Don’t be fooled by Patresa Hartman’s humble grace and self-effacing charm; this talent is a force to be reckoned with. Both her lyrics and her energy are infused with honesty, poetry, and artistry that are rare finds in today’s musicians.
Singer/songwriter, freelancer writer, and mother of a busy toddler, Patresa is an ambitious new voice on the scene that will soon be recognized by many. Iowa Music Buzz sat down to talk with Patresa during a short break in her busy performance schedule to talk about what it’s like to be a Woman Who Rocks.
IMB: Let’s start out at the beginning. How did you get into singing/songwriting? What was the very first song that you wrote?
Patresa Hartman: Well, if you really want to go back, the very first song I wrote was in the eighth grade. It was predictably awful, and probably about a boy. It rhymed very well, if awkwardly. That was when I all of a sudden decided I could be Debbie Gibson or Tiffany (I’m dating myself.)
IMB: Where did you take it from there?
PH: Nowhere. I took it nowhere. I would write some songs, but I was much too shy and afraid to play for anyone. I began to wonder what the point was of writing these songs if I wasn’t going to play them for anyone, so I quit for a long time. Then about fifteen years ago, I bought a piano from a thrift store, and I think the first weekend I had that piano, about five, six, seven songs just sort of fell out, like they’d just been waiting in there. I started up that time with a little more earnest, but I was still too scared, so I quit again.
IMB: What led you to decide to start taking the stage now?
PH: Back in 2010, a friend of mine and I were at The Royal Mile having a beer, and we were talking about fear, and how frustrating it is to have things you want to do, but you are too scared to do them. So we started a club, where we each picked a project that scared us, and we worked toward getting over it. This idea was born — there were nine or ten women — and my project was to play and sing my own stuff at an open mic night.
IMB: So, when did you take the stage again after your extended hiatus?
PH: It was February of 2011, at Open Circus at the Des Moines Social Club. I played a few songs then. Now, my goal was to do it three times, because I knew my first time would be awful, and then my old tendencies to cease and desist immediately would take over and I would quit. I needed to do it enough to know what it was like to do it when I wasn’t quite so terrified.
IMB: Did becoming a new mother have any influence on your decision to go for it?
PH: To a certain extent. I was starting to think about what kind of a role model I wanted to be for my child, and I didn’t want him to grow up with fears of embarrassing himself, taking risks, and putting himself out there. I wanted him to see an example of someone being bravely vulnerable.
IMB: When did you get past that fear when performing?
PH: It is still there, especially in the first couple of songs. I’m not sure that insecurity ever really goes away. I think more than anything, you just learn how to make it not a dysfunction. Also — maybe it’s age, maybe it’s motherhood — but I’ve realized that embarrassing yourself isn’t the end of the world. You won’t die, no one is hurt if you play poorly (except maybe your ears), and ego needs to be crushed every once in a while anyway. That’s my theory.
IMB: How has motherhood influenced your songwriting?
PH: I don’t feel like it’s influenced my songwriting so much as it has the business aspect of it. I think when you’re a mother, the expectation, necessarily, is that your child and family come first. You don’t put yourself first. But the unique aspect of being a performer, particularly at this level, is that you are really the one responsible for promoting yourself. So there’s this interesting contradiction between needing to promote yourself and at the same time feeling apologetic about it. You feel like you’re being arrogant. Everything kind of clashes.
PH: That originated from me wanting to get out of my shell and perform, so I proposed to Mary McAdams an evening of women musicians somewhere. Selfishly, when I feel uncomfortable or insecure, I want to be around other women. Mary suggested a monthly series in the round format. The spirit of Women Writers in the Round is not to exclude men. Rather it is really about being a woman projecting confidence and competence in your art. It’s a celebration of women as artists.
Patresa has many upcoming performances, including:
Tuesday, May 28: Songwriters in the Round at Java Joe’s
Thursday, May 30: With Lavonne McRoberts at the Underground
Friday, May 31: Women Writers in the Round at Ritual Cafe