Once upon a time, Rissi Palmer was known as “the black country girl.”
In 2007, the Pennsylvania-born, St. Louis-raised Palmer released her self-titled debut, which spawned two singles, “Country Girl” and “Hold On to Me.” (Those songs peaked at No. 54 and No. 59, respectively, on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.)
With backing from her label, 1720 Entertainment, Palmer aimed to be associated with other major country pop stars. “When I did my first album, we were very conscious of country radio and what was happening on country radio and how music sounded at that time,” says Palmer, now 34. “It was very much pop-country, and that was the thing. And, you know, those songs had been written since I was 19 and, so, that was kind of where my head was at. I was listening to Dixie Chicks. I was listening to Shania Twain, and that’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I wanted the music to sound like.”
But the older she got, the more she wanted to branch out musically, even incorporate some soul into new songs she wrote. “I remember taking some of these things to the label,” she says, “and they were like, ‘Uh, I don’t know that we’re gonna be able to get that on country radio.’” This led to Palmer leaving 1720 in 2009, which she says turned into “a legal thing” where she couldn’t record music for a year.
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Around that time, Palmer met a guy from Charlotte, whom she eventually married and had a daughter with. They moved to Raleigh in 2010, and Palmer spent time raising her daughter Grace, who’s now 4 and has become Palmer’s muse. Hanging with the little one inspired Palmer to record and independently release the children’s album “Best Day Ever” in 2013. “It sounds really corny, but she was extremely inspirational,” Palmer says. “You know, I was listening to all this music now, because, of course, all my people would send me CDs, like kids’ music and stuff. And I was just like, God, there’s some really good stuff. And I was like, I could do this.”
Releasing the album got her creative juices flowing again. “It was kind of me sticking my toe back in the water,” she says. “Like, I was so over the music business after my whole ordeal with 1720 that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it anymore.” Eventually, she took out those old songs her previous label balked at and recorded themon her own. They can be found on her new EP, “The Back Porch Sessions,” which she distributed on her own label, Baldilocks LLC. (“My husband’s bald, and I have hair,” she says, simply.)
As an artist who took time off to be a wife and mother, Palmer knew she had to get back into the singer-songwriter swing of things. “Well, it had a lot to do with where I was with my family,” she says. “Like, my daughter is in school now. And so I have a lot more time during the day. Because I made a very conscious decision when she was born that I wanted to be home with her, and I did that.”
Palmer is also working her way back into performing live. She’s part of this year’s SPARKcon festivities, doing a midnight set during Friday night’s musicSPARK show at Kings. Palmer has always wanted to be a part of the SPARKcon fun ever since she attended the first one many years ago. “It’s been kind of my goal to start playing a lot more locally and getting involved locally,” she says, “and I was like, ‘Why not SPARKcon?’”
As she prepares to write another EP for next year, Palmer is looking forward to giving audiences not just her own brand of countrified soul, but her life in words and music.
“I put all of me into these songs,” she says. “All these songs mean something to me. Everything I sing, whether it’s a cover or my own stuff, is chosen for a reason. So, I want people to walk away like, ‘I feel like I know her – and the girl can sing!’”
What: musicSPARK featuring Rissi Palmer, Zen Groove Arkest and Jaded Vocals
When: 10 p.m. Friday (Palmer on at midnight)
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Info: 919-833-1021 or sparkcon.com
A taste of SPARKcon
This is just a small sampling of events. Check out sparkcon.com for the full schedule. All events are free to attend.
SPARKlet celebrates the city’s greenspace with an area devoted to informing folks about building parklets, hosting a tricycle race and more. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on West Hargett Street beside the Wells Fargo Building. (Also 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.)
Cirque Apocalypse Fashion Show is presented by Cirque de Vol Studios at City Plaza, 7-7:45 p.m.
The End of the World Circus Show has acrobats, jugglers, hoopers, stilt walkers and clowns on City Plaza from 8-9 p.m.
The artSPARK main exhibition – “Local Flair” – is open from 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. upstairs at The Morning Times, 10 E. Hargett St.
Complify is a mission to collect 10,000 photographs of faces over the course of three years to create a show where viewers reflect on how stereotypes simplify society. Jose Chavira will have a small studio set up in the bazaar where SPARKers can come by, share their experiences, and add their portrait to the project. 150 Fayetteville St. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Also 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.)
Lego Mindstorm Robots: Middle schoolers show their Lego Mindstorm robots and autonomous programming to solve missions. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Red Hat Annex, 100 E. Davie St.
Majesty Rose, the North Carolina native who appeared on a recent season of “American Idol,” performs at City Plaza, 5:45-6:45 p.m.
Improv Comedy: This year’s show features special guest storyteller Mayor Nancy McFarlane, whose personal stories will serve as jumping off points for the improv teams. 6-7 p.m. at Kings, 14 W. Martin St.
punSPARK is new this year and perfect for lovers of corny puns. 16 punsters go head-to-head in the punSPARK com-pun-tition. 2-4 p.m., City of Raleigh Museum, 220 Fayetteville St., No. 100.
Best of filmSPARK 2015 will feature eight short films from 3-5 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of History, 5 E. Edenton St.