Striking A Chord With Melanie Faye

All photos by Julien Carr

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“I didn’t really grow up listening to rock music or guitar music, but I just discovered it through Guitar Hero.”

—Melanie Faye

You may have heard of (or seen) Melanie Faye after videos of her guitar mastery were picked up by the likes of SZA and The Fader last summer. Or perhaps you watched her Twitter video in which she gives Beyonce’s lead guitarist, Bibi McGill, a guitar lesson. Or maybe she caught your attention when Willow Smith drew a picture of her on Instagram. The point is, Melanie is quickly being woven into the fabric of the public’s consciousness largely due to social media. However, as important as social media is for sharing content, it also never tells the full story, and Melanie’s is one that deserves to be told.

I met Melanie December 30th, the day after she opened for Noname at Lincoln Hall, and was immediately struck with a sense of calm. There was an ease with which she fiddled with her light turquoise guitar at any moment she could–through her photoshoot, right up until our interview, and then immediately after. It was just as much an extension of her as any limb and was as natural a contributor to every conversation as an old friend. I’m not one to believe in auras per se, but if there was a color to accompany the feeling in the space Melanie occupied, it would be the color of that guitar.

For as innately as her playing seemed to come to her, Melanie only started learning guitar in the 6th grade, which, while not exactly a short amount of time, seems an impressive fete given the skill level and prowess the 19–year-old displays. Her journey also began in a rather unorthodox manner, “because of Guitar Hero. I didn’t really grow up listening to rock music or guitar music, but I just discovered it through Guitar Hero.” As crucial as Guitar Hero was for igniting Melanie’s passion, it was her musical education in Nashville that enabled her to delve into this passion even further and hone her skill.

Though born in Huntsville, Alabama, Melanie and her family relocated when she was just 3 to Nashville, where she was eventually able to study jazz guitar at a performing arts high school. Through her studies she developed a style and expanded into “more r&b and neo-soul, because those two genres are derived from jazz chords and jazz ideas.” Her motivation flourished in her environment, “constantly surrounded by guitar players and singers and instrumentalists…Just, like, sitting in class with them every day…made me a much better musician.” Especially in an environment like Nashville, which Melanie describes as “unforgiving…a very cutthroat town,” the push from the people around her encouraged her “to be…stronger and…the best that you can be and not lazy.”

While most known for her musicianship on the guitar, Melanie’s songwriting is not to be discounted; in fact, it is what came first for her. She explains, “in the 3rd grade, my uncle gave me and my siblings this keyboard…and even before I started playing an instrument, I would write songs with the keyboard.” Her writing efforts were reinforced that very year when she won a contest at the Country Music Hall of Fame. “Everyone…had to write a song…and then one lucky winner got their song recorded, and they recorded my song.” 

Just as her talent did not go unrecognized in the 3rd grade, her talent most certainly did not go unrecognized in 2017.  Reflecting on her year, Melanie lists opening for Noname as one of her highlights. “That was pretty incredible. I met her in Nashville…and then, like, a month later, she was like, ‘Hey, want to open for me?’...and her pianist (Isaiah) Oby put a band together for me to open…that was pretty cool.” Another was the aforementioned guitar lesson she gave to Bibi McGill, and “oh yeah, I interviewed Kehlani for a college project…that’s when I knew I had to drop out…but I got a 100 on the project.”

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“constantly surrounded by guitar players and singers and instrumentalists…Just, like, sitting in class with them every day…made me a much better musician.”

—Melanie Faye

Many of these incredible experiences that comprised her 2017 were put into motion through the virality of her Instagram. Her low-key, intimate videos of her on the floor of her bedroom, playing her guitar, occasionally singing in her charming tones, blew up quite rapidly over the course of the year and “put everything in perspective for me…it’s just helped me have an actual path.” Now equipped with a vision for herself and her career, there is much we, the listeners, have to look forward to. Within the year, she expects “definitely my EP and definitely a tour. That’s what I see in 2018.” Further down the road, her goals include “being actually signed and then collaborating with big name artists and putting out a full album.”

For someone with as much talent and attention on her as Melanie has, she remains remarkably centered, phlegmatic even, in response to her swiftly increasing momentum. “I still…don’t exactly know what I’m doing, I’m just kind of doing it.” In that vein, it seemed fitting that her one real mission for the day after wrapping up our interview was to check out the guitars at Chicago Music Exchange. Her future is blinding and, with a musical gift like hers, she has the world at her fingertips. Anything she wants to do, she can do–she will do–but first, the guitar store.