Deirdre Flint

A very special Lucky Seven

 
My guitar teacher has quotes posted in the hall outside his room. Inspirational nuggets designed to make you realize that it takes time and effort to play decently, it doesn’t come easily, and it’s all worth it… while all along you’re disappointed because everything you try to play sounds like crap.

One of the quotes on that wall is from Frank Zappa and is about choosing a guitar: “If you pick up a guitar and it says, ‘Take me, I’m yours,’ then that’s the one for you.”

It is an absolute pleasure to bring you this edition of “Lucky Seven,” where I have the privilege to offer a recent exchange I had with Deirdre Flint. In the interview, you are going to read about Deirdre, her purple Daisy Rock Heartbreaker Bass, and how “the fact that it is purple and heart-shaped is just a happy bonus.”

Now… I’m not 100% certain that a guitar can truly be used as the single, defining element that tells you about a person. And Zappa went on to say in that same passage I just used that it wasn’t about the paint job of the guitar and it was about the relationship you had with it. Context is important folks. That said, if my combination of wandering thoughts doesn’t work for you, well, too bad. In this case, with Deirdre, I think it works. (And yes, I am the same person that compared Joe Bonamassa to The Lone Ranger.) My belief is that Deirdre, a purple bass and happy thoughts are a wonderfully appropriate combination to express her bubbly personality. And I think Zappa would concur.

It was two years ago that Deirdre and I first sent e-mails to each other. I was absolutely thrilled when it happened. This web site had been up for a while… and on my statistics I had seen some interesting listings of search strings that led visitors to the site… but until the day I heard from her, no one had ever e-mailed me other than a family member or a close friend. You know… the people that sort of, kind of, have to visit the site on occasion because I ask them dumb questions about it. Suddenly… there it was… an e-mail mentioning a recent column I had posted.

Well… naturally I had to find out who this Deirdre person was. And why was she so interested in green stamps?

That led me to her web site (which has undergone a few changes since those first visits I made). I found she was a singer/songwriter of considerable talent and ability. I learned that she has a wonderful sense of humor, and a solid grasp of the funny moments we can all find in real, everyday situations. In short… she can hit the common ground we all share, and get us to a point where we can all smile about it. As she says: “When I see reactions to some minute detail that I sing about and I see nodding of heads or laughter, I know that we are all in this together.”

But green stamps?

Well… yeah…. that actually makes sense too.

Deirdre focuses on some of the great equalizers in life. EPCOT… the importance of being a cheerleader… belly dancing… and, well, the list goes on (as you will see).

These days you can catch Deirdre performing in two vastly different… and incredibly similar… places. She is always recording and touring on her own. Deirdre is also a member of The Four Bitchin’ Babes, a quartet of women that record and tour and basically put guys like me into our rightful place. (And I say that because I get it… I see the humor… and it is funny. Deirdre again: “If they are there under duress, and they don’t like the show, it’s because they’re on a third date with someone.  If they don’t get the music, they’re going to be dumped pretty soon anyway.”)

So here you go… an interview that was fantastic to organize and conduct… alot of fun to research… and a special person that I hope you will enjoy hearing from. (And when you do enjoy it… head over to cdbaby.com, click on search, enter Deirdre Flint under the artist, and buy The Shuffleboard Queens and Then Again. And while you’re there, check out Hormonal Imbalance… A Mood Swinging Musical Revue by The Four Bitchin’ Babes.)

For now… sit back, relax, and have some fun…

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I was doing some research, and I came across a great quote of Tom Chapin’s where he was summing up his music. Basically, he said it was “real songs for real people.” It just so happened that at the same time I found that thought from him, I was preparing this package of stuff for you. It occurred to me that while probably containing a twist or two in the perspective you bring to the final effort, this quote was appropriate for your material as well. I mean… not everyone looks for their music or finds real people “at the intersection where folk music and stand-up comedy collide.” But when you look at the depth of a life, and the strange and funny turns it brings to all of us, suddenly songs like “The Boob Fairy” and “The Bridesmaid Dress Song” are direct hits… real music about real people. I know people… actual (and in this article, nameless) people… that claim Orlando as their longest trip ever, and yet they will tell you they really “…saw Tokyo and Rome” (as you point out in “EPCOT USA”). What do you think? Is my thought of your music as “real songs for real people,” from a slightly different point of view, appropriate? How do you approach songwriting? Do you try to bring a funny, humorous take on subjects to all of your songs?  Do you have any practice or writing routines that you follow?

I think absolutely I am trying to write real music for real people.  I’m not a particularly outgoing person but I love to meet new people, to find out what their motivations are, to find out what incredible stories they have.  Writing music for me is my way of trying to connect with people.  Was it Close Encounters where someone keeps sending out a message to the universe? Richard Dreyfuss? Hoping that he’d get a response?  Whenever I write about the smallest, tiniest detail, it’s a way of checking out whether I’m the only one who has experienced these things/felt these things.  The answer is almost always “no.”  I am one of many. This establishes an instant connection for me with people that I’d not be able to connect with otherwise, as my abilities at small talk are not as polished as I would like them to be.

I try to be funny because I don’t think there’s any point in dumping any more negativity into the world.  We have enough problems.  I’ve got sad songs.  I just don’t tend to record them or publish them. If I don’t leave people happier or more uplifted, I don’t feel I’m doing my job.

Your first album, The Shuffleboard Queens, was released in 1999. What led up to that album? Was it instantly goodbye teaching and hello life on stage? Basically… when did you decide to move this way professionally… and perhaps just as important… when did you decide it might actually work as your primary job? What have been some of your proudest experiences so far? Is it strange seeing your picture on the cover of a CD… your name in a review in the paper… or material concerning you presented in some media guide?

I started writing songs as a teaching tool.  I was teaching fifth grade in Washington, DC and I was a lousy teacher.  I still think about those students I had, the damage I did to their education and just shudder. But they liked music.  So I bought a guitar and started writing humorous American History songs.  That led to writing songs for adults.  I pursued my masters in Elementary Education at The University of Penn, got a job, loved it, but felt like I’d be really missing out if I didn’t try to make a go at the music.  I tried getting people to cover my songs, but no one wanted to cover “The Boob Fairy.” Maybe I shouldn’t have sent it to Dolly Parton.  So I thought, “Damn, I’m going to have to sing these ditties myself.”  I moved to Korea, taught college English and saved up a boatload of money.  Practiced in front of a mirror.  Moved home, within a year, made a CD and had my first few gigs.

I love teaching and hope it will always be a part of my life.  I do not get inspiration for songs from teaching.  They are two separate entities.  Teaching in the inner city, there is really nothing funny to write about.  But it keeps me energized.  I miss it during the summers.

Proudest Experiences:

1. Getting letters from people saying that my music makes them happy.
2. Winning at The Kerrville Folk Festival.  Although years earlier, Lyle Lovett lost.  That does not bode well.
3. The first time I heard one of my songs on the radio.
4. Getting into The Four Bitchin’ Babes.
5. Seeing my album reviewed in Billboard Magazine, which I would have totally been unaware of had not some guy in Japan written to get a copy of the CD.  Nevertheless, I am not big in Japan.

I think my two favorite songs of yours are “The Bridesmaid Dress Song” and “The Boob Fairy.” Although I must admit… “My Old Boyfriend’s New Girlfriend” is good… “Cheerleader” is great… and your writing style overall is pretty amazing. You have some tremendous wordplay going on in your songs. (I love the not-so-subtle, but oh-so-true thoughts expressed in lyrics such as “…some women say that it harms and demeans, (can you guess who didn’t make their high school teams)”.)  Do you find yourself making many revisions to music and lyrics? And with people you talk to… do different people react differently to your songs? From your own material, what are some of your personal favorites?

Thank you for that!  I do not do much revising.  The most revising I’ve ever done is for this current kick-my-butt writing course I’m taking on line with the Gotham Writers’ Workshop.  You pay a lot of money for the opportunity to have a deadline.  When you work for yourself, it’s so totally worth it to pay a lot of money to have someone give you a deadline.  I’m writing prose for the course. (Humor Writing 1.)  It is not an easy transition.

The wordplay stems from what I listened to growing up: Broadway Musicals. I try to slap it on top of catchy melodies which also stems from the other genre I listened to growing up: Seventies pop songs.  I also like Country Music.  This is supposed to be the genre for idiots, but I don’t see it.  A good country song tells a story in three minutes.  I try to do that.  But I can’t get it down to three minutes.

People react pretty similarly to my songs.  As I said, I’m looking to connect.  When I see reactions to some minute detail that I sing about and I see nodding of heads or laughter, I know that we are all in this together.  I’m fortunate.  My music seems to be freak-proof.  I don’t get weirdoes or jerks coming to my shows.  We all share the same sense of humor or they would not be there.  If they are there under duress, and they don’t like the show, it’s because they’re on a third date with someone.  If they don’t get the music, they’re going to be dumped pretty soon anyway.  So we are one big happy, quirky crowd.  Many of my current closest friends were just folks who kept coming to shows.

