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INTERVIEW: Deborah Berg

How would you classify your music?

Classifying anything is not my strong suit!  I’m a white girl who sings traditional gospel songs.  What do you call that?  But New Road Home is not gospel. 

New Road Home is acoustic based, Americana music with Country imagery and Bluegrass flavor, They are storytelling songs that are hopefully danceable to those who hear music that way. They are stories that describe struggle, hope, love, nature and faith.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?

Cradle songs were Bushel and a Peck, You Are My Sunshine, sung by my grandmother. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and many songs from Merry Melodies cartoons that my brothers and I listened to.  I watched Lawrence Welk’s guitar player on television every Saturday night!  Big fan! The Beatles broke just when my young ears could receive their collective genius. I was smitten!  Later in the teen years, Joni Mitchell’s lyrics, voice and guitar arrangements hit me deep and hard. As a young adult, the Allman Brothers, Eat a Peach rocked my world, I wore that record out!  I loved Graham Nash’s, Songs for Beginners and J.J. Cale’s album, Naturally.  Traffic! Especially Steve Winwood’s exquisite vocals. Bonnie Raitt is a Goddess. I saw her in Minneapolis when she was just starting out, singing with Willie and the Bumblebees and have admired her ever since.  More recent influences are Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Madison Violet, Brandi Carlisle, the Avett Brothers and Lake Street Dive.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

Encouragement.  Some of my most powerful Eureka moments happened in part by listening to music that reached me. Music got me through some tough times.  I would like to humbly offer these songs as a tonic for the nerves.  Our lives and situations and schedules can get pretty nutty sometimes, here’s hoping my listeners can take the time to self medicate with New Road Home to help find their own groove.

How’s the music scene in your locale?

Although I grew up in Nebraska, I have lived in NYC for 35 years.  There is music of all genres everywhere you look here. Many smaller clubs in town are closing, which is a shame.  The rents go up and little clubs go down.  But there are still some venues around that are quintessential New York City that I love playing at and listening in. 

What isn’t easy here is just getting together and jamming with other musicians.  Everyone is too busy, trying to make money to pay their rent!  It’s a funky cycle.  No one really has time to jam.  Most of us have to rent rehearsal studios to practice (with band).  There are plenty of home studios in NYC, just not a lot of square footage for gatherings or live rehearsals!

What is the best concert you have been to? What do you like most about playing live?

Love, Love, Love Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  I love everything about it; the music and the talent and the mountain air.  I have not played there. .. yet!  New Orleans jazz Fest is another great festival if you don’t mind crowds.  We tend to migrate to the smaller, Fai Do Do stage and the Gospel tent.

Favorite specific gig:

I saw Lucinda Williams open for Tom Petty in Hershey PA in 1999.  It was an amazing set list from both of them. Being in Pennsylvania, there were Amish teenagers sitting in front of us. The girls wore their long hair wrapped up in braids with lace caps and long cotton dresses. The boys wore black trousers with suspenders and white, button down shirts.  We were all grooving to the music.  It was their traditional Rumspringa year.  A traditional time when Amish teens are allowed one year to “run around” before deciding whether to commit to the Amish way of life or leave it all behind.  Most go back.  Their presence was such a contrast to the rest of us.  But we all loved the concert!  Music = the Great Elixir.

My band and I like playing at a little dive bar in the east village called, The Treehouse at 2A.  Thanks to Tom Clark, that place feels like home.  The big room at Rockwood Music Hall on the lower east side is a really nice venue.  The acoustic room downstairs is lovely, too. House Concerts Rock!  I make more money at house concerts than pretty much anywhere else of that size.  But you have to be willing to accept home-style amplification and occasional lack of monitors.

Is there a song on your latest CD release here that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?

For whatever reason, a song that sticks out for me on this record is, When I Slow Down.  I love the sound of the recording.  My producer, Ken Rich did a great job mixing it.  It polishes both the songs’ strengths and vulnerabilities.  I also really love, Sliver of A Moon.  That song was recorded live.  We kept the first take.  I doubled the guitar on a later track, which is why it sounds slightly dissonant at times.  But Ken and I were okay with keeping it that way because the feeling of that take was worth keeping.  The doubled guitar dissonance creates an eerie quality that we think grows on you.

How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?

My first instrument is my voice.  I am a strong front singer and an attentive backing vocalist.  I have been playing guitar now for over 20 years but the mandolin is a newer pursuit of mine.  I have a long way to go but I love the sound quality and look of my beautiful A-form 1923 Gibson white mandolin.  I played the solo on Muddy Weather and still can’t believe it!

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?

As I mentioned before, I am a heavy Tom Petty fan.  I would love to have sung or played music with TP and the Heartbreakers. Also just to hang out and watch the process. I think I would have fit right in with the Carter Family and would have loved to just sit with them after supper and sing and play!  Same with spending time with Dolly Parton back in the day.  I am drawn to the mountains.  I would also die to sing or play with Bonnie Raitt.  Just thinking about it makes me feel like a Dobby the house elf in Harry Potter.  Or was it Wayne and Garth when they met Alice Cooper?  I am not worthy!!

What’s next for you?

Promoting New Road Home and playing more gigs, further afield.  And always, listening and writing.  Thank you, VENTS!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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