Ten albums in around 20 years is nothing to sneeze at, but Badwater downplays the importance. “I mean, I just learned how to play guitar 15 years ago, but I was still doing music before that. I went to Florida State. I partied. I had a band. But it’s number 10, and this one took me three years to make.”
Badwater is the daughter of primitive Baptist preachers, and gospel music was a constant growing up. “I started singing in church when I wasn’t even walking yet. Then I was making up songs whenever I was playing in the yard as a little kid. But I was about 12 when I started trying to deliberately write stories and songs and everything.”
A few high school bands followed. Badwater’s primary instrument was the saxophone. The guitar wouldn’t make an appearance until years later.
She found her way back to music 15 years ago out of necessity. “I needed some money,” she says.
The recently released In Spades is a milestone for Badwater, who says, “This was the first one that we really knew what we were doing, and it was very deliberate.
“We produced for television and film, and so it was very important to us to get the big atmospheric, rich, dense quality that would be good for a movie soundtrack. We let that drive how we were going to put everything together. And I say we—that we is me and Jordan Kimsey and Ben Lorio.”
Kimsey makes up the other half of Badwater’s band while Lorio’s New Orleans-based Below Productions studio served as the primary backdrop for the album’s production.
“One neat feature about this record is that Ben Lorio had to go out of town whenever I was supposed to do my final vocal,” says Badwater. “And I had already planned the time off work, so I hightail it over there to Orleans and he was like, ‘Oh my god, I got to go out of town, and it’s like this emergency.’
“So he gave me a crash course in ProTools, set me up a 1728 house, like from back when New Orleans was still France. I recorded all of my own vocals and edited them. I did all of that myself. It was so cool. It was one of my favorite memories of my whole life where I was actually getting to sit in this old-ass building and sing my heart out for a week and get the vocals for all of the songs done, with the exception of one. For it, we did a scratch track while I had pneumonia. My voice sounded crazy and we liked it so much, we actually kept the scratch track.”
“At the time I was the principal at Santa Rosa Juvenile Residential Facility. The wage that they paid me put me in a higher tax bracket than I was used to because I had been a schoolteacher for 10 years. So my first paycheck was like nothing. And we were down to our last box of macaroni and cheese, me and my little baby son.
“I saw a sign that said Cash Prize for Karaoke. I looked at him—he’s this little toddler in his little car seat over there—and I was like, ‘I’m going to go win that money for us, baby.’ So I dropped him off at the grandparents’ house and I went and I did a Patsy Cline song. And this fella came up to me and I don’t know if he was even affiliated with the place, but he handed me two $100 bills, and he said, ‘Get out of here.’ And I was like, ‘I’m out. Thank you. Bye.’ That got us through.”
It was enough to lead Badwater back to music.
“I’m not a professional,” says Badwater. “I’m just feeling it out and whenever it feels good to me, then if it sticks I’ll keep doing that. If it sounds dim, I’ll stop. Most of the time I try not to make too big of a mess of things.”
There is another hat that has garnered Badwater an active following. She is a tattoo artist and owner of Sweet Betsy Tattoos. “During the process of getting tattooed by Andrew Trull, seeing my drawings and my ideas and stuff, he’s like, ‘Have you ever thought about tattooing for a living?’ And I laughed at him. I was like, ‘Yeah, right, I’ve thought about it like I’ve thought about skydiving for a living. No one does this. You guys are some kind of weird, strange creature.’
“So it had been a year since Andrew had made that comment to me,” says Badwater. “And I was up there on tour and I was painting on this big giant canvas—this enormous multi-artist mural at Immortal Images Tattoo Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Andrew was there. Everyone was asleep in the studio, and it was just the stroke of midnight. And this preacher came on the radio and he was saying, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got a hold of my future…’ So I woke up Andrew and was like, ‘Hey, let’s do it. I’ll learn to tattoo.’ He moved down from Chicago to Pensacola and taught me how to tattoo. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
October will mark Badwater’s tenth year as a tattoo artist. Whatever Badwater goes after, she does it full force, constantly learning and growing as an artist.
Keep up with the music side of Betsy Badwater at Facebook.com/BetsyBadwater.