My favorite songs are the crowd pleasers because I like to make people happy: “Boob Fairy,” “Cheerleader,” “Food,” “Bridesmaid Dress Song.”  I also love this recent song I’ve written about “The Metric System.”  It’s an audience participation song and I like that.  I also like “Grandma’s House.”  It’s one of the few serious songs I have and it’s pretty biographical.

I’m going to mention The Four Bitchin’ Babes in a minute, but before I really get to them, I want to mention something you do when performing with the group… you play bass guitar. Or… umm… more accurately… you play a purple Daisy Rock Heartbreaker Bass. First of all, was it much of a transition for you to switch from guitar to bass? Do you have a history with it (or any other instruments)? And, since we’re here, tell me a bit about how you got started playing music… what instruments, when you started writing your own songs, etc.  Do you have special equipment that you swear by (guitars, strings, etc.)?

I don’t even know what model number my guitar is. It’s a Takamine. I use D’Addario strings (lights) for no particular reason.  I should have a more expensive guitar (many people tell me), but I did not want to be the annoying musician that gets freaked out every time the volunteer sound guy who has had a beer gets too close to my guitar.

I play a Daisy Rock Bass because it is tiny and I can carry it on the plane.  That way I can check one suitcase and my guitar.  If I had to check both the guitar and bass, I’d have to wear the same clothes all weekend.  That would suck.  The fact that it is purple and heart-shaped is just a happy bonus.

Guitar to bass is an easy transition.  All you have to do is hit the root of the chord. Jaco Pastorius would roll over in his grave to hear that. (Note my casually throwing in a reference to a great Bass Player to make me sound like I know what I’m talking about.  I looked up the correct spelling of his name on Yahoo before I put it in here.)

I had piano lessons in grade school.  My parents made me compete.  (At the beginner’s level.)  The first year, I drew a blank while performing.  There was that thick, awkward silence while everyone just wants to disappear, particularly the person (me) who drew the blank.  The nun had to give me the sheet music.  Mom and dad told me to get back on the horse.  The very next year, like clockwork, the same thing happened.  They said: “You do not have to get back on the horse again.”

Things I swear by?  Batteries.  Do not forget these.

Do you feel that your music is influenced by any particular style or specific people/groups? What music and performers do you enjoy listening to?   

I enjoy: Country music – the prepackaged processed stuff written by committee in a publisher’s office while they’re all drinking Starbucks and saying, “okay, now what else will make a woman in her thirties cry?” I know this.  I love it anyway.  I apologize. Especially to you, Bob, as some people are going to stop reading the interview right now.

Also: Porter, Gershwin, Bee Gees, ABBA, Dar Williams, Billy Joel, Barenaked Ladies, Dolly Parton.

Locals you will not know but should check out: Nancy Falkow, Amber DeLaurentis, Adam Brodsky, Butch Ross.  Oh, and if you like me you’ll like Carla Ulbrich. She’s not local but a peer.

Ok… The Four Bitchin’ Babes… and is there ever a ton of stuff to investigate with this subject. The group has actually been around for over fifteen years now in various collections of talent. If I’m not mistaken, at least one participant over the years will be very familiar to everyone… Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. How did you get involved in the group? What’s it like? How does it differ from your regular approach to writing and performing? Tell us a bit about the current effort, Hormonal Imbalance… A Mood Swinging Musical Revue. Are there any other special projects you are working on with this group?

Well, the way I got involved was miraculous.  In 2000, I won the Kerrville New Folk Award.  This is a competition where 20 or 30 (I forget) new folk artists play a couple of songs at this Festival in Texas in front of the festival and judges.  Sally Fingerett, a founding member of the Babes was a judge.  She voted for me.  Then, when the fabulous Camille West was leaving to pursue solo stuff, there was a chair that needed filling under “funny folk.” Fortunately for me, there are just a handful of female funny folk musicians.  Christine Lavin had already been in the group and Paula Poundstone can’t play the guitar worth a damn.  So, they called me. I took up the bass to be as indispensable as possible.  Where are you going to find a funny female folk singer that also plays the bass?  (Note to funny female folk singers who can play the bass and are reading this: Do not get any ideas!!)

