Women Making Music – Spotlight on Mary Kay Williams

Women Making Music – Spotlight on Mary Kay Williams

Mary Kay Williams is one motivated woman! She’s living her life so loud, that for many days after our interview, I was inspired to get some stuff done myself! Born and raised in the part of upstate New York “where they pronounce their ‘r’s’ ” she grew up in a house of technical engineers and science- minded family members in Rochester.  She credits her mom, Maureen, and her side of the family for passing down the creative gene.

One of the longest interviews I’ve ever conducted, we discovered we have a few things in common. She warned me up front that she is fancifully erratic; preferring to jump around and joyfully succumb to her A.D.D. We both love to talk about ourselves, and boy did we do just that!

From our respective zoom call rooms, the first thing I noticed was her headwear; A darling black chapeau with gold buttons.  Turns out, she made it using material that was originally meant for another item she decided to scrap and reconstruct. Not one to waste fabric, this college educated fashion illustrator repurposed herself a modern take on the kicky bucket hat! I knew I was in for an amusing sit-down!

A large chunk of her Mary Kay Arts business was formed to promote her artistry as a retail caricaturist. She manages a successful career within the festival, amusement park and cruise ship circuit.  With a bubbly exuberant vivacious personality, it’s no wonder her lines are notoriously the longest.

But, all this happened in what she refers to as “the before times.” Like most of us, she’s shifted and pivoted and realigned strategies to find her virtual sweet spot, taking on custom orders and the like, making her way around the financial constraints the pandemic has caused.

Fortunately, her brain provides a ceaseless supply of ideas and keeps her bucket list continuously full. There’s a steady pen-stroke of items crossed out and accomplished on that list besides! Her zealous re-imagining, re-inventing and repurposing all things art, manifests through awareness and alignments with like-minded collaborators and colleagues. She has spearheaded consortiums with other artists and formed lasting partnerships.

“Here’s my list, in order of how much I love doing them: Singing! Lindy Hop Dancing! Art of all kinds! Writing! Acting! I’m the sort of person who is able to see patterns; I bubble around things. I’ve created a lifestyle and a path that is multifaceted to honor all my interests and talents. As it turns out, I attract and look for people who have attention deficit! I’ve met transplant surgeons who are piano virtuosos for instance. Multi-talented people are everywhere!”

Now that she’s matured into her late fifties, she feels this pull to harness and focus her “goddess powers” toward inspiring and guiding others. Creative people, people who don’t think they’re creative, are the people she aspires to attract and bring together for a creative workshop weekend event. She’s proven time and time again during her self-made cosmopolitan existence, that she can do whatever she sets her mind to!

As we swing around to the subject of music, I learn that she played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in 5th grade. She slayed the part and she slayed THE song! I discovered that the stops and starts with music were for her, deliberate and necessary.  Still, she can’t believe there ever was a time in her adult life that she didn’t sing.

In her 30’s she began to pursue music in earnest. Her Uncle Billy is a Blues singer and after they performed together at a family reunion, he encouraged her to start going to Blues and Jazz jams around Rochester.  The domino effect that committing to these weekly sit-ins realized was a female music group she and her late sister, Terry, formed called “Twisted Covers.” She also met a guitarist and singer whom she would perform with as a duo for two- plus years. She found great pleasure and was darn good at arranging harmonies and what a thrill it was to perform them at coffee houses and small café’s.

The Barley’s Jazz Jam is where Mary Kay and I first met in early 2020. Her reputation for having all the right vocal chops preceded her, and boy did she not disappoint! With a full house on a chilly night, the warmth from her lighthearted and goofy demeanor brought us together in laughter and sway. As she seduced us with her pitch perfect ballad, the lushness of her voice made me and everyone present respond in kind with lauding applause and whistles. I took out my phone and set a reminder to contact her for an interview.

“For at least a decade now, my absolute number one love has been music.” So now, as the pandemic gives her new time (because she doesn’t lack energy, believe me!) she is making music the centerpiece. This feature, I dare say, is just what the Minstrel Doctor ordered! 

