Interesting intersection

The many roads of Keli Vaughan

"Men have been emulating women in rock for a long time; just look at Mick Jagger," she says with a roll of her eyes at the mention of the subject. "I guess what I do is folk, or folk songs. If John Lennon were sitting on a stool playing guitar, I guess that'd be folk songs too."

Although she's been getting more attention lately, she still doesn't feel a part of the local music whirl. "I never really feel like I fit anywhere, although I'm sure I do. I go places alone, so that I can be alone. I guess I'd like to be a bit closer to things around here, but if I'm not, I'll just make do with what I can. I can get gigs--paying gigs--[with] just me playing the guitar."

Vaughan does, however, have plans for a band; she just refuses to allow the uncertain future to have much effect on the present. "I'm looking for good musicians," she says, "but everybody I'm interested in is already plugged into some project." So she soldiers on.

The Quiet Earth is a formidable entree that doesn't necessarily require the full-band treatment that Vaughan and her Liverpudlian pals give it. The star attraction is her voice, which--like Vaughan herself--is a blend of contrasting elements, managing to sound both hard and soft at the same time, like a piece of steel rebar wrapped in cotton candy. She likes to veer and bounce her voice's trajectory off in unexpected directions, like a drunk backing a car down a long driveway. The effect is engaging.

Her subject matters are the affairs of the heart, and her tone is street-level idealistic. This--when combined with her voice and chunky guitar playing style--might remind you of DIY posterbabe Ani DiFranco, but The Quiet Earth's provenance and any face-to-face meeting with Vaughan dispel such doubts. The best song on the disc is the first, "Everything (Until I Get Bored)," perhaps one of the most honest love songs ever written: "I'll give you everything/Everything until I get bored," she sings in between verses pledging eternal faith. Unlike many exercises in this kind of cynicism, Vaughan's not trying to shunt the blame for a pending sin by confessing in advance. Her experience involved more catching than pitching. "It's not me," she maintains. "I'm singing his part, a guy in Liverpool who promised all this shit--on his mother's grave--but he's a musician and a fuckhead, and now he's got a record contract and other women to string along. I wish he had told me that he'd love me until he got bored...

"The song is really about promises and how we keep them," she says. "I'm an expert on pitfalls, but I'm pretty clear on how to [manage relationships]."

Vaughan, who looks more resigned than irritated when she mentions the inevitable Joni Mitchell requests she gets when she plays, understands fandom: She gets excited when relaying her tale of recovering Exene's [of Los Angeles band X] guitar pick and handing it back to her at her last Dallas appearance. "I just looked up at her and said, 'I loved you when I was a kid.'" Vaughan--who also lists Nina Hagen and Chrissie Hynde as personal icons--isn't much inclined to labels or ideology either. "I don't understand why everybody puts Jewel down," she says. "Is everybody just that cynical and fucked up?"

Vaughan has definite ideas about what she wants out of the music industry: "A lot of people get signed, and the record company bilks them completely," she says. "If I'm gonna get bilked, then they can pay for putting my band together; it's that simple. If I found the right people, I'd put it together now. There are some really ace people here in Dallas who have said that they'll do stuff with me, but a lot has to happen before, but right now there's a lot of stuff to buy--a guitar and amp to start."

Just as she's about to sound like some determined construction foreman, Vaughan goes Zen on you: "There's nothing you can do about anything," she says with a shrug. "So I'm just going to do what I want, and I'll be damned if there's not a market for it." She's not going to stress over a timetable, which is fortunate, considering the rate at which things seem to be happening for her. "All my new songs are only half-finished," says Vaughan, who keeps close track of the songs she writes and still draws on a lot of material from the Liverpool days. "I don't know if it's because I've had to wear so many hats since I've been back: get the CD cover done, save enough money. All my creative time was like when I was living in Liverpool and doing nothing. I haven't really had that time lately.

"There are so many songs that I need to record, but there's a part of my psychology that's saying, 'Don't worry about pumping out a bunch of new songs; most people haven't heard any of these songs, and I'm not tired of them.'"

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