Calley Bliss
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Calley Bliss

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Double Agents: Don't Pigeonhole this Bartneder/Singer"

Double Agents: Don't Pigeonhole This Bartender/Singer

When you sit at the bar and grab a drink at Murray Hill’s Marcony, you may ask yourself what music is playing on the sound system. Well – you should ask your bartender, because it’s her! In addition to mixing up a mean Negroni, Calley Bliss can sing a mean tune to go along with it, as evidenced by the chanteuse/drink slinger’s first newly finished album, Pigeonholed. We recently caught up with Bliss to ask a few questions about her double life. If her CD isn’t in the player when you visit the spot, you can check out her website here.

Zagat Buzz: What are the sides of your double life?

Calley Bliss: I’m the bartender here five days a week – I make all the drinks and do all the stocking and that kind of stuff. I’m also a professional vocalist – so I do wedding bands, dinner entertainment, studio work – basically any work that comes along. I’ve been doing that for about seven years. I lived in Dallas for five years, and did a lot of performing down there, and moved to New York a few years ago.

ZB: How did you get into bartending?

CB: Well, I transitioned from being a server about two years ago. Since I was a musician, it wasn’t like I didn’t know about the alcohol. Hanging out with jazz musicians, you get lots of experience – it’s no baby steps with them, it’s straight to whiskey.

ZB: How did the album come about?

CB: I was hosting a weekly jazz series at Spike Hill, a bar in Williamsburg where I was bartending. I was writing, I started singing with some of the musicians there, and I thought ‘yeah, I should do an album.’ My style is pop, but my vocal range has been in so many different genres. So – I try to describe it as pop, rock, soul, indie – but everyone always tries to pigeonhole the style. Every tune is a little different, I didn’t want to narrow it down – and that became my marketing ploy and the album’s name.

ZB: Does bartending at a spot like this help forward your music career?

CB: Yes – after bartending, I don’t nearly get as upset when people say something bad. It’s relations training – and it’s taught me I’m good at selling, and it’s taught me to have the distance needed in the industry. It also doesn’t hurt to get the people I’m selling to a little tipsy, and I’m good at that [laughs].

ZB: Is the album a hit at the restaurant?

CB: Oh yeah! Whenever someone comes in the door, Marco [the owner of the restaurant] is always like “have you met my bartender – she’s an artist.” He’s my biggest fan! - Zagat

"Women Who Rock the Underground"

Women Who Rock the Underground, Volume 3: Calley Bliss, Part 1

Calley Bliss has a beautiful voice. It’s clearly trained yet still full of emotion, gripping and enchanting and powerful in that Aretha Franklin kind of way, spot-on for a jazz number, an R&B groove or a mournful ballad. Hell, she can even sing like a trombone. From college ensembles to pop cover bands to hosting her own weekly jazz series for the past year (including organizing and leading a rotating band, working the sound board AND bartending), Bliss has experienced all ends of the musical spectrum and all sides of the music business. Which is why her new album, Pigeonholed (due out March 2010), is exactly the opposite of its name. Some songs hearken the high-heeled Bliss swaying her hips at huge parties, wailing a Stevie Wonder tune during her Texan years. Others bring us inside her bedroom, put us in the middle of her racing mind while she grieves over a broken relationship. Still, other songs take us back to the 60’s, drop us inside a Harlem bar where Motown’s superstars bust out their funky tunes. This only covers a small section of the influences and sounds heard in her album, some tracks even combining all the above into one. And let’s not forget her surprising wisdom, her regular personal reflection, her ability to put her whole self into her music without losing direction.

In short, Calley Bliss, jazz/R&B/pop/rock/funk/folk singer, can draw anyone into her web with her beautiful voice. And what a lovely, cozy web it is.

Click here for the first part of our Q&A, and check back tomorrow for the second half.

BF: When did you first start singing?
CB: I’ve been singing since I was a kid – pretty much since I could talk. I did all kinds of choirs and school-related activities in my primary school years. Class and school musicals in fourth grade, regional Minneapolis choir from 5th grade to 7th, etc.

BF: How/when did you realize it was something you wanted to seriously pursue?
CB: I knew I wanted to “be a singer” when I was probably seven. When I was nine I remember being completely in love with Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” that had just come out. I could sing the whole thing from memory, to a T, and would often do so in little spontaneous concerts in the backyards of my friend’s houses, at their request. Hahaha, oh the 90’s. However, I didn’t start taking professional voice lessons till much later – I was seventeen. It was around this time that I started taking it a little more seriously, knew I wanted to go to college for music, knew I needed to train my voice, etc.

