NANCE Brody: I Just Want to Play and Sing

by Traci Nubalo

When I was active in the RL music business I used to vacation regularly in Jamaica. On one of my trips there a friend took me on a journey up into the beautiful Blue Mountains to visit some friends of his. Upon hearing that I was from the world of professional music, the twelve-year-old son of the friend was sweet enough to put on a little impromptu guitar/vocal concert for me.

What I saw and heard was completely astonishing. To begin with, he had only four strings on the guitar, not the standard six. It appeared to me from the strange fingerings he was using that the strings he did have on the instrument were tuned in some fashion differently than I had ever seen.

The voice - wow, that boy could sing! He sang with his whole body, and without doing the MTV moves that we all learn early in life. The song was blissfully happy and sounded unlike anything I had ever heard before. I found myself regretting that I had no tape recorder with me.

After treating me to several other tunes like the first, he put the guitar down and I sat to talk with him and his Mom. It turned out that Junior had almost no contact with popular music in his life! He didn’t watch television and listened to very little radio. The minister at their church had managed to dig up a used guitar for him, but was able to provide only a few strings. Since no one knew how to tune it, Junior had invented his own tuning scheme and his own method for playing. This accounted for his amazing, totally-unique sound. It dawned on me that what I had heard was music as created by a talented young performer who was totally untouched by the indoctrinating effects of musical culture and all of the good and the bad that comes as a result. The music was unique, the player was ecstatically happy and I was totally thrilled!*

Now, when I first heard the great NANCE Brody play here in Second Life, this memory of Junior resurfaced after laying silent for awhile in my mind. And of course, there were no “connection points” that would have caused me to relate the two of them - I thought that it was just a stray thought passing though. However, the image of Junior smiling while he played those four strings so dramatically, and the inner joy that arose in me that day all those years ago just wouldn’t go away.

As I got to know NANCE better and as The Word opened up to Second Life reality we decided to sit together for an interview. Turns out her story was so interesting that it took two such sessions for me to get the total account.

NANCE invited me to meet up with her in her brand new theater complex. Essentially, she’s put together a home for her musical craft, as well as a center from which she can perform any kind of event that she wishes.

We met in a bright, cheery second floor lounge with awesome views of the ocean. I was curious about how NANCE creates that unique sound of hers, so I jumped right in with a few tech questions.

Traci Nubalo: Nance, what got you into all of this? Were you a music lover growing up?

NANCE Brody: I was a music lover, but I wasn't into listening. I wanted to play from a very young age. I used one of those little kid brooms once and pretended I was playing guitar out in my back yard. So yes, I grew up listening to musicians.

TN: Like who?

NB: My family was musical so I learned by watching uncles, cousins, father, brothers and friends play. I grew up in a large family and entertainment was to sit around and jam. I was too young to jam but I watched them play piano, play fiddle, harmonicas and guitars.

TN: What styles would you hear at home?

NB: Mostly just country folk hillbilly stuff. Not really anything that I wanted to play myself. But after a while I did want to learn how to play and guitar was the thing I picked up and had access to because my father had an old guitar that I learned on. No one taught me how to play so I taught myself
by watching.

There was also radio and records that my family played, so I learned some Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Anne Murray, Cat Stevens and some campfire stuff before I started writing my own songs.

TN: Did you learn this all by ear?

NB: Yes. I wouldn’t know a note if I fell over it. It was more inspiration than education. I was not taught by them - just inspired to do it myself and it actually pushed me in the direction of getting my own sound.

So here we are given a picture of NANCE absorbing the music that she heard as a child. Like Junior, NANCE had no teacher aside from her own inner guidance. Somehow, though, she knew what she did and didn’t want to do with this new thing she was teaching herself.

When I first encountered her musically, I could tell that she was playing in a unique, original style. It was when I was pondering this different approach of hers that the memories of that little scene with Junior burst back into consciousness for me. And at first, I was confused. I mean, what the heck does a small, black boy in the Caribbean have to do with NANCE Brody? It wasn’t until this interview, however, that she “filled in the blanks” by explaining that her style is a product of being self-taught. It was then that the meaning and the connection between the two of them became clear to me.

Without the influence of things like a formal musical education, and acculturative means such as MTV and pop music radio, what would a young student use as a benchmark of success? Clearly, what remains is that he or she would play what made them feel good! And this might well account for the sheer joy that’s apparent in watching each of these unique artists perform.

TN: So what made you take the jump into actually playing publicly?

NB: I finally played the first time at a coffee house in 1990 after I started writing my own songs. I had never played before that in public.

TN: How did it go?

NB: The crowd loved my sweet butt. *laughs*

TN: So, did you have a sense of where you wanted your career to go back then?

NB: No, I was just singing. I’ve never wanted to be a star or go anywhere with music. I just want to sing and play. And then after shows people would come up to me and ask for my autograph and tell me stuff like, “You’re going to be famous someday.”

I did my own concerts. Rented halls and put on concerts but it was way too much work to do all the promo and singing and lugging, so I did a tour around to coffeehouses across Canada. Then I gave up music after I moved to British Columbia. I didn’t sing for 2 years.

