By Alex Teitz
Melissa van der Scafe was born in South Africa and lived in Vancouver. Her music is bold and alternative and is ready to break big. She is an artist we expect to hear much from in the years to come. For more information visit www.tonos.com/melissa2002
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
MvdS: I work with a great songwriting partner, Eric Monsanty. He writes the music and I write the melodies and lyrics. Most often, Eric will give me a track of the music and then I will go off on my own and create the rest. I like to put the track on a tape so I can pop it in while I drive around the city…I find I write the most easily when I’m not “trying” to write but rather just expressing myself in a free form way at first. I sing along to the track and just let whatever will come out come out. usually it sounds like babbling at first and then suddenly an almost fully formed song will emerge. Then of course I will go back and “tweak” it…make sure the story is really there…that my point of view is clear…but I try to keep this method even in the final stages of finishing a song. Just singing it over and over, letting my voice almost sing the song to me. I don’t tape record myself…I figure if a song is catchy then I should be able to remember it!
What was the biggest challenge in making your latest album?
MvdS: Patience. I get so excited about getting the music out there sometimes and then you have to wait for your promo pictures to be developed or something that seems to just waste time! But I do believe everything happens in it’s own good time and it is important to have all the elements in place when you first show yourself to labels etc. So patience is important but difficult for me sometimes.
FEMMUSIC: What was the best experience making your latest album?
MvdS: I love every step of the process, especially recording…but I would have to say the best part so far is really the immediate support and attention I have been getting from people involved in the industry and listeners. It is so awesome to write songs that hold meaning for you and find that they can also be moving, joyful or powerful to other people. When someone comes up and says “I love track #2 I It really moved me…” I feel really excited and grateful to be writing and singing…not just for myself anymore. I suddenly feel the great responsibility it is to be a musician and how hearing a certain song can really make a difference in your day.
FEMMUSIC: Who are your biggest influences?
MvdS: I grew up listening to everything. My mom and dad have a massive record and CD collection. I heard classical music from a very early age and enjoyed going to the symphony with my family.
Since my parents are from South Africa they also enjoyed African music around the house as well as many other types of world music. My brother is an amazing jazz drummer so he played jazz around the house as I was growing up. The first vocalist I ever wanted to be like was Ella Fitzgerald…I also loved Sarah Vaughn. Now I continue to listen to everything….including The radio..I listen to a ton of pop too. I like to know what’s hot out there and I like to try to think a step ahead of what’s happening now.
I also have a great love for poetry and playwriting…especially Shakespeare. I studied Shakespeare and theatre/writing in London for a while as well as acting. I think the study of dramatic structure and thematic repetition has really helped me in writing my lyrics….and my acting training helps me when thinking about my point of view and delivery when singing and writing.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry, have you been discriminated against?
MvdS: Luckily I have not had any problems so far but of course there is no denying that this is a problem in this industry. I have heard “make sure you dress sexy”. It makes me laugh because I’ve always thought that being sexy is about being yourself. Artists are sexy when they are just so damn talented or confident….you want what they have cause it’s something genuine. I think the media is a machine that hungers to try to scare you into buying what they tell you is desirable. I looked at album covers of female artists in the record store once and almost every single cover had a bellybutton showing. If you wanna show it great if not great. That’s my motto…as long as you are being who you are comfortable being in front of the world and you are happy with your music. But when women in music become just about generic cleavage and bellybuttons then it’s kinda sad …I think we are just selling ourselves short from what the women in our culture really have to offer.
FEMMUSIC: What 3 things would you to change about the music industry and why?
MvdS: It would be great to have big radio stations play tunes without the artist/record company having to pay top dollar for airplay…that way great new artists would have a better chance of being heard and discovered without having to necessarily go through a big label. I understand too how the current system has evolved but this is my ideal here.
It would be nice to see individual artists allowed to expand the subject matter they write about and styles they write in…not getting so pegged into writing “another hit just like the last one”. Madonna has been successful in this way….she has made her name as a chameleon…always re-inventing herself. I’m a big fan though, of taking responsibility and making the changes you would like to happen come true…so let’s see if I can do it!
FEMMUSIC: What advice would you give an artist just starting out.
MvdS: I would say try to write every day…even for a few minutes. I think what holds many people back from being successful at what they love is self criticism. If you write everyday you have committed to doing it. You know some days it will be sucky and some days brilliant…It takes the pressure off of thinking you have to sit down and write the perfect song…if you are committed to practicing everyday that great song will come out! Also this discipline will allow you to really get to know your skills as a writer and what your particular strengths are and where you need more work. Plus you will probably end up with a nice amount of material!