In Session: Collette McComb of Fenix Rising

CLIFTON PARK – The mark of a great songwriter is their ability to convey a scene with the words and music of their work; to tell a story to the audience without them being previously privy to the meaning. And, that’s a box that local artist Collette McComb, lead singer, composer, and pianist of Fenix Rising, can check off with their newest song, “Phantom.” As the song opens with an eerie, yet inviting synth, listeners are greeted with a trumpet in the background. Soon after, bass and vocals enter, the latter of which have an amazing quality to them. The very light guitar work sprinkled in throughout the first half makes for a nice addition, as do the drums that enter after the first vocal section. What I really enjoy, however, is how the song changes feel a lot with electric guitar during the last third of the song – there’s an almost musical theatre vibe to it, portraying a reckoning of some sort. Afterward, a return to the original sound is heard, and the song proceeds to feature a ritardando just before its conclusion.

I had the chance to sit down with Collette this week to discuss her latest work, upcoming shows, influences, and more! Continue reading to catch our conversation.

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Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Collette, for sitting down with me, today. You have some new music you’re putting out, right?

Collette McComb: Yes, I do!

LG: Why don’t you tell us a bit about that?

CM: I’m the most excited about the song, “Phantom.” A little while ago, back in the studio, we were recording. Bill Perry, my stepdad, wrote the lyrics with me. I got started on this concept… this person that I love very much, I was watching them go through something and it hurt me to see how much pain they were going through with it. I was like, “I gotta do something about this.” So, I had all my lyrics written and I only halfway loved it. I wanted to all the way love it, so I brought it to my stepdad – he’s a fantastic lyricist – and he said, “Alright, let’s dive deep.”

After we got the lyrics out, I got my band together and said, “OK, let’s do this.” The piece is about… I think most everyone can relate with it. We have these phantoms that we chase; whether it’s a relationship, or a job, or just that thing that we really have our heart set on. And, we know it’s not going to work out, but we still go after it, anyway. That’s the premise of the song.

LG: I like it a lot. I have to tell you; I was not expecting it to do what it did near the end of the song. At all. I really liked how it went it that direction of a more rock n’ roll song…

CM: Yeah! So, it’s more mellow jazz than rock throughout, right? There’s this part… We’re still working on the music video; we have a professional team helping us. There’s this part where she’s chasing after this phantom, because the phantom is this figure that kind of does exist… We attach on to something when we’re pursuing these phantoms; it starts with some little bit of reality. But, then the irrational sets on when it’s not fully going to be there. She’s following this thought throughout the video. We’re going to have this part where she steps through a mirror. I don’t want to give away what she finds on the other side – that’s the surprise that I hope people that catch this interview are going to want to find. That’s why the music changes, because of what she sees on the other side, and then the music reverts back when she returns.

LG: When you were writing the song, did you have that music video in mind, or no?

CM: I actually didn’t, no! That’s a great question that you asked, Lucas, because I had the concept of choosing to be irrational when having the option to be rational. And, why do we do that, right?

LG: Right.

CM: I was so focused on that and the music started on the piano, and I was like, “Nah, that’s not right. It’s not a piano song.” Then, I was playing with the organ sounds on the keyboard behind me, and I thought that still wasn’t right. So, I go to Marshall, and I’m like, ‘Hey, babe. What if this were like a jazz guitar piece? Let’s try a little bit of this.” Finally, I found more of the vibe I wanted. It was our bandmate Sean (Laughlin) where I said, “OK, Sean. This is what I’m feeling. This is what I need to express. What do you think?” And he instantaneously had this whole beautiful concept for the video and I thought, “Yes! That’s perfect.”

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LG: Who’s playing trumpet?

CM: Our friend Justin. Sean is playing bass. Also, for this tune, Marshall composed the guitar parts, and performed them, as well as the drums.

LG: I don’t know if I’d call it “jazz” jazz. It felt more like a noir piece to me, you know?

CM: Yeah, okay!

LG: It was like that 1950’s, black-and-white movie kind of vibe. I really enjoyed it.

CM: The music video is actually going to start in mostly monochromatic, too.

LG: Oh, so I heard the right thing, then!

CM: Yeah, thanks!

LG: What are your thoughts on where that proclivity of humans come from, to chase what can’t be achieved? Where is that coming from? I think everyone does that in their life; they want something that they can’t have so badly.

CM: It’s hard for me to answer for them. I can answer more for myself when I’m chasing my own phantoms, perhaps. It’s something that we all can fall into. I think that more that we cannot control on the outside, what we wrestle with, is what we feel we cannot control on the inside. And, so when people are pursuing those phantoms, I think they’re pursuing something they cannot accept within themselves, and that’s causes them to go into this land of obsession, perhaps.

LG: A lot of people that hear this – I know I can – can relate to the music; the words. It’s almost a cruel twist of fate.

CM: Yes, it is.

LG: It’s hard to accept sometimes, and I think the song nails that very well. What are you going to be doing with the song? Are you going to be playing it out?

