Asheville singer/songwriter Chelsea Lynn La Bate performs under the name Ten Cent Poetry. She’s an artist and that’s her prerogative, to call herself anything she wishes.
Take a stroll, however, through the debut Ten Cent Poetry album Picking Through the Pawn Shop. Every lyric is deeply–hued poetry of the most introspective sort – and it all leads directly to no one but Chelsea Lynn La Bate.
For someone who feels compelled to use a pseudonym, her songs are nakedly, candidly honest.
A Florida native, La Bate was trained as a visual artist, but after college spent four years in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, honing her writing and performance skills on those fertile anti–folk stages.
Her smoky voice is challenging and compelling, in the childlike/wise manner of Regina Spektor, or Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches.
This week’s performance at the Sentient Bean will feature La Bate, on guitar and vox, accompanied by cellist Melissa Hyman.
We spoke to La Bate this week – and here are a few things we learned about this complex and creative musician.
1. The lyrics always come first.
“I always did writing, but I was never one of those poets who read in front of people. I didn’t go to poetry slams. It was kind of a closeted thing. In high school, I had excellent English teachers and we studied poetry a lot. But who says ‘I’m going to be a poet’? It’s just something you do.”
2. The visual thing just wasn’t enough.
“I was hitting this wall in my painting. I felt like I wanted to say so much, and be so much more articulate than this image was really serving me. I had considered putting text in the imagery. And I’d have these gallery shows – I never knew who actually saw the paintings. There was kind of a missing link in the communication. There wasn’t enough of a dialogue for me.”
3. The name actually means something.
“When I was in New York, my musicianship was not phenomenal – I have a gift for melody and picking things out, but I was never a virtuoso on the guitar. It was the lyrics that the other people in the songwriting community would take note of. We’d make these little quarter–page flyers for our shows, and on the back I would hand–write a poem. People were excited to take the flyers because they knew they would get a new piece. The flyers were ten cent poetry – it was 10 cents per copy at the copy center, and you’d cut ‘em into four parts.”
4. Recording is a lot like painting.
“I wrote the string parts on a little kids’ keyboard, and then we’d record them in the studio – it would be this cheesy electronic–keyboard violin. And all the musicians were super–talented, so I’d just give the violinists a copy of the song, and they’d come in and play it. Slowly we’d replace all the electronic layers with the actual instrumentation. It was really cool, ‘cause I didn’t go to music school and here I am trying to do this huge project – and I don’t speak the language! I don’t know notes, but I can hear it and I can communicate it.”
5. The future’s so bright ...
“I want to make a living at it. And I am – I’ve been doing it full–time since September. Well, I did kind of do that before, but I was living out of my car. It was for eight or nine months a couple years ago, when I was really just starting out and leaving New York City. I want to make the live show bigger and better. On the road, it’s usually just me and Melissa, but at home in Asheville we’ll have a six–piece. So it’s a full string section. We’re incorporating local fashion designers, wearing their clothing, and for a big upcoming show we’re doing projections of local artists’ work. It’s a miniature circus.”
6. Music is all there is.
“At one point, I was like ‘You know, I can’t do all of this well.’ And at least with music, if I’m pushing hard, and I’m writing fresh material and I’m booking shows, at least there’s some income. Whereas with the drawing and the painting, people don’t have a need for it right now. I see my painter friends, and they’re having a hard time selling paintings. I feel like the music serves in a much better way. It serves me a lot.”
7. It’s a reciprocal thing.
“From the beginning, I was just having so much fun. I had such a high regard for people appreciating the work. It was like we were all sitting around and having this conversation based on the music, relating to one another. It just tickled me. It still does. It’s turning that process of observation, whether it’s on a microcosmic level or on a larger level, into songs. You know, ‘This is my life, this is the world.’ Bringing that to people.”
Ten Cent Poetry
Where: Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
When: At 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 21
Artist’s website: chelsealynnlabate.com