Beacon singer will debut EP at Dogwood show
Reeya Banerjee moved to Beacon in 2015 hoping for a better work and life balance. She also began to play the bass guitar.
“I remember listening to the Beatles song ‘Paperback Writer,’ hearing that throbbing, pulsating bass line that jumps in after the initial section,” she recalls. “Although I didn’t know it at the time, the function of the bass guitar and drummer in tandem lays the foundation for the whole band, which I wound up loving.”
She adds: “Another thing that appealed was being half of the team that keeps everything moving smoothly when you’re creating music. You have to have a two-body, one-brain connection.”
Banerjee found work at the Beacon Music Factory and spent five years in various positions, including operations manager and overseeing its band boot camps, in which she also participated.
“Doing the boot camps [in which strangers come together to perform cover songs] was a great way to learn how to play,” she says. “You learn the push and pull of being in a band, which is a practical component of learning the instrument. It stretched me a lot, because my music theory was grounded in piano. Here I was learning an instrument with a neck, frets, strings. I had to reinterpret learning scales, no keyboard.”
Eventually, Banerjee says she felt “a little pigeon-holed into the classic rock zone.” At 36, she is younger than the typical adult BMF student by about 15 years. When COVID-19 inhibited group rehearsals, she shifted her focus to singing and writing songs. She’ll be performing at Dogwood in Beacon on Feb. 5 as part of a three-date series to celebrate the Jan. 27 release of her EP, The Way Up.
Banerjee will be backed by Tony Cenicola on drums, Daria Grace on bass guitar and James Rubino on guitar. During the lockdown, feeling stir crazy, she and Rubino recorded their own interpretations of songs by other artists they like.
“The original version is great, but we used different instrumentation,” Banerjee says. “It was an experiment in creativity during a time of enforced stasis.”
Friends had encouraged Banerjee to make an original recording. “They kept saying they had faith, but the idea terrified me, even though I’m a writer in another life,” she says. “I was put in touch with Luke Folger, a drummer and composer who is a friend of a friend, who works for a company that makes jingles. He’s a prolific multi-instrumentalist and knows how to write songs.
“We talked about what we would want the record to be about,” she says. “At the time, I was starting intense grief and trauma therapy related to my mother’s death when I was 12. It’s a particularly hard time, especially for a girl, to lose your mother. My dad and I realized she didn’t want us to wallow in grief, so it was ‘carry on,’ although we’ve come to realize maybe we took it too literally and didn’t fully process her death. It can be weird being in your mid-30s sorting through emotions you didn’t have at age 12, but it’s a necessary process.”
Folger suggested she not worry about meter or rhyme but just write. “It kind of blew my mind — everything I was sending him would come back as lyrics,” she says.
After about a year of emails, Folger and Banerjee met in person in February for the first time, in the Bronx, to record the album. “We recorded the vocals in two marathon eight-hour sessions in an empty condo where we built a vocal booth,” Banerjee says.
Describing her sound as “early ’90s alternative pop-rock, like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jamiroquai: a little funky, eclectic, a little dark,” Banerjee says the next step following the recording became: “What can we do with this?”
Step One was the mini-tour. “I would not have been in a position to do something like this had I not done the five years at Beacon Music Factory,” she says. “It’s not just the training, but the guts to do it. Doing this is so unlike performing covers; these songs live in a different part of my brain; it’s tapping into a different part of my repertoire.”
Banerjee was born in Washington, D.C., to Indian parents who came to the U.S. to attend graduate school. Her father also studied classical violin and her mother studied voice in the Indian Classical tradition. Ravi Shankar was a family friend.
After a childhood move to Chicago, Banerjee joined a touring children’s choir, which she found to be a respite for the “racist xenophobia” she was experiencing at school. The family later moved to the San Francisco area, and Banerjee discovered musical theater, which she continued at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, where she majored in film and wrote her thesis on Bollywood.
“I came to New York to go to college and have never left; I fell in love with the Hudson Valley,” she says. She worked at Mohonk Mountain House after graduating, then commuted to New York City before moving to Beacon, where she has been a writer and podcaster at Story Screen.
After accessorizing her debut album with all of today’s marketing accessories, including videos released on YouTube, targeted ads and a social media blitz, Banerjee is ready for the core of it all: getting onstage and performing, something she hasn’t done in a while.
Dogwood is located at 47 East Main St. in Beacon. The Way Up can be purchased through reeyabanerjee.com, which also has links to her music videos.