She Just Wants to Rock ‘n’ Roll


Sue Menhart is sassy. She’s sultry. And she’s sympathetic as the subject of a memoir that pulls no punches in detailing the trials and triumphs of a life led working a day job while founding and fronting a rock band.

Full disclaimer: I have shared the solo-acoustic corner of a pub or two in New London County, Conn., with this woman and joined her in the audience at occasional Sinners’ Circles where newcomers and veterans alike performed originals to a packed listening room. I also have seen her prance and project on stage with the Sue Menhart Band, ripping through some bluesy number with the energy and fury of her idol, Pat Benatar.

So too, have countless others, and when she belts out the tune, “Where’d You Come From,” her soulful presence rocks the room. But she is a singer/songwriter at heart, persisting in an unforgiving industry where streaming songs pay a fraction of a cent and competition is fierce.

They Made Me Play a Polka reads like a hybrid of stand-up comedy and a playful whodunnit: laugh-out-loud funny but fast-paced and driven by a mix of well-known and unnamed characters populating a world where Grammys are as elusive as (and not unlike) the lottery, and you keep waiting for an answer to the question: Why isn’t Menhart a star? A page-turner, the book invites you to uncover layer after layer of reasons for this stark reality — some her own doing and some the fault of a maniacal music industry that takes no prisoners.

Living through everything from Lyme disease to motherhood to husband/drummer Kevin’s life-threatening illnesses, Menhart has bigger wars to wage, mainly with her illusions about the viability of “making it” in the music world.

Maybe she should have stayed in California as a young wannabe instead of coming back East. Maybe she should have made an even more concerted effort than she did at self-promotion on Apple Music. Maybe she should have never accepted that gig at a local vineyard that didn’t exactly go as planned.

There is very little whining in this memoir, or regret. There is no glossing over struggles with alcohol or real human emotions of frustration, aggravation and the lust for lasting fame.

What there is is self-deprecating humor; a bold, scrappy commitment to her role as leader of a southeastern Connecticut band with rock ‘n’ roll roots; candid heart-to-hearts for those of us with dreams of fame or, at least, airplay on Sirius radio; and, in the middle of the book, a searing and well-researched assessment of exactly what it takes to produce and promote original band or solo material. The pitfalls, the behind-the-scenes manipulation and the sheer hard work.

She reaches several conclusions at the end, but — spoiler alert — one rings truest: “I like singing,” she writes. “And nobody’s gonna stop me.”

That conviction may have landed her her latest gig. Look for Menhart at the Maugle Sierra Vineyards in Ledyard, Conn., from 3-6 p.m. on Oct. 7. Then pick up this memoir and follow her on the Sue Menhart Band website. Why? Because she knows her why. She’s still at it, and thriving.

 

 

People’s Pick: Daphne Lee Martin


WELCOME to “People’s Pick.” Each “pick” is an interview with a songwriter and guitarist popular with the public, mostly from places I’ve met them in Connecticut, Vermont or Rhode Island. But they come from everywhere, full of verve and insight into what it means to write a song, pluck a guitar, pound the ivories — and make a joyful noise.

Daphne

When a songwriter like Daphne Lee Martin describes her history on www.daphneleemartin.com, the Ohio-born singer sums up her persona better than any blogger could. She describes her vocal style in three guises: “the chanteuse sticky-sweetness of Blossom Dearie, the twang of Patsy Cline and the indie wistfulness of Neko Case.” Our paths crossed in New London, Conn., where the well-traveled Martin and her husband, Rich, run the record shop The Telegraph. Dynamic and always onto the next thing, Martin here discusses some of her latest work, and why she loves it.

PEOPLE’S PICK: What moves you to write songs?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: Everything. I read constantly, and often I’ll trip over a sentence that shows me a point of view that I’d not come across yet and I’ll read it over 10 times, write it down, chew on it for a while and come up with my own way of walking in those shoes.

Sometimes it will be a memory, my grandfather was a wild character and the more moments in my life that come up reminding me of things he said will move me to want to share that “wisdom” in song. And rarely, it’ll be a flash of inspiration, literally like a lightning bolt and the song will fall out nearly fully formed. It makes you very humble when you think of it that way -that no mater how much you agonize over your craft, this stuff really is coming from someplace greater and it’s a gift that you’re able to hear it.

