Discover Jersey Arts 5 Interview: Patty Blee
Patty Blee, from Brigantine, NJ, recently performed at the Southern Shore Music Festival in Millville. Jersey Arts had a chance to speak with her during the festival to talk about her career, being one of nine kids, and why beach towns are a source of inspiration for artists…
JA: You came from a pretty big family – nine kids! I know there was a lot of music in the house; did that inspire you to start writing your own songs?
PB: I didn’t really start writing songs until much later in life. Part of it is because I’m a very private person. It’s a weird dynamic in that the more I’ve done this and the more I’ve heard other songwriters talk I’ve found a lot of them are the same way – very shy, inward people, because that’s where you come up with inspiration; yet to do it, you have to go out in front of people and do it for them. So, there are different levels and layers to the whole process.
JA: Where did you fall in the family in the order of children?
PB: I’m the oldest girl, second child of nine.
JA: You probably never thought there could possibly be another one… and another one.
PB: You know, I just thought every family was like that! I remember going to school every other year and telling my teacher, “My mom’s having a baby” and seeing the look on my teacher’s face! I could never understand that look because I was excited but they were like “Are you kidding me? What does that make now?” I think my dad was trying for the backline of a football team. He wanted a dozen.
But that was the whole key; we grew up in a small beach town that was practically a ghost town in the winter time. We had very little money for entertainment because my dad was a cop and my mom didn’t work, she raised nine kids. There was a guitar in the house and a music store in Atlantic City where my dad would go and pick up these percussion instruments like tambourines and shakers and stuff to bang on just so we’d be doing something constructive rather than tearing up the house.
JA: There seems to be a lot of musicians in all beach towns. I wonder if the idea of the quiet winters contributes to this.
PB: When there’s downtime it gives you time for reflection and creativity. When you’re always going, your focus is in too many different places.
Actually the guitar player that played with me today (Ernie Trionfo) grew up on a farm in a town called Piney Hollow, which sounds like this mythical area where Ichabod Crane would live or something. It was him and his brother and his mom and dad. They worked on the farm and there were no houses for miles. Thank God for the guitar because that’s what kept him sane. It gave him an outlet for frustration and being lonely.
JA: So, maybe we’re all lonelier than we think at the Shore…
PB: Absolutely! The secret is finding the pockets of solitude; I think that’s where creativity comes from.
JA: Well, you’re from the Southern Jersey beach town Brigantine, but you’ve also played Asbury Park several times. There’s quite a disconnect between the two Shore areas, how did you first get involved with playing Asbury Park? Is that area important for you?
PB: Absolutely. I think part of it happened because I was playing with Soozie Tyrell and she had her CD release party at the Stone Pony. I was on the same record label as Soozie and when she had her release party she asked me to open for her and actually be in her band too. So, I kind of got plugged into that scene.
JA: How often do you play festivals?
PB: Not very often. There’s usually a selection process as far as who opens and this and that. The last big festival I did was Appel Farm and that was a great experience. Jackson Browne was the headliner that year. I’m a singer-songwriter basically when it comes down to it, so I find myself in mostly coffeehouses and smaller venues.
You just keep saying yes to things that come across your plate that sound exciting and push your comfort level a little bit.
JA: At this point in your career, what would push your comfort level? What type of phone call do you hope to receive someday?
PB: That somebody is covering a song of mine and it’s number one on the radio!
JA: Would you prefer to be in the background? Or would you keep performing if that happened?
PB: It’s all a part of the puzzle for me; I don’t have to separate it. I will always love to sing and I will always love to play, I’m just looking at it practically in terms of business. You can always do all both.