Press on "Leap"...

 

Democrat and Chronicle

July 31, 2015

It's Meg Gehman and The Influence Sunday at the Park Avenue Festival. A few weeks ago Gehman, a longtime presence on the local scene, celebrated the release of her new CD, Leap, with an energetic party at the Club at Water Street. She raised $17,000 on the fundraising site Kickstarter and she piled all of those chips on this, her big breakout shot.

Meg Gehman, here playing at her CD release party a few weeks ago, has unleashed the R&B dragon within. 

Leap is a really startling departure, if you heard Gehman back in the Meg & the Clams days, and the immediate question is: How does a singer-songwriter mix with an R&B producer? Gehman certainly got her $16,999 worth in technology, and she shows she has the voice to not get overwhelmed by what's happening on tracks like "Let Your Hair Down," a chick anthem loaded with electronic dance music tricks. "Me Without You," a composition by producer David Chance, is the equal of most tracks you'll hear on urban radio. 

 

Leap gets huge points for diversity, not only from song to song, but within each song, something that will drive the commercial radio programmers crazy; they're not used to hearing middle-aged white women doing this. The gentle island sound of "Runaway With You" drifts into a little dance hall vocal, then a few tracks later Gehman's singing over a wailing electric guitar that's properly in the background, but enough to lend an edge. "In Your Dreams" opens like Melissa Etheridge on an '80s MTV video, then quickly evolves into contemporary R&B, and that little kitten-tiger growl that Gehman tacks onto the end is very cool.

Gehman's aim was to mix her acoustic sensibilities with Chance's studio savvy, and she pulls it off best on "Love School," the one track she wrote on her own. This is a love album, one that drifts from Juliet's balcony to the bedroom. Leap's production is often too much for those most familiar with Gehman's past. But this is a musician in search of new ears, trying something new that — judging by the comfortable fit — was likely always there.

JSPEVAK@DemocratandChronicle.com

Democrat and Chronicle

July 9, 2015

Meg Gehman's early life sounds like an old movie, one you'd watch in black and white. The music of her father was barbershop quartet. Her mother was a switchboard operator who immigrated to America from England on the Queen Elizabeth.

Growing up outside of New York City, Gehman also had a lot of sounds in her head. Black and white again, but in a different sort of way. "It was a multicultural environment," she says. "I latched onto all kinds of genres."

The ones she really liked were R&B and soul. But that was out of her reach. Instead, Gehman's been playing the Rochester scene for decades now as a singer-songwriter. Bands such as Meg and the Clams, This Other Life, Big Backyard, The Howling Divas and solo gigs. Until last summer, when 133 people pledged $17,000 through a crowd-funding campaign.

The moment: Meg Gehman's Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign reaches $17,000. That funding allowed her to finish her new CD, Leap.

That's people backing something they believed in. Now, celebrating the release of her new CD Leap Saturday at The Club at Water Street, Gehman is an R&B and soul singer.

It has been a circuitous trip, but we know songs emerge from life. Gehman first came here for college at SUNY Brockport, then left for New York City to be a singer. She got as far as a singing waitress in a restaurant, and by 1990 had returned to Rochester. "I was having difficulties with — oh, how can I say this delicately? — my substance intake?" she says. "I came back here to clean up and go to grad school."

Gehman's been a junior high school counselor for 20 years, a job she loves. But a couple of years ago she began chasing that soulful, R&B echo. An initial collection of songs didn't work out, but through a friend who was helping out there she met David Chance, who was shooting an autobiographical video of Gehman for the project. A Baltimore producer who'd been a singer with the duo Ruff Endz. His own music was drifting into the Christian and gospel arena. But, "A good melody is a good melody," Gehman says. "And I had just such a good vibe about him. He was real professional, I liked his eye, and his voice is phenomenal."

Chance gave her an estimate of the costs for studio time and his production expertise. Factor in all of the additional costs, including travel, and Gehman figured $17,000 would about cover it. She would need backers for this, and in these days of record-label austerity that means crowd fundraising.

Surf through the handful of crowdfunding sites — Indigogo, Gofundme, Kickstarter — and you'll likely find at least a half-dozen Rochester-area creative projects looking for help at any one time. Bands that want to make an album, develop a video game, films, small inventions. Gehman chose Kickstarter. The sites have different rules, and Kickstarter does have one that's a little intimidating: If you don't make your goal after 30 days, you get nothing.

And for a while, after launching her campaign for $17,000, Gehman was getting not much. Slow going. With 26 hours left, she hit the $10,000 mark. "The last few hours, it just started spiking," Gehman says. With an hour and a half to go, she still needed $989. Watching the updates on the Kickstarter was like watching a horse race with each refresh of the site, each turn, revealing a closer race. With 15 minutes left, Gehman needed $68.

With just eight minutes left, she crossed the finish line with $17,205. Now she could take a Chance.

"I'd sent him a bunch of songs of my own to work with and shape," Gehman says. "But we ended up co-writing eight of the 10 songs from scratch."

So Leap is 10 songs, a video for the single "Out of Tune," Saturday night's release party. And then ...?

"I certainly think this project is good enough to make it on a national scale," Gehman says.

"I told him the genre I had in mind was acoustic soul. Acoustic, but with a nice rhythm and nice beats. It ended up being a bit more digital than I expected."

Chance even talked Gehman into using Auto-Tune, the hip-hop artist's good friend, on one track. It corrects pitch, but is also a tool for heightening the dramatic impact of the voice. "I said, 'OK,' and he send it back to me," she says. "And I'm like, 'I said OK, but not that much!' So we toned it down a little. I call it my Cher version."