w/ Dennis Fancher, Sat., Dec. 17th, Mondo,10 Main St., Middletown 8:30-10:30 P.M., (860) 343-3300, mondomiddletown.com
When I ask Laura Ganci why her songs are frequently mid- to slow-tempo, the Hartford-based singer-songwriter dances around the subject a little. She gets asked this a lot, it seems. "I've made conscious decisions to write fast songs, and I just hate 'em," she laughs. "I've had some friends say, 'Can you write something that doesn't make me wanna slit my wrists?' And I'm like, 'You know that's not what I'm trying to do!' A lot of times when I'm in a writing place, it tends to be a dark place for me. And dark places usually have slow tempos."
Mind you, Ganci is not a dark person. She's not brooding, or gothy, or emo, or associable with any sort of aesthetic that might come to mind when you think of emotion in rock. Nor is she a flowery folk-rocker in the vein of Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez. If anything, she's treading the path blazed by Ani DiFranco and Dar Williams. Like they were early in their careers, she's young, literate, snappily dressed, and focused more on the content of her songs than on the bells and whistles of their execution.
And that content is invariably evocative. Ganci's deadliest weapon is her voice, and she knows it. Her slowed-down, radio-unfriendly tempos make room for her huge vocal melodies and smart lyrics. She lets her voice falter and break often, and there's a kind of weird strength that emerges from being so honest about her frailty. "Maybe part of it is my own confidence in my guitar playing," says Ganci. "I don't think that I suck, but I'm not gonna start shredding. Making it simple helps put a focus on what I'm singing about."
Ganci found something more emotive in slower structures. "The more people tell me 'Please play something uptempo!' it makes me wanna slow down even more. It's almost like they're pushing it away because it makes them feel something uncomfortable. That's some of the highest compliments I've ever gotten on my music. I make people cry sometimes! Complete strangers! I can't say I enjoy it because it's difficult to watch, but I think it's necessary to connect as human beings. For whatever reason, I have a knack for that."
Ganci has been a solo creature for most of her career, barring her 2008 album Sung To, for which she assembled a star-studded cast of local musicians. And although her songs translated well into a rock band context, the group she assembled wasn't really "her band" in the traditional rock sense. (This is yet another parallel with DiFranco and Williams, who have used rotating casts of session musicians in their later albums and tours.) Ganci moved to New York City shortly after the release of Sung To, a move that turned out, as it does for many Connecticut musicians, to be ill-starred. "I didn't have a focused idea of what I wanted to do," says Ganci. "I knew that what I was doing here, I could do there, but it would be more challenging, and that would help me grow. I didn't expect to not have any time to play music because I was working so much just to pay my bills." Forced to sacrifice her artistic career in order to meet the high cost of living, Ganci moved back to Connecticut in 2010. "It just became hard for me to rationalize living there. It's a lot to ask [friends] to pay a $15 cover and $10 a beer when I'm playing a 30 minute set," Ganci says. It's not a surprising experience, given that even New York luminaries like punk poetess Patti Smith seem to think that the City is no longer a place for artists. ("New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling," Smith said in a conversation with Jonathan Lethem last May. "So my advice is: Find a new city.")
For most of 2011, Ganci has been taking a new tack by playing duo gigs with guitarist Dennis Fancher. Fancher is a consummate sideman, playing in well-known local groups like the Matt Zeiner Band, Spookie Daly Pride, and Bipolar Jukebox (who we interviewed recently here). Ganci mentions that the duo gigs have gotten the wheels turning in her head about what she'd like her next recording to sound like. "My plan as of yet is to do something a lot more bare-bones than my last album," she says. "Then again, that was the plan with the last album too, and it became this big beast. So we'll see where it goes." Ganci tells us that this Saturday's set with Fancher at Mondo will be a mix of covers & originals.