It is that time of the year again when we celebrate the diversity of vocalists from all shades of the musical spectrum. We always aim to please, with a scintillating mix of personal perspectives, opinions and advice for vocalists and artists of all persuasions. And this year is no exception. Seated at the current roundtable are legendary vocalist-bassist Suzi Quatro, Buckcherry frontman Josh Todd, Counting Crows leading light Adam Duritz, singer-songwriter and author Kudisan Kai and former cellist-vocalist for The Lumineers and, now, solo artist Neyla Pekarek.
Neyla Pekarek is currently touring in support of her debut solo album Rattlesnake on S-Curve Records/BMG. Pekarek returns to her Colorado roots, with a folk opera built around a mythological figure known as “Rattlesnake Kate.”
First Performances and Education
My first professional gig was in The Lumineers for eight years. Prior to that I studied vocal music in college and sang with barbershop quartets.
Leaving The Lumineers to Write and Record Rattlesnake
I made the decision to leave the group last fall. The Lumineers’ tour schedule, for better or worse, is very demanding. Whenever I had time off I was flying to Portland to record my solo album. Mostly the decision to work in Portland was so I could work with M Ward as a producer.
The Story Behind Rattlesnake
When I was a college student in Greeley, Colorado I came across this story while visiting an historical museum there. The legend has it that in 1925 Kate McHale Slaughterback was out gathering ducks to bring home for dinner, with her three-year-old son on horseback. She encountered this mass rattlesnake migration and had to battle and kill hundreds of snakes to save herself and her son. Apparently she lived to tell the tale and fashioned a dress out of the snake skins. I thought that was an odd tale that, as a Colorado native, I had never heard. I instantly started thinking about stories of the West and how they are dominated by men. I got really inspired when I started delving into her story. She was this woman who completely existed out of the box of what it meant to be feminine.
I was a musical theater kid, so I liked Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. My parents had a lot of great records by Otis Redding, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton too.
Balancing Cello with Finding Her Voice
I grew up playing cello and, personality-wise, I was probably more prone to be a more reserved and shy orchestra kid. And just by the means of having a really amazing choir teacher, I kind of found my voice and got addicted to the stage. And it was something that didn’t come natural, but that great teacher pulled it out of me.
Vocal Warm-ups, Taking Care of Yourself
I’m really cognizant about keeping my voice healthy. I try not to talk in loud places. I had a lot of great training. I’ve done plenty of a cappella singing with various groups. And when you’re not relying on instruments, trying to keep your voice healthy is like being a vocal acrobat. When I’m on tour I try to avoid drinking too much alcohol and I make sure I get enough sleep. Sometimes touring doesn’t lend itself to that, so you really have to make an effort.
Also, Throat Coat tea is good if you’ve got a cold. And a humidifier when on tour is helpful.
Working In the Studio
I’m a pretty consistent singer. Adam Selzer, the audio engineer, who along with M Ward was a big part of making my new record, said to me that a lot of people may average around 10 takes, but most people usually get it in three. And we did end up doing most of the songs in 1-3 takes. It’s really easy to over-analyze, but it’s really taxing on your voice. I had demos made of all the songs I wanted to record beforehand. I think coming in prepared really helps in the studio. •