Hormonal Imbalance, which just came out this weekend, is an album with songs that speaks to women (although men enjoy the show too!) usually in their 40s or up.  The Bitchin’ Babes is a rare group. We fly in a day before.  We go out for dinner.  We have wine.  We chat.  After the shows, we hang out some more.  Usually til two or three in the morning. We get along beautifully.  I would usually add some sort of line like, “so we are bound to implode or be destroyed by some freak thresher accident” but Debi Smith (group member) is horrified when I say things like this.  While on tour, I almost got my head chopped off in a freight elevator in Pella, Iowa (you know the place where they make the windows).  Ever since then, I keep saying I’m living on borrowed time.  Debi freaks out and sprinkles magic fairy dust all over the place and cancels the phrase with “Kenahora Poo Poo” or something mystical like that.  Now that I have found her Achilles Heel, I am keeping her very busy.  It is quite amusing to see her chase after my verbal predictions of gloom and doom.

What kind of advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing music as a career? (Heck… in pursuing any career.) Are there any special things (lessons, people that have influenced you, places you’ve played or things you’ve done) that you feel were essential to your development as a singer/songwriter/performer? And I have to ask about this because when I saw it on your web site, I almost cried laughing at it. (And I love just about everything you said in your comments about your philosophy of education.)… a cow wearing a t-shirt that says kick me? You have to explain that.

I can just tell you what I’ve learned.  My first piece of advice is to be wary of anyone who is giving you advice about a career when she is driving a four-year old car and still renting. But here goes…

1. Get yourself an education.  First, maybe some music courses.  Then, go into nursing or teaching.  I’d recommend nursing.  It pays good money and you are always in demand.  Apparently, you can work when you want to.  Teaching is good, too.  Hours are flexible if you sub.  It pays a lot more than temping.

2. Don’t start performing until you have saved up some money.  Or green stamps.  No, I’m kidding about the green stamps. Performing in the comfort of your own living room while you’re saving up money is fine.  Just be disciplined about it and be a good self critic.  Then go out and hit the open mics when you’re already fabulous.  Do not make stupid statements such as, “I just wrote this” and “I’m just practicing on you” and “I’m going to give this one a try, don’t mind me if I forget the words half way through.”  Huh????  Every audience is important and there is someone at that open mic who is Brian Wilson’s gardener or something.  If you screw up, they will only remember you as the screw up. Make a CD right away.

3. Have good in between mic talk.  Prepare it in advance! Do not discuss the milk you bought at the store that morning.  That is not good mic talk.  Remember that these people got off their couch and left prime time TV – where there was bound to be a good explosion – to come give you the gift of their presence.  So what if they have TiVo!  They still put clothes on and came.  Give them a good show!

4. Read and do The Artist’s Way.  It works.

As for the cow with the self-deprecating t-shirt – the logo for my subbing website – I had to take a Dreamweaver course to keep my teaching credentials.  I had to design a site about teaching.  Gee thanks, that’s really helpful. So I made a substitute teaching site.  I received a poor score from some woman in the class who said that a cow wearing a T-shirt that says “Kick Me,” does not go well with my teaching philosophy.  She probably didn’t like my link under “helpful links” to a place where you can buy St. John’s Wart for depression, either.  Later, I discovered that she had just won an award for being the most boring, uncreative, small-minded elementary school teacher in her local tri-state area.  Okay, I made that last part up.  But wouldn’t that have been cool?

And just to put a bow on this… What’s next for you? Are you working on any projects you’d like us to be aware of? How can people find your music… and more importantly… buy your albums?

You can buy my CDs at cdbaby.com. Thanks for the plug. I’m writing a book about teaching.  It’s unique and pragmatic and I have high hopes for it.  Probably the guy who invented Betamax had high hopes for his creation, too.  I just won an Honorable Mention in the NSAI/CMT Country Songwriting Contest.  I am writing new folk songs all the time. Thanks so much for this opportunity to type about myself.

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I want to thank Deirdre Flint for participating in this interview. Do yourself a favor, check out the calendars for her and The Four Bitchin' Babes, then go see a show. The following links will get you the general flavor of her efforts. I would encourage you to look for her music in other places as well.

To visit her web site...

Deirdre Flint

And then there's a fantastic group called The Four Bitchin' Babes. Check out their web site...

The Four Bitchin' Babes

And if you want to buy her albums, she told you where to go... cdbaby.com. Head over there...

CD Baby

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com