It was four years ago when Lee Moretti’s awesome red hair and I first crossed paths. She was a bassist for New York-based band The Upwelling, but parted ways with them, before she and I crossed paths again when she joined San Francisco alternative rock band Third Eye Blind occasionally as an additional guitar player or accompanying their arrangements on stage on the keys. Last Spring, she joined 3eb on tour before returning to Berklee College of Music to finish her degree. It was there that she met Sonya Rae Perricone and The Furies were born.
I talked to Lee about growing into herself as a musician, the struggle of being a leader and when The Furies are going to take the world by storm.
Kristina Villarini: Can you believe we’ve known each other for four years now?
Lee Moretti: I know! It’s been four years now, and it’s been an artistic battle for both of us. I’ve been growing very much since 21 and now I’m turning 25 this year. It’s been a transition into adulthood, in that sense.
KV: Do you think that going to Berklee holds you to a higher regard, musically?
LM: I would say that, Berklee prepared me in terms of skill. I spent my first three years hammering away at my ear and guitar skills. That school prepared me for playing with pros like 3eb. I got the fundamentals drilled into me… When you go there, it’s kind of like, “You have to learn this, faster and better.” (Laughs) As much as that is really stressful as a student, it’s also so beneficial. I don’t think people realize how helpful it is when you’re actually doing this. It’s like anything that you have to train for. If I hear someone complain now, I kind of brush it off. I’m so pass that.
With all that said, not everyone who has attended Berklee got the opportunities that I did, so I’m grateful for that. I don’t know if its luck or right place/right time, but I am grateful.
KV: You’ve played for and with so many bands already, across quite a few genres, but your bands is centered in the blues and folk elements. Do you worry that you’ll get boxed in when people hear your music? Do you ever think, “Man, this isn’t my demographic?!”
LM: You know, if I’m someone’s first exposure to blues and things like that… I’m happy and I’m flattered. All of those fans, from any of the bands I’ve played with, are so broad and open-minded. Their tastes are all over the map.
KV: Do you think your music is also ‘all over the map?’
LM: At first, when I listened to The Furies’ stuff or my writing, I didn’t really know where it came from. Jeff Buckley definitely, and Muddy Waters. Jagged Little Pill was one of the first records I ever listened to. Lyrics are a big thing to me, and Alanis can be wordy, but it’s so awesome. Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor are present, as far as piano playing goes. I’m a self-taught piano player, but I learned due to those songs. Guitar-wise, I hear pop in my playing. But I feel like when you play with another band, you borrow from them, and maybe you can hear a hint of them in yourself, after a while.
I really respect Stephan (Jenkins, of Third Eye Blind) lyrically. The new Furies music sounds a little bit like The Dead Weather, with those messy guitar sounds. But for me, Aimee Mann and Neko Case are also big. It sounds like such an artistic/snobby thing to say, but I really don’t hear the sounds that are influenced by the artists. That’s why I always struggle to describe our sound.
(Cover of “Use Somebody” at Angels & Kings, NYC in 2010, shot by M.N.Wells)
KV: It’s kind of like, using the same palette but making your own painting.
LM: Yeah. You hear that all the time. Artists who are influenced by other artists, and you can hear that in their playing. Tori Amos is amazing. She’s a piano prodigy. I can’t play piano the way she does. I play piano the way I play, but I listen to her, and I love her music.
KV: You’ve been in the support or accompanying role in other bands before The Furies. Now, you’re the front-woman, which basically means you get to be the a**hole now.
KV: Tell me about the challenges of building your own band, and being the face of it?
LM: I guess the biggest challenge, is that there is no room for doubt or second guessing. You have to trust that people are going to understand what you’re trying to do. I’ve had a couple of songs where I came to Sonya with songs that I wasn’t quite sure about yet, and she would listen and say, “Really? Come on!” I’ve just had to come at it with total confidence.
KV: Did you have any expectations of yourself as a front-woman? It’s a hard job.
LM: So, my best friend from back home owns his own business, and I’ve pretty much learned from him that everything is your responsibility as the leader. I’m starting to understand what that means. I don’t expect myself to be ‘larger than life.’ I expect to make the best decisions that I can, to the best of my ability.
KV: How important is it to have someone you can trust when you’re in that kind of role?
