Quitman, Texas- The County Seat & Heart of Wood County.
This humid sub-tropical town of roughly 2,000 is the birthplace of Academy-award winning actress Sissy Spacek, and rising folk alt-country artist Monica Rizzio.
With a perspective equally influenced by her Texas roots and her Cape Cod home, Monica has emerged as one of the finest talents in the East Coast music scene. After a decade with Tripping Lily, a folk acoustic-pop band, to which she added fiddle and vocals, she’s now embarked on a solo career that draws on her East Texas rust upbringing for a countrified Americana sound.
Throughout Sunshine Is Free, it’s clear Monica has a keen ability to connect; her songs are often autobiographical, but delivered through a fictional approach that aids in creating a universal experience for the listener, whether it’s expressed using her trademark sense of humor, or with such striking honesty that the pain in her voice is tangible.
We caught up with Monica to ask her about her introduction to music, the new album (which officially drops TODAY), and much more.
Music Mecca: How long have you been playing music, and who or what got you into it?
Monica Rizzio: Like most kids that grew up in East Texas, my first introduction to music was at church, whether it was Baptist or Evangelical, we were singing, and singing loud. I was hooked, so I joined the school band and played flute in 4th grade.
MM: How did you wind up in Cape Cod from East Texas?
MR: I met a guy in Nashville, and we started dating and playing music together. He was from Cape Cod and left Nashville; I followed and we started Tripping Lily with his brother and a local bass player. That was in 2004 and the moral of the story is: be careful dating a band member because it usually ends up messy.
MM: On October 4th you’ll be releasing your sophomore album, Sunshine Is Free. What were your primary influences and inspirations behind it?
MR: I lived in the “5-year town” (Nashville, for those that don’t know the term) from 2000-2004, and only started going back the last few years. I loved and hated the growth, but the one thing that did not change was the passion. It’s easy to fall into a routine on Cape Cod and I started to feel pigeon-holed, so for the past year I would fly down once a month and collaborate with writers I had never met before with the underlying desire to write an upbeat and uplifting record.
MM: How does this album differ from your debut album?
MR: The first album was recorded on Cape Cod at my buddy Jon Evans’ (Tori Amos) studio with a bunch of local musicians and mainly dealt with the breakup of my band and falling in love again. It was recorded a few tracks at a time over the span of a year. Sunshine Is Free was an amazing collaboration with my producer Michael Rinne, that started in October 2018, we wrote a few songs together and I just kept coming down to Nashville to write. Before long we had an impressive catalog of songs, he assembled an all-star band, and I enlisted some of my friends to sing with me for a week at Skinny Elephant Studios in East Nashville. It definitely has that Nashville sound and we had a blast in the studio.
MM: What will you remember most when looking back at the writing/recording process ten years from now?
MR: LUCKY— being able to work with such an accomplished group of musicians and writers on this album. I know in 10 years when I spin Sunshine Is Free that we made something special that week at Skinny Elephant, the only thing that was forced was getting myself on a plane to do it. I am so grateful to have met Michael Rinne and his unbelievable professionalism and passion. Hopefully, in 10 years, we will have been able to put out a few more records.
MM: While it may be like picking a favorite child, do you have a song or songs you’re most excited for the public to hear?
MR: “While With You,” co-written with my dear friend Mindy Smith, is a tried-and-true love song that I am honored to have her sing on. The other is a departure from my typical style, the hardest song for me to play, but hands down the most fun. “Story of My New Year,” co-written with Michael Rinne and Joe Pisapia, is a song that captures everything about me, the album, and my passion for 1990’s bands… it’s a rocker!!!
MM: Do you have a pastime or atmosphere that aides in your songwriting process, or does it come sporadically?
MR: I will rent a cabin far away from any cell service, bring some wine, some food and gummies, and all my guitars. Each guitar has its own tone and certain songs could only be born out of their wood. “The Shire,” written with my husband, Pete Fasano, was written in a cabin and written about getting away. We wrote a few other songs that weekend, but “The Shire” captures that ethos.
MM: What has been one of your most defining and accomplished moments as an artist so far?
MR: Playing at Symphony Hall in Tom Rush’s band was a highlight for me. I also did a run opening for Raul Malo from The Mavericks last year and I am still in awe of his voice every time I hear it. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to see and hear artists like Raul Malo.
MM: What advice might you have for young female singer-songwriters who want to do what you’re doing?
MR: Read, write, practice guitar, read, write, practice piano, repeat, repeat, repeat. You have to be able to play your instrument well, and all of these amazing musicians practice all the time.
MM: If you weren’t playing music, what could you see yourself doing?
MR: I love being organized and finance. I probably would be a personal finance advisor. Either that or a house cleaner. My house is always clean, I am more productive in a clean house.
For more info on Monica and her music, visit her website HERE.
Photo Cred: Joe Navas