Betty A Marvel chats with Wendy about Beauty Queen.
Betty A Marvel: How would you describe your musical style?
Wendy Waller: Blues-Jazz-Americana with a soulful bend. Maybe I should call it Alternative Americana.
BM: Who are your influences?
WW: Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Cannonball Adderley, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Richie Havens, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Moody Blues, Quick Silver Messenger, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Kahn, Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur, Patti Cathcart, and then some…
BM: Were you always musically inclined?
WW: I have been a musician since childhood. I can’t remember not singing, or thinking about music and singing.
BM: Do you remember writing your first song?
WW: Yes, I think I was 10 years old. I put a melody to a poem that I found in a book. The poem was about prejudice; I can’t remember the name of it. It was about a young girl around my same age who was black. The first and last line of the poem was “I wonder why some people don’t like me.” I remember feeling so sad about the little girl. The feeling was so intense. I remember singing it in class and crying.
BM: Is songwriting a daily activity?
WW: No. my songs come to me in bunches and sometimes there are weeks that I do not write. I figure that songs are germinating during the times I am not writing.
BM: How long does it take you to write a song?
WW: Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes it takes years. I have song ideas that have hung out for years before I can put them into a full song.
BM: Do you write the melody or lyrics first?
WW: Typically, I write lyrics first. There are times when the hook come with the melody and the lyrics at once.
BM: Do you spend more time on melodies or lyrics?
WW: I don’t know what I spend more time on — I really don’t.
BM: What was the inspiration behind “Beauty Queen”? Is there an overall theme?
WW: Liberation! I wanted to make sure to be true to who I was and not create something for the Hollywood pop machine of that time (2000).
BM: How did your collaboration with Hershel Yatovitz come about?
WW: I met Hershel the summer after I graduated from college. I auditioned for a Top 40 band that he was in and I got the job.
BM: Did the two of you actually work in the same physical space while writing?
WW: We did not write in the same space. I typically wrote the song and sang it into a recorder; he would then arrange it. There are two songs that I could not figure out a melody for on “Beauty Queen”: “Cover the Moon” and “Beauty Queen.” I wrote “Cover the Moon” as I was traveling in northern California. I was driving and had to pull off the road to write it. It just came out; almost all at once. I had a hard time coming up with the melody — we both did. Then Hershel came up with a beautiful chord progression and some great melodic ideas. He arranged the song and we both created the melody as we recorded it.
“Beauty Queen” had a similar process. I wrote the lyrics and couldn’t come up with a melody. I remember Hershel was sick in bed for about two days when he woke up one afternoon and said, “I’ve got it! I know what to do!” A few days later he went into the studio and laid down the rhythm tracks to the song and we made up the melody together while recording. We often made up, or changed, the melodies to most of the songs during the recording process.
BM: When you look back on “Beauty Queen,” how do you feel?
WW: I still really enjoy the CD. I think that it was a wonderful collaboration. I am really proud of it!
BM: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
WW: I really don’t. I like every song on that album.
BM: What’s the most fun song to play live?
WW: That’s easy, “Beauty Queen”!
BM: What are you working on now?
WW: I am working on promoting my music, getting gigs, my guitar chops, teaching voice lessons, and I am about to start writing again!
BM: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
WW: Don’t freak out when you are blocked, just do other creative things and try not to worry; consider that your songs are germinating.
BM: What’s your typical day look like?
WW: Up at 6:45 am. Exercise. Start practicing by 9:30 or 10:00 am. Practice until 1:00-ish. Soon I will be adding writing in after the practice time. I use the afternoon and eve to do music biz and to teach. The days are really full and they are getting busier!
BM: Do you ever get blocked? How do you get unblocked?
WW: Yes, I do get blocked. I try not to worry about it and come back to it the next day. I also just write everything out stream-of-conscious style. Oftentimes I can gather my words that way. If I can’t I walk away and do other creative things that I like to do: Paint, sing, cook, garden. Sometimes there is nothing to be done and I am mopey and depressed for a while (What are ya gonna do?!).