New York City is one of my favorite places to be in the winter. The holiday lights line streets in all five boroughs, the glow inside restaurants looks inviting and each shop is lit up like a little gem waiting to be discovered. So many of you have mentioned that you’re heading to the New York area for the holidays, so I’m thrilled to share a special interview and mini-city guide that is sure to come in handy during your trip. Musician Melaena Cadiz has been a staple on my iTunes since earlier this summer when writer Lisa Przystup introduced me to her work. Melaena is based in Brooklyn so we thought it would be fun to get a little insider’s guide to not only her music and inspirations, but her favorite spots around town and suggestions for an ideal 24 hours in Brooklyn, NY. If you’re in town for just a quick shopping trip, I hope you’ll hop on the train and come check out some of these fantastic spots that Melaena loves- they’d make up a fantastic Brooklyn afternoon or just some great tips for taking a break with a hot chocolate. Thanks so much to Melaena for taking the time to share her thoughts and favorite places and to Lisa Przystup for conducting and writing the interview. xo, grace *
Click here to check out our last 24 hour city guide with Pokey Lafarge
Full interview and photos continue after the jump…
Interview by Lisa Przystup
How did you start playing music and when did you first decide to pursue it as a career?
I started singing when I was five when my dad brought home a guitar my brother and I to learn on. I remember hiding behind the family room couch – my dad would say “Introducing…Melaena Cadiz!” and I would pop out and start singing. Then my dad bought me my own classical guitar when I was 14. In high school I sang in an all-girl band called Menarche, which was named after a woman’s first menstrual cycle, we did grunge covers. I moved from singing to acting – I actually moved to New York to pursue acting but then decided it just wasn’t for me. Ultimately it was about a love of telling stories so the move from acting back to singing seemed like a natural progression for me.
My mom’s sister was a singer and actress, my brother makes guitars – he actually made a guitar for me – and is a classically trained guitar player, so it seems to run in the family.
Are you self-taught? What instruments do you play? What instruments do you wish you knew how to play?
I’m self-taught on the guitar and banjo and I’m teaching myself the piano. I would love to play the cello…and I got myself an accordion on eBay but it was out of tune.
How would you describe your sound?
I usually say folk/country…my boyfriend Mikael says the new trance-like stuff is hippie death metal, which I hope to live up to someday.
How has your sound changed and developed and what helped shape it?
I think that I started out just writing things on the guitar alone with no collaborator – it was all very small and sparse but now that I have a full band behind me everything feels more filled out. The drums especially make a big difference – there’s something really primal about the drums, something bigger. They really added a lot to my music.
Who do you play with and how long have you been playing with them?
All the guys in my band are jazz kids who went to school in the city. All super talented. I’ve been playing with them for a year to a year and a half now. My drummer is a guy named Arthur Vint, my guitarist is Adam Lomeo, and Scott Colberg plays the upright bass.
Playing alone versus with a band – which do you prefer?
I prefer with a band. I really like the back and forth collaborative nature of playing with a band and I learn so much from them, it’s more exciting and they teach me things because they’re classically trained while I’m self-taught.
You are a talented writer with amazing lyrics, what is the process of writing a song for you? Music first then lyrics? Or vice versa?
Because I love to read – and maybe this is leftover from acting – I feel that there’s a certain way to tell a story, by showing instead of telling. And writing a song is different every time because each time you discover new things.
Sometimes I’ll come up with the first three lines and then it’ll flesh out after that. If the music comes first, it’ll be because I’m practicing and then accidentally discover a song. Sometimes it’ll be a line from a book or poem that gets me going. Songwriting really gives you an opportunity to explore nastier ideas – like anger – that you normally wouldn’t allow yourself to indulge in.
You mentioned you’re a big reader and that books inform a lot of your songwriting – what writers or books have inspired you?
Anna Akhmatova, who is an incredible Russian poet. Mary Oliver, she writes the most gorgeous, unique nature poems. Steinbeck. Richard Brautigan’s “The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster” and “The Hawkline Monster,” which is an awesome novel. Oh and Sam Shepard’s “Motel Chronicles” is so beautiful.
