California Forest Fire: Cleopatra Degher
Emmylou Harris for a new generation of folk?
By William Harries Graham,
5:30PM, Thu. Jan. 15, 2015
Cleopatra Degher is reminiscent of one of music’s golden eras, when artists such as the Eagles and Carly Simon were breaking the charts, and J.D. Souther and Waddy Watchtel were the sound: The Seventies. Degher makes her Austin debut tonight at Lamberts and Friday at Strange Brew.
Born in California, she grew up in Sweden, then moved back to the West Coast when she was 18. Four years later, as Degher makes a name for herself in the timeless genre of folk, squint a little, and her long brown hair starts you thinking of Emmylou Harris around the time she was singing “Evangeline” with the Band. Degher dips into pop country with “I’ve Had Love All Along” and delivers what some call California folk on lead single “California Forest Fire.”
“The California element has come from my joy at being back in California and wanting to put that feeling in my songs, like ‘California Forest Fire,’” she says. “That song was born out of some impressions I had jotted down about life in Southern California, and not just the happy, beach life you mostly hear about.”
As soon as she moved back to her home state, Degher bought a Martin acoustic guitar and started playing coffee shops before she made her first album.
“I like being able to put my soul into a performance. It leaves me feeling exhilarated. One of my favorite moments onstage was when I sang at La Paloma, a historic theater in Encinitas. It was one of those performances that just felt fantastic – great stage, great sound, great audience.”
Her music represents someone torn between two places, though she feels more comfortable back in California. She never felt quite Swedish enough growing up in Malmö.
“The cold, wet weather of Sweden made its mark in some of my songs,” she admits. “I draw inspiration from both places depending on my mood, from the cold wet weather of Sweden to San Diego.”
Degher’s a second generation musician. Her father Denis Degher played in Eighties psychedelic bands Darius and the Magnets from San Diego, and also recorded and performed with Warren Zevon, Dusty Springfield, Donavan, and more. Dad produced daughter’s full-length last September, Pacific.
“It was great having him produce it,” says the latter. “First of all because he’s a really experienced and great musician and songwriter, but also because he knows what I want with my music and doesn’t have an agenda. And with his help, I was able to record at our home studio, which made the whole project possible.”
Jackson Browne was the catalyst.
“I was about to continue my studies at the University of California San Diego, majoring in Human Development, when a family friend who was on Jackson’s sound crew offered my dad and I tickets to see Jackson Browne at the Copley Symphony Hall. The concert was incredibly inspiring. Jackson is just such a captivating performer that it totally blew my mind.
“On the way home from the concert, I realized that that was what I wanted to be doing with my life: performing and being surrounded by music.
“About six months later I actually met Jackson at the Way Over Yonder festival in Santa Monica. I spotted him a little ways away from me. I went over and gave him my CD and told him how I decided to pursue music after seeing him in concert. He said, ‘You quit college because of me?’
“I’m not sure he liked the idea.”
Degher’s first name always catches people’s attention.
“Cleopatra was my grandma’s name. She was the daughter of Italian immigrants, and all I know, really, is that the name means something like ‘glory of the father.’ My dad swears he didn’t know that when he and my mom named me.”
Degher kicks off her tour today in Austin and then heads back through California in support of Pacific.
“I’m really excited to play in Austin,” she says. “I’ve heard so much about the music in Austin. I have a feeling I’m going to love it.”