LM: Sonya and Nicole Marcus (drummer for The Furies) help. I may be the ‘leader’ of this project, but I always turn to Sonya for support, and Nicole is quickly showing herself to be a person I can turn to, as well. Sonya’s opinion means the world to me, and I look at her as my second-in-command. I may the band’s ‘leader’ but this is still–a band. Yes, I front it, but we’ve built it together. It helps tremendously to have people I can trust who are in it with me. The Lee Moretti Band certainly exists, but I’ve always wanted to build something. I’ve always known, I didn’t want to be a singer/songwriter with a backing band. That’s how I tend to lead this thing.
KV: Tell me about the collaborative process for The Furies?
LM: We haven’t had any issues. What is funny is that Sonya and I are just really lucky. We have a lot of the same musical sensibilities, so we haven’t had any arguments about that stuff. It sounds cliché, but she’s never written anything that I don’t like. She may have a different take on melody than I do, but it has never been anything I don’t like.
KV: Has your performance background, or your work with The Furies made you more critical of musicians now? Have you figured out how to go to a show and shut off ‘performance Lee?’
LM: That’s a good question. You’re right… I feel like I’ve figured that part out, a little. It’s really difficult to turn off. I’ll stare at an engineer at a show when the sound is awful or I’ll look at a guitarist and wonder what the hell is going on with him. (Laughs) It’s hard when you recognize a band is dope and things aren’t sounding the way they should. I recognize that I’m hypercritical, but I can totally get over it if a band is good at what they do, and their energy is high. If they can make me believe it in a real way, I’ll get pass the nit-picking. I have a lot of empathy for how difficult the process is. My tendency to nit-pick really comes from wanting the very best of music and of myself.
KV: Isn’t that the artists dilemma… Like, ‘Do I want to put this out there if someone isn’t going to love it?’
LM: You hit it on the head. You put it out there, but you want it to resonate with people. It feels like your baby has been shat upon if someone doesn’t accept it. I’ve done a lot of work personally about that. I talk a lot about yoga, but that’s one of the reasons I do yoga. I believe that the energy you carry with you goes into everything you’re doing; positive and negative. Being self-critical helps you get stuff done, sure, but if that energy is bad, it’s not going to be as good as it can be. Obsessing and coming down on yourself doesn’t help you in the long run. The only way to do the things you want is to believe you can do it. Berklee really gave me experiences like that. It was my first opportunity to learn that, and I’ve been better at it ever since.
KV: What is you favorite thing about being in an all-girl band?
LM: I don’t want to hate on the all-male bands or their environment… But there is something interesting about the way things in The Furies work. It’s receptive in a way that is different. I’m not saying, ‘no one listens in guy bands,’ but what I’ve noticed is that the energy between all of us is really contagious. For us, that communication is much more potent to create art in.
KV: Has turning 25 given you more insight on this process and what’s worth talking about or fighting for?
LM: Nicole is a funny example. She’s just a beast on drums, you know? She’s endorsed by Pearl (Drums) and Sabian (Cymbals), has a full ride to the University of Miami on drumming alone. But she’s this weird mix of Sonya and I. I can’t believe how similar and different we all are. I’ve just been lucky enough to run into people who happen to really click with me.
KV: What can people expect from The Furies in 2011?
LM: The full band Furies will be on the road, very soon. We are recording an EP. We’re playing in Austin, Texas the first weekend of June. During the Summer, we’re going to be playing as much as possible and tour in the Fall. Technically, we don’t need a label or a manager to get our stuff out there, but that’s the direction we’re headed in, anyway. In writing the new songs, Sonya and I have co-written most of them. She’s singing lead for sure on some of them. I feel calm about this band and myself, artistically.
KV: How do you feel about the fans? Is it more positive that you have them, even if they don’t know what to expect from your band?
LM: Of course. It’s about having people in your corner. People who know me from other places or bands, is just like having friends coming out to support. It’s a network of people who are there to support whatever you put out. Not everybody is a musician who is snarky and critical. (Laughs) But sometimes you do have to fight to win over an audience. A neutral audience is preferable to me, because sometimes an audience doesn’t want to hear it, or people are having a rough night, and that is tough. I draw a lot from that.
It is the reason I do this: to communicate with people. It might be a cliché, but I felt this way my whole life, or at least, since I was four. When I was 15, doing slam poetry, I knew if I stopped performing, I would just die inside. The stage makes me feel like myself and that self is the person I want to go on this journey with people.
You can find out more about The Furies here. Look out for their EP in 2011, and watch for updates on a Fall tour. The band has two shows coming up: March 25 at Precinct Bar in Somerville, MA and April 9 at Hard Rock Cafe in Boston, MA.