What exactly makes 'Moanin'' Michelle Malone ... moan?
'Come on now,' coyly responds the openly gay songstress with a grin.
It seems we may have to speculate upon the true answer to that mystery (like a Rorschach, this could reveal how much of a dirty-minded folk you are), but Malone is at least more forthcoming about her new rockin', twangy, energized, Southern-smooched album, Stompin' Ground (Daemon/ SBS).
Described as 'Patsy Cline meets the Georgia Satellites,' the ninth album in the Atlanta, Ga., native's canonwhich includes 1988 debut, New Experience, 1990's Relentless, and 2001's Hello Out Therewas recorded with her current band, The Low Down Georgia Review (Johnny Daly, Lee Kennedy and Linda Bolley). Indigo Girl Amy Ray guests on a pair of tracks, as do queer lyrics. 'Cypress Inn,' deemed the most personal tune, somberly reflects on being away from her girlfriend ('If it wasn't for my wanderlust we could start a family' she laments). And album closer 'True' boasts: 'Take a simple love and grow it big as the sky above, don't let anyone tell you who to love!'
Currently on the road promoting the new disc, Malone took a few minutes out to discuss rockin, writing, and record labels.
Lawrence Ferber: You were concerned about how Hello Out There might be received back in 2001you felt it was very much a Britney/J-Lo market. How did things pan out?
Michelle Malone: It was album of the year on several prominent album lists, won several songwriting awards, and did very well, but the new CD is getting rave reviews and I'm more excited about it than any of my previous [ones].
LF: Stompin' Ground is a major change in sound. Gritty, Southern, smoldering, rather than your last folk/pop/rock effort. Is this getting back to your roots or growing a new tree?
MM: I call what I'm doing now Chattahootchie swamp rock. It's cranked up and stripped down ... makes me feel sassy and want to kick some ass and kiss some babies. It's specific to Georgia in that it has all the great Georgia roots influences mixed in there including rootsy acoustic, old school electric, a little southern blues and gospel and a whole lot of rock-and-roll swagger. Georgia has produced great music from all genres including Little Richard, Gladys Knight, Allman Bros, Ray Charles, James Brown, Otis Redding, Chet Atkins, Gram Parsons, Lena Horne, and 'Ma' Rainey, to name a few. Like most of them, I learned to sing in the church. In fact, I was encouraged to play guitar in church as well, so there's always been this dichotomy of wanting to play the so called 'devil's music' and trying to reconcile that with what I had been taught from my ex-musician, born-again parents.
LF: Your parents are born agains? Are they cool with your musical career?
MM: Yes, mom sings with me sometimes and they still perform, but not in bars.
LF: Are you a country music fan?
MM: No, I've never been a fan of country or Southern rock. I did like the Allman Bros, but they had so many more jazz and blues influences than the crop of Southern rockers. I do absolutely worship the Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, The Faces, John Lee Hooker, Neil Young and Dolly Parton.
LF: Have you ever asked Dolly Parton to collaborate?
MM: Would if I could, I love her! She's like the country Cher. Much respect.
LF: Most of your albums have been released on your own label, SBS (Strange Bird Songs). You're releasing this one with Amy Ray's Daemon imprint, which put out 1994's Redemption Dream.
MM: I found that I sell enough CD's to warrant needing a little extra help. It was too time consuming, having no help whatsoever, so I've enlisted the expertise of Daemon Records to license and distribute my new CD. It's like leasing it out, but I still own it and have 100% artistic freedom. This is very different from my [other] label experiences. My experiences with several major labels [like Arista] have been stifling, political, and with all the corporate trimmingsall the things that your typical musician loathes ... stifled my creative spirit. Plus I'm too damn rebellious to let someone who doesn't have my best interest at heart dictate much of anything to me.
LF: What was the process of making Stompin' Ground like?
MM: At least half was written in the middle of recording either in the studio [Snack N Shack in Atlanta] or on the road. 'Moanin' Coat' was written one day in the studio while everyone was on dinner breakwhen they got back I showed them the song and we went in and recorded it. The whole process took about an hour and a half. 'Preacher's Daughter' was written in LA at The Hyatt House Hotel, '2 Horns and 2 Wings' was written while driving down the highway leaving a show in Asheville, and 'Samsonite' was written while driving down the highway from Chapel Hill after a house concert. It wasn't so much a process as it was that I was too busy to get in my own way. The songs just kept on coming, getting more and more honest and authentically Moanin' Malone. I love this record so much. I feel like I finally got all my influences, energy and my true essence in there. I've tried a lot of styles that it took this long for all the flavors to meld and really make Michelle soup!
See www.michellemalone.com . Those who preorder her new CD from the site become eligible to win a house concert.