No Cinderella may be the title of the new album by South Carolina resident Leslie Berry, but the Marietta native has enjoyed a charmed and often idyllic career. Her fairytale marriage to fellow musician David Berry opened the magic gates of the professional pop music world to the soft-spoken singer/songwriter.
"My parents really encouraged me to play music at a very early age, and now I'm glad they did," says Berry, who began playing piano in the second grade, performed in music competitions and eventually joined the Cobb Youth Corral. "Back then, my focus was mainly classical because my goal was to be a classical pianist. I'd spend three or four hours a day practicing Bach, Chopin and basically all of the classical composers' works."
Yet the lure of pop music was great. As Berry was growing up in the '80s, the breezy variety of catchy pop music was inescapable. "I loved the current stuff on the radio, and classic '60s music too," she says. "I listened to pop music, but I was heavily involved in playing classical. So there was a sort of conflict between what I was hearing and what I was actually doing."
When Berry moved to South Carolina to attend Converse College in Spartanburg, she continued her musical journey, having no idea she was headed for a drastic change. Veteran musician David Berry taught a class in electronic music at Converse, and Leslie Berry enrolled, curious about the workings of computer-aided composition.
"I started sequencing and recording songs, just to experiment, and that was really the turning point for me," she recalls. "Up until then, I had always been interested in pop music from a distance, but never actually tried writing my own."
After graduating from college with a degree in music performance, Berry started teaching piano and concentrated on writing songs. "I had the classical background, so I began to sort of mix the classical technique with the new pop stuff I was starting to enjoy writing," she says.
Along with the change in stylistic focus came Berry's wedding to her former teacher. "That certainly changed my direction in many ways," she laughs.
Besides teaching at Converse, her husband had played with Anthem, a touring progressive rock band, for 13 years. He still plays guitar at his wife's live shows when his schedule permits. "Working with David has really worked out great," says Berry. "He's had a lot of experience in rock, pop and classical, so he had a very wide, eclectic background like me. I called what we first came up with a sort of 'progressive pop.'"
When the two had enough material for a CD, they recorded it themselves. In mid-1999, they hit the road to promote it, while cultivating a fan base. Berry says she started playing venues close to her Spartanburg home but expanded into nearby Asheville, N.C., then moved out regionally into Tennessee and Florida clubs and coffeehouses.
Live, Berry's unique take on the often-tired singer/songwriter approach includes a refreshingly well-crafted and diverse set. Danceable tunes with occasionally provocative lyrics and themes are bookended with catchy instrumentals that should hold the attention of the most jaded concertgoer. Her varied tastes in music mirror the style of her own genre-bending material.
"I've told myself, 'OK, I'm gonna try not to be so different from song to song,'" she says. "A lot of people want you to focus on one style, one kind of music -- but I just can't do that, what you hear are samples of what I like. You should see my CD collection; it has a little of everything."
This year marks Berry's third appearance at Marietta's Brown Bag Lunch series in Glover Park. "There's a great cross-section of people at those shows," she says. "I love the variety, and my family comes out, so it's really like a homecoming too."
Leslie Berry performs Thurs., May 30, at Glover Park, Marietta. Noon. Free. www.leslieberry.com.
You've got a few of my faves listed here, plus a bunch I've never heard…
This is such a cool idea and the performance is great (I've been twice) but…
Ugliest bunch of girls I've ever seen.
Shuddup ya dumb beatnik