GOLDMINE: Congratulations on your new Blue Elan album Love Me Madly. My favorite song on it is “Lose My Head,” which you have said that you wanted to write something from the perspective of a teenage girl with a crush, and that theme reminds me of one of your and my favorite singers from the 1960s, Lesley Gore, who passed away five years ago and I was fortunate to see 10 years ago, here in Florida, and she still sounded great. Let’s begin with a pair of her songs, “Maybe I Know” and its flip side “Wonder Boy.”
GINA SICILIA: Sure. Regretfully, I never got to see her live. “Maybe I Know” is a great song and what I love about it and a lot about the music that I grew up listening to that my parents played, is the simplicity and innocence of it and the infectious melodies. Those songs are really nostalgic for me even though it is not the music of my generation. I love Lesley Gore, which really brings me back to when I was growing up. “Maybe I Know” has a great melody and I love pop hooks like that. With “Wonder Boy” it is a cool and infectious song, the feel and the vibe are great, all the ingredients are there, except for that hook, which is why I can understand why “Maybe I Know” was a big hit and “Wonder Boy” was the flip side. With “Lose My Head,” I was also thinking about some of the female singers that my generation listened to like Paula Abdul.
Flip side: Wonder Boy
A side: Maybe I Know
Top 100 debut: July 25, 1964
Peak position: No. 14
GM: Your song “Hey Love” has a wonderful Memphis soul sound.
GS: Thank you. We had an amazing string and horn section along with Reverend Charles Hodges on organ. Cody Dickinson produced the album. Most of it was recorded at his Checkerboard Lounge home studio in Southaven, Mississippi, where he played most of the instruments as a collaboration of just the two of us, but that day we traveled to Memphis to track horns, strings and organ, which add an epic feel to whatever song they are on. It was really incredible and brought “Hey Love” to life in a really magical way with a classic vibe, which is what we were going for.
GM: On “Misery with You,” the orchestra is pretty while still being bluesy. There was a group called Smith with Gayle McCormick as their singer, with just two albums in 1969 and 1970, with their biggest hit being a powerful and bluesy version of the song “Baby It’s You,” and I hear a little bit of that in your recording, but what is really impressive are your high vocal notes right before Luther Dickinson’s guitar break.
GS: Thank you. A few people have said this song showcases my range that they hadn’t heard before. I love singing in falsetto, so I am surprised that I don’t do it more often. I absolutely love singing that song and try not to over-sing it. That’s a really special song and Luther’s guitar solo is amazing and absolutely beautiful. Cody and I are really proud of that one.
GM: I feel a musical kinship to a singer who was born the same week and year as me, in the same state, just one day apart, and that is the great Anita Baker, who I hear in your voice on the album’s title song “Love Me Madly.”
GS: Oh, thank you so much. Ironically, even though this album is comprised of all original songs, we had considered doing one cover and that would have been our version of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.” It is such a beautiful song, but we had so many original songs to work with, so we never really got around to doing it. It is a soulful love song that would have fit in perfectly, so maybe I’ll do it on a future album. I love that song, so it is amazing that you brought it up.
GM: That was her first hit single from her Rapture album and I agree that it would have fit perfectly. Another song that I love on your new album is “Give it Up” with the amazing violin and the simple drum sound that Cody brought to it. It is such a great bluesy number.
GS: Thank you. I wrote it on guitar and recorded it into my phone as I was writing it and we ended up recording it in the studio pretty much as I had done on my phone. I love the eerie strings that adds to the song. Some of the high parts are the violin and some notes are my shrill singing and it was so much fun to do. I had never done anything like that on a song before. It was really an experimental one with the violinist weaving in and out with my voice, making some cool violin and vocal effects.
GM: That type of sound, to me, goes way back to the early 1960s oldies with high background vocalists. You mentioned cover songs. On your Heard the Lie album, your version of “Ready for Love” is a favorite of mine. I first heard it in the 1970s with Mott the Hoople and then when Mick Ralphs left that group, he took the song with him to Bad Company and they recorded the song too. It was never a single because it was another member singing versus the lead singer for either group, but is a popular song on FM radio and fan favorite. Thank you for your wonderful version.
GS: Thank you. It was a really fun song to sing and a really great song to do live too. The energy of that song is amazing. I’m so glad that I did it.
GM: You draw from a variety of sources. Recently you introduced me to the British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka. I think his “Cold Little Heart” is so smooth, goes on forever and I am happy that it is so long, because there is some great stuff at the end.
GS: That is an incredible song. There is no other song like it, which is so beautiful, haunting and touching. The first time that I heard it, I was absolutely blown away. That was one of the first songs that I heard of his and then I was hooked. He is so soulful, very genuine and authentic. Some of his stuff is a fusion of jazz and soul, which I love. He has another song called “Bones” that I just love, and listening to him made me want to make a soul album with Love Me Madly.
GM: You grew up in a town I visited five years ago and moved to a city where my wife and I have spent a lot of time in visiting our daughter while she was attending Vanderbilt University.
GS: How about that! I still consider Newtown, Pennsylvania as my hometown. Moving to from Newtown to Nashville has introduced me to many new musicians. Growing up, in addition to listening to Lesley Gore and Anita Baker, I also enjoyed doo-wop and sang pop music from Italy. My dad is from Italy and came here in the 1960s. He always kept up with what was going on musically in Italy, and still does. He would go with a friend to a record store in Brooklyn who imported all the international recordings and would buy music to keep up with what was being played in Italy. My first concerts were Italian concerts. Then when I was fourteen I fell in love with blues music, B.B. King and singers like Etta James and Esther Phillips. I did an Esther Phillips song on my first album. I absorb everything that I listen to.
GM: You have recorded nine albums over a short period of time.
GS: I write a lot and I love being in a studio. It is my favorite place to be. I love the whole process from writing the music to the pre-production to the very first day of tracking and before that, sending demos to the producer and figuring which songs to use. When tracking begins, it is so exciting, and then doing the vocals make it is so much fun. It is such a gratifying process and gives me such a sense of accomplishment. I have worked on this new album for a half year and now I am anxious to hear what people think and I hope they like it. I really appreciate what you had to say and for doing this Goldmine interview.