For St. Louis-based musician Beth Bombara, “it’s always time to tour somewhere.”
The phrase, first uttered by her husband and teammate Kit Hamon, made fun of Bombara, and she began using it as a catchphrase on her website and social media.
“I’m always ready to go play a show,” she says. “You know, like, let’s go.”
A 38-year-old transplant from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bombara has showcased her trademark blend of American folk and blues since moving to St. Louis and launching a solo career in 2007, subsequently releasing six albums. She’s a regional darling, named America’s Top Artist three times by this publication, and has a sensibility often compared to a Tom Petty and Aimee Mann mashup. She’s also had offbeat collaborations — including one with Columbia’s Logboat Brewing Company which produced “Space Junk,” a custom IPA and backing track in October — and worked with other artists such as Samantha Crain.
Before COVID, it happened about 100 to 150 times a year. Performing in front of an audience with other musicians was the favorite aspect of his musical career, until the coronavirus took over. She is currently on a short tour of the East Coast and the Midwest — her first since the pandemic began.
“I was kind of going through writer’s block,” she says, explaining how the pandemic has affected her. “I said, ‘I have to understand my process. I have to be okay with where I am. I just have to dig in and get into the creative songwriting process. “”
A year after the pandemic shutdowns, she launched a plan to write one song a week for a year and release the baby tunes to her Patreon members. The demands of the project, which ended a few weeks ago, forced her to abandon any perfectionist tendencies and get comfortable sharing unfinished work that she could have left in a different scenario. It also provided the seeds for what Bombara envisions as his next, as yet unnamed, project.
Bombara composed the songs for his latest album, Evergreen (Lemp Electric, 2019), on the road during his tours. Driven by an electric guitar, it’s a more rock sound than its previous releases. It received critical acclaim from outlets including THE weekly and American songwriter.
But she found herself looking for her nylon-string acoustic guitar over the past year. It changed the feel of the music, which she describes as “cathartic”, “introspective” and “sweet”. Her unfinished nature highlights her textured, melodic vocals and is by turns meditative and personal.
It’s a return to his roots as a singer-songwriter.
“It’s taken me a long time to process the past two years,” Bombara says, noting that she wrote directly about her experience — as well as the collective experience — of going through the pandemic.
Although the last year of weekly song shredding was “a lot”, Bombara would do it again.
“It’s quite vulnerable, to share something so new that, you know, might change over time,” she says, adding that she and the band – which includes Hamon on bass, Samuel Gregg on guitar and Mike Schurk on drums – began fleshing out some of the songs that received the most positive feedback from Patreon subscribers in order to record and perform them live.
The group embarked on their first small tour since the pandemic. Playing the new material together kickstarted what Bombara calls “real-time song interpretation,” that is, refining them into what will ultimately be their final versions.
“They slowly morph and change as we play them live,” she says.
Working on the songs and eventually recording them became more difficult as the band was split between different cities for the first time. They’ve experimented with sending leads electronically, but they’re still working on their method. Questions of whether streaming killed the album and how that might change their approach are also on Bombara’s mind.
But despite the challenges, Bombara hopes the process will lead to a finished product later this year. In the meantime, she is excited to share her work live again. She says the shows feel different from before the pandemic, with higher levels of excitement and a sense of finding something needed and missing for the audience and the group.
“It’s strange because we haven’t done it for so long,” says Bombara. “It’s a good feeling. … ‘Release’ kind of captures what I’m talking about. Release, release. I feel like I can breathe again.”
Meet Beth Bombara in the Dark Room at Grandel at 10 p.m. on Saturday April 23.