Neycha

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Neycha is a classic example of a good girl gone wild.

Back in her rural hometown of Martinsville, Virginia, the former Miss Black Teenage Virginia was a cheerleader and choir singer. But while attending George Mason University, the belle who was born Kimberly Herford succumbed to her passion for music, renamed herself Neycha (a play on "nature") and plunged into the nearby Washington, D.C., music scene. "That was a pivotal time for me," says Neycha, 33. "I had been raised prim and proper in the Bible Belt, so to do secular music was completely sinful!"

Initially, Neycha explored a contemporary soul style reminiscent of Sade, but she soon strayed from her roots. "As I got serious about turning my poetry into song lyrics, I knew that only a guitar could capture their emotional depth," she says. As her music moved in an increasingly alternative-rock direction, the singer found fewer performance outlets in D.C. and relocated to Brooklyn in 1995.

After singing briefly in an improvisational jazz outfit with Burnt Sugar frontman Greg Tate, Neycha assembled an eight-piece band and began molding her self-produced debut CD, 2000's The Dirty Side Up, which she released on her own Lucy Kool label. The disc is a vibrantly innovative mix of hard and soft textures, dusted soul and nasty rock, anchored by heavy guitars and hypnotic breakbeats over which Neycha sings lyrics spiced with anger, melancholy and sex.

While downtown rock venues have eagerly booked her, Neycha encountered resistance from places like Joe's Pub and BAMcafé because her sound is "so hard." So she formed a second band—including a string quartet—to present a gentler take on The Dirty Side Up. "It's my subharmonic beat orchestra," she explains. "It gives me an opportunity to get wide open in a different kind of way than when I'm rockin' out."

More local artists:

Main | Sharon Jones | Liars | The Rapture | The Rogers Sisters | Vijay Iyer | Yeah Yeah Yeahs | Neycha | My Robot Friend

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