By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Meredith Fierke is a stranger to my favorite Minneapolis dive. Still, she settles in comfortably as I thank her profusely for driving all the way from Northfield in the snow. Having perused her promo materials, I prod her about why a young woman with a simmering voice, a promising new record, and proximity to the Twin Cities would remain so unabashedly Northfieldian.
"People recognize Minneapolis," says Fierke, a tall and lean young woman with high cheekbones and a down-to-business visage. "But I'm just being as honest as I can be."
And honest she is, about everything from her aspirations and inspirations to her intriguing family history. Fierke grew up in a middle-class home in what she describes as a liberal, rural locale sustained by St. Olaf Collage academia. There, she penned her first tune in grade school. "I wrote a song for Tree Day and performed it in front of the whole school," she says. "It was about pollution and gas guzzling." I immediately tease the original tree hugger for her slip (the holiday is "Arbor Day"), aware that Fierke is no dummy.
In fact, Fierke's intellectual lineage is formidable: Her mother is the neuropsychologist daughter of a nuclear physicist.
"My granddad worked on the atomic bomb," Fierke explains. "He was one of about 2,000 men working on it. I knew what the Manhattan Project was before most of my peers. When they were working on it, I don't think they knew the full implications."
If the combination of a liberal environment, a creative spark, and the aforementioned ancestral gravitas sounds like one hell of a recipe for an album, it is. Fierke's debut, The Procession, hits hard and often with razor-sharp insights and abstract takes on autobiographical subjects, all steeped in a steamy voice the singer herself might describe as "dirty-pretty."
"Dark music is more interesting," says Fierke. "I try not to write songs about love because it's done so much. This subject matter is what people relate to."
Whatever label 27-year-old Fierke might apply to them, her songs are decidedly more pretty than dirty. While her voice roams the lower registers, flitting unexpectedly upward for impact, The Procession's eight tracks are clean and well presented. While some tracks feature a full backing band, the tempo never moves beyond a slow burn, relying on Fierke's storytelling and melody to push or pull listeners along.
While she hasn't always played with a backing band, Fierke says she has quickly grown accustomed to the new setup.
"I got to the point where I was kind of bored with myself," she says. "I don't like being the stereotypical girl with the guitar. People see that and say, 'I know what this is gonna be.'"
In reality, Fierke falls somewhere in the space between songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Cat Power. The sensibilities of these artists—each of whom Fierke cites as an influence—are present on The Procession, if not their exact likenesses. That she has assimilated their styles, matured, and discovered her own voice will come as welcome news to listeners wary of another lukewarm Tori Amos rip-off. On the contrary, the chills that tracks like "Train's Song" and "Stellar" induce are authentic; the material here remains on high ground, safely removed from the tides of melodrama.
Fierke and her band recorded The Procession with Paul Marino at Xeojax Production Studios. "I said, 'Can you record these songs? It won't be a big deal," laughs Fierke. "Two years later, we've got drums, bass, additional guitars—a full production." Local-music trivia buffs should note that Chris Koza played acoustic guitar and bass on several tracks.
Her CD-release show still on the horizon, Fierke is already writing in preparation for her next album. She plans a three-song demo and a stop at South by Southwest next spring.
"I have many more things to say," she assures me. "I know I can grow. The next thing I do will be much more monumental."
MEREDITH FIERKE plays a CD-release show with Mary Everest and Son of a Gun on FRIDAY, JANUARY 2, at the 400 BAR; 612.332.2903