Farms & fans help Bristol musician release her first album

Farm-to-table is a common phrase that most of us are used to these days, but how about farm-to-musician? Not so much.
It isn’t every day you meet a rising singer/songwriter who got her start by swapping hard labor on farms for voice lessons and recording studio time. But that’s exactly what Helen Hummel did.
It all started in high school and college — an awkward and “roughly silent time” for Hummel.
“I took a job on a farm in Lincoln in exchange for vocal lessons,” she explained (as if it were totally normal).
“Music and art were the answer,” added Hummel, who grew up in a musical family playing piano, guitar and singing. “They are still my favorite ways to communicate.”
After graduating from the Red Cedar School in Bristol, she attended Marlboro College, where she focused her studies on visual art, literature and writing.
In 2010, a year after Hummel had graduated, she returned to her alma mater for a concert by Anais Mitchell.
“I was 22 at the time and remember thinking, ‘I want to be Anais Mitchell famous,’” she said.
So Hummel took to the road, traveling around New England pursuing her music and supporting herself with short-term jobs like working at a copy shop in Middlebury, a parking garage attendant in Portland, Maine, a cashier at City Market in Burlington. All the while she experimented with new musical styles, writing methods and visual art techniques.
In search of new experiences, warmer weather, and greater musical opportunities, Hummel moved with her sister across the country to Los Angeles in 2013.
“I didn’t have LA in mind,” she said. “Our third roommate had a job in LA, so where one went the others followed.”
For just under three years, she took her Vermont tunes around LA and Hollywood including to The Viper Room on Sunset Strip, in farmers markets, at coffee shops and dive bars, and sometimes on the street in Santa Monica.
“I was pitching my solo act to a bunch of 45-year-old dudes in leather pants,” Hummel said. “They’d say, ‘Ya, you have a beautiful voice,’ but they didn’t want to book me … Another gig paid me in pie, but I couldn’t pay my landlord in pie.”
To make ends meet, Hummel got a full-time job working at the cheese counter at Whole Foods in Pasadena.
“After almost three years I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Hummel said. The city, billboards, traffic, desert and culture wore on her. “My poor hippy Vermont heart was having a melt down.”
So, she packed up her S-70 Volvo with all of her possessions and headed back East.
“Coming from LA, I wanted the opposite of Hollywood,” she said.
And she got it.
HELEN HUMMEL DREW all the artwork by hand on her first full-length album “Many Waters.” Hear her play in Burlington on Feb. 10 at Sidebar or on Feb. 24 at the Skinny Pancake.
“I had seven of my own songs and zero money,” Hummel remembered. But that didn’t stand in her way. She met a sound engineer who needed some help on her farm in Antrim, N.H., and was willing to trade labor for studio time.
Hummel spent a winter, spring and summer rebuilding a greenhouse, sowing seeds and prepping beds — earning hours in the nearby Musician’s Mission Studio.
“I pitched a tent in the bed of an old pick up truck (mainly to get away from all the ticks) and worked in the fields,” she said. “It was so nice to let my mind wander and be creative.”
Working hard in the fields and in the studio, Hummel was able to record her first full-length album, “Many Waters.” The album includes 11 original songs, written and composed by Hummel. She even designed the label covers herself.
Wait, that’s an understatement.
“I did 35 complete versions of the cover,” Hummel admitted. The hand-drawn images she settled on feature the 12-foot-by-12-foot cabin on her parents’ land in Bristol (where she lives during the warmer months), a scene from the New Haven River- and a self-portrait.
Hummel’s style of music has been described as “Indie Folk” with influences as varied as The Beatles and Bonnie Raitt to Andrew Bird and, yup, don’t forget Anais Mitchell. Her vocal tone and nuanced style playfully bring her stories to life as they fluidly mix with her guitar playing.
Flowing through it all is Hummel’s love of water.
“For me, swimming and music are the same,” she said, reaching back to her childhood memories of singing underwater.
Her first album — a tribute to her love of music and water perhaps — explores specific moments, feelings and sounds in Hummel’s experience. It’s personal with an imaginative flare.
She raised the funds to master and reproduce her work with the help of her Indiegogo campaign. So far, 95 backers have supported $5,308 of her $8,000 goal.
“I’ve been blown away by the generosity of so many different people,” she said.
Now Hummel is in the process of taking “Many Waters” on the road throughout Vermont and greater New England, hoping to meet new people and other musicians, further her craft and maybe even form a band.
Editor’s note: Check out Helen Hummel’s hand-drawn Indiegogo promo video at igg.me/at/helen-hummel-music/x. She shares her story with hand drawn puppets. 

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