I also recently finished reading “Of Water and the Spirit” by Malidoma Patrice Some, where he shares the traditions and rituals of his Dagara tribe. Makes you really think about the loss of ritual in our western life…this is one of my new favorite books of all time.
I assume you have a favorite bookstore?
What musicians make your inspiration list?
Cary Anne Hearst of Shovels and Rope – she’s so freaking cute and has a huge growling voice. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. I’m so inspired by my friends: Brown Bird, Matt Bauer, and Bonnie Paine from Elephant Revival – they’re an amazing five-piece from Colorado you should check out. I’ve also been getting more into old blues artists like Odetta. But my weakness is Toby Keith.
Many artists are influenced by the town or city they live in – how has living in Brooklyn influenced your music?
I lived in Michigan and Seattle before I moved to New York – there’s such a wonderful community of artists and musicians doing what they love to do in Brooklyn, there’s a certain vibrancy here that you don’t get in Michigan and Seattle. I think the quiet and the space of Brooklyn is also something you don’t get in Manhattan. When I first moved to New York eight years ago I met a lot of folk musicians, they were really inspirational too.
What’s your idea of a perfect day in Brooklyn?
For the purposes of describing an ideal day in Brooklyn, I’m going to abandon the logic of geography and just tell you what a dream day at my favorite places would include.
I’d wake up and hop in my boyfriend’s old Chevy G20 cruiser van and stop into Sweetwater – on North 6th between Berry and Wythe – for brunch. They have great fresh daily specials, not to mention my favorite burger in Brooklyn. Check out the little garden tucked away in the back. I’d run upstairs to visit my friends who just opened a storefront for their company Hickorees – they specialize in beautiful cotton scarves and ties.
Then we’d head straight for Fort Tilden. This old military fort on the water is my favorite spot no matter the weather. Unless it’s a summer weekend the beach is mostly deserted and you can just wander down the overgrown paths and climb to the top of the abandoned fort. There you’ll find a rickety wooden lookout perch where you can see out to the ocean and back to the city in the distance. It’s one place where you can forget the hustle of the city completely for a while.
During the Summer Rockaway Tacos is open and AMAZING. Get the fish tacos. If it’s closed I’d head back to Williamsburg to Carino tucked away on South 4th between Wythe and Berry. They have amazing guacamole, great tacos, fantastic margaritas and the sweetest staff.
I’d stroll past Main Drag Music and plunk on the guitars and banjos. The people working there are so friendly and knowledgeable. I always take my broken instruments to their repair shop. They never over-charge and always do a great job.
Then I’d pop by Book Thug Nation – 100 North 3rd between Wythe and Berry – a tiny used bookstore with a huge perfectly curated selection. I walk in and want to read every book on their shelves.
I’d swing by Atlantis Attic on Metropolitan between Humbolt and Graham. I’ve found lots of great dresses for shows here. It’s literally a warehouse of vintage: walls of vintage tees, hundreds of crazy dresses, leather jackets, boots, bags, they have everything. I’m on a shaman outfit kick and they’ve got a lot of shaman-y stuff. It can be overwhelming so I go when I have time to really sift through it carefully.
For a late afternoon pause I would stop by Milk and Roses on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint between Clay and Dupont. This place is so cute and cozy, the walls are lined with books, there’s a grand piano in the middle of the room and a lovely little garden. They have a wonderful assortment of teas and a fantastic wine list.
Then I’d do a loop on the new East River Ferry. This is my new favorite thing in Brooklyn. It runs from Greenpoint to 34th Street and down to Wall Street. It’s so refreshing to stand on the upper deck at sunset, it reminds you that New York is truly a port town. I literally will just do a loop to Wall Street and back if I have the time.
I’d hop off the ferry at North 6th and see some live music at Brooklyn Rod and Gun on 59 Kent Ave. I love these little pockets of Brooklyn that let you forget the noise and frenetic energy of the city. It’s a legit fishing and hunting club, the members take fishing and hunting trips together and they host fly-tying nights. On certain evenings they have music and film events. I’m going to be playing a show there with a really talented blues singer-songwriter, The Bones of J.R. Jones, on November 4th.