Our Own Private Indigo Girls

Musicians Mo Kelly and Niccole Bayley play around


Midway through our interview, Maureen (Mo) Kelly shared this insight: "If we had a dollar for everyone [who] said we sound like the Indigo Girls, we'd be rich."

In Niccole Bayley and Mo Kelly, Boise has its own private Indigo Girls. Singer/songwriter Bayley and bassist Kelly have called Boise home for the last couple of years. While they've been on stage all over the U.S., they like it here. "Boise's so inviting," they say, "a great little music scene."

More that just a home, Boise serves as their home base. They tour all over the Western U.S. and beyond to play their music. With venues typically in places such as Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City, Bayley says, "I think I'm a professional driver." After putting more than 300,000 miles on her old '91 Ford Explorer (affectionately called "Betty Ford"), Kelly and Bayley are now finally traveling in a newer vehicle.

Bayley hails from New Jersey, and Kelly comes from California. They met up in Sandpoint a few years ago. Bayley was starting her musical career, and Kelly was suppressing the music inside while immersed in the corporate resort world of North Idaho.

Kelly was initially just a fan. However, when given the chance to provide vocal harmony, she made the most of it. Bayley saw an amazing effect on the audience when she and Kelly sang together. Speaking of Kelly's effect on her songs, Bayley says, "Her vocals make them shine."

Kelly is equally complimentary of Bayley's songwriting. Since Bayley's songs are based on the realities of everyday life, they resonate with the listener. "Everyone's been there," Kelly says, "they can relate to her."

Many people relate to "Mamma," the song Bayley wrote in honor of her mother. It's the most downloaded song in their current repertoire. Written just two days before her mother's death, she sings of her mother as a "giant ball of energy in a woman so damn small." Kelly says that when "Mamma" is performed, there's "not a dry eye in the house."

When asked about her songwriting, Bayley says, "Writing a great song is like waking up on Christmas Day." When asked about the process, Kelly interjects that Bayley's an artist. She'll write, arrange, test and try a song before she's satisfied with it. "It can come out completely different a year later," she adds.

Bayley wrote all of the songs on their two CDs, Despite the Dents and Smile. Both albums are filled with tales of love, loss and life. And, they've just started on their next CD. Coming out sometime in the late summer will be album No. 3: Life is Beautiful.

With just their two voices, Bayley's guitar and Kelly's bass, they perform as a mini band though Bayley is now learning to play the saxophone and Kelly is trying her hand at the fretless bass.

They claim musical influences from the Indigo Girls (naturally), Tracy Chapman and Cheryl Wheeler, among others. They've shared the stage with other notable musicians, including Shawn Colvin, Karla Bonoff and Nina Gerber (the former guitarist for Kate Wolf).

Bayley learned how to hold an audience's attention in her prior career as a teacher. While teaching health and physical education to 14-year-olds, she found that she "had to entertain them" at times to get them to learn. Music, as she puts it, is her "second career."

The business end of music has caused many a creative musician to tear out his or her hair. But that's not an issue with Kelly and Bayley. Kelly handles the scheduling and much of the other business of touring. Bayley's created B-Lazy Records, her own music label. As she notes, "Nobody's going to take care of your baby the way you can."

They are a well-matched pair. "I'm a social bunny," Bayley says. She relishes the spotlight and the social setting of their music sets. On the other hand, Kelly prefers to sing backup and stay in the background. She's adept at following Bayley's lead, frequently saying, "Just give me the first word of the next line," when they're on stage together.

That comment brings out Bayley's ready laugh. Each woman has a warm, friendly nature that shows up in conversation as easily as it does on stage. I watched one of their performances recently at the Sockeye Bar & Grill (3019 N. Cole Rd.), a place they frequently play. They opened their show with an original song with the line, "I sure like my life today." By their expressions as they performed, it was evident that they were enjoying life. And after a couple songs, it was apparent that the audience liked what they were hearing, too.

Bayley's powerful and expressive voice blended with Kelly's sweet harmonies on a mix of both original tunes and covers during the show. They played Rod Stewart's "First Cut is the Deepest," George Gershwin's "Summertime," Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" and Kris Kristofferson's "Bobby McGee" in an amazingly accurate Janis Joplin imitation.

Bayley is quite adept on her guitar and Kelly's bass fills in the low end. The audience seemed to love the covers, but the original songs displayed both compelling tunes and noteworthy lyrics, such as the title song off Despite the Dents--a car song with a twist.

On "Everything's a Trade," also from Dents, they sang, "Some of the best times I ever had are just sitting in the sun/Kicking back and having simple fun." As they shared more of their "best times" with their audience, I slipped out into the night, heeding another of the song's lines--to "spend more time with my wife."

What does the future hold for Kelly and Bayley? As Kelly puts it, they're just "trying to bring light and love to people through music." Other than that, they don't really have any master plan; they're experiencing life to its fullest and enjoying the opportunities it provides. "It's definitely a journey we've been on so far," Bayley says.

Bayley does admit that she wants to get more "natural" on the guitar. And, when pressed, they both say that their dream is to open for the Indigo Girls some day. They have met Emily Sailor (one of the Indigo Girls) and would "love to share the stage with them."

Until then, we have our own private Indigo Girls right here in Boise.