Leaving me thinking: what is up with that? People are looking for some sort of spirituality that takes them away from who they are and the richness of what they have lived. And this explains the growing trend in evangelical fundamentalism. The route that will wash away the sins of your past, but there is a price. And that is “hey baby it is my way or the highway” mantra of most fundamentalist religions, and “Oh, by the way, if you don’t agree with my point of view, you are going to hell or maybe my religion is justified in killing you.” I know a number of people who have jumped on this bandwagon that were certainly out there in their youth that simply clamped down on their children. I know what these folks were doing, and they seemed to live through it. They are productive and good people now. Yes, I have seen my share of casualties on the way, but isn’t life full of them? Don’t we truly learn from these experiences? I am not sure we learn anything from homogeneity. There is so much misdirected money spent on the effects, not the causes of social problems, child rearing, drug abuse, the environment, you name it. Really, it seems that there was a great deal of talk but limited commitment by us boomers to seek meaningful change. Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful exceptions, and the world is a better place for the efforts of those people who have worked to keep those ideas of the ’60s and ’70s alive, but all and all we just settled into being comfortable, fat, and consumed with wanting more. We know better, but history has demonstrated time and time again crisis creates change. We’ll keep at it until we create a crisis. Also after 9/11 happened, I found myself walking around airports with people in uniform slinging semi-automatic weapons on their shoulders, and we began to live in the social self lock down. Hey man, I am not in some little country somewhere, I am in Cleveland, Ohio. Please don’t get me started.
James: The production and mixing on your album is stellar. How much time was put into this project to achieve that pristine audio quality?
Madewell: Thank you very much. I spent a considerable amount of time with mic placement. There is really not much there, very open arrangements. I worked a great deal on the texture of the tunes. Trying to get the right openness. I was trying to get a sound like you are sitting in a stairwell playing the guitar. Michael Joly helped me with some suggestions and also did some modification on a couple of my mics. The recording was done with flat EQ, no compression, no effects going in at all. Several of Caroline’s vocal tracts were built around pieces I emailed from Ohio to Colorado that she recorded and e-mailed back. She recorded everything dry and was using Pro Tools and an AT 4040 mic I think. I used bits and pieces from three different tracks of Billy Lestocks’ slide mandolin piece to get the stereo field I wanted on “Climb,” and I sort of did the same thing with the bowed bass and upright bass for “Is This What We Have Become.” Everything else was very straightforward and recorded on a Korg D 1600 with Oktava mics and a couple art tube preamps. Afterwards, I added some reverb, multiband compression and sweetened up the EQ. Oh yes, Alex Bevan set the final master EQ, and I think he was using Digital Performer.
James: How long have you been writing songs? How has your music evolved since then?
Madewell: I wrote my first tunes when I was 14 or so and did some of my own material in high school rock bands. Really, I needed to make a living and was playing cover tunes for the past several decades until it was time to start writing songs again. I have been pretty much consumed with my conservation gig for the past 30 years and written volumes and volumes of proposal for environmental grants and such. I played in clubs and bars for many years because I needed the extra money and then also just to keep doing music. I was afraid if I quit gigging I would be done. In the past few years I stopped playing out over the winter months to give myself time to write songs and allow the music that has been brewing all these years to come out. In one way I guess the song ideas have evolved in my efforts to tell the story in a place or create a surrounding for it. I never thought about what that could do for the image of a song years ago. It’s funny though as some of these tunes I hear as band pieces, but I don’t have the time to do that right now, so I put the effort into finding a stripped down version that works.