Sunday, February 16, 2014

13 questions Mamie Minch

One of the great blues/folk voices of the new generation, Mamie Minch sings and picks an old number played by Doc Watson. Brooklynite Mamie Minch sounds something like a (well) fleshed-out 78-rpm record. She writes new antique acoustic/soul/blues songs and uses her tough, lowdown pipes and percussive picking—on a pre-war resonator guitar—to tell stories of women’s lives today and yesterday.

Mamie Minch first appeared in the NYC live music scene as an acoustic guitarist and singer with a voice and sensibility well beyond her years. One listen to her and you’ll understand- there is music you want to sing, and there is music you were meant to sing. Mamie found her voice in reviving -and writing- antique blues songs, even though whe’s now just over a quarter century old.


Minch’s father played fingerstyle guitar on his vintage Martin- he taught her the Mississippi John Hurt and Rev. Gary Davis songs that started her excitement about fingerstyle guitar and became her musical bedrock. She culled DIY aesthetic influences from her teenage exposure to punk and garage bands in her hometown in Delaware; she liked the parallel unself-conciousness in the approach of these musicians and traditional American folk musicians.

 Around this time Mamie also started exploring Bessie Smith, Sarah Martin, and Memphis Minnie- their unabashed sensuality and the winking, confessional nature of their songs was to become a major influence in her performing and songwriting style. Upon coming to New York Mamie’s fascination with early recordings found a community of kindred spirits. Some of her first connections were with a group of 78 collectors who would throw listening parties for their rarest finds.

She shortly co-founded The Roulette Sisters, a popular all-woman retro quartet that performed originals and covers of blues, country tunes and early girl group harmony peices by the like of the Boswell and Andrews Sisters. She kept growing musically, spending a summer travelling through europe with an Italian anarchist street band, and busking extensively in New York City as part of Music Under New York.


Upon leaving the band in 2007 Mamie has been working on her own material as a songwriter and performer. She has played residencies at Brooklyn’s world music mecca Barbes and the 68 Jay Bar in Dumbo, and shared the stage with Dayna Kurtz, Jolie Holland, Bliss Blood, and loads of other talented friends. Her debut solo CD, the Razorburn Blues, is a limited edition handmade item.

1. Which was the first record you bought with your own money?
The first record I remember buying was Muddy Waters Blues Sky from the local head shop/record store. Not that I had such great taste yet, but there was a song on it called "Mamie" and I’d never heard of anyone—outside my namesake—with my name. Thanks, teenage narcissism.

2. Which was the last record you bought with your own money?
I bought Mother Earth’s Living with the Animals from a record bin.

3. What was the first solo you learned from a record — and can you still play it?
When I was a teenager, Document Records put out this great Bill Broonzy reissue with a bunch of outtakes. He plays a batshit-great solo between clearing his throat and asking if the mic is on. That’s the one. And yes, I still regularly steal from it.


4. Which recording of your own (or as a sideman) are you most proud of, and why?
I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to listen to the damn things afterwards, generally. I’m working on a series of recordings with Dayna Kurtz, covering Hazel Dickens’ duet recordings with Alice Gerrard—sung much lower, as Dayna and I are both tenors. That is really flipping my nickel right now.

5. What's the difference between playing live and playing in a studio?
Almost everything. They are two very different stepchildren. I love to perform. When things are just right, it’s the best medicine for the performer and the audience. Getting that right on a record can be so hard. It becomes all about me, and I’m less comfortable in that spot. 

6. What's the difference between a good gig and a bad gig?
It’s like getting the right amount of lime, cilantro, and salt in guacamole—isn’t it? You can prepare all the ingredients, follow a recipe—or not, if that’s your way—measure things out, taste often along the way, and so many things could go a little wrong. Like, sometimes you couldn’t find an exactly ripe avocado or you overshoot the salt, or maybe you drop the whole bowl on your toe and then you have to wear a cast for six weeks. Or sometimes you toss it together and it’s perfect without very much effort, you still may take it to a party with such loud conversation that no one pays any attention to your guacamole at all. So—I hope that’s perfectly clear.

7. What's the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?

8. You play electric and acoustic. Do you approach the two differently?
Yes. I guess there’s different tools at hand with either, but I tend to play electrics that feel more like acoustic guitars. I tend to dig in and smack ’em around a little. I like to teach my guitars a lesson, so to speak.

9. Do you sound more like yourself on acoustic or electric?

10. Do you sound like yourself on other people's guitars?
Yes. My limitations give me away. I always play like me.

11. Which living artist would you like to collaborate with, and why?
Dirty Martini. She’s brilliant. Or maybe Shane MacGowan—if he was sober. Or Etta James. Or Exene Cervenka.

12. Which dead artist (music, or other arts) would you like to have collaborated with, and why?
This is hard to answer—most of my record collection is dead.
Right now, I’d say Cleoma Falcon or Howlin’ Wolf.

13. What's your latest project about?
I’m in the middle of recording what will probably be an album. I’m writing all the songs—no covers—which I haven’t done before. Songwriting still feels very nerve-wracking. I don’t think that’ll ever go away. But my sensei told me that with pain comes growth, so I’m sticking to it.