Ingrid Gerdes: A Tomboy With Soul

Nov 24, 2011
Originally published on November 24, 2011 4:28 pm

Originally from Springfield, Mo., "the Ozarks area of Missouri," Ingrid Gerdes is a neo-soul performer out of Boston, but she considers herself a Southern singer. Her latest album is titled Shed.

"I guess my influences and lyric style are sort of rooted in that kind of Southern soul-blues thing," Gerdes tells NPR's Guy Raz. "Growing up, my mom used to sing that kind of stuff to me instead of lullabies. Then I came across people like Bonnie Raitt and Otis Redding, and they just spoke to me, and I felt like that's my reality. You know, I grew up in the country. I'm basically a tomboy country girl, and it's where I come from, and I think it reflects in my lyrics and everything I chose to do musically."

Gerdes went to school in Kansas, then to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Originally, she says, she had plans to become an opera singer.

"Well, I don't know if I planned on it, but I realized I could sing opera style when I was really young," Gerdes says. "I studied classically throughout the years, and when I attended Kansas University, I did study opera there. And I still sing classically from time to time now."

Gerdes says the "technique alone keeps me in vocal health, so that I'm able to perform night after night for hours on end in bad-sounding rooms and dive bars."

Let Nothing Hold You Back

Listening to Gerdes perform "Your Boyfriend" at NPR, Raz says that anyone could be forgiven for thinking it's a classic soul song — except it makes a reference to Facebook. She's essentially singing this song to her ex's new girlfriend, saying, "Ladies, don't trust this guy." It sounds like a story that might not be made up.

"Well, it's definitely not an in-your-face 'I'm-stealing-your-boyfriend' kind of song," she says, laughing. "That is not the message; I want to be very clear. Most of my lyrics are taking directly from my life or from my friends or other things that I personally witness."

After hearing a performance of the album's title track, Raz suggests that Gerdes must go out with a lot of jerks.

"Oh, man! If I had a nickel for every time I heard that," she says. "I've had my fair share of interesting dates, let's say. But I'm not walking around, like, 'Boo-hoo, myself.' It's about letting go of things, because it only brings you down, ridding yourself of anything that's holding you back."

As with most emotive material, it's hard not to go somewhere deep with Shed.

"I think my job as a vocalist and a lyricist is to deliver the point of the song to the listener," Gerdes says. "I take that very seriously, so I try to put every emotion I can into my performances."

Does Gerdes ever think of the target of her rage?

"No, that would be singing from a bad place, Guy," Gerdes says, laughing. "I sing from a happy place."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INGRID GERDES: (Singing) 'Cause he's lucky. Would you like it?

RAZ: You're hearing singer-songwriter Ingrid Gerdes and her band warming up for a special Thanksgiving Day performance. Before I tell you more about her, let's listen then.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GERDES: (Singing) He's wicked. Hmm. Yeah.

And that's where we cue out. Great. Nice, guys.

RAZ: I think that anybody listening right now who's stuffed with food and turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and everything else is going to get - would have gotten off the sofa to dance for that. That's Ingrid Gerdes. She's a young neo soul singer out of Boston, and her latest record is called "Shed." And Ingrid is with me here in NPR's performance studio 4a. And, Ingrid, we're so excited to have you today on Thanksgiving. Welcome to Washington. Happy Thanksgiving.

GERDES: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you. I am thrilled to be here.

RAZ: So I want to talk to you first about your style, because you're a young woman, you're originally from a corner of Missouri.

GERDES: I'm from Springfield, Missouri, the Ozarks area of Missouri.

RAZ: And you consider yourself a Southern singer, not just a sort of...

GERDES: Right.

RAZ: Right. What does that mean to be a Southern singer?

GERDES: I guess my influences and kind of lyrics, style are sort of rooted in that kind of Southern soul, blues thing. Growing up, my mom used to sing that kind of stuff to me instead of lullabies. And then I came across people like Bonnie Raitt and Otis Redding, and they just spoke to me. And I feel like that's my reality. You know, I grew up in the country. I'm basically a tomboy country girl, and it's where I come from. And I think it reflects in my lyrics and everything I choose to do musically.

RAZ: You went to school in Kansas.

GERDES: Yeah.

RAZ: And later on, you went to the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is where you now live and perform.

GERDES: Yes.

RAZ: And I read that originally, you had plans to become an opera singer.

GERDES: Well, I'm not sure if I planned on it, but I realize I could sing opera-style, let's just say, when I was really young. And I studied classically throughout the years. And when I attended Kansas University, I did study opera there. And I still sing, you know, from time to time, classically now.

RAZ: I wonder whether that finds its way into the music you perform now.

GERDES: Well, the technique alone keeps me in vocal health so that I'm able to perform night after night for hours on end. And, like, bad-sounding rooms and dive bars, you know what I mean? You just have to take care of your voice.

RAZ: Ingrid, I want to ask you a lot more about your background and about your style. But we've got a lot of music to hear. And the opening track on your new record, it's called "Your Boyfriend," and this song packs an absolute punch. Would you sing that one for us?