CM: Definitely playing it out. We have a couple shows that are coming up in the Capital District. We’re excited to be back at Putnam Place on June 17th. As far as the music video – definitely the audio and also the music video – we are absolutely sharing it nationally because we already have fans listening to our music in more than a dozen United States. Which is very exciting. But, I’m an international girl. I have people listening to stuff on a couple different continents. We haven’t released it outside of local yet because we wanted to have a little more of a finished product. We’re going to be releasing it in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, and a couple sides in Asia, ‘cause Asia’s huge, and South Africa.

LG: That’s awesome to hear. Your band, Fenix Rising, sounds great on this record.

CM: Thank you!

LG: You’ve been together a year, right?

CM: We’re still just under a full year. Once we reach July or August, that’s when we were more out. We’re still fresh and new.

LG: Your voice… you’ve got a f*cking amazing voice.

CM: Haha! I love that you said f*cking amazing! Thank you, Lucas, that means a lot to me.

LG: Tell us a bit about you and all of that? There has to be some training in there!

CM: When I was a little girl, I had my singing debut at three years old and it was in our church, haha. I had a solo. When I was five years old, I sang in front of a better audience of five hundred. I was living in Germany at the time because I was an army brat. My family was in the service. Funny thing is? I think that I sounded like Lucy Ricardo from I Love Lucy! When I was a kid, I don’t think it was a good sound.

LG: Hahaha.

CM: I just loved singing so much. If I was just going about my business doing homework or chores, or something, I’d find I was always singing. My family didn’t have money for singing lessons – to be honest they didn’t have money for my piano lessons, which is why I started teaching at age twelve. Five dollars a lesson to come up with the money for my lessons. Singing was just in my heart. It was the way that I understood, perceived, and explored my world. I began doing these deep character studies.

First, it was artists like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Then, I went back to who they were learning from. I went back to Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee. I did these deep, deep studies of who were these women; what did they sing? I also deeply studied Robert Plant and who his influences were. I loved the concept of a rock band that tipped its hat to the jazz days and blues.

LG: Yeah.

CM: I would say that’s where I developed my voice. Yes, I did study in college and I absolutely do use some of that. I got to pursue voice when I was doing my music program in my undergrad. But I would say it was those deep studies of those legendary artists that helped me craft the sound that I’m still going for; I don’t feel I’ve all the way arrived yet. I’m still working on it. But I’m so glad you took notice. Thank you, it feels wonderful.

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LG: The control you have is really great. It’s not like you’re just singing one thing; “Phantom” is all over the map, vocally. I also heard a bit of musical theatre…

CM: Yeah, you totally hear some Broadway notes that are coming in.

LG: I think you’re doing a great job.

CM: Thank you so much, and I love that you picked up on all of those things because that’s literally what I was bringing to the table. You hit it on all of them. Awesome.

LG: The role of a good songwriter is to convey their ideas well to the audience, and you certainly did that. It’s always great talking to people like you because the appreciation that goes into the craft… I can really hear that and love that about your craft. Is there any other thing you’d like to talk about?

CM: I think specifically for my own sound, Marshall has really helped to challenge me. He’s my business partner, but he’s also my lover. I think that a good lover can help look into a person and find… “Hey, I think this is actually your shine song. I want to challenge you to try and reach for this.” He helped me expand my voice. For example, in the bridge for “Phantom,” I’d not really sung like that before. I really appreciate him. My other bandmates, Sean and Jack (Gartner), they also were really challenging me to push my voice to the limits for that song. I love my boys.

LG: I never would’ve known you didn’t sing like that before. It sounded very natural.

CM: Hahaha. Thank you! I had sung the Ann Wilson style before; I’d sung the little bits of musical theatre; I had sung other styles of rock and some jazz, but it was that bridge! It was fun. I told my band, “OK, boys, I want to do something vocally is not what you hear every day, and not what you hear other people singing.” We had a lot of fun doing it.

LG: How is it working with Marshall? I know for me and my emotionality – if that’s not a word, it should be – it’s hard to work with somebody I love very much. There’s this passion there that might make it too intense. How do you mitigate that?

CM: I think we’re very lucky; it’s a special circumstance. Because, in most cases, you don’t necessarily want to business with friends and family. Keep them separate. But, I don’t know… We’re like two halves of the same coin. We just see… he’s going to have these things in his vision and I’m going to have things in my vision. They’re complementary. We respect each other; we respect each other’s ideas; we respect each other’s voices. And, I think we do a good job of hearing what the other person has to say; wanting to hear what the other person has to say and trying things. We know we are our best when we have not just ourselves. It actually works out!

LG: It’s a wonderful dynamic and I’m glad you have that. Not everyone is that fortunate.

CM: We’re very thankful. It doesn’t mean we don’t ever have conflict, though! I don’t want to be misleading. Hahaha. But it’s kind of like when you see where you’re going and you know where you want to end up, you always hold that in front of you. You keep your mind on that what matters most. The waves that try to take you out, you move over, but you keep moving forward.

And, he helps me so much with my health issues and he has a past that I help him with. Thanks for asking the question, people probably do wonder!

LG: It was great talking to you! Thank you for your time today.

CM: Thank you so much for yours! I so very much appreciate what you are doing for music artists: big, small, in-between, local, away… You’re a great guy, Lucas. We really love and appreciate you!

LG: Thank you very much! Have a great day.

CM: You too.

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