Story last updated at 2:48 p.m. Thursday, October 10, 2002

Iris DeMent: Little woman brings big voice to stage
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment

Iris DeMent  
Southern musician Iris DeMent, a small woman with a big voice, is coming to Homer.

Since she descended upon the music scene with the release of her "Infamous Angel" album in 1992, DeMent has earned her wings in the industry. Highly respected by her peers, she's garnered high praise from, and invitations to collaborate with, such musical mainstays as John Prine, Steve Earle, Loudon Wainwright and Delbert McClinton.

In the 10 years since, De-Ment released two follow-up albums, and has filled in the gaps with a slew of guest ap-pearances on other artists' recordings.

Last year she branched out even further, acting with Aidan Quinn and Janet McTeer in the film "Songcatcher."

Iris DeMent, singer- songwriter

  • Where: Mariner Theatre

  • When Friday, 8 p.m.

  • Tickets: Advance: $18 general admission, $16 for Homer Council on the Arts members. At door, $20 general admission, $18 members

  • More Info: 235-4288

  • Her music is part folk and part country. DeMent is known best for her song "Our Town," which ended the final scene of the popular TV series set in Alaska, "Northern Exposure."

    The youngest of 14 children born to an Arkansas family, DeMent moved to California after the family farm failed when she was 3.

    She honed her musical skills singing in churches with her siblings. Raised a Pentecostal Christian, DeMent would eventually turn her back on the faith that prompted her father, who loved music, to give up playing the fiddle because he thought it was a sin.

    At 17, she dropped out of high school, earned a GED, and went to work at K-Mart. It was the first in a string of jobs she said made her realize what she wanted to do with her life, and at 25 she began writing and performing her own songs.

    Despite his own beliefs about music and religion, DeMent's father stood behind her.

    "We were really encouraged, and he was really supportive of my sisters when they were out (performing)," she told an interviewer. "I learned a lot of the songs I know from my dad."

    After leaving home, DeMent lived in Kansas and Missouri before eventually ending up in Nashville, where she signed a recording contract with Rounder Records and released her first album.

    "Infamous Angel" was later re-released on the Warner Brothers label.

    In 1994, DeMent released "My Life," an album which brought the singer her first Grammy nomination. She repeated that feat with 1996's "The Way I Should."

    DeMent has said that songwriting is something she does to pass the time while waiting for the real songs to come, but critics take exception, and her songwriting skills have earned almost as much acclaim as her performances.

    Though she has toured with a band for a short time, when she comes to Homer she'll be playing solo.

    "That's how I've always done it," DeMent said. "I've always gone solo. I enjoy the flexibility of being able to sing whatever I want, without having to rely on this other group of people playing along with me."

    The petite DeMent has a way of filling a room with her voice, which is heartfelt and sincere, and very distinctive.

    "Obviously not everyone likes my voice and my songs," she said. "I have always sung the way it makes me feel good, so I don't worry so much about it when other people aren't satisfied. I'm the one that has to go out there every night, and I have to have a good experience. And so I sing and write first to please myself."

    John Prine called it "a voice like one you've heard before -- but not really."

    Merle Haggard said, "She's the best singer I've ever heard."

    DeMent says music has been good to her.

    "I'm happy how my life has gone in music. I've written the songs I wanted to write. I've sung them the way I wanted to sing them," she said.

    "I've reaped the benefits emotionally from that life, and I have a way to pay my rent and make my car payments. My goal was never to sell a million records and have everyone on the planet know me. I wanted to write good songs.

    "What drives me is the songs and the thrill I get from singing them," she said. "I feel right when I'm singing."

    Tickets are available at the council building, The Bookstore, Etude Studio and Solstice Music.

    Chris Bernard can be reached at cbernard@homer