BF: Who is in your band?
CB: I am so platonically in love with my band members. Craig Akin on bass, Paul Orbell on guitar, Alastair Ottesen on Tenor (and occasionally harmonium, kazoo…), Sean Fitzpatrick on keys, and Ross Pederson on drums.

BF: Did you put the group together?
CB: I had help assembling all the players. I knew Alastair from college – he actually played on my senior recital and moved to the city around the same time that I did. He lived with Paul, whom I knew from school but had never once had a conversation with. They recommended Craig to me. Later when I decided I really wanted keyboard as well, they all recommended Sean. Ross is the newest member, though he’d subbed on gigs, and I knew him personally. Ross and I were good buddies in college. He moved to the city after I’d been here almost two years, when I had another drummer at the time. It’s really important to me that the band gel not only on a musical level but on a personal level as well, and I feel so so SO fortunate to have that be the case with my players. What we do as musicians, especially when you’re playing someone’s original music, is such a personal thing. The different personalities and musical approaches can really affect the whole vibe of the group. I love how my guys play, how they listen, and who they are as men. Oh the platonic love. ?

BF: Jazz, R&B, rock and many other genres still seem to be male-dominated. Do you feel that being female has affected your songwriting or any other aspect of your musical process?
CB: Absolutely. I would say more from the working and business side of things than the artistic process, though. Working as a female in a male-dominated industry is a double-edged sword. I will state the cold truth that it’s pretty easy to get someone to pay initial attention to you, being female. When you put on a pair of heels, throw on some eye shadow, curl your hair and stand in a spotlight for an hour, people notice. However, it’s another thing to earn your peers’ respect. There is a fine line that must be walked. Flirting is all nice and dandy as a tool to get someone’s attention, but A) is it fair? and B) if you’re not really interested in the person one of two things usually happens: they lose interest in you (and your music) as soon as they realize things are platonic, or you get a reputation as being a flirt, and a certain level of professional respect may be lost. Not the worst title in the world, but you need to be comfortable with that title, if you’re going to play that game.

BF: Your band is all male and I see a similar arrangement in many other groups across genres: female singer, male instrumentalists. What are your thoughts on this?
CB: Oh boy. Are you ready for a can of worms? I have this theory. Of course it is a current social norm: the chick singer, and the dudes in the band. So I'm sure that has some influence in present modern day situations. But where did these social habits start? It is my theory that it goes down to our very primal nature as humans: as men and women. In our primal states, men are hunters, taking pride and enjoyment in seeking an element, and conquering it. Women are nurturers, finding their pride and enjoyment in caring for an element; seeking to dive beneath the many complex layers it has, and care for it. These are blanket statements, but go with me for a minute. So think of this in terms of musical instruments. The voice is something we use every day. Weather or not you sing, from the time you are a baby, you are taught to use this instrument, even if it's not used in a musical sense. We "conquer" it at a young age. With an external instrument - guitar, bass, horn, what have you- one must take it upon themselves to even learn how to USE the instrument, the element. You must seek the instrument out, hunt it down, learn it, and conquer it. So a man, wanting to have that feeling of hunting something, conquering something, is more likely to choose something that is a challenge - something he must seek out and conquer. Why would he choose his voice? He's been using that for years, there's no hunt in it. Meanwhile, a woman, who gets her joy from delving deeply into something, understanding it's many layers, is more likely to choose something she can delve into emotionally. The voice is commonly accepted as the most expressive instrument. This is not only based on the simple idea that it is an instrument of the mother nature-made human body (and do I really need to convince anyone that the human body is an incredibly complex and complicated organism?), but also if you ask anyone who knows about sound science, they will tell you that the human voice has the most complex sound waves of any instrument. So it makes sense, according to my theory, that women would want to take this incredibly complex, expressive instrument, and attempt to care for it.

Men hunt their instrument. Women nurture their expressive voice. That's my theory.

Women Who Rock the Underground, Volume 3: Calley Bliss, Part 2

Yesterday our readers learned that Calley Bliss shamelessly loves Prince, is obsessed with her band mates (in a good way) and used to bust out Whitney Houston in her friends’ backyards whenever they asked. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Bliss has orchestrated every aspect of her upcoming album, Pigeonholed, from writing the tunes to organizing a photo shoot (complete with hitting up all her friends for their tackiest kitchenware) to promoting in the States and various European countries. Her path has taken her from Minnesota to Texas to New York, through an Earth, Wind and Fire cover band to a pop/rock party group to a weekly jazz series. Now she is on the cusp of releasing her first original album and despite all the grueling work, is loving life more than ever before.

Click here to read the second installation of our Q&A.