Then one day I found a chat room in an online program called Paltalk and I heard someone reciting poetry. I thought, “Wow she sounds pretty good, pretty clear.” I had packed all my music equipment away and hadn't picked up my guitar in two years. I had pretty much given up on doing anything with it. I was just out of a bad relationship; I was unemployed and dealing with some crappy stuff. But I loved what she was doing online.

So I rummaged through my storage locker and dragged out all my equipment, blew the dust off of it and proceeded to figure out how I could play live over this crazy computer.

So that woman that had recited the poetry was the reason I am singing on SL today!

TN: How often did you play on Paltalk?

NB: OMG! For the first while I played every night. It got my spirit up again but my fingers were really sore! I played for a long while on there and did a few other programs too like Yahoo chat. I even did a few Skype nights.

TN: So at some point along comes Second Life.

NB: Yes a bunch of my musician buddies on Paltalk had already made the switch to SL. I knew SL was there but couldn't get on because my PC wasn't up to date enough. So I had to wait until I could afford to upgrade to get on SL.

TN: What were your first gigs here like?

NB: The gigs were fun. It was clumsy and just a hoot to actually be able to walk up to all my buddies from Paltalk and hug them and see them play and actually watch them walk up on the stage. And for me to walk up on stage and do my thing was just a dream come true, virtually. This is what I had wanted with my online performing but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be with an avatar.

One of the things that I love the most about NANCE’s shows is that she goes directly for the “fun factor”! Unlike many great artists who get self-serious, NANCE revels in the fact that her shows are just fun!

If you’ve seen her live, you know that she possesses one of the sexiest voices in the known universe, and she uses it to great effect in her shows. She’ll banter with the audience and is fond of engaging in close-to-X-rated conversations in the midst of a song. This has developed over time into a hilarious routine that her fans have dubbed “nancification”. They will offer up a “virgin” - a woman who has never been to a NANCE Brody show - and NANCE will explain that she wants to have a “private” conversation with the unsuspecting person, which takes place, of course, in front of the entire audience! Launching into one of her old favorites called “You Won’t Be Going Home Tonight” NANCE proceeds to verbally wheedle, cajole, tempt, implore, and seduce her. Most often the result is embarrassed silence from the “virgin” but I have also seen my share of resulting date requests and even a public marriage proposal! In any case, it’s a very funny (and a highly original) bit.

But there is also a very serious, highly-talented songwriter in NANCE, as well. Right after creating such raucous laughter, she will slow the tempo down and practically break your heart singing a soulful ballad. She’s a well-rounded talent who demonstrates a clear mastery of her craft and has an unusually well-developed sense of who her audience is and how to communicate with them most effectively. And, just like Junior, NANCE exudes a natural joyfulness when she performs that is impossible to ignore.

TN: Was your style as developed as it is now? Or did that evolve over time?

NB: It was developed, yes, but I would say it has become a lot more “free”. I feel I can relax with my music on SL for some reason. I‘m not sure what the reason is, but I like it. It’s like I have come home

TN: Feels like good memories.

NB: This place is full of magic. I love it. It’s like a fantasy world to me. You can be anything you want on here. Your imagination is the only thing that could possibly hold you back. I have the utmost respect for what the programmers have done so far. To be able to build such amazing things on here is just truly incredible.

TN: In what ways do you enjoy and make use of this magic?

NB: OMG! To begin with my music alone is brought to life here. I also love the wonderful outfits that people have made and the instrument that I play is really amazing. The stuff that I have built is a big wow to me.

TN: Tell me about your fans, NANCE.

NB: OMG! They are incredible! They love me to little tiny bits and if they could love me more those bits would be even smaller. I have some very devoted fans, and even though they might not be here for every show I know they are out there rooting for me. They are all over the world which is pretty cool. I think I have a fan in every state in the USA, maybe two in every state but then there's Japan and Holland and Africa and the list goes on! They make me smile from the inside out.

TN: Can you feel them when you are singing?

NB: OMG yes! I feel their energy coming at me all the time. It’s funny when I do a song and the room goes still - I can feel them all sitting in front of their computers and the quieter the room gets, the more I know they are listening and just closing their eyes and enjoying the song.

Even if there is only one fan in the room I feel them. I feel their pain. I feel their happiness and I can feel their laughter.

TN: NANCE, here's the perfect opportunity for you to tell your fans what you have always wanted to tell them.

NB: Here is what I would tell each and every fan out there: I love you all! Sometimes it might seem that I am too busy and you might think I am not thinking of you but you would be surprised at how many times I have sat down after one of my shows and thought of each and every one of you and some of the things you have done in my shows. I have a special place in my heart for my fans and they know who they are.

You are the reason I sing; you are the reason I continue to try to do better on SL; you are the reason I write and try to improve on my songs; you are the reason I get up some days, because I know I get to come and sing to you. I love you for listening and encouraging me and supporting me in whatever way you have been able to do.

From the smallest gesture to the largest it means the world to my heart and soul. I love the way you make me smile from the inside out.

* After I arrived home I sent Junior eight or ten sets of guitar strings and a very bright, colorful guitar strap to replace the piece of cord he had been using. His mom sent me thank you note saying that he loved the gifts.

^ Dallas and Piedras are both well-known Second Life performers


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