Sometimes the most surprising discoveries are completely accidental. I had big plans for the Wednesday that I happened to drop in unannounced to my favorite local Indianapolis haunt, the Melody Inn.
We are blessed with some incredible talent in Indianapolis, and after only one song I was rescheduling my evening plans to fully engross myself in a set by chanteuse Melissa Sandulo. I purchased her EP’s on the spot, and couldn’t wait for a chance to sit down with her and talk music, life, and hope for the future.
FMF: What informed your musical sensibilities and styles before becoming a singer?
Melissa: I grew up in the church. So much of my musical leanings were rooted in old hymns and spirituals. I still really love the hymns of the 19th century, especially. And, if you listen, you can hear a little of that gospel fire in some of my tunes.
FMF: You are classically trained. Tell us about your training?
Melissa: I had a voice teacher encourage me to continue to pursue classical training through college, despite the fact that I wanted to deviate more into the pop/soul genre. She said, “approach pop like an opera singer.” I thought that sounded ridiculous, but I really trusted her. As I moved into higher education, I learned that a classical technique, even in pop, would preserve my voice for years to come. Knowing and understanding the mechanics of voice has helped me to still sound as healthy and strong at 38 as I did in my early 20s.
FMF: Who/what are some of your biggest non-musical inspirations and how do you creatively translate those influences into your own music style?
Melissa: My most recent project was influenced largely by my journey through mental illness and the political/religious landscape of our time. Any time we write, we tell a story in our own words. As I put pen to paper, I often have a picture, in my mind, of a screenplay of sorts. Sometimes, as the melody comes to mind, I see dancers in a ballet, or I see a dance riot (I’ve never been a very good dancer, so perhaps that’s why my mind goes
FMF: What’s your social media presence like? How much do you run it and how much does someone else?
Melissa: Right now, I have just under 1,000 Facebook followers. Just under 600 Instagram followers. And less than 100 Twitter followers. I manage all of my social media on my own. Twitter has been the most difficult platform for me to build. But I’ve seen steady growth on Instagram over the past couple of months. Obviously, I’d really like to see this grow.
FMF: How do you expand your musical horizons and keep yourself on your toes?
FMF: What is your preparation process like for each set? How much do you plan out ahead of time and how much do you just go with your instincts
FMF: You have two albums out of all original music. What was the process of recording and planning for each album like?
Melissa: Poets & Misfits–Much of the writing of this project was happening at a time when I was figuring out who I actually was as opposed to who I thought I was supposed to be. I was sorting through a major deconstruction of faith and redefining my belief system. I was in and out of open mics all the time, testing out new material, and meeting some of the loveliest bohemians and gorgeous weirdos I’d ever had the pleasure to know. Hence the title: Poets and Misfits. I contacted my good friend Steven and told him, “I think I might have something good here.” So he and I plotted out a production schedule and I got to work building a Kickstarter to fund the project. With only 3 days to go, we hit the $10k goal. It was a really exciting, validating moment…knowing that people believed in what I was working toward. I released the album in September of 2017. It had been about 13 years since I had been involved in
Eating Shadows–This project was rooted in my journey through mental illness and the political landscape of our time. The tune “Shadows” is one of two songs on the EP that contain verbatim verbiage from conversations I had with my husband when I was very very ill and fighting not to give up. One might guess that the project would be a bit of a downer, but it’s really not at all. It’s drenched in hope, romance, humor, and rebellion. And releasing it felt like a monumental victory…One, because it meant I survived the absolute worst time in my life and made something beautiful out of it…Two, because it was funded by my pay from shows and sales of the other album. I had never experienced the joy of a project being “self-funded”.
FMF: What songs/tracks are you most proud of?
Melissa: I’m proud of all of it in different ways. My
My favorite track from Eating Shadows is Ghost. We almost cut that song. I wasn’t happy with it melodically, and I wasn’t crazy about the chord progression I’d assigned to it. But I loved the lyrics. So I revisited the experiences that led to the writing. I got a little righteously pissed off and felt a bit flirty and menacing. I sat down at the piano and hammered out a brand new song (preserving every lyric) in about an hour. I also absolutely love the vocal breakdown leading into the bridge. I think there are about 12 tracks of spooky vocals happening there. It was so so fun to record all those parts.
FMF: Any personal experiences behind your favorite song?
Melissa: Interestingly enough, both of my
Ghost is about another boy who was a little more skilled in gaslighting. There was sexual abuse in that relationship too. I was very kind and devoted to him. And he often calmly told me he didn’t think he’d ever love me, but he didn’t want to break up. Maybe if I would allow him more access to my body…
It’s kind of incredible how experiences from so long ago can still inform our worldview. Writing it down and making something beautiful out of it is incredibly cathartic.
FMF: You mentioned taking a break to start a family, and that recently you had come back better than ever as a singer/songwriter. Tell us a little about your decisions, and what is next for you now that your children are in school?
Melissa: I just think that through the years of being a full-time stay-at-home mom, way more self-discovery was taking place than what I realized. Eventually, the itch got to be too much to ignore, and I had to get back to the business of writing. I don’t really know what’s next. I’m just going to keep working and see what happens.
FMF: What are your most current goals for your singing career?
I would love more steady work. I’m averaging 1-2 gigs a week, and I’d really like to grow that to at least 3-4. I love playing solo shows, but getting my band out there more would be such a bonus. They are incredibly talented guys and we don’t get to play together as much as I’d like. Not to mention, they’re super fun to hang out with. I’m working toward more “short runs” out of state as well. Expanding my horizons.
FMF: Tell us about some of your upcoming future projects?
Melissa: I’m back to work, writing the next album. My hope is to be ready to release it by September. There’s a lot to be done between now and then!
FMF: Any tours/ upcoming events we should be aware of?
Melissa: I’m really excited about the next show with my band, “Melissa and the Neighbor Kids”. We’ll be at Union 50 on January 18th. Otherwise, you can follow me on social media and find me popping around Indianapolis
FMF: What is your favorite venue to play?
Melissa: That’s a tough one to answer! I really enjoy all of the places I play. I think if I HAD to pick favorites, they would be the HiFi as a full band (just a super cool atmosphere and experience. Good energy with the crowds) and Union 50 as a solo artist (awesome sound system and stage, great staff, delicious food and phenomenal martinis).
FMF: Anything you would like to add Melissa?
Melissa: Being real is vitally important to me. I want people to feel like we’re just hanging out together when they come to my shows…like we’re all doing life together for a minute. I think we forget to really connect and engage far too often. So I do my best to provide an atmosphere that allows for connection and engagement.
Listen to Melissa Sandulo below: