by Rachel Hunt
Listen while you read: Uno Lady (from Spotify)
One of the first times that I remember watching Uno Lady perform was at Now That’s Class in 2010. I fondly recall the Tacocat EP release show with Christa Ebert, Uno Lady as she is known to the audience, doing a quick costume change in the bathroom behind doors that would not latch, shuffling around the tight space to re-emerge as her alter-ego.
Taking her place on stage, Uno Lady appears as a priestess addressing clergy members, tucked behind a technology-laced altar, she sings a doctrine that Clevelanders can readily get behind. Watching her perform live is an entrancing experience. Her operatic register and looping melodies reach deep into the crowd’s bones, sending goose bumps pleasurably coursing through the skin (this is an actual phenomenon).
Uno Lady has been hard at work since I saw her last. She released Amateur Hour in October at The Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern, one of the first performers to christen the rejuvenated venue. The album was immediately appealing to me, from the first time I heard “5 Minute Guided Meditation” broadcast over college radio airwaves. The guided meditation sounds similar to calming recitations by Laurie Anderson on Big Science; poignant in its delivery and laugh out loud funny in content.
Part of the draw of Uno Lady is her raw power and confidence. In a music scene disproportionately represented by men, Uno Lady has always acted as a sole experimental female musician since 2007, a time when even less women were making music in Cleveland (or so it seems to me.) She embodies a metaphorical beacon of light to other women in the community. Ebert retains her feminine posture and graceful delivery throughout the new record while still commanding attention with each hook and pun-filled refrain.
Here are a few questions we were able to ask her before her performance at Brite Winter Fest:
Uno Lady is experimental in nature and a bit unorthodox considering how most Top 40 music is made. How do you manage to keep your music accessible for listeners despite it being unconventional in its conception?
That is a good question to which I have a confusing answer for: a person listening was an unintended, yet welcome, consequence that has helped shape how I write. I am wholeheartedly flattered people listen and I’m learning the musical hoops to becoming more accessible: getting a website, figuring out how to be on iTunes, putting out records. When I first started recording, I did not consider I would be playing shows a year later. My goal was shortsighted and didn’t go beyond recording for fun.
What artists have inspired you to take the route you have in your music?
Roy Orbison, Laurie Anderson, DEVO, earlier Coco Rosie to name a few.
You recently received a Prestigious Workforce Fellowship in 2014 that funded the making of “Amateur Hour”. Did earning the fellowship change the way you approached the writing of the record or making music?
I am so grateful for the fellowship. It will change my life for the better for many years to come. It reaffirmed I should make music and that I should take the time to develop my skills. It allowed me to buy things I needed to complete recordings. Literally everything I was using was slightly broken. It also allowed me to get help and pay people with fair wages rather than lasagna. I have used home cooking as a form of currency in the past.
The fellowship also gave me access to tools I did not have prior. There were these Creative Capital seminars that have tips on marketing, etc. It helped me step up my game in areas I am modest about. I did spend 90% of the funds within Cuyahoga County, as promised. All three pieces of my fellowship application are online. I did that to be transparent with my plan and so people could see an example of a fellowship application in case they wanted to apply. I am in the process of finishing my final fellowship report. I’ll publish the results on my website when I am finished.
How do you come up with the names for your songs?
All sorts of ways! Sometimes they name themselves: they describe the weird feelings the sound provokes i.e. “Disney Movie on Acid,” or can repeat a lyric i.e. “Day Drinking”; sometimes they have a revolving door of names. What was now “Dear Wes Anderson, You Should Like This Song” was “Temporary Waltz”, and in some cases, I don’t care about the name, want to get it over with and focus on the lyrics.
You are not a classically trained vocalist, yet you have an amazing voice that you use as a tool to make music. Was it ever intimidating for you to perform live, knowing that you may have not had the same experience as your peers?
Thanks for the kind words! Performing is intimidating for sure. I get butterflies in my stomach every show. I’m on display, almost asking for criticism as I share my feelings put to song. It can make you feel really vulnerable, however, I know it is impossible to grow by loitering in my comfort zone. In order to gain new knowledge and develop as a human being, you have to challenge yourself. I can’t allow anxiety to dictate my capabilities.
Although I am not trained I have probably spent thousands of hours singing. I may not know how to sight-read or which note is C, but I do have strong muscle memory. I want to continue to grow musically so with the last bit of fellowship funds I secured some lessons.
How were you able to teach yourself what sounds you were able to make?
I have always been a little bit of a parrot and mimicked sounds.
Tell me a little bit about your recent tour with Delaney Davidson. Why wait as long as you did to tour? What took you to Wisconsin and Minnesota specifically?
I met Delaney at an international one-man-band festival in Denver, CO, on my first tour in 2009. This was, I believe, his ninth trip to the US. He contacted me to see if I wanted to join him for this part of his visit. He was all over the place prior to the Midwest.
We ended up in Wisconsin and Minnesota because the goal was to be around Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin on Halloween for a songwriting event called “Dark Songs.” Located at the Holiday Music Motel, the event invites select musicians to stay for a week, be randomly paired into songwriting groups, and record and perform what was created. It was amazing. I am so stoked I was invited. It was the first time in my life I spent a whole week focused only on music – not working, not going to school – working on my own missions rather than working for others. It was surreal.
Regarding the hiatus – Shortly after the 2009 tour, I received a full scholarship to finish school. I had to reshuffle my priorities for an amazing academic opportunity, and I missed making music daily. In 2012, I graduated top of my class with an undergraduate degree in Urban Studies and was able to finish my Masters degree of Public Administration in May 2013. I started working full-time only three days after graduating. I applied for the fellowship July of 2013, was named a 2014 fellow, and here we are today. Time flies! I may have not been touring but I sure as heck was busy! Also, planning and booking a tour is a lot of work and takes months to do. Like other things, it just kept getting put on the back burner because I was so busy.
What is the most difficult part of being an artist, in your opinion?
Finding time! Making art a priority when you are an adult who has bills to pay and has to work full-time in a world that undervalues creativity. It is easy for it to be placed on a back burner – but it is important to remind yourself (myself) that if you are an artistic person, you have to nurture that side of you. It’s a necessary form of meditation. And when you are true to that part of you, it can help you become a better person and do a better job in other aspects of your life. I have to remind myself that all the time.