Carrying Forward the Tradition of Roots Music: Meet Pam Temple

For the “Our Voices” series, we’re talking to some women whose voices you can’t ignore, including those whose voices are integral to their way of life. As the frontwoman of a roots/folk/traditional music group, and host of the Evening Music radio program on WNKU 89.7, Pam Temple is in tune with her own voice and how she can use it to reach people.

Pam and her husband Spencer have been performing as Wild Carrot since about 2000. At first she was doing it on the side of her regular full-time job, which evolved into a part-time job as they started booking more shows, and eventually they were on the road and having enough success that music could become her new career.

pam2As singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist (her repertoire includes the dulcimer and the concertina as well as guitar) Pam’s musical roots run deep. She began singing and playing guitar as a kid – “Any song would do. Anything I could read the music for, I wanted to learn to play.” That included a particular Captain & Tennille hit called Do It to Me One More Time. “I didn’t know what the song meant, of course – I was twelve – but I knew the chords and I knew the melody. My family just thought it was high comedy that this little girl was singing this sexy song.”

Pam’s aunt supplied her with some of her own handwritten chord charts and influenced her early tastes with the gift of her first Joni Mitchell album. Women singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell have long been her biggest influences – “10,000 Maniacs, Shawn Coleman, Tracy Chapman, that whole new wave of women folk singers and songwriters that came out of the 80s and early 90s.” Pam also learned classical vocal technique through private instruction, competed in solo and ensemble competitions, and would go on to sing with several professional choruses, including with the Costa Rican National Symphony Chorus while on deployment with the Peace Corps.

Pams many musical talents include playing the dulcimer.

Pam’s many musical talents include playing the dulcimer and the concertina (shown above).

Despite all this experience in front of an audience, “I’ve always been really nervous to perform, to the point where I couldn’t eat for my first couple gigs, so I don’t necessarily know why I chose that as a path,” she laughs. Part of what helps her is creating an interactive experience with her audience. “That’s my favorite situation, when I can start telling a story about a song, and someone shouts something out, and I’ll respond and riff off of that and it becomes funny. I love that exchange.”

See for yourself in this video from one of their live shows:

On the occasion Pam does get nervous, she has a mantra that helps: “I had a yoga teacher once say, ‘Send love.’ So when I’m nervous, I try to remember that, try to breathe and feel my feet on the floor.” She’ll also load up her iPod (or at one time, Walkman) with music that gets her charged up – “something you would dance to hard in your apartment, I’ll just be in the hallway rockin’ to that.”

Her life offstage

Pam and Spencer use music in various outreach programs. “We work a lot in schools, writing song with the kids based on the stuff they’re learning.” Their affiliation with a Cincinnati arts organization has also placed them in hospitals, including with the Veterans Affairs hospital, to provide ambient instrumental music for the patients, which is being tracked and documented to evaluate how it enhances the healing process. She’s also bringing her songwriting talents to the head trauma and PTSD unit of the VA hospital, guiding the patients to write their own material and craft it into a song.

Of her own songwriting process, she says, “I am not a disciplined writer, I’m more of an intuitive writer. I just feel it coming. It can be inspired by anything – a real life experience, something profound like 9/11, or a death of a friend, or as small as a phrase I come across or come up with myself, or a melody theme that keeps playing in my head. Sometimes the melody and words simultaneously pour out, almost complete, and sometimes I labor over it, for years even.” She leans on Spencer to help her hone her raw material into finished products. “We work well together.”

While they haven’t been operating in the typically boys-club music industry per se, Pam has still experienced some of the tension that comes with being a female musician. “Men in particular don’t expect me to be as proficient on the guitar as I am. I even had one guy come up a couple years ago and ask Spencer, ‘Why do you let her play a G chord like that?’ and I was like…” Sometimes people will defer to Spencer when asking questions about their gear and equipment, “when I’m just as capable of answering those questions.”

Still, she feels moved when she makes a connection with young women and girls in her audience when they see a woman on stage, fronting a band. She wants to encourage girls who are interested in a performing career to be authentic to themselves, not to what the industry says. “Girls are so pushed towards trying to be sexy, dress scantily and provocatively – that’s what they see on the Grammys. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to dress a certain way.

Her other big piece of advice for anyone trying to make a living in the arts: Diversification. “The more you know, the more you know. Some people say ‘Do one thing well,’ but for me personally, I’ve been able to pay the bills by saying ‘Sure, I can play a wedding. Sure, I can do a classroom setting, or a festival.’” From the business end of things, she’s gotten good at doing conferences, meet-and-greets, and other networking opportunities, as well as the necessary follow-up to see those opportunities through.

To close our interview, I asked Pam what the Strong is Our Sexy mantra and mission evokes for her. She says Strength, to her, means independence. “I just want to be strong, as I get older, especially. I want to be able to put my suitcase up on the airplane by myself. I want to be as self-sufficient as I can be for as long as I can be.”

It’s not about the scale, and the number, and the magazine covers, and trying to look like that, but about being able to fend for yourself in the world. To be articulate. To travel alone. To be comfortable in a restaurant by yourself. So Strong is Our Sexy rings true for me.”

To hear more from Wild Carrot, you can click over to their website or find them on Facebook and YouTube. You might also be interested in our interview with blues guitarist Kelly Richey, also part of the Our Voices series.

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