I really dig surprises; surprise parties, long lost friends coming to visit, getting an unexpected note in the mail from someone. I especially like musical surprises, like when I hear a band that sounds like an sonic army and there are only two people playing (ahem..Royal Blood). When I heard Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds for the first time, I seriously thought that Aretha Franklin had joined a band and started making new music. I was totally captivated, and pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this beautifully soulful and gigantic voice came from a little lady born and raised in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Y’all, meet Arleigh Kincheloe, founder and leader of Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, who will be performing at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville on Sunday, June 21st. I caught up with Arleigh while she was enjoying a rare day off at home in New York:
Eo8: You’ve played all the places with all the people. How do you feel about the road-doggin’ life? Does it energize you or wear you out?
AK: I think a little of both. If it didn’t wear me out, I would think something was wrong with me. Music and the experience of performing definitely energizes me. The travel that can wear you down, it’s hard on your body. It’s taken me a few years to figure out how to really take care of myself, and even now sometimes I struggle with that; you try to do the best you can but inevitably something comes up and you make one bad decision and you’re like “ah man I’m really hurting today!” I think it’s all live and learn kind of stuff. Ultimately, I feel like I’m doing okay and it hasn’t worn me down so much that I want to stop. I am definitely still really loving it, and am very grateful I get to do what I do. It’s hard, but not a lot of people get to have this experience.
Eo8: How do you maintain a semblance of normalcy?
AK: I don’t know if normalcy is ever really part of it. It’s a lot of weird hours; honestly, what helps me a lot, actually, is that I take a lot of naps. That keeps me going and keeps me able to get up and sing. Sometimes we don’t play until 1:00 in the morning, won’t get to our hotel until 4:00, we’ll get up at 10:00, drive 8 hours to the next stop; you have to find time to sleep and rest in general. I’ve become really good at sleeping in the van.
Eo8: You’re from the Catskills but you sing like you’re from New Orleans…
AK: I didn’t even get to New Orleans until I was 21! I think my parents had a lot to do with that because the music they listened to when we were growing up definitely had that southern influence, the blues, stuff like that, and I think that’s where it come from, because that’s what I grew up listening to as well.
Eo8: You have a musical family, and your brother Jackson is in your band; he’s an amazing harmonica player, I can basically see the smoke coming from his harmonica through my stereo when I listen to your music.
AK: Yes! It’s crazy because he’s only been playing for about 10 years, which is a short time compared to the rest of us. I’ve been singing for 20 years, the rest of the guys have been playing a really long time too. He’s a very quick study. It’s pretty amazing. It’s great having my brother in the band, we’ve always been close, and while we occasionally, rarely, get on each other’s nerves, ultimately we see eye to eye on things, and we have each other’s backs no matter what. Our parents obviously love it that we have each other.
Eo8: Your third LP, The Weather Below, just recently came out; how do you feel your music has changed since the first album?
AK: So much. I love being able to say that, it feels good to know that we’ve grown. I think we’ve grown together; I personally feel, as a songwriter, that I’ve grown up and changed a lot since that first one, I was like a baby, such a youngster when I started the band. I feel lifetimes away from that little girl that started the band. We’ve played so much together, the songwriting has evolved too, all those things have shaped us a lot. I think this new record is by far our best work, I’m really proud of it. I haven’t actually been able to say that too many times.
Eo8: You have a large band, who does the songwriting?
AK: I’m the main songwriter, but there are a couple of tunes on this record that we did as a collaboration. Sasha Brown, our guitar player, and I wrote a couple of the songs as a duo, but most of the songs are mine. All of them we arrange together, so everyone has a chance to put in their two cents. I started writing when I was 18; I was inspired by getting my heart broken. I think it was good that that happened to me though, because now I’m doing what I’m doing. I think it was scary; I was afraid to show anybody the first songs I wrote. I was afraid for it to be a reality. I showed a friend my songs, because he understood what I was going through at the time, and I remember him telling me, “Arleigh, you’ve got to do this.” I was terrified. I remember vividly playing my songs for my parents and making my mom cry. I’d always been a singer, but I’d never thought I would be a songwriter.
Eo8: Do you have a favorite song on your new album?
AK: There’s one song, “We Need A Love,” I don’t know why, but it really makes me happy. For me, it’s a very personal song, and it makes me feel good to sing it. I wrote it at my dad’s house in the Catskills, and I always have a sentimental spot in my heart for songs I’ve written there, because that’s where I started writing songs. There’s something really special about that place, and where I am in my headspace when I’m there.
Eo8: Is there someone you’d collaborate with if you had the chance?
AK: One of my dreams, since I was a little girl, would be to sing with Bonnie Raitt. She was a huge influence for me. Sometimes I fantasize about writing songs with Stevie Wonder, I love Stevie.
Believe me, when I tell you, beloved readers, you NEED to give The Weather Below many listens, and come to 3rd & Lindsley Sunday night to see this band. Tickets are only $10! Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and the show starts at 8:00 p.m. If you’re there, come say hi, I’ll be the wide-eyed fangirl in the very front row.