As someone who has loved music since before birth (that’s another story according to my Mom) and has been a guitarist for many moons, I’m a discriminating listener. An artist has to truly hit me in the right spot and Tret Fure is one of those artists. When she comes to town, it’s not a matter of “if” we can go to the show, it’s a matter of “who’s calling to get the tickets”.
I first discovered Tret’s music in the early 1990’s during my own personal process of coming out. At the time she was writing and performing with Cris Williamson and the music created a key part of our personal coming out soundtrack. By the time we discovered her music she had already been a prolific writer, performer, and music engineer for many years. As a fan and musician I have particularly enjoyed watching her music and on stage presence evolve during this time.
After a recent concert at Godfrey Daniels, Tret was gracious enough to do this interview. I hope you enjoy her heartfelt and thoughtful responses.
1) What was your inspiration for pursuing music as a career? How did you
first get started?
I started playing music when I was 5. I started with the piano and by the time I was 7, I was writing my own compositions that my instructor would have me play for her high school students. The piano went by the wayside when we moved from Iowa to the Chicago area. So I picked up the violin which I loved until I saw my first guitar at 11. My brother brought one home to learn and by the next week I was teaching him. It came so naturally to me. I loved it. I found my voice shortly after finding the guitar. Once I started to listen to folk music, I started singing. I would learn songs off of records, songs sung by Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and songs written by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. As I aged I discovered Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and found their songs so inspiring, it drove me to try to write my own. In high school, my oldest brother and I were a local folk duo and we played the one coffeehouse in town as well as faculty parties at the college and church socials. Basically, we played anywhere we were asked. When my brother married and moved away, I was forced to make a decision. Go solo or give it up. I went solo and have never stopped. Music is in my heart and soul and is my means of communication. It is a gift.
2) What are your top 3 measures of success in your life ?
Happiness, health and love. I can’t measure my success financially because I’ve always been a working musician who plays to pay the bills and bring home a basic paycheck. No frills, no big deals, no industry. That is also my choice. I found the mainstream industry very disheartening. It is youth driven, sex driven and money driven. I never really found the heart there. My heart is in my independence, my ability to touch people’s lives with my songs and my stories, and in my voice, the strength of which really moves people. The fact that I am still working, that I have a loyal audience, that people find my word and music of benefit to their lives is an amazing accomplishment. I wouldn’t trade it for the best ‘big label deal’ around. You can’t buy the kind of loyalty and respect that I have garnered through my years of hard work. I think my work has brought me good health, as happiness in what you do is the best healer. I’ve also been lucky in love and traveling the world as I do as a solo artist would be a lonely life if I didn’t have someone I love deeply to come home to.
3) What has been your biggest challenge being “out” in your professional
life? What has been the biggest reward/up side of being “out” in your
I really never had a choice. I never really had a “coming out” From my early days in LA, in the mainstream, people always knew I was bisexual. In the 70s that basically equated to being gay which was and still is in many ways an onus. I do consider myself a lesbian now as I am married to a beautiful woman and that is my life. When I became a recording engineer, my boss would let new clients know that 1) I was a woman (not easily known by my name) and 2) that I was gay. Perhaps that was done to save the men the embarrassment of ‘hitting’ on me. I’m not sure of the purpose but it always made my work that much harder. Not only did I have to prove that a woman can actually do great work as an engineer, but also that my gayness would not infect them. I know that being gay has always been an obstacle to my success, but it also has been a great asset as I’ve learned to live my life with integrity and determination.
4) What keeps you going on the tough days?
My music, my words, my marriage, my dogs and an annoying ‘joie de vivre’ that can drive others crazy. I basically am a happy person who loves life. Sappy, I know but it’s true. I’m not an unhappy person, nor do I tolerate boredom and self pity. Perhaps that comes from growing up in a healthy loving family. I know it has a lot to do with my outlook. I am surrounded by love. I’m lucky.
5) What brings you the most joy?
Time with my partner, a great meal, a good bottle of wine, time with family, laughter. If we don’t laugh everyday, we suffer gravely. If we don’t take advantage of the finer things in life, we age prematurely. I”m living proof of that! I’ll be 56 in March.
6) What is the wildest vision you can imagine for your career and business’
That my music ends up in film and on the radio so that I can enjoy some financial freedom. I I could find an artist of note who would cover one of my songs, it would make life a lot easier. Also that my line of clothing, “Tomboy girl” takes off and brings success to my partners and I. That I can hire people to work my store so I can stay home. That I can then find time and the means to do more philanthropic work which is one of my main goals in life.
7) How did Tomboy Girl (your line of clothing) come about and how does it
tie in with the overarching vision you have for your life and business?
What has this venture taught you?
Tomboy girl came from a song of mine that was released on “Radio Quiet” in the late nineties. Women always loved that song and identified with its message. It later became a tee shirt, then a hat, then a line of clothing. Originally it was an online business with product sold at shows. Then we opened a retail store in Madison, where I live. That has been a very difficult road. We opened right after 911 so never really have seen the good side of retail. But the store survives as does the online business. I believe in the message of the business which is that we can own who we are and how we walk this world. The phrase “tomboy” used to have negative connotations. Now it can define our lives and our reflections. I sell a lot of clothing to middle school girls and their mothers, who are proud to watch their daughters swing a bat, run the bases, play football, soccer, basketball. They are proud to see their daughters not be outdone by the boys.
8) What words of wisdom would you have for women just getting started in the
Follow your heart. It is a very tough business. If you want huge mainstream success, be prepared for a lot of sexist aggression and lots of false promises. If you choose the independent road, be prepared to work very hard. There are so many artists these days, it’s hard to get gigs, it’s hard to find an audience unless you have a very fresh approach. Starting out…don’t give up your day job!
9) As someone whose success has spanned decades and whose music transcends
generations — what have been your keys to sustaining success and
maintaining a balanced life over the long haul?
A good outlook, determination, the ability to be away from home for long stretches, to have friends everywhere I go and to be fulfilled by my stage work. A good diet, exercise, the ability to rest, laugh and enjoy my own company. The respect of my peers is the most valuable key to my success. Not much matters more than that. I work hard at my music, at my union work, in my life. Hard work is the door and determination is the key that opens the door to a room filled with the beautiful gifts that I can offer the world.
Learn more about Tret, buy some CDs, check out the photos of her cute dogs, and hop over to the Tomboy girl store at her website. Nothing says love at the holidays like buying gifts from independent artists.