Barrington songstress plays the happy woman blues
BARRINGTON — Next time you see Becky Chace play live, think twice about requesting too many songs from her back catalog.
“I look back at the songs I wrote in my 20s and I can’t relate to them,” says the 37-year-old singer-songwriter from Barrington. “Sometimes people will request that I sing (an older) song and I’ll go ‘Oh God!’ because it’s embarrassing to sing lyrics that I just totally don’t feel like anymore. I’m not that insecure, or angry, or silly. Who is that person?”
Sitting in her dining room last week and wearing a black Living Room T-shirt handed down by her uncle — he used to frequent the “Bubble” edition of the Providence nightclub, while she performed there a few times before its 1990 closing — the local folk/country/blues singer has every reason to be happy these days. In July she got married to her partner of eight years, Christy Bergeson and shortly before the ceremony she had a grand adventure on the high seas that inspired her in more ways than one.
Friends invited her to take part in the challenging Vic-Maui Yacht Race (Victoria, British Columbia to Maui), considered to be the pinnacle of Pacific Northwest ocean racing. “We were out to sea for 17 days. It was a long way — 2,300 miles,” says Ms. Chace, an experienced sailor who was one of five crew members aboard a 45-foot boat.
Although good weather ensured smooth sailing for most of the trip, living with five other people aboard a rocking boat for over two weeks can still tax one’s psyche, she says.
“I got off that boat and I was like, ‘I’m never going to complain about a single thing again,’” she says. “Because what you can do if you have a hangnail or if you’re hungry for something we don’t have on the boat, or you are bothered or agitated? There’s nothing you can do except go with the flow. It was a good lesson.
“Of course,” she joked, “two weeks later I was like, ‘Agh — traffic!’”
The adventure also inspired her to write a song about “the feeling of being happy and comfortable being on a boat.” Any profound experience is fodder for a good tune, she says — not just the sad stuff.
“When my nephew was born, I wrote a very happy song. The older I get, the more my songs are becoming positive, more sentimental,” says Ms. Chace, who joked that in 10 years time she’ll be writing “sap.”
One could rightly label her music “happy woman blues,” borrowing the title of an old album by Lucinda Williams, a songwriter she greatly admires.
Still, it can be a grind to get her music out to the masses. When it comes to the music industry, notes Ms. Chace, the middle class is woefully underrepresented.
“There are the people who are gazillionaires and then there’s everybody else,” she says. “There are very few mid-level people. And those mid-level people ... I think they’re doing very well but they’re hustling just as much as me because they’re spending more money. They have an agent, they have a manager. It’s just me.”
If you haven’t guessed already, Ms. Chace falls into the camp of “everybody else” — someone who must indeed hustle to get her music heard. She plays a mix of originals and covers at about 170 gigs a year at coffee houses and bars, vineyards, libraries, festivals and private functions.
She’s usually joined by her longtime sidekick, guitarist Brian Minisce, who also helps out with promotion. “We’ve had six drummers, three bass players, but he and I have stayed together,” she says.
When she plays with a full band, Brian’s brother Mark joins on bass and Carrie Johnson plays drums. Although she’s played at several different local venues, her “regular” East Bay gig is at Stella Blues in Warren the last Friday of each month. Ms. Chace won’t be there in October, however. That’s when she goes on tour for two weeks with one of her side projects, the Jammin’ Divas.
‘A multi-cultural experience’
In addition to Ms. Chace, the band consists of Aoife Clancy (vocals, guitar, bodhran), Kath Buckell (vocals, guitar, minor percussion) and Hadar Noiberg (flute, bass, backing vocals). A male bassist, Craig Akin, rounds out the group.
“We call it a multi-cultural experience,” says Ms. Chace. “The flute player’s from Israel, Kath’s Australian and she takes traditional Australian poems and puts them together with her own music. Aoife sings just about anything but she does traditional Irish songs, and I write original blues and country.”
All band members live in the United States and met in a “happy accident” by way of a club in Mattapoisett, Mass., where Ms. Chace was running open mic nights.
“We hung out on a Friday afternoon for three hours and exchanged songs and that Sunday we did the show. It was super fun and we totally clicked,” she says. “We’re sort of this strange, mixed bag and we fuse it all together with lots of harmonies.”
Since band members don’t live near one another, scheduling time together can be challenging. “It’s very difficult, but we’ve played about 20 shows in two years. Because of the distance, every time we get together it’s fresh,” she says.
In addition to the Divas and her solo gigs, Ms. Chace also plays in a popular Neil Young tribute band, Forever Young, which attracts not only fans of the band’s eight local musicians, but diehard “Shakey” fans from outside the area. The band has sold out the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River and will return there for a two-night stand in March.
Ms. Chace says Forever Young is a unique tribute band because no one is trying to imitate Neil Young. “We’re kind of taking the way he does things and it’s really organic. Things happen naturally. It’s just a tribute to the wonderful songs he wrote,” she says.
Staying out of a cubicle
Ms. Chace grew up in Warwick in a musical family and started writing songs in high school before learning guitar when she was 18. The former Led Zeppelin fanatic drifted into roots rock because it felt more comfortable to play and was better suited for her pretty but powerful voice.
“I can rock out without seeming fake,” she says of her preference for singing country, blues and roots music.
When she got out of college, she was sure of one thing: She didn’t want a “real” job. “Half the songs on my first album (1997) are about not wanting to join the human race,” says Ms. Chace, adding that she once worked for a nonprofit whose cause she believed in. But the 9-to-5 experience was not for her.
“I don’t even know if I have that much talent, but I have the determination to stay out of a cubicle,” she says with a laugh.
For four summers she worked for a company that chartered 12-meter yachts, but she quit two years ago because it was getting in the way of her music. “I’d be working 9 to 5 on the boat, and going to a gig that night,” says Ms. Chace, who often had trouble staying awake while singing.
Now she has a more manageable part-time job — taking care of her nephews three times a week — which she says is essential during the “lean times.” Concentrating fully on her music career would require moving out of the area and/or being on the road for nine months out of the year, she says.
“The music business is not set up for you to do really well at an independent level and stay home,” Ms. Chace says. “But I’m OK with who I am. I’m OK with playing covers and collaborating with other artists and piecing together a living.”
New release coming soon
Being comfortable in your own skin, in fact, is the theme of Ms. Chace’s new song (“The Waitress”) and video that will be out by the end of November. It will be followed by her 10th CD, her first of original material in four years.
“‘The Waitress’ is about the kindness of strangers. I go into this diner and there’s this waitress who is always nice to me. She has this sort of crappy life but she’s super positive,” she says.
The song illustrates how somebody can make or break your day — whether they’re a nice stranger or a real jerk. “I love people who appreciate the simplicity of their lives and what they have, and don’t complain, and they’re OK with who they are and what they do,” Ms. Chace says.
A little like herself, perhaps?
“I try,” she says, laughing. “I have my days.”
Becky Chace plays with a full band this Friday night, Sept. 28, at Stella Blues, 50 Miller St., Warren. For more about her music and upcoming gigs, visit www.beckychace.com.