Whether it’s singing or speaking or acting in front of an audience, Mary Kay is fearless and brilliant. “The feeling of singing, in and of itself, makes me yearn to do more of it.”

Though there’s not much out there in TV or computer land to evidence her creamy, ample and expressive song renderings, take it from me; she’ll be producing, arranging and recording at least an LP, just in time to release in the after times!

“I have a mission in life to blaze a trail and do everything! I can’t imagine that I was given this much talent if my purpose is not to use all that I was given.”

www.marykayarts.com

Peggy Ratusz is a vocalist, vocal coach, writer and booking manager

www.reverbnation.com/peggyratusz

www.loveisaroselive.com

Women Making Music– Spotlight on Nicole lund

Women Making Music– Spotlight on Nicole lund

By Peggy Ratusz

My song-sister, Ellen Trnka was the person who helped me get started and who made my move to the area easier as I worked to make a name for myself around here some 17 years ago. Because of Ellen’s openness, I now pay it forward in her honor. Fielding calls from newly transplanted artists makes me happy and has become part of my reputation.

One such transplant who emailed me on my birthday in 2016 was Nicole lúnd. She’d just moved here from New York City & was researching Asheville’s blues music happenings. That email led to our working together on a holiday variety show & my helping her with a couple of bookings.

With an education in Music Industry Studies from Appalachian State, singer songwriter lÚnd (artist’s moniker), holds down a full time job while still managing to create and produce her own music. And now, she is about to release her highly anticipated and remarkable debut record “Right This Time.”

A logistics person in her day job, she handles distribution of anesthesia machines and ventilators for a medical device company. The demands of that position did not deter her from recording the album during this pandemic. Paramount in her decision to forge ahead was the fact that scheduling the players was easier, especially since they are all notable instrumentalists and singers, who normally would have had regular, robust touring schedules.

To discover where this energy and know-how began, I ask her about her background and childhood growing up in Charlotte, NC. “My father was an architect and artist and my mom worked from home keeping his books and tending to our needs.” With an older sister and younger brother, lúnd says she’s “proud to represent as ‘middle child’.”

“I sang along with Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Bonnie Raitt when I was young. I consider them my voice teachers.”

So at 9 years, she decided to audition for the Charlotte Children’s Choir and got in. From grades 6-12, she attended a magnet school for the arts where she majored in voice and photography.

With her father’s encouragement and support, she interned for and headed up the street team for Derek Truck’s band when she was a teen.

At 17 she moved to Boone, NC to attend Appalachian State majoring in the aforementioned Music Industry Studies. She spent 2 years in Atlanta “observing the music scene” and the next 10 dabbling in a variety of music-related activities in The Big Apple.

“I struggled with stage fright for a very long time. I still don’t feel 100% comfortable on stage. For one of my first college performances, I held my eyes closed throughout the performance. So it’s been a slow process for me.”

Getting into that college jazz ensemble made dealing with her fears a little easier; primarily because the director “saw something in me and gave me a chance. I just had to work to achieve my goals and he gave me the opportunity to do that work.”

The ripple effect these leadership roles created, manifested partner and mentorships with notable players and songwriters; namely guitarist Paul Olson from the band Scrapomatic. Scrapomatic’s lead singer is Tedeschi-Trucks Band’s lead backing vocalist, Mike Mattison. Along with Mark Rivers, also a TTB backing vocalist, both appear on several tracks on Nicole’s upcoming release.

She met and became friends with Atlanta based and acclaimed drummer Yonrico Scott, (Royal Southern Brotherhood, Earl Klugh, Derek Trucks Band) who mentored her until his sad and untimely death just over a year ago.

I took notes while listening to the tracks she emailed me ahead of our interview, and I wrote down the words: “mood album.” It was cool that she referred to them in the interview without my prompting, as a collection of ‘moods.’ Her lyrics are sparse and yet full of meaning. The melodies, style and rhythm come together effectively to tell a story between the lines. Listeners will identify; they’ll fill in the spaces with their own reflections.

