The Roots Report: An Interview with Cindy Lee Berryhill

berryhillOkee dokee folks… I honestly was not aware of Cindy Lee Berryhill before my friend Ken Shane mentioned that she was coming to the Odeum in East Greenwich and asked me if I would be interested in talking to her. We were at the Autumn Defense show at Pop a couple of weeks ago and he immediately sent her a text and connected the two of us. She’s a contemporary of other similar genre artists: Paleface, Beck, Michelle Shocked and Brenda Kahn. All of these artists were part of the Anti-Folk movement that was happening in the mid to late ’80s. Including her 1987 album debut, Berryhill has released seven albums during her career with the latest being 2017’s Adventurist. To hear her music and learn more about her start “Jumping To Conclusions” at CindyLeeBerryhill.com

I conducted a brief e-mail interview with Cindy to talk about her music, life and upcoming, intimate show at the Greenwich Odeum.

John Fuzek: I noticed that you were on a Fast Folk compilation as well (I was on one in the mid 90’s)-how well did you know Jack Hardy? Jack was a friend of mine.

Cindy Lee Berryhill: I never met Jack Hardy but at the time, when they asked me to record something for FF I was honored. I think it might have been Richard Meyer that asked me to do it.

JF: Who else was included in the issue that you were part of?

CLB: Honestly I was a bit of an outsider to the FF thing. I’d just come in from Southern Calif and didn’t know anyone in FF, so not sure who else was a part of it.

JF: What made you Anti-Folk? Do you still think that you are? If not what would you categorize your music as now?

CLB: Antifolk was what we friends, outsiders of the FF thing, outsiders of the downtown NYC rock thing called ourselves to stake our claim to our piece of artistic property in NYC. We all played acoustic guitars and had an attitude and had not only been influenced by trad folk but also punk rock. I’m not sure what I’d call my music now. Aren’t I old enough to just bypass the labels? Maybe after seven records. Then again, we humans do love to categorize, don’t we?

JF: I read that you were in a group of musicians that included Brenda Kahn.

CLB: She was a part of our Antifolk scene. She came in as a writing student at NYU, wrote something about us. Dubbed me Queen of the Anti-Folk and then in time became one of us.

JF: I know musicians hate this but who would you say your music is similar to? Who are your influences?

CLB: I am a bit of a trifecta of Brian Wilson, Patti Smith and Woody Guthrie. If that makes any sense.

JF: What inspired you to pick up a guitar?

CLB: My parents started taking lessons and practicing guitar every night when I was 9. I learned a bit from them, then started taking lessons myself. I wrote my first song at age 10, which was a 12-verse ballad about the demise of the dinosaurs called “Cretaceous Times.”

JF: What made you want to perform in front of people?

CLB: Seeing Up With People, ha! I performed a song I’d written called “Pompeii,” about the volcanic demise of the ancient Roman city, when I was 11, at a small town talent show. The town was in the foothills of the California Sierra’s and called Oroville. I got a lot of compliments on my song and that sealed the deal.

JF: Where are you now?

CLB: I live in Southern Calif in a surf town called Encinitas. I’ve lived here for 24 years now. Nice place to bring up my 16-year-old son.

JF: Do you live solely on your music or do you supplement your income with any day gigs?

CLB: I’m also a guitar teacher.

JF: Of the music you have released, which is the collection that you hold closest to your heart?

CLB: Which child do you love the most? Always a tough question.

JF: Your new album deals with the issues of your late husband’s traumatic injury and aftermath, how did that affect your life? Do you think that if you had not had to go through the ordeal with your late husband that your career may have taken a different path?

CLB: Things would have been different undoubtedly. His traumatic brain injury happened in 1995 and it changed the course of our lives at that time. By the time the early onset of dementia began, and, I had a young child, there was no way I could even conceive of going out on tour let alone making an album again. I feel over the moon lucky that I get to make music again and share it with people.

JF: Has life as a single mom changed your music and style of writing?

CLB: My lesser known album Beloved Stranger was probably the most impacted by having a child. Several songs acknowledge being a mother and being a caregiver to my husband. By the time I started recording The Adventurist (released in 2017) I was ready to get back to my great love of arranging for multiple instruments and riding that great wave of musical inspiration that comes from … who knows where, but its magic.

JF: I read that you actually have a dishwasher listed as an instrument on your album.

CLB: Yes! It was our former dishwasher and it made a lot of noise. But a kind of good musical noise so I recorded it and figured I could use it somewhere on the album.

JF: Do you prefer playing acoustic or electric guitar? Which do you write with?

CLB: I write with my acoustic just cuz its right by my side in my living room and handy. But I don’t have a preference for playing live.

JF: You have a song called, “I Like Cats/You Like Dogs.” What was the inspiration for this song?

CLB: The song is primarily a discourse on opposites. You are This I am That, how do we get along. As my friend Peter Case said, “It sounds like its about politics to me.”

JF: How long are you out on this tour?

CLB: Just out on the east coast for about 10 days. Shows in NYC, RI and CT. AND! Seeing Bruce Springsteen on Broadway while we are there. Thanks to the kindness of my late husbands friend, Jon Landau. Looking forward to this tour.

JF: Do you enjoy touring? Is your son on the road with you?

CLB: My son Alexander is staying here in Encinitas with family friends. I’ll be on the road with two band mates; Renata Bratt on cello and Paula Luber on glockenspiel and percussion. Paula is a medical doctor and Renata has a PHD in cello so sometimes I call them The Para-docs.

JF: What can you say to folks who have never heard you perform to convince them to see you live?

CLB: I leave that to your professional word-craft. My job, if i got the job description right, is making music.

JF: Anything that you would like to add?

CLB: Very much looking forward and honored to play at the Odeum this week.
Rhode Island here we come!

Cindy Lee Berryhill will be playing an intimate On Stage show at the Odeum in east Greenwich on Wednesday, August 15. Opening the show will be RI’s own Heather Rose performing a rare solo set of her music. The audience will be on stage with the performer making this an exceptional opportunity to experience Cindy Lee Berryhill live. This is a definitely a show that you should check out. Get your ticket and claim a seat on the stage. For more, get your “Information From Nowhere” at GreenwichOdeum.com

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

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