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Tribute to the Carpenters

 

Jillian Rhys McCoy

Jillian Rhys McCoy / Photo by Richard Hoynes

By PAUL BOOTH

Jillian Rhys McCoy is a locally grown musical talent who’s flashed her powerful vocals all over the eastern seaboard and this Friday, May 30 brings them to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on the Asbury Park boardwalk in tribute to the Carpenters, the pop sibling-duo that consistently topped the music charts in the 70’s.

McCoy, an Oceanport native, won’t be taking the stage alone. She has an eight piece band behind her for support and two special guests in tow.

McCoy, who cut her teeth as the lead singer of The Philadelphia Fun Authority and more recently has worked with Bob Bandiera (known up and down the Jersey Shore for work with his own band as well as lead guitar for Southside Jonny and the Asbury Jukes and musical direction for Jon Bon Jovi and the Kings of Suburbia), took some time out of her practice schedule recently to weigh in on the Carpenters, Asbury Park and working with industry legends.

Q: For those unfamiliar with Carpenters can you give us a feel for their style?
A: The Carpenters sound was unlike any other. Some may just call it Pop, but that is such an understatement. Richard’s arrangements were incredible. The lush orchestration and stacked vocal harmonies were Karen and Richard’s trademark. Karen’s alto voice was so angelic, but had the power to take your emotions around in all directions. Their music was catchy, but sometimes, heartbreaking.

Q: You’re a mere 32, born well after the Carpenters last hit, what was your draw to their music?
A: As an interesting side note I am actually the same as Karen [Carpenter] was when she passed away. As a kid I listened to the Carpenters at a very young age, due to the influence of my aunts and uncles. I knew all of their hits. I always had a deep voice. It was comfortable for me to sing in Karen’s range, and hit those incredible low notes (one of Karen’s signatures). I sang along so often that I started picking up the way she pronounced certain vowels, where her voice would break…little things like that. I consider the music something that I studied.

Q: In Carpenters world, for every Karen there has to be a Richard. Who is your Richard for this show?
A: You know, that’s hard to say…Richard sang and played piano. Arne Wendt and Dave Biglin are playing all the beautiful strings and piano parts, as well as the Wurlitzer and Rhodes parts. But, John Merjave is singing all Richard’s lead and back-up vocals, and playing guitar. Richard was also their musical director. He knew Karen’s talent and how to get the best out of it. So offstage, I would have to say that Ron Haney [bass player], is my Richard. I started working with Ron in 2007 on an original, retro inspired project. Since then, we have written countless songs together. He is multi-talented, and has taught and inspired me over the years. I asked Ron if he was interested in helping me with this Carpenters show, and when he said yes, I hit the ground running.
The Carpenters were big fans of other bands such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys (my two favorites as well). In fact, they often covered the songs of other artists. They released an album in 1973 titled Then and Now, which included covers of songs like “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons and “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys. We are mainly going to stick to Carpenters hits, but we’ll throw in a few songs from their favorite artists that they covered too. It’ll be fun.

Q: You have nice sized band behind you for this show. How will that influence the style of the performance?
A: Yes, we are 9 pieces total. Before I hired the band, I had to pick the songs I wanted on the set list. Once I had the list, I went through every song and wrote down each instrument I heard. I was in awe! There are strings, piano, Wurli, Rhodes, bass, pedal steel, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bassoon…The list goes on and on. I knew that I couldn’t have an orchestra, so I just called up the most talented musicians I knew. I couldn’t put on this show without each and every player in this band. They all bring something so huge to this project. I mean, John Martin is playing 6 or 7 different horns! That’s amazing! I feel incredibly blessed that they chose to work with me on this.

Q: Where else have you played in Asbury Park? How do you see its role in the local music scene developing?
A: I have played at the Wonder Bar, The Saint, and the legendary Stone Pony. The Jersey rock and roll vibe lingers in the air down there. Asbury Park is iconic. It was the place to be, and I believe that it is becoming that again. Aside from the amazing restaurants, brand new shops, and new real estate, it’s a town that is not lacking live music venues. You can hear music at the Paramount, Convention Hall, the Berkeley, Stone Pony, The Supper Club, The Asbury Grill, Watermark… Almost anywhere they sell food or cocktails. It also doesn’t hurt to be running parallel to the Atlantic. I moved to New York City and the outer boroughs for 3 years to pursue my music career. I realized soon after I came back home that what I was looking for was in my own backyard. I love NY, and I still go in to work and enjoy the shows, sites, and events, but I don’t know how I stayed away from the ocean for so long. Haha We have quite a music scene around here, and more talent than we know what to do with. It is wonderful.

Q: You’ve worked alongside some pretty influential musicians – Justin Timberlake, Bon Jovi, Ben. E. King, Southside Johnny. What are some lessons you’ve taken from those experiences that you’ve applied to your career?
A: Hmm..Well, after flying to LA to meet Justin Timberlake, Neil Portnow and Ken Erlich for the first time, I learned to always pack a couple outfits in my carry-on luggage, because there’s always that chance the airline will lose your bags. That was not fun.
There was also the time that I was singing backup vocals for Darlene Love. Now, one can only assume that if you are singing backup, you wear black, right? So, at sound check one of the other girls asks Darlene “What do you want us to wear?” She replies, “Something colorful…Anything but black.” Well, that’s all I brought! It’s an hour before showtime and Reagan Richards and I jump in the car to find something to wear. Forget dinner…we went to a local clothing store in Asbury called Fetish, tore the place apart, and made it back in time to change into our new outfits. So, I guess the moral of that story was “don’t assume.” That show, by the way, was such a great experience for me. I am a huge fan of the Girl Group Era. I got to sing timeless numbers like “He’s A Rebel” and “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry” by the Crystals. Ugh, it was awesome. I obsessed over those songs as a little girl. Again, I am too young to have listened to this music when it came out, but music has no expiration date. Good music is good music.

Get a peek at Jillian Rhys McCoy onstage during a previous concert appearance below.

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