‘Mama, It's My Time: The Abby Bernstein Story'
Abby Bernstein is a twenty-three year old NYC singer-songwriter hailing originally from a tiny farm town in Western Massachusetts. The daughter of former-hippies, Abby was named after The Beatles album "Abbey Road" and grew up listening to the best blues, folk, soul, and rock n roll had to offer: Joan Baez, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones ... you name it!
'I'm Not Sorry' is Bernstein's debut release. Produced by Adam Blackstone of The Roots - although Abby produced two tracks, "This Little Love" (a love song really about her dog) and "Love Don't Need Light to Grow" (featuring Sony BMG writer Jesse Ruben) herself - Abby has a knack for beguiling hooks, bluesy vocal licks, and conversational lyrics.
Her voice shines on tracks like "Spend the Night" and "If You're Not That Into Me" (a song inspired by the movie of the same name.) A writer at heart, Abby relies heavily on poetic images and the songs "Even Lovers Drown" and "Ivy" were inspired by the poetry of Yeats and Octavio Paz.
Abby's nuanced storytelling coupled with her powerful vocals make 'I'm Not Sorry' an unregrettable listening experience.
Exclusive Magazine recently sat down with Abby Bernstein and discussed her debut CD, her former-hippy parents, her personal experiences behind some of her songs, and, of course, ... Penguins!
Taking it from the top and how easy was it for a singer-songwriter hailing from a tiny farm town in Western Massachusetts to make it to NYC? Any speed bumps along the way, perhaps? "Getting to NYC was surprisingly the easy part for me. I grew up in a tiny town of five thousand people with no traffic lights and a toothless neighbor named Neil Bob. Even at a very young age, I knew that if I wanted to pursue music, I would need to move to New York City."
"I had been to the city a couple times on school trips and the defining moment for me was seeing Idina Menzel singing the lead in Wicked on Broadway. I was doing jazz at the time and didn't have the dancing/acting chops to be a Broadway singer, but I absolutely loved her voice -- how much control and range she had -- and at that moment I decided 'I'm going to go to college in New York and I'm going to study with her teacher'."
"I ended up majoring in Music/English (which I guess is 'songwriting'!) at Barnard College of Columbia University, and my vocal coach Tania Travers, lives conveniently close to campus. I had always been a pretty big belter but when I started studying with her so much opened up for me vocally -- and that confidence in my sound definitely helped when it came to writing my own songs and the direction my music was taking. I started moving away from jazz and working toward honing my own style."
"I think the real speed bump,' or challenge for me was and will continue to be being patient and just enjoying the musical journey. In college, I could just work hard and get A's -- and the music world isn't always based on a system of merit (though I do think talent makes for longevity in the industry.) What I love also about New York is that there is a real community of songwriters. Performing and writing with my talented friends is so much fun and makes me appreciate the moment I am in right now."
Being the daughter of former-hippies, what did you grow up listening to in your household that still influences you today? "Before I answer this question, I have to clarify what 'former hippie' means. My parents are veterinarians so they used to get mad at me for telling people they were hippies ... I think because they're doctors now and don't sit at home smoking pot or holding sit-ins for peace."
"That said, my dad owns no other pair of shoes but cowboy boots and has long hair and a beard. Though my parents aren't musicians themselves, they listened to the best blues, folk, and rock had to offer: Joan Baez, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, The Rolling Stones, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, and of course The Beatles."
"Actually, the first song I ever sang was 'Help!' -- I must've been about three and every time I'd sing 'help me if you can I'm feeling down' I'd fall to the ground!"
"There is something so powerful about the blues -- which is really what rock music is rooted in -- and the stories in those songs. The best blues singers also never sang the same line the same way twice -- and I think improvisation is a key ingredient to songwriting. Knowing how to change a melody or chord to accentuate a certain word or phrase can alter the entire meaning of a song."
Indeed, you were named after The Beatles album, Abbey Road - but, with that being the case, why was your name not spelt the same? "Good question! Abbey = church ... so my parents changed the spelling because we're Jewish (in case my last name doesn't give it away hah!)"
Your debut album is entitled, 'I'm Not Sorry' - so, what is it that you are so adamantly not sorry about (or for)?! "The album title is about my and presumably others' chronic need to apologize: for all the little 'mistakes' I've made, for where I am in life, or for what I've done wrong in my relationships."
"When I was writing this album, I realized that if I didn't fall down and bump into walls every so often, I wouldn't have any writing material. Any experience I've had, be it good or bad, has provided me with a lesson and given me room to grow. Though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still a perfectionist, through the process of writing this album I've become more okay with allowing myself to f**k up every once in awhile. Besides, if you spend your life regretting the decisions you've made, you'll miss living in the present moment."
The album seemingly features lots of personal memories, roads musically trodden yourself within the lyrics - is that a fair assumption of the tracks? "That's pretty accurate, yes. I really like the idea of telling stories in songs because we understand universal messages through the personal. My writing is really open and conversational in feel because I want people to be able to hear their story in mine or relate to the idea of my song. I think it's trite when songwriters refer to their music as a 'diary' because that term removes the listener from the experience."
"'Diary' is also just inaccurate because I typically don't write a line like 'Today I ate eggs and they tasted good.' My songs are more like personal essays or poems based on my experiences and my album is an anthology or collection of those stories. 'Even Lovers Drown,' for example, is inspired by a Yeats' poem about a mermaid drowning her lover -- it's all about sex and death: literally the death of someone you love or just figuratively the end of a relationship."
