NEW YORK, September 3, 2014 —In some ways Betsey Giammattei is a pretty typical twenty year old. She’s in college, she works part times, and she’s got a boyfriend. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a very driven young woman, studying at Ivy League Barnard College and at Columbia University, majoring in economics, and semi-fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
And then there’s that album Betsey’s just recorded. By herself. All her own music, her own lyrics, and her own instrumentals.
In between studying about monopolies, income distribution, perfecting her four tones in Mandarin to distinguish words or syllables, and finishing up the last track for her upcoming release entitled “How We Love,” Giammattei took a quick break in her hectic schedule to explain her passion for music, and how she put the album together.
Sheryl Kay: Tell us a little about your musical upbringing and background.
Betsey Giammattei: My mom’s always been musical with her singing, and my brothers, who are five and seven years older, were also musical from a young age. So, I grew up in a pretty musical household. I started piano lessons as a toddler and was always singing in church choirs or in musical theater. In middle school, I was getting into theater a lot more and starting to hate my piano lessons because I wanted to play my own stuff. So I begged my mom to let me quit and she did. From there, around my 12th birthday, I started messing around on the piano with whatever came to mind. At a certain point I started adding lyrics and melodies that I wasn’t ashamed of, and the first time I let people hear my stuff was freshman year of high school.
SK: But here you are, going into your senior year with mega academic commitments. Why on earth take on something like recording your own album?
BG: I’ve always loved school and had a very practical mind, so I didn’t mind letting music be just a hobby. School always seemed to come first. and it still does. But I still found myself writing songs and picking up the ukulele and really missing the personal music aspect of high school I had taken for granted. It actually clicked with me this past summer. I was interning at BNY Mellon, a major bank on Wall Street, and my mentor heard my music randomly and said, “What the hell are you doing here? you should be putting out albums!” It was my wakeup call that enough people were supporting me and enough people were actually interested in my stuff.
SK: How’d you come up with the name?
BG: The album went through a series of names with no real direction. I didn’t want it to be self-titled, but I also didn’t want some obscure name either. So finally, I took a look at the track list, and about three quarters of the way through saw the track How We Love and I just thought, that’s perfect. This album is about how I love people and life and everything between. It’s also about being scared of love, or about losing love.
SK: What can you share about the writing process?
BG: I’m pretty closed about my music in the writing process, so I don’t even know what it would be like to collaborate early on. When I hit college it became hard to write or even practice and play because I had roommates, and I was so self-conscious about playing around them. It was only if I knew I would have a few hours alone where no one would hear that I was okay to sit down and see if anything came to me. I’m still horrible about it.
SK: And what about the production process?
BG: Two years ago I recorded my first full-length original song using Garageband, the software that comes on a Mac computer, with full keyboard, vocals, harmonies, guitar all put on separate tracks and mixed for volume balance and sound. Once I decided to commit to this album in July or August, each day, I would sit down with a cup of coffee and lay down the keyboard or ukulele track with the vocals; then ultimately re-do the vocal track, add in some harmonies where I felt they worked nicely, add in bass lines or strings to add some depth, and finally mix for balance. My sound is pretty stripped to start with. I write acoustic-y, soft songs that don’t require much instrumentation. That makes recording relatively easy because I don’t need much.
SK: Your favorite cut?
BG: I really don’t have a favorite, but if I had to choose, I think I would say “November Words” is it. I wrote it in the fall of my freshman year at Barnard when I was single, thinking a lot about the future and about what I wanted to do at that moment in time. It’s one of my only successes in writing a song not about love, but about me. It just kind of fills my soul, and I love it for that.
SK: So what’s down the road for Betsey G?
BG: I’m looking into grad school for Chinese because that’s my real passion. But I need to make some real, hard money first, and I’m ready and excited for that. I’d love to use my economics degree somehow, so I’m looking at banks, tech companies’ economic sectors and about everything in between. I can say confidently, though, that I will continue music no matter what my day job is. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s not really a promise more than a need. Music is my outlet. It’s the way I talk to people when I can’t find the right words to speak, and it’s the way I understand my own thoughts.
SK: Any advice to others who might be contemplating their own recording?
BG: Do it your way. If you want to mix and record and go through all of that like I did, then do it. But if you are scared to death of the technological side of things, then get someone you know or hire a professional and work together. Just do it YOUR way, so it remains a dream you have that you’re accomplishing rather than this stressful project you waste a bunch of money and tears on.
“How We Love” rolls out September 9th for digital downloads via iTunes and similar platforms. For more info, check out facebook.com/betseygmusic