Schooled on the Street

Lyric-Band-WALTONLyric owes a lot of her current success to her days busking on the streets of Asheville. If she could, she’d still be doing it.

“Busking has been a great experience for me,” the 26-year-old soul singer says. “There’s nowhere else that you could play and get as diverse of a crowd as we have on the streets.” But Lyric’s schedule is now too full with other shows to allow for much busking.

She is a third-generation Ashevillean. Her grandfather was nicknamed “Guitar Shorty,” well known in this area as “a badass guitarist,” she claims. Lyric came up through the Asheville City Schools, discovered that she was good at singing, and also that she liked it. Music became, like sports, an important outlet.

“I remember finding my voice in middle school with the chorus teacher, Mrs. Bennett,” she says. “She was constantly pushing us to expand our range, and she was also willing to give a solo to people that weren’t afraid to step up to the challenge. She always made me feel comfortable with my singing voice, and helped me to realize that everyone’s is different…but not necessarily better.”

Lyric continued singing in the chorus and in musical productions at Asheville High, and began to teach herself guitar, while also running track and playing basketball. She never imagined singing as a career until Dave Matthews — not the jam-band impresario, but her father and her bassist — suggested they take their act to the streets, literally. “Busking kept me on my toes,” she says. She considers it a form of practice, in front of “sometimes unexpectedly huge crowds” — who offer support and advice.

“We have definitely gotten great feedback playing on the streets, and have also heard some criticisms. They’ll ask you about your band, your original material, and whatever it is that they may want to know. That’s how Lizz Wright first heard us.” The chart-topping jazz singer, based in Brevard, was so impressed that she invited Lyric’s band to open a show for her and multiple Grammy winner India.Arie in Atlanta.

People’s reactions to her voice encouraged Lyric, and a few criticisms of her guitar playing made her work that much harder on those skills. “Now I wish my father had made me take guitar lessons and study it,” she says, smiling. “I would have been further along. But he says he knew I’d get ‘bit,’ so he just let me go at my own pace.” Lyric reveals that her dad played at the very first Bele Chere festival in Asheville, in 1979.

Matthews, it turns out, remains Lyric’s #1 musical influence; she is still in awe of his bass groove. “When I hear him sing, I don’t know, it just, like, awakens something in me,” she says. “But his bass playing is just spectacular.

“I can get down with some funk, some George Clinton, Bootsy Collins — that’s what I grew up on. My dad loved those guys.”

Perhaps hearing her dad pump out gospel grooves in church for seven years also influenced Lyric to lean toward artists who have a spiritual or deeper message in their music — including Wright and Erykah Badu. She also loves the “fullness” of Tracy Chapman’s acoustic-rock sound. “For me, it’s just the place that I write from. I don’t want to ever become the artist that puts music out just to say that we put an album out.

“I want my music to have substance, and I always write from a place of experience, from a place of my life, my struggles, and my soul. I want people to be able to feel it, and I want it to be able to help people. I want it to help me, too. I want it to be something substantial that people will want to continue to listen to years from now. I know that church had an impact on my life, but my music’s not gospel, it’s not religious; it’s just the place that I’m at now.”

On the pop side, she’s recently been enjoying the music of Janelle Monáe. “Of course, Michael Jackson is an influence,” she says. I love John Mayer’s songwriting and guitar playing — his live performance is great.”

Lyric released the album The Proxy in 2011. She is writing new songs for a spring 2015 release: “I’m just trying to get in that creative place.”

For a preview, check out the updated version of Lyric’s “Camera Shy” at lyricfans.com, with drummer Mike Berlin and keyboardist George Scott on board, alongside Matthews on bass and longtime percussionist Derrick Graves. Even Lyric herself is impressed with the radio-ready pop-funk vibe.

“Bass, drums, guitar, percussion and keyboards, the five-piece,” she says. “We took that song and re-did it with everybody, and it totally shows my growth and progression as a musician and singer.”

With her group recently named #1 Soul Band in Western North Carolina by Mountain Xpress readers, Lyric looks forward to doing more regional touring and festivals in the next year, bringing in guest rapper Dominion for bigger shows.

“It’s a goal of mine to do music full time, and I kind of am,” she says. “I’ve cut back on my job to part time, and I tried to quit, but they were like, ‘No, no, we love you.'”

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