For Manhattanites, Á¢€Å“bridge and tunnelÁ¢€ is a term of superiority if not annoyance, directed at the millions who come in from the Á¢€Ëœburbs or the outer boroughs every day to work, play, eat, or see a show. For those suburbanites, however, the gateways to the big city Á¢€” particularly when theyÁ¢€â„¢re jammed with traffic Á¢€” symbolize their position on the outside looking in, a gauntlet to be run in order to get Where the Action Is (or to get away from it).
Singer/songwriter (and onetime Manhattanite) Linda Draper now lives in not-so-glamorous Woodside, Queens, but she titled her new album Bridge and Tunnel as a matter of metaphor more than fact. In the song of the same name, they represent light and darkness Á¢€” two possible options for a girl struggling to figure out her next move. As an allegory for her own career, Á¢€Å“bridge and tunnelÁ¢€ represent DraperÁ¢€â„¢s own options Á¢€” to continue the struggle for commercial success as a recording artist, or to pursue a livelihood with less glamour but better odds.
So far, sheÁ¢€â„¢s chosen both. Even as she released Bridge and Tunnel this month Á¢€” itÁ¢€â„¢s her sixth album overall, and her third on Virginia Beach-based Planting Seeds Records Á¢€” sheÁ¢€â„¢s finishing up a long-delayed degree in Music Therapy at Molloy College on Long Island. Indeed, the new albumÁ¢€â„¢s release was timed to give it a few weeks to build awareness while she prepares to graduate next month, at which point sheÁ¢€â„¢ll set out for a few weeks of touring before returning home to begin job-hunting Á¢€¦ and to get married in August.
DraperÁ¢€â„¢s new songs speak to everything thatÁ¢€â„¢s going on in her life — sometimes abstractly, as on Á¢€Å“Bridge and Tunnel,Á¢€ and sometimes with a more straightforward voice, as on the hopeful Á¢€Å“Sharks and Royalty.Á¢€ In a recent interview, however, she spoke with clear-eyed realism about her prospects both personal and professional Á¢€” which is to say, sheÁ¢€â„¢s keeping expectations for the new album in check.
Á¢€Å“IÁ¢€â„¢m certainly open to making my career as an artist, and not doing anything else Á¢€” but at this point I canÁ¢€â„¢t really expect it,Á¢€ she says. Á¢€Å“Two years ago, when I finished up a tour on the West Coast after my fifth CD (Keepsake), I had one of those Á¢€ËœwhatÁ¢€â„¢s next?Á¢€â„¢ moments. You know, at some point it makes sense to take a step back and say, Á¢€ËœOK, this isnÁ¢€â„¢t the most lucrative of fields Á¢€” where do I want to take this?Á¢€â„¢
Á¢€Å“I canÁ¢€â„¢t put this part of my life away Á¢€” IÁ¢€â„¢m always going to dedicate myself to recording and writing new songs, and playing out as much as I can. IÁ¢€â„¢m ready to keep doing it, but at same time I need to be realistic. So far it hasnÁ¢€â„¢t been a career, as much as IÁ¢€â„¢ve tried, and I want to at least be in control of how IÁ¢€â„¢m making a living.Á¢€
To that end, after years of working office jobs she is now close to completing an academic path that she had given up a decade ago. Her tenure at the State University of New York in Purchase, which is renowned for its performing-arts programs, ended when she Á¢€Å“got impatient and thought, Á¢€ËœWhat kind of useless degree is this?Á¢€â„¢Á¢€ she says. Á¢€Å“I mean, it was a great program, for what it was worth, but I donÁ¢€â„¢t think I was ready to hear what other people had to teach me Á¢€” I just wanted to get on with it.Á¢€
She did just that, putting out three CDs in three years. (Only one of them, the terrific Snow White Trash Girl, is still easily available, but itÁ¢€â„¢s well worth seeking out on eMusic.) She finally signed to Planting Seeds in 2005, and released One Two Three Four later that year Á¢€” along with an interesting video for the track Á¢€Å“Needlessly.Á¢€
