Who she is, for what it’s worth, is a singer who eschews labels such as neo-soul. “I don’t really know what neo-soul is,” she confesses. “I don’t think anybody does. It’s just one of those genres they throw people into who they can’t really fit into other genres.”
In any case, it doesn’t adequately capture the allure of her nearly four-octave vocal range and old-school, old-soul sound, as exhibited on tracks such as the funky mid-tempo “Pride” and the slinky, snaky groove of which came to her in a dream. Or tunes such as “Rules,” on which Gerdes conjures the spirit of another adored singer, Amy Winehouse, or “Fire,” a smokin’ slow- cooker on which she generates the kind of heat that sends couples straight from the dance floor to the bedroom. Or “I Need A Man,” in which she explains, in no uncertain terms, that she’s done with “foolish boys.”
This is a woman who has no more need for trifling dalliances; who’s sure of herself and in command. A woman who, one suspects, might be able to shoot lightning from a pointed finger; with her beguiling beauty, rich vocals and the winning songcraft of High Priestess, she leaves no doubt she can cast quite a spell.
Gerdes started to realize she had a special talent when she was 3. Her mother, a psychologist, used to sing “bawdy barroom songs and lamenting folk tunes as lullabies,” and Gerdes, obsessed with The Sound of Music, would dance through the fields surrounding her home while serenading anything in proximity — in a voice far more soulful than most kids that age have.
Teachers quickly singled her out for chorus assignments, and she began winning song- writing contests in elementary school. She began acting, too, and even became a young film auteur.
“My dad gave me a camcorder, and I used to make these movies and sketches,” she says, laughing at the memory. “I made all my friends remake The Amy Fisher Story, for ex- ample, which is super appropriate for kids. And I made them all do a weekend-long production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and cast myself as the quite risqué lead character. As a 12-year-old. It’s super embarrassing now. But I was very industrious and I typed out the script word for word.”
She pursued both classical and popular mu- sic, though the duality left her feeling like she didn’t fully fit in either camp. To this day, she says, “I reject the idea that I must only ex- press myself musically in one style. I love the artistic freedom of working in many genres.”