By Annette Hinkle
Lilly-Anne Merat has a good deal of her life singing. Which makes sense, given the fact that both her parents have musical backgrounds. Her mother, Wendy Wachtel used to sing in ensembles and choruses while her dad, Alfredo Merat, is a guitarist and singer who is very active in the East End music scene.
But it looks like in his daughter, he’s found some competition. Luckily, he’s also her biggest fan (and agent).
“He’s great and he’s super proud of me,” says Merat, who performs with her father on occasions. “It gets interesting. There are times when we don’t see eye to eye and times when we do. You have to define the boundaries too — what can he tell me as my manager and back away from as my father.”
Merat, who lives in Sag Harbor, loves her hometown — but she is definitely thinking seriously about her future these days. That future includes plans for a move to Asheville, N.C. next fall, a city with a burgeoning music scene and a reasonable cost of living.
“I have some friends in a band there, Papadosio, they started their own label,” says Merat. “They’re part of the underground music scene, but they’re high up on that music scene.”
Merat is a 2011 graduate of Skidmore College where she sang in the Sonneteers, the college’s oldest a capella group. In her junior and senior years, Merat was co-musical director of the group and a video of the Sonneteers (shot by her father, naturally) landed them a spot on the X Factor. Though the group didn’t make the final cut, Merat was given props for her vocals by the notoriously persnickety Simon Cowell.
These days, with her degree (and her primetime TV debut) under her belt, Merat is pursuing life as a professional singer. This Saturday, as part of the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Parlor Music Series, Merat returns to her musical roots — literally — in a performance with pianist Jane Hastay and Hastay’s bass-playing husband, Peter Weiss.
“Jane was my fifth and sixth grade chorus teacher at Ross School,” explains Merat. “My best friend and I sang a lot and we thought I was the soprano and she was the alto. But when Jane asked us to sing and assigned our parts, she made me an alto and my friend a soprano.”
“I asked Jane about that years later and she said ‘I made you an alto because you were the one who could hold that alto part,’” recalls Merat.
In the years since, not only has Merat’s voice developed in the low range, she also believes that singing the harmony parts as a child has helped her gain a much deeper understanding of music.
“My ear was trained from that moment on,” says Merat who adds that Hastay recognized an ability in her that she, herself, didn’t see at the time. “Jane was my chorus teacher, but to this day she will tell you that she knew something was going on.”
These days, Merat enjoys a variety of musical styles — from bluegrass, world fusion and R&B to hip hop, folk and jazz. And for Merat, melding them all together to become something new is what she enjoys best. Saturday’s performance with Hastay and Weiss (and Richie Scollo on sax) is Motown themed and she’s looking forward to singing those hits with a jazz twist.
“I love that Motown sound,” says Merat. “We’ll do everything from Marvin Gay and the Temptations to the Supremes and Stevie Wonder.”
“It’s really exciting — doing Motown with piano, upright bass and sax,” she says. It mixes two of my favorite genres. It’s also great to work with Jane and not be a little girl at school.”
While Merat loves singing old favorites, she’s beginning to try her hand at composing original songs and is exploring her ability with instruments as well.
“I’m not the strongest accompanist,” she admits. “I play a little piano and I’m learning the ukulele.”
Merat, who admits to suffering from stage fright since landing the lead in a Ross musical in high school, is also learning to be comfortable on-stage. This past August, she performed for a sizeable crowd at Rootwire 2012, an outdoor music festival in Logan, Ohio organized by Papadoscio, where she energized the crowd with her vocals.
“It’s great for me to perform as much as I can,” she says. “The most exciting part is people go from seeing me as just a face to making my mark and standing out.”
“I still get nervous,” she concedes. “But it’s no longer crippling — and it doesn’t interfere with my performance.”
“Everybody Loves Motown” begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 12, 2013 at the Bridgehampton Historical Society Archives, 2539A Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton. Admission is $25. Reserve tickets at Bridgehamptonhistoricalsociety.org. On January 25, 2013 from 5 to 8 p.m., Alfredo and Lilly-Anne Merat perform at Wölffer Estate Vineyard’s Candlelight Friday series.
Top: Lilly-Anne Merat (Calder Wilson photo).