PEOPLE’S PICK: Alter egos vie for the listener’s attention in “Frost” & “Moxie,” your two collections, one that “treats a queen like a whore” (Moxie) and the other that “treats a whore like a queen” (Frost). Did you conceive of them together or separately and where did the pairing come from?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: They came together, a long time ago. I actually described it in the video we made for my Kickstarter for Frost. Originally, Frost was to come first. Life has a way of changing things. I knew that my songs fell pretty distinctly into two camps: easy sweet love versus unfulfilled desire with all the craziness that comes in tow.

PEOPLE’S PICK: Who are the sultry persona and musical stylings of Moxie modeled on?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: There are a few narrators on Moxie. The first cut, “Sweet & Low Down,” is in the voice of Mehitabel the Cat from Don Marquis’ books about Archy and Mehitabel. The tattered Dame Alley Cat, re-incarnated over lifetimes as great women in history, faded somewhat from her former glory, but there’s a dance in the old dame yet…

“Molotov” is written from the point of view of Tony Bring in Henry Miller’s novel, Crazy Cock. Basically about going insane as your desires collide with your principles.

“House That Built Itself” was written from one of [Jorge Luis] Borges’ sonnets.

PEOPLE’S PICK: How about Frost?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: Frost is a little more personal. “Little Birds” was written after some of the lyrical ideas in “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” but it came from a deeply personal friendship that fell apart. “Night We Fell In Love” is completely personal, about my husband.

PEOPLE’S PICK: “Make It Rain” is contemplative, suggestive and plaintive as it reaches the line “I am not afraid to be caught in the rain.” Who is this song about?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: Ha ha! I don’t name names unless it’s my husband. Sometimes I sit on things for years before I come up with a good way of writing through it. Sometimes I take other kinds of relationships and couch them in the “love song” form. The idea in this song is that there are no mistakes, no regrets – just live and do the best you can and sometimes you will fail, no matter how right you try to do.

PEOPLE’S PICK: Congratulations on your two 2014 Whalie Awards for Best Pop Act and Best Pop Performance! You were nominated CT Music Songwriter too, but James Maple nabbed that title. What’s your take on Connecticut’s music competitions?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: Thanks! The awards are a fantastic opportunity to rub elbows with other performers and writers. They are also a great excuse to buy a new dress, hug friends, and take pictures and maybe get your name in some press. There are people that get way too competitive and even mean about them – I suppose they take it too personally.

I don’t make music to get awards, although I do make music for a living. It’s a different approach than folk who make music for a hobby, and every little bit helps. A rising tide lifts all ships, and if the Connecticut music scene is making national waves, then we are all better for it.

PEOPLE’S PICK: If you could take one songwriter with you to a studio on a desert island to collaborate who would it be?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: Tom Waits. The things we could do with coconuts!

PEOPLE’S PICK: What are your latest touring plans?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: I’ve been on the road much of 2014 already, but I’m going to be home for the summer working on a new record and touring again in the fall and winter. I’m doing a run with Pocket Vinyl out Mid-west again and then South with the great James Maple.

PEOPLE’S PICK: Name three top musical influences.

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: That changes weekly. Sometimes minutely. RIght now I’m leaning hard on Beck, TV on the Radio, and Peter Gabriel.

PEOPLE’S PICK: What do you do when inspiration is flagging and the lyrics or melodies are simply not presenting themselves?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: Be quiet. Sometimes the muse just gets drowned out by all the static of everyday life.

Otherwise, try something new. Anything new. Go for a long drive. Listen to music out of my normal circle. Run. Get crazy. Read something by an author I haven’t tried yet. Tear apart something old and try to think of it a new way, fall in love all over again.

My musical life is about constant re-invention, it’s like I want to try on every hat in the shop! Some days, it’s a safari, others it’s big pink flowers.

PEOPLE’S PICK: What’s your favorite album, the one that shaped your relationship to singing and writing and still shapes it today?

DAPHNE LEE MARTIN: I don’t think I could point to one. Honestly, I’ve always been swimming in music, keeping as much of it around me as possible – I opened a record store, if that gives any indication. I’ve seen the questions go out about what records people would take to a desert island, and I always think – couldn’t I just bring a guitar instead?