"I always thought of the song as very personal to my experience -- but at my last show, my friend had come with her ex and apparently during that song he kept looking at her longingly and even put his hand on her leg! Though I felt sad for him, I also was so moved that my music had inspired him get sexytime feelings."
Your debut single, 'Spend The Night' is currently charting at college/indie radio, but if you had the chance to spend the night anywhere, where would it be and who would it be spent with?! "I don’t think my boyfriend would like if I answered anyone other than 'my boyfriend'! But people who read that will want to puke in their mouths because it's like, meh meh, I love my boyfriend!"
"So without getting in trouble, I'll instead say I'd like to spend the night in my NYC apartment with my five-pound yorkipoo Phoebe -- she's the sweetest, smartest, most lovable creature you'll ever meet and she loves cuddling next to me when I sleep. There's actually a song about her on the album too called 'This Little Love.' It's kind of like Paul McCartney's 'Martha, My Dear' in which the lyrics go both ways -- it could be a love song for a human or a dog."
In 2009 you, Lady Gaga and John Legend all had something in common re: the prestigious BMI Songwriters Hall of Fame Workshop - so, have you now set your career sights as high as those two? "I don't think anyone ever plans to be a 'superstar' -- and musicians who say 'I'm going to be a superstar' either end up trying too hard or just come off as giant assholes to their audiences. I was actually just watching the Google interview with Gaga in which she says she doesn't wake up in the morning feeling like a superstar. She is incredibly humble, and I think all songwriters should aspire to be that way."
"This business is so unpredictable, and I'm just thankful to be making music that people enjoy. I'd also be remiss to say my music has that insane mass appeal. John Legend and I have more in common in terms of our style and The Roots connection. (My producer Adam Blackstone started out playing bass in The Roots and is now acting as a musical director for Maroon 5, Janet Jackson, Jill Scott, and Eminem.) But again I wouldn't ever say that I'm going to be as big as John Legend. I'm just focusing on concrete goals like getting fans, performing, and licensing my songs to film/TV."
You had the chance to train with top jazz artists, but ultimately realized that you wanted to explore other musical styles - why, what thought process did you have at that time that swayed you away from strictly jazz? "At the same time that I was studying with jazz artists and singing in the Columbia University jazz band, I was also taking voice lessons from Tania Travers. She really helped me discover my voice and I realized I wasn't sounding like a typical jazz singer -- in fact, I got in trouble a lot of time from my jazz instructors for sounding 'too poppy' when I adlibbed."
"Modern jazz singers also often gravitate toward this nasal and dark tone -- and aside from sounding generic, that sound was never pleasing to me. I also had started voice lessons when I was eight from a black blues gospel singer -- so by the time I reached college, I had already sung every jazz standard in the book. I was writing more bluesy pop songs on my own and I wanted to tell my own stories versus singing a song that's been sung a thousand times before."
"Though I no longer sing standards, I am still influenced by jazz in my songwriting. I already mentioned improvisation but I think jazz also gave me a strong sense of phrasing and rhythm. One instructor had me write down a line of a song and speak it eight different ways just to show me how I could accentuate different words of the phrase! To this day, I write a lot of syncopated melodies or really push laying behind the beat -- both concepts I learned from singing jazz."
You are currently in talks with various companies regarding licensing to film and TV via a publishing deal - very exciting, but what songs are we talking of yours and what projects? "Well, that song about my dog 'This Little Love' will be on Regis & Kelly in a few weeks so I'm excited about that and I'm talking to other networks now about licensing other material (which I can't say yet!)."
"When I sign a publishing deal, I'll continue to license my own material to film/TV and will also be assigned to writing on projects for other artists. One company, for example, has a lot of former American Idol contestants, so I would be writing potential hits or album cuts for them (hopefully hits!)"
Do you have any tattoos and, if so, and as we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing, what are they of and where are they located?! "Okay, so here's the story with the tattoo. I really wanted to get one after I finished the album precisely because it was something I would have NEVER done five years ago. I would have probably said something snippy about it being cliché for a rocker to have a tattoo. But I really wanted to commemorate the idea of having no regrets -- even if I hated it in a couple years, I wanted to look back and say, see that was when I was young and carefree and stupid!"
"But the problem was, and remains that I'm an incredibly indecisive person -- so I'd see something I'd want one day and then the next day I'd change my mind. And even though I'm okay looking back on it and disliking my choice, I at least want something I'd like for a week. So if any of your readers have any suggestions, please send me ideas!!! It would probably be on my lower back ... just kidding, no tramp stamps!"
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love penguins ... do you, perhaps? "Okay, this is how I'm going to approach this one. I have never met a penguin. But I have really fond memories of penguins because I was a book nerd as a kid (cough still am) and they sometimes had tiny penguins on the back ... I'm guessing those were the books from Penguin Publishing."
"I have no relation to anyone at Penguin Publishing by the way ... that's just my really long way of saying I like reading therefore I like penguins."
Interview: Russell A. Trunk
So, if you would like to win a SIGNED copy of Abby Bernstein's latest CD, just answer this easy question: With two of the songs on her album, “Even Lovers Drown” and “Ivy” both inspired by the poems of William Butler Yeats, the man himself was born and educated in Dublin, but spent his childhood growing up ... where?!
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful signed items! Just send us an e:mail here before July 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: ABBY BERNSTEIN SIGNED CDs to: email@example.com
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