New Artist Spotlight: Country Soul from Melanie Denard

Melanie Denard is an independent artist on a small label who is already making a name for herself through her powerful personality-infused vocal performances and her distinct country-soul musical style. Get to know Melanie in our Exclusive Interview from CRS 2011.

Ben:  Would you like to start by telling a little bit about your background, and your early experiences in singing?

Melanie:  Oh gosh, how much time do we have? 

Ben:  We have time!

Melanie:  Well, let’s see.  I’ve always known from an early age that I wanted to sing.  It’s something that was definitely a God-given talent.  There’s a lot of musical talent in my family.  I have an uncle that’s in a gospel quartet.  My grandmother sang and played guitar.  My brother writes.  So I get it honest.  I started out singing in church, and then from there in high school I was in a national touring company and toured the world pretty much, doing performances.  Once out of high school, I was in an opera company for a few years, and then after that I joined some bands.  You know, just club bands, played in a Southern rock band and a country band, and then got a job working at a Fortune 500 company, kept the band thing going, and then met my manager, which is why I’m sitting here today in Nashville!  It’s been a wonderful musical journey my whole life.

Ben:  I understand you’re known for putting your own signature style on a song, or “Melanizing” it as they say?

Melanie:  Oh, that’s right!  You did your homework!

Ben:  So how do you do that?

Melanie:  Well, that’s a hard question to answer.  I’ve spent much of my life doing a lot of cover tunes.  I just try to take the song and make it my own, and just put a little soul in it, and I guess that’s what they call “Melanize.”  My manager came up with that word.  It actually fits.  Yeah, I do that.  I just make songs my own.

Ben:  I understand your style draws on a mix of influences.  How would you describe your style?

Melanie:  Country-soul!  A lot of soul influence, a lot of blues.  I grew up lovin’ Wynonna Judd.  I think our voices are really similar.  She’s a big influence of mine.  Elvis Presley – I’ve always loved him.  It’s just a style I sort of developed.  When I moved here to Nashville, I tried to sort of lose some of that to be more commercial, but then I realized that I can’t.  That’s why I really love the producer I met up with, Dan Frizsell, because he let me be me, but he kind of kept me commercial for country.

Ben:  When I was listening to your song “All I Ever Did Was Love You,” I got a bit of a “No One Else On Earth” vibe from it.

Melanie:  Oh yeah?  Well, good!  That’s a compliment!  Thank you!

Ben:  It absolutely is.  I love that song.

Melanie:  Well, thank you.  That’s one of the songs on the album that most describes me and my singing style.

Ben:  Since you’re known for being an energetic live performer, what would you say makes for a good live show?

Melanie:  You just have to keep the audience interested.  I go see artists perform, and there’s milling around the room and people are talking and not really paying attention.  A lot of times I notice that when I step onstage and I start singing that all eyes are on me, and that’s what I try to do – just enthrall people and feed off of their energy.  It gives me more energy and allows me to bring more passion and excitement to the music.  I do that – I get people’s attention.

Ben:  Any artists in particular who serve as role models or influences for you both in style and in performance?

Melanie:  Well, Wynonna of course.  I grew up loving her.  Bonnie Raitt – huge influence on me as far as the blues aspect goes.  I like all music.  I grew up listening to all music.  My daddy liked country music, and that’s how I was introduced to country music at a very young age, and I’ve listened to it ever since.

Ben:  I understand you’ve also covered the Dusty Springfield hit “Son of a Preacher Man.”  Would you like to tell a little bit about your connection to that song, and how you put your own spin on it?

Melanie:  That’s a song that I’ve always sang in bands and whatnot, and when I moved to Nashville in my first year of living here, there was a competition that GAC announced for the next video star.  They had a video contest.  That’s one of the songs that was on the list of songs to do, so I picked it because I knew it already and knew it well.  That’s actually the first song that I recorded with my producer, before I ever started the Dare to Live album.  We did “Son of a Preacher Man,” and I told him I wanted it to be a country version of it, so we put some fiddle on there and a little bit of steel.  It turned out really, really well.  Nothing happened with the video contest, but once I finished the album, I decided since “Son of a Preacher Man” turned out so well, I’d like to throw it on the album, and I’m so glad I did.  It has proven to be a great idea because on the radio tours and everything I’ve gotten so much great response from that song.  Everybody just loves that song.

Ben:  It’s definitely very well-suited to that country-soul kind of style.

Melanie:  Oh yeah!

Ben:  And it’s like the country elements don’t seem slapped-on.  It seems more natural than on some cross-genre covers.

Melanie:  Right.  It’s a great song.  I’m glad I put it on the album.

Ben:  So do you have any favorites among the songs you’ve recorded for your album?

Melanie:  Well, I didn’t write any of the songs on the album.  I’d like to take credit for the songs, but I was pitched so many great songs by wonderful well-known songwriters here in Nashville, I just couldn’t pass a lot of them up.  I do write.  Hopefully on the next album I put out I’ll have some co-writes and writes on it.  But it was very important to me to be able to relate to the songs as if I had written them so I could bring more passion to it, and I think I did a really good job of doing that.

Ben:  Definitely.  Are there any songs you wish you had had a part in writing?

Melanie:  Gosh, all of ‘em! [Laughs] “Dare to Live,” I’d have to say, the title track from the album, because I picked that song mainly for what it talks about and what it says.  Because it’s my story.  I risked everything, moved here, and quit my job and sold my house in Georgia just trying to do this thing.  I’d have to say “Dare to Live” if I had to pick one, but I wish I had written them all!

Ben:  Do you have any career goals that you hope to accomplish as a country artist?

Melanie:  Well, I hope to have a sold-out show at the Bridgestone Arena this time next year! [Laughs]

Ben:  I’ll buy a ticket!

Melanie:  I’m just blessed to able to follow my dream.  I live my dream every day.  I’m just gonna do what I do.  Hopefully the major goal is to get a major label deal.  I have a label showcase coming up this year in April, and I’m very excited about that.  I’m gonna start touring with the band.  We’ll try to do the casino circuit and try to get out there and perform!  I just hope I get a major label deal and one day be a household name.

Ben:  One more question - What is country music to Melanie Denard?

Melanie:  Oh gosh, it’s my life!  I grew up listening to it.  I can relate to it, as a lot of people can.  When I hear country music, it reminds me of growing up with my dad and riding in his truck and listening to country music when he’d pick me up from school.  It’s my life.  It’s what I do, and I hope that one day the world will know who Melanie Denard is, and love my music as much as I love singing it to people.


All I Ever Did Was Love You

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Album Review: Dare To Live

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Ben Foster is a contributing writer to Roughstock and can be found at his own country music blog The 1-to-10 Country Review.