After playing in eclectic bands from Hollywood to Brooklyn, St. Louis Park native Christy Merry decided to record her own music.
While currently a Minneapolis resident, Merry’s Park connections show through in the cover art for her new EP, “Here for You.” The vintage photograph from the early 1980s features Merry hugging her younger sister on their parents’ deck by Library Lane in St. Louis Park.
Although she has been singing and creating music since her days in the Park Singers at St. Louis Park High School, she had not put her own songs on an album until this year.
“It had been on my goal list of things to do,” Merry said.
In college, she played in the folk alternative band Thursday James in Chicago that featured her songs, but the band didn’t record an album. In Los Angeles, she joined a folk, rock, jazz and blues fusion band called Old Souls after members asked her to jam with them after they met during an open mic night, helping lead to a gig at the former L.A. venue the Derby. Member influences ranged from Thelonious Monk to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“We were all coming from very different cultures and influences, but somehow it worked and it was really fun,” Merry recalled
In New York, she joined a band led by musician Rick Beerhorst, performing folk and American music with influences from Johnny Cash, The Carter Family and Sinead O’Connor. After returning to Minnesota, she began honing her own music by singing and reading her poetry at The Coffee Shop Northeast in Minneapolis, which she said helped her grow bolder and more confident about presenting her work.
Her husband, Tommy Rehbein, helped inspire her to take the next step and make the record by conspiring with producer Matt Patrick, who has worked with such local musicians as Jeremy Messersmith, John Mark Nelson and The Pines at The Library Recording Studio.
Rehbein, who plays guitar in the band Farewell Continental with Motion City Soundtrack frontman and St. Louis Park resident Justin Pierre, reached out to Patrick about the idea of Merry making an album after she pondered her goal with Rehbein. She agreed to a session with Patrick in which she sang a variety of songs she had written from numerous genres. After Patrick helped her narrow down her focus, she wrote the single “Reach for Me.”
The contemplative melody focuses on seeking support instead of staying inside one’s head amid concerns of failure. The song urges, “Collect your fears and knock them down, like bowling pins,” concluding with the chorus, “Reach for me, and I will reach for you.”
Merry said, “When I wrote ‘Reach for Me,’ somehow the thematic elements kind of came together.”
With past work in street ministry in Chicago – while wearing a clerical collar, a flannel shirt and big earrings, as she recalled – two of the five songs on the EP allude to the biblical story of the Apostle Peter seeking to walk on water but sinking beneath the waves. “Reach for Me” includes a line that says, “Trying to walk upon the water, you sink and swim away.” The song “Peter’s Lullaby” is more wholly inspired by the story of Jesus rescuing Peter.
The EP ends with the hopeful tune “Don’t Be Afraid,” which advises, “Everyone’s gotta start somewhere. You begin at the beginning.”
Referencing a line in “Reach for Me” that says, “Turn your failure into a crown,” Merry said of the album’s theme, “Even if you keep failing or sinking or whatever, keep moving forward and help each other.”
Musically, the album encompasses a variety of genres, with an album description saying the record varies from Portishead-like acoustic trip hop on “Reach for Me” to expansive 1980s New Age synthesizers for the songs “Peter’s Lullaby” and “Don’t Be Afraid.” The song “Here for You” is described as postmodern folk-rock.
“Suffused with a wistful sadness, this group of songs serves as an essay on the way we try to connect with others despite the barriers placed between us – be they time, place, history or circumstance,” says the description by Ali Jafaar, who said Merry’s vocals serve as the emotional center of the project. “Through themes of togetherness and collaboration, Merry’s songs suggest that a better and more compassionate future is possible if we embrace ourselves and others with the same empathy and kindness as the kids on the album’s cover.”
Jafaar added that the elements “might, for a moment, take you out of the squalid morass that is modern living and give you a bit of audacious hope.”
Merry released the album earlier this year with a two-hour Zoom session featuring YouTube videos she and Rehbein made for the songs and question-and-answer periods. Since the release, her music has been played on the KFAI show “Womenfolk” and discussed in Twin Cities publications.
In considering the effort, Merry said with a laugh, “It’s been an enjoyable experience – a lot more work than I realized, but I’ve enjoyed it.”
She has also released a poetry chapbook called “Before Cancer Comes For Me.” The book of poetry is raising money to pay for cancer treatments for St. Paul musician Jessa Roquet, known by her musical persona, Gambler’s Daughter.
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