The easy rolling rock-feel title track, “Right This Time” evokes Tedeschi but its lÚnd’s honey drenched phrasing that makes it her own. “Here I am babe, here for the taking. Don’t let me down; be the man I need now; arms wide open. But please, don’t let me be wrong ‘bout you… I wanna be right this time.”

The straight 8’s feel of, “Don’t You Leave Me” has a thumping Amy Winehouse throwback sound as the backing vocals take it an octave higher on the hook. Nicole’s vocal trills are a thrill. It’s a beckoning-ultimatum-song. It’s a “hey get back here, we’re not done yet” vibe that empowers as it pleads. 

“Not Comin Home” is a haunting finger-picking dirge that confirms the end of a relationship that even after a long period, had not developed enough to make her want to stay or even explain. “I’m not comin’ home. No use lookin’ I’m out of sight, too far for you to fly. When the day breaks I’ll be gone. And you never thought I’d be the one to move on.”

I was honored to hear these tracks before the mixing and mastering process. If they sound this good now, we’re all in for a gratifying listening experience when they all drop later this year.

Each track is treated with a unique and refined melody; well-placed harmonies, and certainly musicianship of the highest quality.

With clarity and reflection, and toward the end of our interview, lÚnd articulates: “I’ve been such an active observer that it’s taken me a while to come into my own.”

Right This Time is produced by Tyler “Falcon” Greenwell (Susan Tedeschi, Colonel Bruce Hampton, The Wood Brothers); Engineered by Jim Georgeson and Dowell Gandy from Echo Mountain Studio. The extraordinary players include local teacher and sessions guitarist, Brandon Townsend; guitarist Dave Yoke (Susan Tedeschi, Dr. John, Scrapomatic); on bass is Brandon Boone (Tedeschi-Trucks Band); and New Orleans-based drummer, Isaac Eady. Along with Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers from Tedeschi Trucks band, Gabe Dixon rounds out her backing vocalists.

I enthusiastically recommend you to follow lÚnd on Instagram: instagram.com/lund.music/

And to visit her newly minted website: lund-music.com

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter. For vocal coaching email her at peggymarie43@gmail.com

reverbnation.com/peggyratusz

Women Making Music – 2020, the year for Music Therapy

Women Making Music – 2020, the year for Music Therapy

Writing this feature during the most fantastical year of my existence has been especially therapeutic.

Musicians and music teachers were suddenly thrust into the world of Zoom, JamKazam, YouTube & Facebook Live. They didn’t even have time to kick and scream about it at first; they just figured it out!

In mid-March I didn’t have to look far to find several daring darlings of songs strings and other things, keeping their chops and spirits up by diving head first into the live video streaming pool. So in April and May I wrote about the local mavens of motivation and innovation I was discovering day in and day out on social media. From all over the country, I saw and still see groups of women in the entertainment field, giving advice and free tutorials; blogging and sharing how to do what they’re doing!

Summer found some artists/performers accepting a scant few gig opportunities for the chance to generate income by playing on an outdoor stage in front of a limited audience.  As summer heated up, so did the demand for acts needing to, having to and wanting to play for the larger audiences phase 2 of opening the state would allow. Some expressed trepidation in sharing their in-person live performance dates on websites, event invites and email blasts for fear of judgment. Some forged ahead incorporating their own strict personal distancing guidelines, limiting mingling time with fans.  Some acts formed Covid bubbles that now include band mates, in addition to mate-mates.

Our June issue’s featured female and I spent an hour on the phone commiserating about the changes going on in our lives. I found myself having to shift the conversation back to her and her incredibly creative music endeavors several times and not the pandemic, like how the pandemic was affecting us, or how we were coping and not coping with the pandemic!

