Melissa Dougherty

If the overachievers of the music world ever received grades, Lemon Sun guitarist Melissa Dougherty would be on the Dean’s List. Playing guitar and classical piano from the age of five, Dougherty was already producing her own CDs and playing in grunge bands as a teen. At Whittier College, she undertook a double major in English and Religious Studies, sought a minor in Art History, and went after a teaching credential for good measure (she currently teaches at the Silverlake Conservatory of Music founded by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). But winning a Fender Performance Scholarship to Berklee College of Music was a musical turning point.

“There was the metal group—where it seemed it was all about who could go the fastest—and then there was the jazz group,” remembers Dougherty. “They both appealed to me from a technical perspective, but I knew that if I stuck with jazz I’d be learning a new musical language.”

After receiving a degree in jazz composition and theory, Dougherty moved to Los Angeles, and released a couple of “poetic” singer/songwriter CDs. But meeting Lemon Sun guitarist Michael Shapiro—who was the band’s only guitarist at the time—helped reignite her rock and roll roots.

“I knew I was ready to make some noise, and when I saw Lemon Sun, I couldn’t believe they weren’t signed,” says Dougherty. “They were like the Queens of the Stone Age meets the Rolling Stones. I got myself into the band, and I’ve reverted back to my fun, 15-year-old self.”

How do you negotiate the jazz and rock sides of your playing?
Jazz was always a part of my life when I was young, because my mother played jazz records around the house. I was into singers like Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, and Nina Simone, but getting into the music is another thing altogether. What Berklee did was expand my vocabulary, because in the jazz classes I encountered all these different scales that went beyond pentatonic and blues scales. Also, what sounds like a wrong note in a rock solo will be the one note a jazz player will keep hitting, and understanding that was very liberating. I don’t consider myself a jazz musician, but studying jazz helped me broaden my ability to express myself in rock music.

What gear do you use with Lemon Sun?
I bought my ’81 Les Paul Custom because I thought it was good for jazz, but I find it’s too heavy for this band. So I play a Fender Telecaster Deluxe reissue through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Special Edition. The Tele is so versatile—it has that classic clean sound, but it also has a nice bottom end. I keep a Fender Strat as a backup. To get a little extra distortion, I use a Pro Co Rat and a Frantone Peachfuzz.

How do you and Michael work together within the band?
Michael and I switch off on lead and rhythm. We have a mutual respect for each other, as well as many of the same influences. We both admire John Frusciante very much, and we have a common vision of the sound we’re going after. It’s a hybrid of stuff that touches on early Pink Floyd, Robbie Krieger, and Johnny Marr, but it’s centered around those organic sounds from the ’70s —when all you needed was a really good guitar and a decent amp.