Recording artist Melissa Cox is not easily categorized.
She leaps wildly from folksy alternative music to experimental, edgy rock, hitting every note in between. So it’s no wonder her latest solo album, Harmonious Maladies, deals with stark opposites, trying to make sense of a life that Cox describes as “slightly bi-polar.”
Harmonious Maladies, Cox’s third solo album and first concept album, was released in the fall of 2011. Cox produced and released the album independently, working in her home studio and finding funding through Kickstarter.com.
Kickstarter is a fundraising resource for independent artists in various media; it’s a website where fans and supporters can pledge money to make these artists’ projects possible.
“My fans are my record label,” Cox says, and it’s true. With Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing: If the fundraising goal is not met, the artist receives no money. So Cox is grateful for each and every pledge she received through the site, and says the release of this latest album would have been impossible without it.
It’s a great time to be an independent artist, Cox says, not only because of the resources that make it possible, but because the music industry demands it. Cox, like many independent artists, as well as many music lovers, expresses deep disappointment in the superficiality of today’s music world. She fears that artists are abandoning their real passions and work in favor of glamour and fame. So many are afraid to let their work stand on its own, preferring instead to make spectacles of themselves so as to attract the attention they crave. Independent artists counterbalance that, with their need for passion, individuality, and dedication to the art of music.
Cox doesn’t spend too much time lamenting the industry’s uglier side; she focuses instead on filling the music industry’s void by producing work she’s proud of. She also celebrates those admirable artists who find ways to reach success or even star status without sacrificing their true sound. Tori Amos and Steven Wilson (front man for the band Porcupine Tree and independent producer) are two she admires. Cox is glad to be able to work without having to navigate the complex relationship between record label and artist, happy to be supported by her fans.
But she’s also had to be able to support herself. Recently she’s taken a day job at the University of Delaware. She’s still a musician first, but in today’s economy, being a full-time musician is harder than ever. Plus, she says she likes the stability of the nine-to-five office world, a stark contrast with the exhausting exhilaration of touring.
When asked about her preference between touring and recording, Cox advocates a balance between the two. She loves to tour, especially at the festivals she tends to play with her Celtic fusion band Mythica. At these festivals, more so than at bar shows, the people are there to listen intently to the music, and she has a good time with the crowd.
But there’s a high risk of burnout with touring, she says, and being in the studio or being home for a while and just going to the office can be relaxing and refreshing.
Cox currently calls Elkton, Md., home, not far from where she grew up in Wilmington, Del. The narrative that Cox tells of her childhood places music at the center of her universe right from the beginning. It all started, she’ll say, at age 2. Her parents gave her a Fisher-Price microphone and recorder set; she started singing her heart out and never looked back. From there, Cox turned to church and school choirs and musical theater productions.
She never had formal voice lessons (though listening to her sing, you’d never know it), but remembers her high school choir teacher, Mrs. Spare, as being very influential and helpful in her musical education. Cox also sang in the women’s choir at the University of Delaware, where she minored in music management and majored in English.
“I’m a writer first,” Cox reminds her fans. More than anything she hopes that her listeners “know what it is to understand and enjoy lyrics.” She has always had a deep appreciation for the sheer beauty of language, a reverence for words, and laments the steady loss of eloquence. As technology advances, as people are able to communicate more rapidly and concisely, they pare down communication to the bare minimum of significance, sloughing off the lovely embellishments considered excess.
Cox says that, in listening to Harmonious Maladies, she hopes her fans “go on a journey with me through the CD, through the music and the words.” The journey is one of ups and downs, with varied, seemingly unrelated themes. Tracks like To Carrie Fisher, with Love sound tropical and light, with a playful ukulele and tongue-in-cheek social commentary, while Courage tends toward the self-empowering anthem and a harder rock sound. The thread that ties it all together is Cox’s powerful, unique voice.
On this album Cox sings what she considers to be the story of her life. Determined to succeed as an independent artist, she has faced challenges, both financially and emotionally. Harmonious Maladies tells that story?of determination, discouragement, despair?and, like Cox’s story, it isn’t over yet.
“The album is never totally written,” she says, in reference to the ambiguity of its conclusion, “It always keeps going.”
With Harmonious Maladies, she brings her fans on a journey, and she wants them to stick with her as that journey continues. She’s not sure what’s coming next, but, whether harmony or malady, she wants her fans by her side, sharing the experience.
If you want to share Melissa’s experience, learn more at melissacoxmusic.net and download Harmonious Maladies on Amazon.