ARCHIVE: The Popstar at the Next Desk

CaraSalimando(YvonneMoss)

Cara chameleon: Little Silver singer-songwriter and newly signed recording artist Cara Salimando will be stepping up her visibility in the weeks to come. (Photo by Yvonne Moss)

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit June 18, 2009)

When the fourth annual Wave Gathering Emerging Music Festival commandeers the bars, bistros, boardwalks and bowling alleys of Asbury Park this weekend, it’ll be a well-oiled juggernaut that showcases more than 175 New Jersey musical acts within some 50 separate events at 25 distinct venues — a roaring rip-curl of numbers in which a softly subtle solo performer can run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle.

At just four-feet-eleven from the ground and 17 years of age, Cara Salimando doesn’t seem engineered to make a huge splash in the Wave pool. But in a three-day event that’s packed with some fairly formidable talents (Val EmmichJoe HarvardAndrew HoltzQuincy MumfordMatt O’ReeJillian RhysThe Wag,Laura WarshauerRock Wilk and scads of others) the native daughter of Little Silver is poised to make some noise — not the least of which is due to the fact that she’s just entered into a recording deal with the big-league Universal Motown Records group.

To catch a set by Cara is to take in a young singer whose focus remains the song and not the forced sizzle. Almost hidden behind her keyboard and mic, eyes watching hands and hands pounding out wintry chords that complement her romantic lyrics, she sings her original compositions in an earnest, unaffected voice whose moments of fragility and vulnerability belie the fact that this performer is ready. She can do this.

Having just finished her junior year at Red Bank Regional High School, Cara Salimando caps off a year in which she’s played the likes of the Stone Pony and theBitter End, with a heightened set of summer exposures that include two solo sets during the 2009 Gathering — a Friday night perch at Clark Mitchell’s seriously musical Twisted Tree Cafe, and a Sunday afternoon spot at Jeffrey Haveson’s ever-quirky Restaurant Plan B.

Red Bank oRBit spoke to this personification of the phrase Emerging Artist, to find out more about her exciting year ahead — and to say “we knew her when.” Read on.

CaraSalimando(AllieLyons)

Gathering momentum: Cara Salimando plays two sets in this weekend’s Wave Gathering schedule; Friday at Twisted Tree Cafe and Sunday at Restaurant Plan B. (Photo by Allie Lyons)

RED BANK ORBIT: So I should mention that you go to high school with my daughter…

CARA SALIMANDO: She sits right next to me in algebra class! She’s nice.

How weird is it to still be going to high school and get signed to a major record label? Maybe it’s not like it was in the days when they would send limos and subsidize your tours, but it’s surely a problem that a lot of people would die to have.

It was never my goal to get signed — I’m definitely not in it for the money. I think that hinders a lot of people. But I’m in a position right now where there are people who believe in me a lot, and I am humbled ridiculously!

And it all came about how? From working all the do-it-yourself angles; sending out demos, putting tracks up on MySpace?

No, actually the way it happened was completely random — it had absolutely nothing to do with demos or MySpace. I played a show at a place called Fins — just the most random gig I have ever played. It’s a place that’s not even equipped to be a venue; you play in the back, with all these people around you eating tacos!

A kid in one of the other bands knew this guy — an A&R guy who lived nearby and who supposedly signed Fall Out Boy — and he told him that he should come over and see me play.

After the show I saw the guy, whose name is Roy, talking to my parents outside, telling them that he worked with Rihanna. My mom was like, yeah, right; we’ve heard that one before. But it turned out that he had a lot of experience in the business, and after that show things really started to fall into place.

What happens now? What’s the next step?

I’ve been recording, working with the same producer, Jon Liedersdorff — you probably know him from his work with Quincy, and from Lakehouse Music. Universal liked the producer so much they said, let’s keep things the way they are.

That’s good because 17-year-old girls tend to get scooped up by the industry and turned into something that they’re not. But when it’s something that you love, you need to stick to what’s important to you.

So who or what was it that really set your mind on making music a serious pursuit — a particular singer, a song?

I remember when I was 8 or 9, listening to Fiona Apple for the first time. Her lyrics read like poetry; her music has played such a role in my life. I always want to be perceived as she is — someone who’s taken seriously as a songwriter and a musician. I don’t have an extremely conventional voice and style.

Did you pick up on playing music when you were a little kid?

There’s video of me banging on a piano as early as 3 years old, while my brother bashes me on the head repeatedly with a teddy bear!

And did your brother show some musical aptitude also — as a drummer; a critic?

No, he’s a great brother who just had a lot of extra energy. I’m actually the only musical person in my entire family. The only reason we had a piano in the house was because a friend was moving and didn’t want to take it with them, so they gave it to my parents.

Did you take piano lessons? And what about songwriting? That’s something they can’t necessarily teach you — how old were you when you wrote your first song, and do you still behind your work to this day?

I had formal piano lessons when I was 7, but the teachers didn’t know what to do with me — I’m pretty right-brained. I had one really great teacher when I was 14, so I tell everybody I started then!

I wrote my first song when I was 10 — but I’m definitely embarrassed by it now!

It seems that most singer-songwriters in your peer group just show up at a gig with a guitar and a couple of accessories — whereas you have to lug around a big keyboard with all these cables and things. What do you play at your gigs?

I play a Roland, SX-700 — something like that. It’s got fully weighted keys, and it’s really heavy. My dad is kind of my roadie; he sets up for me. But it’s much more convenient if the place where I’m playing has a piano.

And what’s your favorite place to play?

The Bitter End, in New York City. It has an amazing sound system — but it was not a good experience to play there at first. The doorman was really discriminatory; you get flak for being a young musician, you have to get up there on stage and prove yourself. Until you do, you get treated pretty badly.

So where do you see yourself about a year from now? You’ve still got one more year of high school — how do you plan to reconcile that against your career plans?

Everything’s pretty up in the air right now — I’m just hoping to get the album done soon. And we’ll see about school — I mean, I’m not going to be dropping out; I’ll finish up somehow. But I have this opportunity right now, so we’ll just have to see where it goes in the next year.

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