Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Voice behind MTV's Chunky Pam and “Jackie-of-All-Trades” songstress Meredith DiMenna steps out to reveal her personal side with Saint Bernadette.

Meredith DiMenna is a “Jackie-of-All-Trades,” running the Exotic Recordings record label and production company, working for the American Comedy Network creating song parodies and impressions of other musicians, and in what might be DiMenna's most popular performance to date, finding time to provide the voice of MTV and You Tube sensation Chunky Pam (NEWS| MYSPACE| WIKI). And now, DiMenna can be found making beautiful, loungey music that harkens back to Motown or early Atlantic releases with her band, Saint Bernadette. With a background like this, and a life spent in song, it is curious to note that the band’s debut In The Ballroom (October 2, 2007, Exotic Recordings) is the first band full-length that DiMenna has recorded. Basically, like the song says, DiMenna IS every woman.

Don't believe it? How about this: DiMenna recently became friendly with R&B legends Ashford and Simpson when the Grammy-nominated duo -- in what the Fanatic staff refers to as the coolest thing that ever happened, ever -- performed their signature song “Solid” live at DiMenna's wedding to Saint Bernadette guitarist Keith “Touch” Saunders. DiMenna later invited them to take part in a free concert series she was producing and during the set, Ashford and Simpson performed their hit “I'm Every Woman,” originally written for Chaka Khan. And who did they dedicate the tune to? That's right. Meredith DiMenna. The lesson? When Ashford and Simpson say that you're every woman -- you ARE!

For a woman that has her hands and voice in so many different pots, having a creative outlet like Saint Bernadette is just plain necessary. It’s the music that DiMenna writes when she’s just being herself -- personal and raw -- it's a far cry from her vocation as a professional voice. Though Saint Bernadette's music seems born of '40's girl singers and epic '70's rock, the husband and wife songwriting team of DiMenna and Saunders -- in another nod to their eclectic musical backgrounds -- actually met through a hip hop band. One of their first shows together was an opening slot for rap legends, Run-DMC. While Saunders played bass, DiMenna was pushed off the stage when her cameo singing performance seemed to be upstaging his own. A partnership was solidified.

Soon after, Saunders and DiMenna began writing songs together and later built a recording studio. While performing regularly under the name The Saucers, the pair started an independent label, Exotic Recordings, and released albums for a variety of groups including Nervous System, Jascha Ephraim, Planeside, Dogs of Winter and DiMenna's brother, J. DiMenna.

“We've always wanted to create something like Motown or early Atlantic Records,” says DiMenna. “Where everyone on the label collaborated and performed together.” Owing to this thinking, the burgeoning songwriting couple reached into their own talent pool of artists on Exotic's roster to begin forming the band that would become Saint Bernadette. Solo artist and multi-instrumentalist, Jar-e took up the bass, Rhodes and trombone. Joe Novelli of J. DiMenna's touring band came on with lap steel and trumpet, and finally, drummer Craig Sala was recruited from Planeside.

The new line-up went north to a small cabin in Vermont to learn and arrange the songs. Inspired and invigorated by the results, they began the search for the perfect recording location. “We knew we wanted to record it live. Because of the instrumentation, the dynamics depend on a real-time push and pull between the different elements and we felt we couldn't achieve that in an overdubbing situation,” says Keith. “We really wanted the record to reflect the energy of a live show.”

Recent transplants to Bridgeport, CT, DiMenna and Saunders found that a local redevelopment project, the historic Bijou Theatre, was hiding a large and beautiful ballroom circa 1908 on the second floor. The developers gave the band permission to use the space for five days – one each to load in, load out and three to record. To prepare for the recording, the band played a series of live shows in New York and Connecticut with the express purpose of refining the arrangements and establishing the dynamics. At this point, they enlisted Chris Sanchez, founding member of NYC's The Fever to produce the album, and Matt Lane, mobile recording engineer to record it.

The album was recorded completely live - with everyone in the same room at the same time. It was nearly non-stop recording, except on breaks to go to the bar next door and keep tabs on the World Cup. “It was exhausting because we had to be totally focused the whole time. We all knew that this was it, we either get it in these sessions or we don't,” says Jar-e. “There wasn't a lot of room for error.”

When recording was finished, the band took the record to Peter Katis of Bridgeport-based Tarquin Studio (Interpol, The National, Rainer Maria.) “Not only is he in Bridgeport, which was important to us – we really wanted it to be a hometown effort – but he's also really talented. Working with him in his studio was a great experience,” says DiMenna. Saunders adds, “We had to wait a few months for him because he was busy working on The National, which was so hard since we were so excited about the recording, but it was well worth the wait.”

The result is a refreshing real-time view of Saint Bernadette. Stripped of modern studio conventions, the band's musicianship, songwriting and musical chemistry is immediately apparent. The sonic stamp of the recording location gives the album a distinctive cohesiveness that suits the band's genre-jumping style. Genre jumping indeed -- you'll hardly believe this sultry voice of DiMenna's can possibly also be that of the aforementioned rapping Ms. Pam. It is, as she is: every woman. Saint Bernadette's In the Ballroom will be released October 2, 2007.

Saint Bernadette live:
10/16 New York, NY 11th Street Bar
10/19 Bridgeport, CT Acoustic Cafe
10/23 New York, NY 11th Street Bar
10/30 New York, NY 11th Street Bar

In The Ballroom tracklisting:
Release Date: October 2, 2007

01. I Own The City (MP3)
02. Bound To Do
03. She's a Natural
04. Money In The Air
05. Pieces
06. Sidestep
07. Such Ease
08. Lay Me Down
09. Universe
10. No Dreams

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