"You're either with me or you're in my fucking way."
There's no stopping Melissa Ivey. Sprawled out on a jade couch in the green room of Bender's Tavern, the fiery 22-year-old singer-songwriter sips a Coors Light and discusses her recent West Coast tour. Over a grueling thirty-day stretch, Ivey and her tourmate, Misty Odell, played 26 dates -- despite breaking down in five different cities, which added five rental cars, four tow trucks and one moving van to the lineup.
Oh, yeah, and the pair survived an automotive inferno.
"We had a small car fire," Ivey says, then laughs. "Long story short: I'm driving -- we just got the engine put in the day before -- and we're doing the whole watching-the-speed-limit, watching-the-RPMs thing. I'm driving down the road, happy as a clam, singing a little song, and I see smoke coming from the back of the car. So I pull over, and I'm like,'Misty, get up!' I turn on the vents, and smoke is billowing in the car. And I'm trying to grab my guitar, my bag with my money in it, my merchandise case and everything. So she pops the hood, opens the thing, and we're like, 'It's on fire!' We just totally freak out. We're like, 'Oh, my God, it's on fire! What do we do? Throw dirt on it!' But the only thing on the side of the road is freaking rocks -- which is, you know, always great to throw on your brand-new engine. Then -- I kid you not -- like thirty seconds later, a truck pulls up, four fireman get out, put on their suits and put the fire out.
"We were freaking out," she says. "And I'm like, 'I need a cigarette. I need a cigarette.' And I'm like, 'I'll light it off the engine.'"
It takes more than a car fire to slow Ivey down. She's a hard charger, especially when it comes to her music: She's focused, driven and decisive. While she was on the road, things began to unravel with her side project, Apple Byte (a few members were dragging their feet on certain business matters), and Ivey immediately cut her losses.
"I have my business going, and they didn't want to do contracts," she explains flatly. "They're making the process really harder on themselves. So we gave them chance after chance after chance. Finally -- it was nothing personal, but a business decision for me and my drummer, Evan Bautista, who is in Melissa Ivey Band and Apple Byte. We just said, 'You know, we've got things going on, and we're dragging you guys, and you're fighting us.'
"I only need the strong people with me. Everything else," she says, snapping her fingers to punctuate her point, "is expendable. I've worked too hard to surround myself with people who are just riding the coattails, not putting their time into the whole project. From my manager to the friends we sometimes have as roadies and the merch people -- we're all in it together. We're all family. We're all on the same page. Nothing goes on behind people's backs. That's the kind of businessperson I am."
Ivey not only displays that kind of devotion, but she inspires it in many of the people with whom she comes in contact. For example, the first-time fans who followed her from gig to gig on her recent tour, some driving as many as eight hours to see her. "I met this kid, Simba, in Leavenworth," she remembers. "He followed me from Leavenworth, which is two hours east, to Seattle, Seattle to Tacoma, which is another two hours, and then to Portland. Talk about dedication. Gaining fans like that on the road -- that's why we took this trip. We pretty much knew we weren't going to make money or break even. But the fans -- you can have your CD on the radio, but to actually interact with somebody... want to make that kind of connection with my fans, you know? That one-on-one, where it's like, 'Not only is your music good, or whatever, but you're nice, and you talk to me. And you took the time, you took your five minutes to connect.' I just met people like that all the way through the tour."
The people on her team -- everyone from manager Samantha Hanson to West Coast booking agent Joelle Maletis, who set up the dates, to guitarist Mike Whalen, bassist Matt Hall and drummer Bautista, to Ivey's cousin/ producer Christopher Guillot -- all believe unequivocally in what Ivey's doing. Three days before she was slated to play an important gig for industry people in Hollywood, and after she'd already replaced her bass player, Ivey realized that she really needed another guitarist. She called Whalen and asked him to fly to California. He didn't hesitate for a second.
By the time Ivey and her reconfigured band hit the stage at the Universal City Hard Rock Cafe, they were ready to explode, and they impressed some pretty prominent industry vets, with Waddy Wachtel, Blondie Chaplin, Bernard Fowler and producer Richard Bosworth among those in the crowd that night.
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While I wasn't there, if those folks saw anything close to the performance I caught at Bender's, I'm sure they were blown to smithereens. Ivey is a major talent who's been a well-kept secret on the open-mike circuit, where she cut her teeth. Like Melissa Ethridge channeling Janis Joplin or Joan Jett invoking Suzy Quatro, she has a voice that's matched only by her riveting presence. Not that Ivey cares how I feel about her, as a solo act or in a band. She's going to keep making music regardless.
"Who knows if we'll all be playing in five, ten, twenty years?" she concludes. "God, I hope so. I know I'll be out there -- with or without anyone. Me and my guitar are going to be hitting the road."
Upbeats and beatdowns: Jux County, the longtime local act that disbanded unceremoniously three days after 9/11, is getting back together -- at least for a night. Like Rocket Ajax, which regrouped for a similar show last month, Jux will reconvene on Saturday, March 26, long enough for a proper sendoff at the Bluebird Theater. Charter members Chris Pearson and Andy Monley, late of the Czars, promise it will be Jux like old times.
And attention, local DJs: Want to spin at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami next month? Westword will select one local jock to perform there (with free airfare and two nights' hotel accommodations), and I'm still accepting mix CDs for consideration. Get them to me at 969 Broadway, and fast: Deadline is Monday, February 14.