GERDES: I would love to. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR BOYFRIEND")

GERDES: (Singing) Guess where your boyfriend was last night. I bet he wasn't answering his phone. Had you want to ring if he come home. Well, I think it's time you know. Guess where your boyfriend was last night. He was standing on my front porch. He was ringing in on my door just like he'd done nine times before. And he begged me to let him in, hollering that he was a changed man. He said this time would be different. And naively I believed him.

(Singing) Guess what your boyfriend said last night, that he came around to reminisce, honey. And he missed the way we used to kiss, you see, back when I was his. Guess what your boyfriend said last night. He'd been stalking my status on Facebook. Said I'm like a drug and he's hooked. Then he gave me that old slick look. And he told me he was unattached, said, baby, there's no one else. Then he moved in for the kill. I felt a chill run down my back. Ladies, don't trust him. Don't let him in. You got to put him out like the talk he is.

(Singing) And when your boyfriend left last night, I did some checking of my own. Found out he was never alone. He'd been playing me all along. Now don't get twisted, I'm not the one who missed him. He lied on his own. I'm just another victim. This information is long overdue. But I swear it, I didn't know about you. He'll never change his dirty ways, ulterior motive that's the game he plays. Ladies, don't trust him. Don't let him in. You got to put him out like the talk he is. Guess where your boyfriend was last night?

RAZ: That's singer-songwriter Ingrid Gerdes performing her song "Your Boyfriend" here in NPR's performance studio 4A. What a song. You know, listening to that, you'd be forgiven for thinking that's a classic soul song, except for the fact that you hear someone talking about a Facebook status update.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: So you know that this was - this must have been written in the last few years. This is a cautionary tale. I mean, this is about an ex-boyfriend visiting a woman. And she is essentially singing this song to his new girlfriend, saying, Ladies, don't trust this guy.

GERDES: He's a dog.

RAZ: He is a dog.

GERDES: He's a dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: This sounds like as a story that might not be made up.

GERDES: Well, it is definitely not a in-your-face-I'm-stealing-your-boyfriend kind of song. That is not the message. I want to be very clear. Most of my lyrics are taken either directly from my life or from my friends or other things that I personally witness. So it could be true. We don't know.

RAZ: Well, let's keep it personal, because this is another song which I sense has some autobiographical elements in it. It's called "Shed." Once again, take it away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHED")

GERDES: (Singing) Oops, I didn't know that you were so sensitive that I couldn't tell you all of the ways you screwed up our relationship. Guess I didn't notice you're growing some new emotions and losing your backbone. But I would recognize what I never seen before. So don't you point your finger at me. I'd give up my silence to find some relief. You had your chance to make your amends, but you didn't take it. So I got to shed all these emotions I've been wearing around. Got to shed. Your lying skin is just weighing me down, weighing me down.

(Singing) Thought I cleaned my blood off your venom, yet here you are, still spreading your poison. The face you don't show is the one that I know all to well. With your palace, you locked a fool in, but never again will I be your victim. No, I am your mirror reflecting to you your fiction. So don't you point your finger at me. I'd give up my silence to find some relief. You had your chance to make your amends, but you didn't take it. So I got to shed all these emotions I've been wearing around. Got to shed. Your lying skin is just weighing me down.

(Singing) Oh I'm going to shed all these emotions I've been wearing around, got to shed your lying skin. It's just weighing me down. Oh I got to shed all these emotions I've been wearing around, got to shed your lying skin. It's just weighing me down, weighing me down.

RAZ: That's neo-soul singer Ingrid Gerdes performing her song "Shed" off her new record. It's also called "Shed." Ingrid, you must go out with a lot of jerks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GERDES: Oh, man. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that. I've had a fair share of interesting dates...

RAZ: Yeah.

GERDES: ...let's say. But I'm not walking around, like, boo-hoo, myself. It's about letting go of things, because it only brings you down, ridding yourself of anything that's holding you back.

RAZ: When you sing - watching you sing here, you're very present, but almost like you're watching yourself. There's - you are emoting. I mean, you cannot sing this material without going somewhere very deep.

GERDES: I think my job as a vocalist and a lyricist, I guess, is to deliver the point of the song to the listener. I take that very seriously, and so I try to put every emotion that I can into my performances.

RAZ: Do you sometimes think of the target of your rage?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GERDES: No, no. That would be singing from a bad place, Guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: I was joking. All right, I got you.

GERDES: I sing from a happy place.

RAZ: Well, Ingrid, we have time for just one more song, and I'm going to say goodbye to you before we hear it. Thank you so much for coming in and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

GERDES: Thank you so much. It's been an honor. We really appreciate it. And Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OTHER WOMAN")

GERDES: (Singing) Hmm. Another time, maybe we, baby, we could have been good. Yeah. I know you ain't free to treat me like you should. No. See, I'll never be OK with a second place. Do you hear me? So if you can't give me all your time and love me, baby, you ain't going to get me.

RAZ: You're hearing Ingrid Gerdes and her band - Anthony Rizzotto on guitar; Matthew Edwards, bass; and Zack Fierman on drums - playing "Other Woman" from Ingrid's album "Shed." And you can hear more of her studio performance at nprmusic.org. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.