BF: I know you're currently working on a new album, Pigeonholed, to be released next year. First off, what has the process of making this album been like for you so far?
CB: Ummmmmm, in a word? Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious. It’s been a lot of work so far, as I’m self-managed, self-promoted and currently not under a label, and I’m only about halfway there. But it’s been REALLY fun and taught me a LOT about myself and about the “business” side of music, which is something I’ve never really dealt with in this way. I come from what I think is a bit of a different background from a lot of NYC singer/songwriters. I was a professional vocalist in the Dallas area before I ever had an artist’s identity for myself. Someone called needing me to sing a part in the studio or for a live performance. Either it was standard jazz/party pop repertoire that I knew, or I learned the material. I went and did the gig, got paid, and went home. It was great to be able to support myself as a working musician, and it taught me how to use my voice as a malleable instrument, much like a voice actor. The lessons I’ve learned from voice work are so valuable, and one that I think a lot of instrumentalists get but a lot of singer/songwriters miss out on. I’m very grateful for that, but it also made it challenging for me when I moved to New York and all of a sudden had no direction. I was so used to being TOLD what to sing and how to sound. When it was all up to me, I didn’t really know WHAT I wanted to sound like. Of course life plays into the artistic process as well, and that was an important integral part of it. Adjusting to New York and its pace, finding a source of income, finding my New York family, falling in love, getting my heart broken, losing jobs, finding myself. Life whipped me around for the better part of the first two years I was here, but it made my music richer, and prepared me for this part where I’m now ready to take my career into my own hands. I took a step back, reassessed what I wanted and how to go about it. I learned to ask for help. I faced my fears and what I saw as my weaknesses, and I allowed myself to be scared and weak, and it was only after I did this that I realized how much power it gave me. If all those things had not happened I would not be where I am now, and this album would not be underway in the way it is. And I am SO excited to be doing this project, and to have such amazing people along for the ride. From my band members who are giving of their time and energy and musical artistry, to the team of creatives who helped out with the photo shoot for the album artwork, to my dear friends who have come to gigs, and supported, and pushed, and taken photos, to my family who have believed in me the whole way, and have given me the loan allowing the project to be possible. I thank the Universe for surrounding me with such amazing, giving people. I’m learning step by step how to be an artist, composer, band manager, business manager, promoter, producer, artistic director… so many hats to wear! But going at it like the amateur I am in many areas means I have nothing to lose and everything to learn, so it’s quite exciting!

BF: Secondly, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that the title stems from the idea of not wanting to be labeled as one genre or one type of style. Could you elaborate on this idea?
CB: You are correct. As of this past year there is a new genre in music called “unclassifiable” and that’s what I’m going for. When I started rolling around the idea of doing an album, people always asked, “What style?” I had SO much trouble answering this question. Part of the lack of an artistic identity that I was talking about before. So I started looking at my writing and trying to look at it from an outsider’s perspective: Is it jazz? Funk? Accoustic? Soul? Pop? I realized each song could be put in a different genre. Not unusual for established artists but being that I am starting out, I realized the dilemma it created from a marketing aspect. But I didn’t WANT to narrow to just one genre. That’s something I’ve always loved – being able to sing all kinds of styles. I get bored singing the same style consistently. So I tried to think about how I could make the non-cohesiveness work FOR me instead of against me. So I decided to make the title a play-on-words, and the album artwork ties it all in.

BF: It seems like you are often described as a jazz singer. Do you identify with that label? Do you hope this album will alter that perception?
CB: I am a jazz singer. I’m also a pop singer. An R&B singer. A folk singer. Etc, etc, etc. You get the picture. For the last year I’ve hosted a jazz series at a bar in Williamsburg, and so I think that is what people have to attach me to. Which is fine, but I am hoping to help spread that image to other genres with this album. If all goes to plan, it will be effective.

BF: I definitely pick up an R&B and soul influence in your singing style, even more than jazz. Would you agree? What artists have influenced you the most? What music do you listen to day-to-day?
CB: Definitely the R&B vibe. I’m not totally sure – I think a lot of it is what I listened to as a kid. Lots of 70’s disco stuff on the “oldies station,” 90’s female pop stars like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston. Then in college I sang in a cover band called Groove Academy as the lead female vocalist and covered everything from Cheryl Lynn to Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson. Because of this, I landed a gig in a college ensemble one semester that covered all Earth, Wind, and Fire music. It was SO much fun! I have always loved this style. Now I listen to… gosh, it’s all over the place. I’m a die-hard shameless Madonnna, Prince, and Michael Jackson fan. I love Lizz Wright, who is kind of folk jazz. My latest favorite is a Swedish singer/songwriter who goes by the alias Loney Dear. I like U2, a band called Amp Fiddler, Madaline Peyroux, Brand New Heavies, Fiona Apple, local Brooklyn band My Brightest Diamond, Sigur Ros…

BF: Does gender play a role in your performance style at all?
CB: I would say it does a lot more with professional vocal work. Especially in New York. For the love, I’ve literally been hired because someone happened to need a white, blond singer. Not because they heard my voice and thought I was good. As for performing my original music, I would say I am aware of my femininity, but that’s because I’m singing from my own personal experiences, and I am a woman, with a woman’s perspective on situations.

