Behind the Beat: The Brown Piano

Carrie Ferguson makes music in her garage, a small, pleasantly cluttered building that’s withdrawn slightly from the side of the road. It’s a creative, homey space, well-lived in, full of instruments in various states of repair, concert posters, and knick-knacks. It’s a bit dusty, perhaps, spackled with paint and prone to drafts during the colder months. But there’s one thing it definitively does not have-a certain old brown piano.

“I would recommend staying away [from the brown piano],” Ferguson said in a recent interview. “Almost everyone who’s ever interviewed me has said, ‘Oh, Carrie Ferguson grew up playing a brown piano.’ It’s been done.”

But, for the record, it’s true-as a child, Carrie Ferguson learned to make music at said infamous piano while growing up in Arcata, California. And while she left the piano behind, parts of her childhood there still resonate in her approach to making music.

“The ocean has really had a big impact on my life, growing up and just in general,” she says. “I grew up six miles from the Pacific Ocean, and we went to the beach a lot when I was a child-almost every weekend. I feel like standing in front of the ocean, I’m immediately put in my right size… it just puts things in perspective.

“[Standing in front of the ocean] is very joyful, and relaxed, but there’s also a little bit of sadness too-something about how big everything is.”

That sense of joy and relaxation with a nod to perspective carries over into her music. Ferguson is set to release her second studio album, The List of Whales, which was recorded with an array of musicians from the Pioneer Valley-where she came to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and never left. It features the kind of catchy, joyful music she’s always enjoyed, but isn’t of the moment or disposable, like so much of pop music.

“In the ’80s, my brother and I discovered pop,” she says with a laugh. “So, yeah, melody is key. My music is folk-pop-it’s very melodic. I really gravitate towards people that play beautifully, instead of super-flashy or busy. Even if it’s funky and danceable, I want it to be beautiful.”

And, she says, performing in the Valley is an especially pleasant task. She plays Jan. 5 at the Iron Horse in Northampton, along with the folks who played on the album. Chris Scanlon opens.

“There’s something really magical about being onstage and having a groove with other musicians, and then inspiring the audience to either be dancing, or listening… to have that connection,” she says. “I feel incredibly grateful about this record. I really want to give people a fun experience, just shower the audience with thanks and love.”•


Jan. 5, 7 p.m., $12/advance, $15/door, Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton, (413)586-8686,


Author: Ben Lambert

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