We were fortunate to catch up with the tremendously talented, heart-stirring singer and songwriter from North Carolina, Abigail Dowd, who will be performing in Boulder and Denver next week.
Boulder Source: Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in North Carolina. Did you ever live in Colorado?
I was raised in the North Carolina Sandhills, but my step-mom moved out to Colorado when I was 14 so I spent a lot of time in and around Boulder. One of my first jobs was at a daycare in Niwot for the summer when I was 16. I remember being in Boulder when Jerry Garcia died, and the entire city was in mourning. The power of Jerry Garcia and his music made a real impression on me. I still have the newspaper articles about the vigil in Boulder.
Boulder Source: It sounds like you are from a musical family. Can you tell me about it and what it was like?
Both of my parents are musical, my Dad played the piano and my mom sings and plays guitar. There was always a guitar waiting to be played and lots of music in the house. My great-grandfather owned a music store where I spent time as a kid, and it was a family requirement to play an instrument or to sing.
Boulder Source: When did you start playing music?
I grew up singing, and taught myself to play the guitar when I was 14.
Boulder Source: What was it like to study classical guitar with Danny Infantino? Can you tell me about him?
Danny is had a successful career performing before he became a professor of classical guitar. I started studying with him toward the end of college and continued during a period of my life when I was engaged in other professional pursuits: running an art school and as serving on the Town Council and Planning Board. Studying with Danny was my creative outlet and, looking back, it was a gift that my passion for guitar was able to be just that. There were no deadlines or paychecks, just pure dedication to learning each piece. I’ve carried a lot of that — proper fingering, maximizing my energy on the fretboard, unique chord progressions — over to my own songwriting.
Boulder Source: What made you move to Italy? Do you have an adventurous streak? How long did you live there and where in Italy? Did you study while you were there?
I was in my early-mid twenties, running an art academy and serving on Town Council, pushing for more conservation, and it seemed like I all I did was fight. I didn’t know who I was. So I got rid of everything, packed a duffle bag and my great-grandfather’s guitar and move to Florence for three months. I got a job running another classical art school, but quickly realized I was repeating myself, helping other artists pursue their artistic passions. I knew deep down that I wanted to put that dedication toward my own art.
Boulder Source: Why did you decide to move to Maine? What attracted you to the state? It seems like a dramatic change from Italy.
I had very fond memories of visits to Maine, and it happens to be where my father is buried. After returning to the U.S. from Italy, I knew I wanted to be somewhere I could start fresh. After being a public figure in my home town where everyone recognized me, I wanted to be far from North Carolina, and somewhere that treasures nature.
Boulder Source: How would you describe your music?
Being a songwriter, there’s definitely a focus on the story and lyrics of each song. Jason Duff’s bass and percussion add an edge to my classical guitar style that takes us somewhere beyond folk. Someone once described my vocals, which have something of a bluesy depth, as “at once strong and generous in its vulnerability.”
Boulder Source: When did you start composing your own music?
I started composing music in Maine. With it’s long winters and deep woods, it is a great place for writing and finding one’s voice. That’s where I began to focus on writing songs and transitioned back to the acoustic guitar.
Boulder Source: What inspires you?
Life, my experiences, and the people around me inspire my lyrics. Overall, nature and art inspire me, the goodness in people, a kind gesture, a great movie…or a long drive to Colorado.
Boulder Source: Who are your favorite artists?
I tend to find an artist and listen to their album over and over. Janis Ian’s “Beyond the Lines” has been one of my favorites since I was 15. I love Tift Merritt’s songwriting and her latest album is on repeat in my car. Janis Joplin has been a big influence. Laura Marling and Alela Diane are others.
Boulder Source: How did you end up returning to North Carolina from Maine?
I met my now-fiance, Jason Duff, on a plane when I was visiting North Carolina. We connected on the plane, but I never thought I would see him again. The title track of my album, “Don’t Wake Me,” is about meeting him. Soon after, he looked me up and found my music page. He’s an accomplished musician, too, who now plays bass guitar and percussion with me. I love that we get to be on this musical journey together. We recently got engaged and I’m excited to visit Colorado on my album tour and introduce him to my family here.
Boulder Source: What is the “Bleeding Pines of Turpentine”?
It’s a play written by my friend, Ray Owen, about the woman who saved what is now the oldest stand of virgin longleaf pines – which happens to be in my hometown. The longleaf forest once spanned 90 million acres along the southeast. The history behind the forest’s depletion is really a human story, a universal one of destroying what we value the most. He cast me as the lead actress and we were able to perform the play in Northern Ireland several years ago. We’ve just finished a film based on the play, which I narrate. Jason wrote the film score and our friend, photographer Brady Beck, filmed. It’s magical to use my voice and songwriting in a project that reflects my passion for the land in such an artistic, uplifting way.
Boulder Source: Can you tell me about the journey to releasing your debut album?
I was working full time as an executive director of a literary and conservation nonprofit, and realized that I hadn’t written a song since starting the job. So I resigned to focus solely on making an album. It was a year-long journey, and at times a very stressful. It was also a spiritual journey — something I wanted to do, but never had the nerve. The more I persisted, the more things fell into place, and I’ve found the other side to be magical.
Now I’m doing my own publicity and bookings, and have taken all those skills from my previous jobs and put them toward music.
Boulder Source: What are your plans for the future?
We are working on a second album and playing a lot of shows! I feel like I’ve already lived three lives in one. I can’t wait to see where else the road takes us.
See beautifully talented Abigail Dowd on stage in Colorado at:
Laughing Goat in Boulder on May 13
No Name Bar in Boulder on May 15
Herman’s Hideaway in Denver on May 17
Her website: http://www.abigaildowd.com/