By August and September issues, I focused in part, on a small wave of career musicians who began to reinvent themselves; courageously stepping outside the music pool to create something new on dry land to survive; putting their music on the backburner and becoming trailblazers in this hopefully temporary new normal.

October found me finally meeting over the phone at least, a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and teacher I’ve admired and followed online and had wanted to interview for over a year. The selfless endeavors I learned she and her daughter undertake and initiate for young musicians, put hope back in my heart that day, it put a smile back on my face for at least the next week.

One of the youngest female music artists I’ve interviewed was featured last month. This humble and articulate ingénue feels all the feels. Her music is realistic and fantasy, structured and loose, fearless and fearful. She’s a wall flower AND the life of the party.  Who can’t relate to all of that; especially these days?

So like the rest of you, I’ve taken each month as its come, doing my utmost to keep myself sane. I took up “adult coloring” (G-rated) before the pandemic. Just since March I’ve colored over 100 pieces – mostly birds and safari animals. I received a Keanu Reeves coloring book from a girlfriend for my birthday. I’m saving that one to delve into on a snowy day.

But also and through it all, I’ve tuned in, tapped in and turned myself on to a smattering of live streaming concerts; virtually supporting artists through their online tip jars. I co-produced a successful socially distant fundraising concert for a dear friend and female musician who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Everywhere I turn, I see local charities and venue owners establishing pioneering ways to reach the public safely in order to stay viable, solvent and open.

No matter how you’re feeling over the outcome of the election, no matter how empathic you are toward those who have and those who are suffering; if you are mourning the loss of a loved one or your income, if you cry even harder now when you see an SPCA or St. Jude Children’s hospital commercial, if you’re a front-line worker or a gig worker in and out of your own solvency, or a parent juggling and struggling to keep it all together: remember there are ways to tamp down the anxiety by tuning into live music; the easiest being live streaming platforms and sponsored live streaming ticketed concerts.

While the energy of big crowds sharing those mighty pulsations that in-person live music experiences bring, we absolutely have viable interim outlets. Local women are still making music; local people are still making music. Support them, I implore you. Follow them on social media. Drop them a line of encouragement on their Instagram accounts and Facebook timelines and contribute to their virtual tip jar; tune into those live stream concerts when you can.  Supporting local live music is medicine for the soul; make no bout-a-doubt it!

Remember, my feature, Women Making Music is archived on thesofiamagazine.com. I cordially invite you to visit the website and acquaint yourself with the plethora of savvy professional female musicians I’ve written about over the past year. The November and December 2020 hard copy issues can be found in kiosks around town. There’s a list
of where they are located on the webpage.

Peggy Ratusz, writer, singer, vocal coach, coloring book artist

reverbnation.com/peggyratusz

loveisaroselive.com

paypal.com/paypalme/peggyratusz

Sunday, December 13th, Isis Restaurant & Music Hall – Love Bubble Christmas with Peggy Ratusz, Hank Bones & Paula Hanke, 8pm.

Sunday, December 20th, A Silver Linings Christmas live stream solo concert with Peggy Ratusz from her living room, 5pm – Facebook Live: facebook.com/peggy.ratusz

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at

peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music – Casey Noel

Women Making Music – Casey Noel

Casey and I have never met or even spoken on the telephone. I have been writing this feature, Women Making Music for fifteen years and this is a first
for me.

I was upbeat in my determination to find out how this approach, sending questions for our guest artist to answer in her own written words and then send back to me might shape the content. I mean, I’ve sent questions to artists. They’ve sent them back to me in their own words before. But to have never met or spoken on the phone? This is a first!

For me, getting to know Casey mostly through her words and music was like reading a book. And her story is definitely a page-turner!

When listening to the songs she sent me, I concertedly envisioned her in front of me, strumming and picking her guitar and singing, presenting her songs special-audience style just for me. I literally lay in my bed as I listened for the first time so I could relax and take in her melodies, her rhymes and phrases; her phrasing; These profiles of love, loss, sassy smart advice (solicited or not),
confessions and hope.

