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Melissa Mesko: A Musical Gypsy

Artist Snapshot: Melissa Mesko

“Musicians do what we do because we simply can’t NOT do it.  We are compelled.  We need it.  When you love what you do, you’ll put in the extra effort.”

Guitarist, vocalist, and percussionist, Melissa Mesko, has fed that compulsion for quite a while now. She has gathered an eclectic range of styles and genres in her travels, which she now shares with Roanokers through her main bands, Melissa and the Growlers, and The Meskos, as well as performing in numerous side projects.

We caught up with her last month to find out what got her started and what keeps her creating.

“I started playing guitar when I was a teenager as a way to express myself, and it had a cathartic effect. I would play open jams in downtown Richmond and had a band in high school. My first real group was The Sweetbush Revival (TSR), which I started when I lived in Oxford, MS around 2003, that focused on original music with a style we called “folkgrass”.

Mesko had some success with The Sweetbush Revival, winning the Smith Vinson Songwriters competition in 2004. “There were tons of great acts from all over (even Nashville).  We were very new to performing and it was a great ego boost.  You feel like you’re where you’re supposed to be. We then had an original song featured on the DVD ‘Beanland: Rising from the Riverbed’, which documents the rise of the band that spawned Widespread Panic.”

In her travels Mesko has continued to evolve her style. “Over the years it has changed so much. In high school, when I first started playing, I was wayyyy into Janes Addiction, Tears for Fears, hair bands, pop, heavy metal, and lots of loud distorted guitars! I moved to Florida after college and listened to reggae, zydeco, and folk music.  That carried over when I moved to Mississippi and started playing with TSR.  I started following local blues artists and sitting in.  I think the cultural aspects of my gypsy lifestyle – the different cities I’ve lived in – seeped into me. Now, I’ve grown into more of a bluesy/funk vibe – and I’ve included a horn section in my group.  Acoustically, I’ve stretched into jazz and experimenting with looping harmonies and tracks.”

Now, with Melissa and the Growlers, Mesko blends blues, funk, disco, and soul to perform tunes by Tedeschi Trucks Band, Jamiroquai, Sade, Albert King, Buddy Guy, and others. She adds acoustic tunes to sets from artists like Little Dragon, Bonnie Raitt, Frou Frou, Lianna La Havas, as well as jazz standards. “I’m influenced by so many artists and styles that making a setlist for a show can be tough. I have to be careful not to go from a jazz standard into a pop tune, then on to a blues tune.  I do my best to keep each show cohesive.”

Mesko has also branched out into doing a lot of studio work. “I’ve been doing a ton of paid recording work on numerous albums.  I’ve sung in almost every studio around the area on different projects.” She’s been called in for so much session work at Bedford’s Fainting Goat that she jokes that she and her husband, Brian Mesko, feel like the studio’s “house musicians”.

At the end of the day, being in front of the crowd is still what is best for her. “Performing live can be kind of scary sometimes – the nerves get better over the years but they don’t totally leave you.  But the fun definitely outweighs everything else.”

Like many of the other artists we’ve featured, Mesko finds the local music scene to be a supportive family. “The people that I work with locally are absolute top notch professionals.  All of my band mates are good friends and we really enjoy working together.”

When asked about the advice she has for the budding musicians still sitting on the side lines, Mesko was emphatic. “Just get on it!  It may feel scary, and sometimes collaboration is intimidating but you’ll surprise yourself.  Always remember that practice WILL make you better, so take it slow, and have patience.  Allow your sound and style to develop over time.”

Melissa Mesko performing

with the Growlers.



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