"Give me a truly bitter person over an affected New Age hippie any day," says Nedelle (who, like Beck or Cher, prefers to use just her first name). She laughs and pushes a flop of shaggy hair out of her face to reveal a brown eyes that smile like a Keane painting. Her blithe character reveals that she probably doesn't really have anything against those of the sandal set who find solace in juggling a stick between two other sticks. Witness her music: More lovelorn than amatory, Nedelle's romantic songs seep compassionate coos that cuddle your ear like a warm whisper. The inflections of her singing balance efficacy with a cool restraint; it's elegant and tasteful, sounding classic without coming off as anachronistic. "I don't consciously write with any genre in mind," she says.
Nedelle was one of those kids who grew up with hip parents. "My mom was always playing the piano," she says. "She'd be rocking the 'Für Elise' or some other clichéd yet beautiful classical piece all the time." Her father was a jazz drummer who constantly spun jazz records. She remembers listening to the likes of Glenn Miller, Oscar Peterson, Buddy DeFranco, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Andrews Sisters. When she became old enough to choose selections from her father's stacked vinyl, she would more often explore deeper subgenres of jazz, soul, and bossa nova. "Some people say my songs sound like jazz or soul standards, which is a huge compliment because those are my favorite kinds of songs," she says. "But I live today, not in the '70s or '40s, so hopefully there is a modern element to them."
It was Nedelle's idea to retain the classic and jazzy tones in her songs in a way that could express her love for yesteryear's bossa nova chords and jazz melodies without coming off sounding too retro or kitschy. The resulting album is something lush and lovely that gives her young voice an old soul. Her gorgeous layers of glassy vocal harmonies make Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers sound as novel as a Saturday morning cartoon show.
Nedelle is the kind of person who gives good eye contact and prefers high-fives and hugs to handshakes. Originally from Vacaville, she now makes Oakland her home. "It's more my ideal city," she says. "More real people."
Perhaps that's why she's attracted to good old honest love songs. Every piece on her debut album bleeds a little from the inside. "The only time I'm moved to write a song is when my heart aches," Nedelle says. "I'm not going to write a protest song or a children's song. It's just not in me. Love is a subject that will never grow tired." Her lyrics describe the lies of regretful relationships, apologies, jealousies, and lovers who desert, leaving beds empty and feet cold at night. Minimal nylon guitar accents softly pluck out moody augmented chords over electric piano and string sections that she arranged herself.
Nedelle started playing the violin at seven and can't remember a time in her youth when she didn't sing. She learned to hone her voice with restraint as her love for singing grew. While still very young, she began to lend out her voice to the songs of other musicians. It wasn't until two years ago that she began composing her own.
"I was tired of playing and singing other people's music my whole life," she admits. "Since it's difficult to write a song on a melodic instrument like the violin, I learned guitar and piano. I picked up guitar and piano a couple years ago for the sake of writing songs. ... I haven't mastered them, but I get by because I understand enough to write a pop song."
Nedelle found herself addicted to a popular obsession of many young songwriters -- the Tascam four-track home-recording unit. One cassette of four of her early demos found its way to John Baccigaluppi, publisher and creative director for home-recording-fetish magazine Tape Op. "I get about twenty to thirty CDs a day," he says. "Most of them are crap, but each one of Nedelle's four songs really captivated me." He recently recorded an entire album of her songs from his analogue laboratory in Sacramento.
"It's easy to wax nostalgic about music that's decades old," Baccigaluppi says, "because all the shit from the same era is out of print and forgotten. But Nedelle's got great songs, an amazing voice, and a maturity in the conciseness of her songwriting that's way beyond her years."
If you listen to Nedelle's album and then listen to her live performance, you'll notice a huge difference in style and sound. The songs on the CD are comfortably drowsy and rhythmically flirtatious. Live, they light up and burn like wall-to-wall coals on the floor. This is probably because she no longer plays with the band that accompanied her for the recording. "The other band buckled under the cost of our practice space," she says. "Practice spaces are ridiculously expensive. Who can afford a second rent?"
Today Nedelle's new outfit includes some prominent East Bay musicians. David Copenhafer, singer-songwriter for Oakland's Vivian Girls, is her guitarist. He squeezes rich and jazzy tones from an old pawnshop Silvertone guitar to help add hints of bossa nova.
"'Lament' is the song of hers that has the most bossa feel to it," Copenhafer says. "One thing I really like about that song is that the chorus is strangely static and doesn't move like a bossa song at all; it's more of a rock section. I think this is the mark of a sophisticated songwriter, taking different kinds of parts and putting them next to each other."
Simone Rubi, keyboard player and co-frontwoman of Call and Response, lends backing vocals and varied keyboard textures. While Rubi's keyboard playing in CAR sometimes dips into propulsive polyphonic ensemble playing, she finds that Nedelle's music allows for more allocated pockets of cursive improvisation.
"I like playing the minimal jams. I feel like we all lock in on those and the beauty just finds itself and then comes pouring out," Rubi says. "I've always had a thing for jazzy stylings, always the blue notes." Although she didn't play on the recordings, she appreciates the difficulty of pigeonholing the recorded translations of Nedelle's songwriting style.
"It's not quite indie and it's not all jazz," Rubi continues. "It's tricky. I'm way into the fact that it can't be categorized. I think the songs are super-sophisticated compared to a lot of the stuff that's out there."
Nedelle hopes so. "I love the guys in the former band so I don't want to step on any toes," she says, "but this current band sounds more fun and danceable -- less jazzy."
Although he doesn't play in her band, local singer-songwriter Bart Davenport often has Nedelle accompany him on stage for silky duets and vocal harmonies. (She has also contributed harmonies to his second album, which is soon to be released.) Their work has garnered stylistic comparisons to one another from local contemporaries, perhaps because of Davenport's public displays of affection for the bossa nova sound. Regarding Nedelle's work, he says, "There is no pretence. It seems to me like her songs are natural expressions."
With all those involved in lending a helping hand, it may seem that a hearty chunk of the East Bay music scene is a tad incestuous.
Nino Moschella, Nedelle's drummer, says, "I think most good music scenes are incestuous. To me that's a big part of what music is about -- everyone getting up in each other's shit."
Nedelle agrees. "It seems incest is inevitable in a healthy musical community, and that everyone's biggest fans in the East Bay are also their friends. If you respect someone's music, you naturally want to be associated with it." She laughs. "Maybe I'm just sheltered, but I think we're all pretty true to the music."