BF: When is the album officially due out? What are your plans once it is released?
CB: Right now I’m tentatively planning a release for March. I want to market it all over the states and Europe, wherever I can. I have some connections in a few markets that I plan to use. I’d love to be able to tour it, and see if I can find any financial backers and promoters. Right now I’m open, and just trying to learn as much as I can, so that I can take this thing as far as I can, and get my band some good paying gigs! May the wind carry us. ?
- Knocks From the Underground


Pigeonholed - Debut LP, 2010
The City - single, 2007

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I grew up in the burbs of Minneapolis. From a very young age I took an immediate interest in music—my mother tells a story of me as an infant in my crib rocking myself to sleep in time with the music in the tape player. At the age of three, I was often caught practicing my smile and posing in front of the mirror. This is how mom said she knew she was raising a future performer; “ham” is the endearing term my older sister still prefers to call me.

It started innocent enough. I idolized singers like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion; the regular suspect pop stars of the day in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I was (and still am to some degree) an impulsive child, and in an attempt to ground me, my parents encouraged that I think of other, more stable professions that I might be interested in. So at the young age of seven, I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian, animals having been another passion of mine. This idea stuck with me until a fateful day in the fourth grade. I had just finished a performance in the school musical. I’d been cast in the children’s production of “Bach to the Future: the Life Story of Johann Sebastian Bach,” as Bach himself. An unassuming audience member (probably someone’s grand-mother or aunt) congratulated me on my performance, and asked if I planned to pursue singing when I grew up. I, with my ten years of wisdom, responded that of course I would love to, but it wasn’t very practical and so I planned to become a veterinarian. To this she replied, “Oh honey, you are too young to give up on your dreams! If what you want is to become a singer, then that’s what you should do!”

I decided she was right. It sealed the deal, and ever after I’ve accepted my fate. The life of a musician can be unstable and unpredictable, and I believe happiness lies in the choice to love these factors instead of seeing them as casualties of the profession. I have no idea who that woman was, but without trying to be melodramatic, she changed my life from that moment on, and for that I am ever grateful.

I was fortunate to not have the typical theater mother and father to shove me into talent agencies and headshots, and cart me around the city for auditions. They felt childhood was too important to miss out on, and told me if I really wanted to be a singer, I would have to find out how to do it on my own. Of course, if I’d had the know-how to find the talent agencies and auditions, I know my parents would have taken and supported me. But being the slightly “concentration-challenged” and social child that I was, there were too many other things in the moment to focus on like boys, and sports, and dances. So I did all the classic school-related music activities-- I was active in school choirs, band, and musicals all through junior high and high school. I gave up dance after fourth grade to join a Minneapolis girl’s choir called Bel Canto Voices. Took up the alto sax in sixth grade, after being denied the right to study drums, due to my lack of prior piano study. (Okay, I’m still a tad bitter about this, but one day I WILL conquer the drum set!) In high school I was one of three drum majors to a 330-piece show style marching band, a member of the concert chorale, and also auditioned into an extra jazz choir class that met every morning at 6:55AM (dear lord) to rehearse for 50 minutes before the normal school day commenced. I also took music theory as a senior, by which time I was both determined and scared to death to go to college as a music major.

At the urging of my high school band director, Nathan Earp, I applied to the University of North Texas Jazz Department. I had no interest in becoming an opera singer, though I did want my college degree. Jazz, I knew, would kick my booty into shape. I was ready to commit to music, and figure out what I needed to do to create a career out of it. I no longer wanted to be a pop-idol. I wanted to really learn music and acquire the knowledge to be a respected musician.

My parents, I later found out, were nervously waiting for the day when I would call home, proclaiming I’d given up on college and was going to try to make it “on my own.” I can’t blame them, but I’m proud to say I didn’t drop out. Over the next five years I would come to learn more than I ever anticipated about music, about other instruments, about writing, about musicians and their lifestyles and quirks, but mostly, about myself. Each year felt completely different from the last, and I quickly learned what it was to be not only an adult who is responsible for her own actions, but a musician who is responsible for her own growth.

I worked whenever and wherever I possibly could. Cover band gigs, my own gigs, duo gigs with a piano player, a guitar player, eventually some studio work, pop gigs, jazz gigs, show tunes, lead vocals, back-up vocals, studio vocals where I covered all parts, etc. I did it all and loved it all. Was fortunate eno