At 24 years of age, Noel is already highly acclaimed; a freshly emerging songwriting ingénue; a young woman with something new to say about familiar themes.

Not Just Pretty Words is a six song EP she released in June of this year which has received great reviews. Mason Winfree from Americana Highways says she “conveys narratives that provoke deeply embedded emotions lingering just below the surface.”

From The All Scene Eye blog: “…pleasantly unhurried, like leaves
floating past you down a creek.”

Ear to the Ground calls Pretty Words, “dark & mysterious” while Anne Kenney from Belles & Gals writes, “distinctive songwriting and vocals is a delight to the ear, a debut EP to be proud of.”

In her song Seasons Casey wonders, “and it’ll be okay, so they say…It’s just a season and seasons change.” In the title track she reassures who ever needs it: “A better man (love) will come along, and you’ll forget the one who did you wrong.” The song Prove Me Wrong is a declaration, “I pride myself on being right, the truth can run but it can’t hide from these eyes.”

I emailed Casey a few questions that I asked her to answer in order for us to get to know here better:

Talk about your back story – where were you born, etc.

I was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina with one older sister. My dad is from North Carolina and my mom was born in Costa Rica and moved here when she was four.

Where did you go to college and what was your course of study?

I went to The University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a major in event planning/community parks and recreation and a minor in Spanish.

How/Why did you decide to become a songwriter?

My grandfather brought me a guitar from Costa Rica when I was 5 and I started lessons shortly thereafter. But in middle school I fell in love with competitive ballroom dancing. But because I never found a solid dance partner I eventually gave it up.

I turned my attention then to music, started playing guitar and singing. I never thought about song writing until my guitar teacher told me I should give it a try. After that, songwriting became an outlet and a passion. When I dance I have to feel the music, I have to connect with it. When I write a song, I have to connect with it and when I sing it, I have to feel it in order for the audience to feel it.

Tell us about your writing process.

It’s loose. I try not to start with specifics. Usually a single line comes to mind; something that someone said that resonates. From there the message/ story emerge and I build on it. I use as few lines as possible to get my point across.

Talk about mentors you’ve encountered on this journey.

I have had wonderful mentors. First, there’s my guitar teacher, Kevin Dollar. I wouldn’t be singing, performing or writing if it weren’t for him.

I won a scholarship my sophomore year in college to attend Frets and Refrains, a camp put on by Richard Thompson in the beautiful Catskills Mountains. I had the amazing opportunity to study with him,  as well as his son Teddy, Patty Griffin, Happy Traum, Tony McManus, and Sloan Wainwright. Getting one on one advice from Richard Thompson and having his son Teddy tell me that one of my songs was a hit was incredible!

I recorded at and ended up working with sound engineer and co-producer of my EP, Doug Williams. Having worked with the Avett Brothers, he helped me hone my style and believes in my artistic vision.

Artistic influences?

Jason Isbell is the best songwriter of our generation in my opinion. Brandi Carlisle is also a tremendous songwriter and one of the most amazing performers and vocalists.

What is it about performing that keeps you pursuing opportunities
to do so?

When I’m on stage and sharing a moment with an audience, time seems to stop and speed up at the same time. I am in my element. I love that I can help take people’s minds off the craziness of life so we can all just be and enjoy each other.

What’s next?

I am hoping to record and release a song that I just finished as a single in the next couple of months.

What are your favorite songs on
the EP and why?

Marsh Girl was inspired by my favorite book called “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. I love how it came to life in the studio.

When I wrote Pretty Words it made me feel like a real songwriter; like I had a shot at this music thing. Teddy Thompson called it “a hit” and at that time I needed to hear from someone unbiased; someone successful. Part of me thought I had what it took and part of me feared that people were just telling me what I wanted to hear. His compliment was the push I needed to believe in myself as a writer and an artist.

To keep up with everything Casey Noel, visit her website:

caseynoelmusic.com

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