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Posted August 12, 2019 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Beth Bombara Rediscovers Her Musical Purpose

Beth Bombara Photo by Nate Burrell
Beth Bombara Photo by Nate Burrell

With her deliberate vocal phrasing and eloquent lyrics, St. Louis-based Beth Bombara’s evokes Aimee Mann with her latest effort, Evergreen. We recently spoke by phone to Bombara, who originally began playing piano before migrating to guitar, about the solo career she’s sustained for the past decade.

You started out playing piano. What drew you to that instrument originally?

I had a lot of friends in a similar situation. Their parents were trying to raise cultured kids. That was a thing. You had to pick an instrument to play. I don’t know if I necessarily picked it or if it was just that we had one in the house. I found this picture of me when I was very young sitting on [my grandma’s] piano bench. They had a farm. I would go to the farm, and she would have music out on the piano and be playing. She was very anal about it. We weren’t allowed to touch the piano unless we washed our hands. It just became what I was going to learn.

And why’d you switch to guitar?

I realized I really liked the idea of playing music with other people. Piano is very solitary. I wanted to play with other people, so I taught myself guitar in my mid-teens.

Talk about the punk rock band you were in.

I taught myself how to play guitar, and I ran into some other kids who wanted to start a band. They didn’t play anything yet. They were getting instruments for their birthdays and for Christmas. I said, “Okay. I’m in.” We started getting together and jamming and the band took off. It was around for about five years, which is a long time when I think about it now. The crazy thing to me when I think back on it is that I can’t believe I was that lucky. We were silly and crazy. I just had so much fun. I have really fond memories of that band.

I never decided to pursue music. It just kind of happened.

How’d you first meet Samantha Crain?

We both did a music program on the East Coast in Martha’s Vineyard. We bumped into each other there. She got his crazy idea that she wanted to be a folk singer. She asked if I wanted to go on the road with her. I played guitar and percussion. We rigged up this frankendrum that had other percussion things on it and I’d play that sometimes.

You’ve moved to St. Louis in 2007 and started your solo career. What was the music scene there like?

Long story short, I finished school about an hour outside of St. Louis. It’s the closest big city, so everyone moved there to get jobs. Turns out, there’s a lot of music venues. It has a rich history of all types of music. I thought I’d be here temporarily, but the city really grew on me. Everyone is so supportive of the arts. I met musicians who played Ozark folk music that I’d never heard before. I met a guy who played banjo and we started playing together. I didn’t think I’d be here this long but it’s a great place for me to have the time and space to figure out what I’m doing creatively.

Was Abandon Ship a difficult record to make?

I won’t say it was easy. I didn’t know what it meant to put something out there like that. I now think, “Why did I even let people hear that?” It’s just me experimenting. I recorded it in my bedroom basically. I had taken some studio recording classes and loved that aspect of it. I didn’t want to wait for anyone to do it for me. I just wanted to do it myself and figure it out.

How did you start putting the songs together for Evergreen?  

With the record before it, Map & No Direction, I was struggling with a lot of things. A lot of it had to do with my purpose in playing music. I had lost a lot of self-confidence. Map & No Direction is me working my way out of that. I didn’t have my band assembled at that time. It was just me and my husband playing all the instruments.

We had done a lot of touring and I needed a little break. I needed to clear my head, so I went up to the mountains in Colorado. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing next. I was trying to get away and unplug for a little bit. The songs started popping in my head. That wasn’t the purpose of the trip. I filed them away and got back and started to flesh those ideas out with the band, and we took some out on the road and worked them out on soundchecks. That’s how they came to be. It’s a contrast from Map & No Direction. Playing with these guys is the most fun I ever had in the recording studio and on the road. I was excited to play music again. I felt like I rediscovered my purpose. I don’t know if this comes across, but to me it’s about the renewal of energy.

Where did you record?

We recorded just outside of St. Louis with a guy we’ve known for a long time. He’s a great engineer, and I enjoy being in his space. We did the self-titled album there. I wanted to get back to his studio. It’s called Jettison.

I feel like there’s a consistency to the songs. Not that they sound the same but that they have a similar tone to them.

I think the band has a lot to do with it.

I particularly like “Upside Down.” Did something particular inspire it?

I would classify it as a reminder to myself to change things up when you get stuck in a rut. You can’t be afraid of that.  

There’s a reference to the desert in the lyrics.

Yes, I spent a little time in the Southwest around Tucson. I have some friends who live there. The first time I went there, I had never seen that landscape, only in pictures and movies. To be there in this insane desert landscape was incredible. Just being in the middle of that was great. I kind of fell in love with it. It’s permeated my songs.

What’s the rest of your year look like?

We’ve got 14 dates in August, and we just did get a date in New York City, so we’ll be booking around that in October.

PHOTO BY: Nate Burrell


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.