When Queers Collide: Margaret Cho Interviews Garrison Starr
BY Advocate.com Editors
April 20 2012 5:35 PM ET
For 15 years, Garrison Starr has been a lesbian singer/songwriter on the rise. From her first big hit, “Superhero” to her new album, Amateur (the album's release party is at Los Angeles' Hotel Café on May 18), Starr has never slowed down. While she’s on tour Europe and the U.S. this spring, she took time to chat with her biggest fan, the reigning queen of queer comedy, Margaret Cho. The comedian has several albums, DVDs, TV shows, and even a Broadway stint under her belt, but she took time from her recent comedy tour (she’s playing Birmingham, Alabama tonight) to turn the tables and chat up her friend.
Cho: How did you get into singing/songwriting?
Starr: Well, honestly, I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t singing, writing silly songs or lip synching to the Beatles on my Shaun Cassidy record player with a golf club sticking out of the dresser while the lights were blinking on the turntable. I sometimes used drumsticks on my mattress as well — just drumsticks and vocals. I was obsessed with music as a child. I guess I just never stopped doing it.
Who do you love to listen to?
I love Tom Petty, the Bangles, the Beatles, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bjork, Tears for Fears, Tracy Bonham, Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Pretenders, Heart, the Indigo Girls, and Kristen Hall, to name a few of the peeps I really grew up listening to. But I really just love great songs performed well. I love passion and conviction. There are so many songs I love by so many different artists. We’d be here all year, really.
Who are your inspirations?
The Bangles, Tom Petty, the Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter are probably the biggest inspirations for me. I’ve met them all and performed with them all, except for Tom Petty. I’m coming for you, dude.
What was the first song you wrote?
It was a little ditty I called “Don’t Throw Your Head.” Yeah, that’s all I got. I’m pretty sure it was a cappella.
What is your favorite song you wrote?
That’s a tough one. But “Other People’s Eyes” on the new record, Amateur, might be the fave for now.
What type of singing do you enjoy most? My fave is when you go real high in your range. Your voice is so beautiful and dynamic and really interesting because the tone is so different in each octave.
That’s so sweet, dude. I enjoy all singing. I enjoy it most when I’m doing it well, breathing right and using good form, so it feels very effortless. Because of the way I use my voice, sometimes it gets fatigued easily, so I really have to pay attention to things that can be tiresome to think about. Such is the life of a singer, I guess.
Do you do any type of ritual before performing?
You know, I don’t. I wish I did. I’m determined to get better at warming up before performances. That’s my goal for this record and the touring coming up.
I love when it’s just you and your guitar. There is a natural beauty and command in your presence. Do you prefer playing with a band or is being unplugged fun? To me your magnificence is magnified when it’s just you. I just want to focus on you.
Ha. I love focusing on me — you know that! But, I actually prefer playing with a band, probably because I do so much solo performing. I’m sure playing solo would be welcome more if I always played with the band. But I love the camaraderie of the band and it’s nice to have accompaniment, especially when you’ve made a record you love so much, like the one I’m promoting now. However, there are shows that are geared more toward solo stuff, and when people are listening, there is nothing like that connection with an audience.
Who have you enjoyed working with?
Glen Phillips. I love him. I wish we got to play together more often. Also, Don Heffington, Svend Lerche, Mary Chapin, Steve Earle, Kevin Devine, Nini Camps, you, the late and very talented Jay Bennett, Ken Coomer, Justin Glasco, Josh Dunahoo, Cary Beare, Josh Joplin, Jason Karaban, the Rescues, Adrianne Gonzales, Natalia Zukerman, David Berkeley, the ladies in Antigone Rising, Will Kimbrough, Kristen Hall, Neilson Hubbard. There are so many. I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch of people out. I’ve been very fortunate to get to work with some of the best people in the world and the most talented. I’ve learned so much from all my buddies out there.
What is your favorite color?
I don’t know if I have a favorite color. I really want one, but I can’t choose. I don’t have many favorite anythings. There are too many to choose from out in the world.
What instruments do you play? How did you learn?
I play a little bit of everything, but I play guitar the best. I am self-taught. I was at camp one summer, Camp Strong River, in Pinola, Mississippi, which I attended pretty much every summer there for awhile, and there was a counselor teaching guitar. I picked it up and kind of could just play, and I loved it. My parents bought me a $20 guitar, promising that if I stuck with it, which I most definitely did, they would buy me a better one. I was into so many things as a kid that they wanted to make sure they didn’t sink money into another passing hobby. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What advice do you give to other singer/songwriters who are starting out now?
Know your business. Ask as many questions as you need until you are satisfied that you understand everything. Don’t sign anything until you are fully aware of what you are signing. Don’t be afraid to be educated. Knowledge is power. I have learned all these lessons the hardest way. Still learning them, in fact.
Your fans are intensely loyal and incredibly loving. What has been your favorite fan experience?
The one that comes to mind just now is when I was touring behind my first record, Eighteen Over Me. I was playing at outdoor festival in Florida, and there were some handicapped folks in the front row, singing to “Superhero,” the single from the record. I remember tearing up during the chorus, so much so that I had a hard time singing. That was so touching to me. Very powerful. I’ve never forgotten that moment.