Indianola Americana/folk artist Lydia Ramsey will be performing at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s 10th anniversary Aug. 5, part of an event from noon to 9:30 p.m.
“I always like playing in this area because I don’t play here that often, and since I grew up near Bainbridge I get to perform for people who’ve known me for a long time, and that’s always a fun way to reconnect,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey, 38, has released three solo albums in her career: Like A Dream, Flames for the Heart and Bandita. Her most recent project Like A Dream reflects on the COVID pandemic, a time when the world faced a new normal of sheltering in place, masking, lockdowns and speaks to the loneliness of isolation when life seemed to stand still, her website states.
Born at home in the wooded beach town of Indianola, Ramsey was raised in a house scattered with instruments, from guitars and mandolins to clarinets and accordions. With an upbringing rooted in musical discovery and invention, her earliest inspirations came from her exploration on the piano, through the music of Chopin, Debussy and Bach, per her website.
One of her earliest musical memories was playing the blues in the upper register of the piano, and her dad backing her up on the lower register, side by side on the piano bench.
“My parents are musicians, and we just had a house full of instruments, someone was always playing something. Those two aspects really shaped the foundation of my childhood and nurtured my creativity as a young person,” she said.
When she began playing guitar, she drew inspiration from traditional folk artists, such as Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt. They, along with her parents, shaped the foundation of her songwriting, combining the melodies of classical and jazz composers, with the storytelling and harmonies rooted in folk music. Regarding singing, Ramsey never took formal lessons, but often sang with her mother and made up songs about the world around her.
Ramsey said she never felt pushed to pursue music as a career, but eventually realized she had a chance in the industry based on the effect her records were making on listeners. “It was always just so much a part of me, and my parents were really good at making music something that was integrated into our everyday life,” she said.
“They joke that they just tried to stay out of the way. And for a long time, I never considered pursuing music in a professional way, because it was just something that was so much a part of me. But as I started to play more live shows, I realized the impact these songs I was writing were having on the audience. People would come up to me and tell me how much a song meant to them.”
Ramsey said her time with the band St. Paul de Vence helped her believe she had a chance in the music world, as she was able to learn about live shows, running rehearsals, touring and being in a recording studio. “It’s really inspiring to watch someone with the drive to pursue their own creative projects, and I feel like being involved in that band gave me the knowledge and confidence to start my own solo project,” she said.
As Ramsey began to pursue her solo career, she said the biggest obstacle was overcoming the voice in her head that said, ‘Why would anyone want to listen to my songs?’ and ‘What do I have to say that’s important?’
“It really takes putting yourself out there and believing that you have something valuable to contribute in order to stay motivated to pursue the arts. And then actually performing takes some practice, just getting all the logistics right, learning how to use your equipment on stage and to run sound check so that you’re actually hearing yourself in your monitor.
“Those things outside of the actual musicianship always felt awkward at first. I remember when I first started singing on stage it would take a while for the tension in my voice to ease up. To just breathe, let the nerves fall away and find my power took some practice.”
When writing songs, Ramsey almost always starts with the music before the lyrics. She said she feels inspired to write about occurrences or emotions that feel the most powerful—like love, fear, forgiveness, hatred, joy and sorrow. “I’ll be playing around on the guitar or piano, then something just drops into place and feels right, and when I want to play it over and over I know it’s worth holding on to,” she said.
Ramsey has an array of musicians who have helped her on all three of her albums, including friends from Seattle. Like A Dream was special because her brother Jack contributed to a few tracks, and her mom and aunt also sang harmonies on Peace Will Come Back To Me. For more go to lydiaramseymusic.com.
Ramsey has toured the West Coast, Midwest, East Coast and British Columbia. She also toured in the United Kingdom some years back. One of the highlights was performing in Stockholm’s Blue Hall, a massive 16,000 square-foot space with walls clad in all brick. It is where the Nobel Peace Prize gathering is held, and Ramsey had the honor to perform Bob Dylan songs the year he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
“We played unplugged, and you can imagine how a voice would carry in that space with all the natural reverb,” she recalled. “It was surreal.”
One of her tracks, Ashford, was featured in the HBO series “Somebody Somewhere.” “It was definitely thrilling to hear my song come on during an episode of a show that’s on such a massive network,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey and her husband Jon moved from Seattle back to Indianola in early 2020 during COVID to design and build the home they live in called “The Rambler,” which was featured in a New York Times article in May.
“My husband is an architect, and we had an opportunity to build on some family land that we just couldn’t pass up,” Ramsey said. “We designed the space with hosting events in mind, and I’m excited to put together some house shows with some of my favorite Seattle musicians this year.”