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The label has helped facilitate DraperÁ¢€â„¢s inclusion on several compilations through the years, including a Rick Nelson tribute album for which she recorded his Á¢€Å“How Long.Á¢€ Planting Seeds Á¢€Å“have been great,Á¢€ she says. Á¢€Å“TheyÁ¢€â„¢re incredibly supportive of what I do, and theyÁ¢€â„¢ve never tried to take control of the creative process. ThatÁ¢€â„¢s been the greatest reward, that theyÁ¢€â„¢ve stuck by me even though weÁ¢€â„¢re only breaking even on my records, at best.Á¢€
Additional support recently has come from producer Brad Albetta, who helmed Bridge and Tunnel after previously working with Martha Wainwright and Teddy Thompson (with whom Draper played a few dates in 2007). Albetta fleshed out the arrangements of such tracks as album opener Á¢€Å“LimboÁ¢€ and the wonderful Á¢€Å“Broken Eggshell,Á¢€ while allowing her plaintive voice and inventive guitar work plenty of room to spark the tricky Á¢€Å“Pushing Up the Day.Á¢€
Comparatively simple guitar-and-voice settings like those on much of DraperÁ¢€â„¢s previous work can make a producerÁ¢€â„¢s efforts seem superfluous, but Draper says that even as Albetta surrounded her with more instruments, he brought a new intimacy to her songs. Á¢€Å“A producer can definitely mess things up, if he wants to, and this was new for me because itÁ¢€â„¢s probably the most full-band sound IÁ¢€â„¢ve had,Á¢€ she says. Á¢€Å“Brad had the idea of playing some songs live in the studio with all the musicians, to get a different feel Á¢€” I hadnÁ¢€â„¢t been able to do that before, because the studios IÁ¢€â„¢d recorded in were always too small.
Á¢€Å“You canÁ¢€â„¢t really match the cohesive quality you get from playing live in the studio, no matter how many knobs you twiddle around with.Á¢€
As he brought more instrumentalists into the studio, Albetta had to overcome DraperÁ¢€â„¢s inclination to go it alone. Á¢€Å“IÁ¢€â„¢m becoming more comfortable with the idea of playing with a band, and IÁ¢€â„¢m learning to trust other people to bring their own elements into the music,Á¢€ she says. Á¢€Å“ItÁ¢€â„¢s always been easier for me to play alone, especially on the road, because of the logistics of getting a bunch of people from place to place. Mostly, though, IÁ¢€â„¢ve felt that if I play on my own I donÁ¢€â„¢t have to rely on anyone else.Á¢€
Next month Draper commences a monthlong spate of shows that includes several West Coast dates, beginning June 4-8 at various clubs around Los Angeles. Draper will be trying to avoid the logistical nightmare of her last trip west, when, she says, Á¢€Å“It was our first time out there, and we just did any gig anybody offered us. It was like, Á¢€ËœYou want us to be in L.A. tonight and Portland tomorrow? Sure!Á¢€â„¢
Á¢€Å“I think we have our shit together a little better now. At least this time weÁ¢€â„¢re going to try to travel in just one direction.Á¢€
After the tour, though, itÁ¢€â„¢s on to wedding plans and a job search Á¢€” Draper hopes to use her degree to begin a career working with developmentally disabled children. Though sheÁ¢€â„¢ll continue to pine for an opportunity to quit her day job, she recently has felt a growing kinship with artists whoÁ¢€â„¢ve achieved greater popularity. Á¢€Å“If I can one day make a living selling records, that would be great,Á¢€ she says. Á¢€Å“But these days, with the economy like it is, even a lot of people who are on major labels seem to be broke. So maybe IÁ¢€â„¢m doing exactly the right thing.Á¢€
Buy Bridge and Tunnel at Amazon.