photos / Xavier Guerra
story / Alyssa Hardy
Melody Gardot is a musician whose reputation precedes her. Her life has been filled with turmoil and success, with a life altering accident happening only 6 years before her first platinum album. This experience gives her a maturity that comes across in her music as much as it does in her charisma. Her style is fitting to her personality: a cross between a 1970s rock star and an early 20th century poet but beneath her Miles Davis style leather fringe jacket (her comparison not mine) is a woman that is coming into a new era of her own making. Now on her 3rd album, in a new decade of her life, she has a confidence and a wisdom that radiates throughout her newest album “Currency of a Man.”
Like the title suggests, the album is an ode to the human condition and it plays like a walk down a street Los Angeles. If you’ve ever been to LA you know that it is not exactly a walking city. In fact, the streets can sometimes feel like the sidewalks were only made for the ones that live for them. The guy who fixes his car outside his house revving the engine incessantly. The man who calls the sidewalks his home. The woman who earns her living by spending her evenings on the corner. The stranger walking down the street with a heavy heart and a story to tell. The sometimes unheard, untold, raw stories of life are the people Melody says inspired the album.
The first single off the new record “Preacherman,” speaks to a certain part of the human condition that is still all too familiar today, tumultuous race relations in the US.. With lines like, “I believe in a world where we all belong,” the song is a heart wrenching call for a solution to inequality and oppression. The music video is a depiction of the Emmett Till, a boy who was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman in 1955. It features a real life mother and son playing Emmett and his mother as well as Emmett’s real life cousin. It’s heavy, it’s emotional and it’s the statement Melody wanted to make as she started this new era in her music.
Why did you want to tell the story of Emmett Till in this album?
Why I do something, is because I feel something. I didn’t have a choice. I heard the story of Emmett somewhere around the time that Trayvon [Martin] was killed. There are two guys in my band who are black, they are amazing musicians and I looked at them and I thought, I can’t understand. When I look at you, I see my family. I see my brothers, I see my colleagues, I see my respected friends, I see beautiful men. I see you are as you are. I just found it really shocking that in this stage of life we still have racism. How? How is it possible? So when we sat down to talk about Emmett, I cried. I felt like it was my son, my child and I wanted to know how could this happen, and more importantly how come I didn’t know. When I asked people in Europe if they knew the story they all said no, which is understandable because, I don’t know all the poets in Sweden or the history of Southern Italy. There are things that are cultural and relevant but racism is universal. So in this case, I think it’s something important to talk about.
What is different about this record compared to your previous ones?
This record is like capturing a moment, every record is like that in a way, but this one is more unapologetic, it’s more true, it’s more raw. I’m playing the electric guitar for the first time and I have a lot more attitude and confidence. I think I’m over that awkward phase. When you’re a woman and you’re younger, you’re always worried about everything. You’re trying to find your place in the world and now I know my place IS the world. I just stand a little stronger with my feet on the ground in so many ways, both metaphorically and physically and that makes for a different kind of sound and a different kind of voice, so the music is stronger that way. It’s more empowered.
How this new sense of empowerment changed your personal style?
My own style changes all the time. There was a time where I would never wear pants. Now I’m kind of in a pseudo stage. I like flexible things that I can move and dance. I love black because I think it’s beautiful and sexy. One time when I was in LA, a raven had died right outside of my door and I was so inspired by the feathers that I just wanted to wear the colors of a raven all the time.
If you could get on stage with one person living or dead who would it be?
I mean that’s really hard. There’s some part me that I wishes I could be an opera singer singing with Maria Callas. I would have love to have been a man in love with her. I just wonder what sounds she made in bed, like did she go like [sings in opera voice] or was she just silent because she was protecting her voice?
If you could describe what this album is about what would you say?
There’s a great saying that says, “the lust for comfort destroys the passion of the soul” and the more comfortable you get the less inspired you are to talk about anything. For me when I listen to the album back, it is a story. It’s about people you wouldn’t expect to be amazing.
Unlike the fantasy of a tranquil Maria Callas in bed, Melody Gardot is never at a loss for words. She finds poetry in everything from her clothes to her neighbor and she uses to make music that can tell stories for those who cannot. “Currency of a Man” truly is an an anthem for the people you meet and it’s a wonderful reminder of what life really is about.