Caroline Rocha, Contributing Writer
Melissa Cherie is more than the name of one BCC alumni’s indie band, it’s the very name of the band’s frontwoman. However, she is not just the lead singer; she writes, composes, plays and produces their entire records. Working with musicians with different strengths, mixed with her directions, executes the best possible version of their music.
With Richard De Fina on guitar and Michael Topping on bass, Melissa formed a team that not only trusts in her vision, but supports her leadership role, encouraging her to push past her comfort zone when it comes to being a female in the male-dominated field of indie rock bands. A year ago, she could not have imagined finding the perfect fit for her bandmates.
In the spring of 2019, they played a basement show for the first time as a band. Notably, Melissa’s tangle with music goes way back: further back than when she was president of Bergen Community College’s Business Production and Music (BPM) club, when it was known as the Music Interactive Club. Even before her first college concert when she performed five solo songs, despite barely knowing how to play guitar a few days before the live performance.
She grew up playing classical piano and began writing her own material as a teenager, fueled by an emo phase and teenage angst. And she says it was BCC’s music program and its encouragement in a non-judgmental environment that gave her the knowledge and foundation for music that she has today.
In fact, it was a research assignment on an indie-rock artist named Mitski that inspired the creation of Melissa Cherie as a group, with Melissa being the face and image of the band. Melissa took notes, since Mitski composes, directs and leads a band to play music of her imagination, she saw the possibilities of doing the same herself. Not one to shy away from the technical side, she uses Garageband and ProTools to create demos of songs that she will then show to her bandmates who re-record it and make adjustments where they see fit.
As for her creative process, lyrics usually come first. She’ll start writing lyrics to a melody on her phone whenever inspiration strikes, then add chords to it later and build from there. Within these lyrics, her message is a rather optimistic one, much like her spirit. She writes about difficulties and about struggle, but from a place of growing from those problems and moving forward with life. To Melissa, she sees music the way one of her idols, John Fruscisante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, does: the act of being creative is a spiritual process. Which is why she throws herself into her projects with the band, and is currently working on an album that she has been envisioning for over a year, to be called “The Hearth.”
Currently out, Melissa Cherie has an extended play called “Seasons” available to stream on all platforms. Oftentimes, you can catch them playing at the Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck, a favorite spot for musicians at BCC, but other shows and performances can be found by following Melissa Cherie’s instagram. In her dreams for the band, she sees themselves growing and playing more shows as they expand their audience.
As we talked about her aspirations and the changing music industry, she believes that music should be as accessible as possible; from artists having no limits on the music they create to listeners being able to hear these creations freely. As a female in the field, she understands the importance of not being exclusive where art should be speaking.
Before she found her dream team, she’d been met by other male musicians who told her they couldn’t be in a band with her since her music was too girly to connect with a male audience. But she says dividing the human experience that she writes about isn’t the way to go about songwriting, but instead uses her femininity to bring everyone together. As a push back, even on nights when she’s the only female performer in the venue, she consciously upholds her feminine energy, red dress, red lipstick and all.
Her advice to new artists is to “never create something that isn’t true to you and always work on cultivating your most authentic music and self.”