Interview with powerhouse singer-songwriter Pamela McNeill


The Pamela McNeill collection-2 Sides To Every Sky, American Breakup and Nightingale-shows this singer-songwriter can belt with the best of them. But you have to catch her in the flesh to appreciate how strong a performer she is—and, fact is, McNeill packs one helluva punch. The style is originally home-cooked, countrified rock done to a smoldering turn. The execution is emotive, articulate, full-throated vocals. And a world of stage presence. Until you get the chance to see her perform, settle for getting your hands on her albums. You’ll thank yourself. On the heels of recently blowing away a crowd at Bunker’s and doing back-to-back sold-out shows at Pioneer Place On 5th Theater (St. Cloud), Pamela McNeill spoke with

Pamela McNeill plays Bogart’s Place, 14917 Garrett Ave., in Apple Valley, on June 30 at 9 p.m. and will be back at Bunker’s, 761 Washington Ave. N. in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District on July 21 at 9:30 p.m.

PULSE: Nightingale is on your own Sweetheart Records. Isn’t it less headache to let someone else do the marketing?
PAMELA MCNEILL: Yeah. It’s constant work. But [this is] liberating. And I’ve always been fiercely independent. The whole record deal thing is so hard to predict these days. Labels are changing personnel weekly. The industry is changing and hasn’t quite decided what the new model will be yet. I would love to find a label that would be supportive and have a decent budget to help me promote what I do. There’s probably one out there. I know I have truly awesome fans who come to my shows and allow me to keep doing what I do.

PULSE: How did you come to write for Wynonna Judd?
MCNEILL: A few years back, I had a publishing deal in LA with Windswept Pacific. My A&R rep played my song “Troubled Waters” for Wynonna, [who] said she wanted to hear “every song that girl wrote.”

PULSE: You also wrote for Yanni.
MCNEILL: Dugan {husband and bass guitarist] was in a band with Yanni called Chameleon. In the mid-’90s [Yanni] was playing the Target Center and said he wanted to talk to me. He said, “I love your songs. We should work together!”

PULSE: You don’t see many women blowing harp, certainly not as seriously as you do. Where’d that come from?
MCNEILL: I picked up the harp about four or five years ago [and] started by playing some Steve Earle songs in my band. Sometimes one note on the harp can mean so much! It’s a lot like singing. So expressive. I’m a huge fan of Lee Oskar harmonicas. That’s all I’ll play. A few years back, a friend of mine, Walter Chancellor, a fabulous sax player, got me in touch with Lee Oskar. Lee actually called me and we chatted for about a half-hour. He gave me all kinds of advice and encouragement and that inspired me tremendously!

PULSE: What made you get to music?
MCNEILL: It’s all I ever remember wanting to do. One of my earliest memories is singing dressed up as an angel in my church at a Christmas Eve service. I think the combination of getting to dress up and wear pretty, sparkly things in my hair and the pure joy of getting to sing [for] of an audience of appreciative people stuck with me. My dad was a great singer, although only around the house. And he taught me to love words. My mom played “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” a lot. I remember noticing lyrics for the first time and thinking about the words Paul Simon wrote. She also gave me my best piece of advice ever. “Don’t try to sing it like they did. Sing it like yourself.”

PULSE: What’s next?
MCNEILL: We’re going to continue to work the slow build for Nightingale. There are some very lovely small theaters and venues around the region that I’d like to play. I think we could put together a real nice tour of the Midwest. As always, I’ll continue writing and recording for my next CD. That’s what I live for!