Beth Bombara interview by Brian DeSpain
Americana Highways spoke with Beth Bombara at Off Broadway in St Louis on 10/29.
This was Bombara’s second of two shows involved with a Space Junk IPA launch with Logboat Brewing Company based in Columbia, Missouri. On this night the beer made it’s debut in St Louis.
For setlist enthusiasts, the difference between the Columbia and St Louis shows, after “Growing Wings,” Bombara ended the set with a Sheryl Crow cover “If It Makes You Happy” and was joined on stage by the opening band Grace Basement.
Americana Highways: A weekly livestream for a whole year kept you connected and practiced during the depths of the pandemic. What other ways did you adapt and channel your creativity without performing in-person shows?
Beth Bombara: Obviously, the livestream is a different form of performing. It was a different creative [outlet]. I was figuring out what sort of fun things I could make. I call them “crafty” things, like I tie-dyed some t-shirts and that was really fun. I made some earrings out of old guitar strings. Doing different DIY crafts, like making earrings out of acrylic plastic on a laser cutter. Kit uses a laser cutter with a bunch of different tools to make different things. Kit got into woodworking during the pandemic. He made a kitchen island. It was really nice. Figuring out how to channel that creativity since we couldn’t play live shows was really like a form of self-care. Realizing I could be creative and have different things other than live music was very grounding.
AH: Before Logboat Brewing developed the Space Junk IPA in collaboration with you, sometime during your weekly livestream pandemic series there was mention of a distillery branding a bourbon using your name. How did this situation happen?
BB: We are friends of friends of a distillery owner and went there one day for lunch. The head distiller was there and we got to meet him. And Kit has always had this kind of joke in his head that my last name Bombara is really good for turning into something like “Bombourbon” or “Bombeera”. So Kit thought it would be funny to throw his idea out to the distiller [Old Herald Distillery in Collinsville, IL] about making Bombourbon, and the distiller said, “Let’s do it.” And Kit was like, “Oh, man, he called my bluff. I guess we’re going to make a bourbon.” It was a happy accident.
AH: Tell me more about the song challenge which resulted in the “Space Junk” song.
BB: I decided to do a 52 [week] song challenge. I wanted to put that challenge out to myself not because I thought I could do it but because I just wanted a challenge. I hadn’t been able to finish a song for at least a year. So I was in this creative funk. And it’s like, “What if I’m doing this just to do it?” There was no real weight attached to it. It was getting back into the practice. I’m letting a small group of people hear these songs every week. So that was my accountability to it. But, it really was a personal creative challenge that I wanted to do to get myself writing again and to finish [some songs]. The pandemic was weird for me. It kind of zapped my creativity in terms of songwriting. I had all of these ideas backlogged but I couldn’t really put them together.
AH: On stage you commented on the special meaning of the Space Junk collaboration.
BB: Being able to do a collaboration with somebody who’s outside of the music realm, like with the beer, is a really interesting crossing point for me. I took notes on how I wanted the beer to taste and they named it after a song. Those are things you don’t get to mesh together very often.
AH: Last September, in Nashville, you performed a pre-kickoff set at the 5 Spot on AmericanaFest eve. Seattle alt-country rockers Massy Ferguson were your backing band for part of the set. How did you both connect?
BB: Massy Ferguson put out an album on the UK label At The Helm Records which was the label which put out my record in the UK. So we were essentially UK label mates. So we knew of each other then, but never met. I had talked to Evan (Massy Ferguson frontman) on the phone a few times and we emailed back and forth a few times before meeting in Nashville.
AH: At the Columbia, Missouri show at Rose Hall on Oct 23, you mentioned there was a guitar which was forgotten. During some “pandy” idle time, you found it and it led to some new songs. Tell us about your songwriting process and how many new song candidates you have for a future long player. (see our review of this show here: Show Review: Beth Bombara at Rose Music Hall 10/23)
BB: Finding that guitar was interesting because I hadn’t been regularly playing on one that sounds like that. So once I picked that up, it’s a different voice. The acoustic spoke to me in a different way and I started a bunch of songs on it. I’m convinced if I was writing on electric guitar these songs wouldn’t have come out the same way. There really is a connection to this specific instrument which is wild and very cool to me.
Usually my process is I will get a melody and a chord progression started. So I’ll start plucking that on the guitar or if I’m sitting down at a piano. Sometimes I will write on electric piano. I have an electric Wurlitzer at the house. Usually if I get lyrics at the same time as the melody and chords, that’s a cool, rare thing, but I might get one line of lyric and then most of the melody and some underlying chords. Then I will record a demo of what I got and fill in the gaps. That’s how the process has been going the last year or so.
I’ve made about 20 new songs so far. I’d say there are 10 songs candidates for a new album.
AH: The connection between a songwriter to a song and then the connection to the audience can be a fascinating process. Before the Columbia. Missouri show I was chatting with a group of people. Making that acquaintance, one of the women commented after you played “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” [from the 2019 album Evergreen] how much it hit a nerve with her. She explained she has a successful career and is very independent. Yet when emotions hit her, she cries in solitude. How was this song inspired? Was it out of a similar experience?
BB: Yeah, I definitely think it was out of a similar experience. Being someone who makes music publicly, I have a choice what I want to post on Instagram. But then there’s this filter where a lot of people don’t want to put out a picture of themselves looking sad or being vulnerable. You’re pulling back that curtain [rather than], “Everything’s okay, I’m doing great.” Because that’s what you want to project to the world. So this idea you don’t have to do that, but so many people do and have this filter of whatever I want other people to see. They don’t want other people to see the vulnerability. So they will go through hard things, crying all by themselves and not let other people know what they’re feeling.
AH: She said if I ever had the chance, to share those comments with you.
BB: That’s incredible.
AH: She admires this strength of expression you have in that song and she felt like she’s got all these strengths but you have one more.
BB: That’s very empowering.
AH: A secret weapon question: how does your husband Kit shape the direction of some of the songs?
BB: Kit is really good about seeing the whole picture of a song. He might listen to a song that I say, “Hey, I have a song that I think is fairly complete and I need input from you.” We’re going to talk about how are we going to play this live. How are we going to record it? For instance, there’s some songs I’ve written where I have a pre-chorus, a little melody that leads into the chorus and he will listen to that and be like, “I think this pre-chorus should actually be the bridge of the song.” And then like [for me], “Huh, okay, I guess I will go back to the drawing board and rewrite that” [laughter]. It’s very cool because I feel like we complement each other in different ways. Where he can see the big picture and hear in his head other instruments or a specific drum beat that should be happening. It’s an interesting and very special collaboration.
AH: He gets you across the finish line.
BB: Yeah, exactly. I can play any song that I write on an acoustic guitar and sing it. But it’s a whole different [element] to bring in a band and put that on stage and translate a song that way. Kit is very good about taking all of those individual pieces and putting them together.