Music with a mission

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Just in time for her passion project this weekend, Ladyfest, Rose Guerin is releasing a new single, “Stars,” featuring Willy Mason. The music video is eerie and beautiful at the same time, with Guerin floating magically in a boat under the stars. (You can watch the video yourself at bit.ly/starsguerin) The Times caught up with the singer/songwriter last week, while she was busy, along with Ladyfest co-founder Kelly Feirtag, with the details of the upcoming Oak Bluffs event. First off, Guerin wanted to talk about Ladyfest.

Tell us about how important Ladyfest is to you.

Guerin: Ladyfest … I could talk about Ladyfest for days, and I do, just ask anyone who sits next to me for a few minutes. Kelly Feirtag moved back to M.V. to manage the Ritz in 2017 when I was still bartending there, as well as playing Saturday nights, which I still do, and we just had this idea to have a night to celebrate all the incredible female talent on M.V. and to raise some money for Connect to End Violence, and Larkin [Stallings, co-owner of the Ritz with his wife Jackie] was super into it. We went to drop off our little check at their office afterward, and we realized how much our donation meant to them. Services like Connect have some federal funding that is earmarked for particular things, but private donations like ours go to help out local folks in ways that make us incredibly proud to raise money for something that really matters in our community.

That first visit to the office at Connect changed both of mine and Kelly’s lives, and put a fire in our bellies, because we realized we really could make a difference. This is our sixth year of Ladyfest, now a 501(c)(3) in its own right, which this year boasts closing the entirety of Circuit Ave., three stages with almost 30 female-fueled performances, local vendors lining the street, community speakers, alongside tables with information about important social issues, and a ton of fun entering the off-season. Our donations to Connect have increased by 1,000 percent as of last year, with our incredible sponsors’ help, and it feels like maybe we are onto something. I’m so excited for this year’s festival, and overwhelmed with gratitude for our sponsors, performers, volunteers, vendors, and the ever-supportive town of Oak Bluffs for recognizing what we are trying to do and letting us grow.

What is the new single, “Stars,” all about? 

Guerin: I wrote “Stars” some time ago. It’s about navigating the heartbreak of loving someone ruled by addiction, and trying to find something to hold on to when it feels like you’ve lost everything. I always find my solace — as well as my inspiration — in the beauty of the world that we live in. The sea and the sky, the earth, the trees … that’s my church, my religion.

How did you come to write this one?

Guerin: I tend to write when I feel powerless, because music is the one thing that I can always depend on. People and partners come and go, but music is within us.

What does the record mean to you, and how did you get Willy to be part of it? 

Guerin: Well, it was a song that I had put away shortly after writing, and hadn’t performed it much at all. It just felt so heavy and difficult, until I was recording the album, and my producer Justin Craig got his ears on it. Justin has this incredible ability to recognize the power in the bones of a song, and find a way to flesh it out into something that lives and breathes. We were doing a session in West Tisbury in 2019, and Justin had come up from Brooklyn and the rest of my musical gang flew in from Kentucky, and my friends here were excited that I was working on something. Josh [Campbell], Evan [Dando], and Willy brought over some equipment to help us out in our little makeshift studio, and Sabrina [Luening] came over to sing on her favorite song, “Barmaid.” We were getting such good stuff with Robby Cosenza on the drums and Duane Lundy helping out with production and engineering, and all the fantastic Island energy around us, eating Everett’s food from the Fish House every day. Willy was doing a guitar part on another song called “Scar,” and Justin asked him if he’d try singing a few things, and we got these great takes on a couple of tracks. No matter what anyone says about our Island home, it’s undeniable that we live in a hotbed of collaborative, creative energy.

How about the video for “Stars”?

Guerin: Ha! Videos are so weird. Here’s the thing … We live in a world where visual stimulation has become so deeply ingrained in the musical process. When my national band, Vandaveer, was in full swing on the indie-rock circuit, touring and putting out records every few years, we did a bunch of big-budget music videos with some incredible filmmakers, including Jared Varava and Pierre Dejon. Obviously, being mostly Island-centric these days and putting out my own record, I don’t have much of a budget to make anything like that, but there’s a lot you can do with a few friends and an iPhone. So someone had an idea, and we just went with it, just using what we could find, and not taking ourselves too seriously. In my opinion, it’s better to just keep trying things and hoping that folks take it for what it is, just a bit of art to be shared.

What’s your process for songwriting?

Guerin: Well, I’m not sure I have a great answer to this question. What I can say is that I find music in the fabric of everything that surrounds me. It feels almost like if you let yourself open to the creative spirit of the world spinning by, you can catch the sparks of energy that are right in front of you, and let yourself become a vessel or a conduit of some sort.

When does the album release; what individual songs have already been released?

Guerin: My record will be released on Oct. 28. We’ve been putting out songs all summer, starting with the first three singles, “Awakening” in June, “Barmaid” in July, and “Mess” in August. “Stars” is the last single, and comes out this weekend on Oct. 7. The video will pop up on YouTube on Wednesday, Oct. 5.

Honestly, I don’t know what else to do with my music but just put it out there on streaming platforms and move on. I just want to make more. We have also ordered some very pretty vinyl, but the turnaround is about eight months, so let’s talk about that next year!