Q&A with Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds
by Andrew Shilling
Jan 29, 2014 | 2334 views | 0 0 comments | 192 192 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Arleigh Kincheloe is the front-woman for eight-piece band, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, a dream she has worked for since childhood.

In 2012, the band’s trajectory was thrown into high gear after two nights opening for Gov’t Mule at the Beacon Theater, leading them to future career-changing shows at Bonnaroo, the Mountain Jam and opening for bands like the Avett Brothers.

The NYC-based high-energy soul/rock band released its third studio album in October, and while they now spend nearly 200 days out of the year on the road, Kincheloe says she still finds time to write and work towards pushing the band even further.

From her days growing up in a family of musicians and artists in the Catskills, “Sister Sparrow” continues to find her own way in the world or recording and touring.

I had a chance to meet up with Kincheloe last week after rehearsals at Café Orlin in Manhattan to talk about her band and their plans for the future.

How is playing in NYC different from the rest of your tour?

This has always been our best city to work in. Even though we had a nice community around us when we we’re upstate, down here they always come out to see us whenever we play, and they were really nurturing of us. And not only that, but there is a huge community around us here. I think that we’re all here to help each other out, and as much as New York can be cutthroat, the music scene here, at least as I’ve experienced it, is very much not that way. It’s about being together and not about beating each other’s bands in a “battle of the bands.”

I think once you get to a certain level, that competitiveness gets exponentially more difficult, but the reason why we’ve been able to stay is because we put on bigger and bigger shows with out friends bands. Then our friends’ bands will include us and we will work together.

Has this always been your calling?

I knew I wanted to do this since I was eight years old. There was never a question in my mind since my parents were so supportive of it. There was moral support to do it because I knew there was this support system and enthusiasm behind me. If I was the daughter of a couple of doctors, then I would be much less likely to go out there and take a chance at being a musician.

What is it like being on stage?

Sometimes people want to go out there and put on a big show. For me, I feel more like myself when I am out there, which is interesting because it has made my personal life, or the other side away from the stage, grow a lot because I have more courage and more confidence from being up there. Interestingly enough, it helped me in my day-to-day life, too. It’s not really like my alter ego, but it’s more like being my true self.

I never really got stage fright. There was a time when I was a little nervous, but I was never afraid to do it. It was probably because they just shoved me up on stage when I was nine years old. I was too young to be scared I think. That was kind of a blessing in disguise.

Did you feel pressure to get into music because your parents were artists?

No. I took piano lessons for about two weeks when I was like seven or eight, and I didn’t like it so I stopped, but I ended up teaching myself how to play piano when I was 17 on my own, because I wanted to. My parents were supportive but they didn’t push it on me if I didn’t want to do it. It’s a really hard life so it’s not something that you would want to push your kids into.

What was it that pushed you into playing piano again?

Well, I don’t know what sparked it, but clearly I was always interested in music. I wanted to be able to play other people’s songs and cover and sing, just for my own fun. But I sat down and realized that I remembered a lot that I was taught from the couple of lessons that I had. I remembered the basics, like how to put together a chord, so it really came back naturally to me. Not to say that I am good, but I can get by playing some songs. Same thing with guitar, I’m not very good, but I can get by and use it as a tool to write.

How did you decide to get your family together and form a band?

I guess my brother was playing harmonica and he stood along side me when I was writing my first songs. My brother was there learning harmonica at the same time. We weren’t very good for a while (laughs). He knew that he wanted to be a part of it and I knew that I wanted him to be involved. Graham (Arleigh’s cousin) moved back here because he wanted to be with his lady, who he ended up marrying last summer. But anyway, so when he was coming back I was thinking that we should get the band together. I have a couple songs, and I thought that we could just do it. Graham was enthusiastic, we just needed to find a couple other guys.

So when you moved here did you think that this was it?

Well, it took me a little while. I lived here for about a year, I waited tables and I worked the graveyard shift and did the whole NYC thing. Eventually, about a year later, my mom was like, “You came here for a reason, none of this is working. You need to get into your music.”

So, I used to play a couple of places once a month and play my songs. I was terrified, but then I eventually put some rehearsals together. It took a little while but from then on, we just got really lucky and the musicians that we got together were really enthusiastic even though we played our first show in a basement in Williamsburg.

So now you have new album out, what is the future of the band?

Fight has been out for a little while, since October 2013, so right now I’m writing for the next album. But the future of the band is we are going to continue to tour all the time, between 150 and 250 days out of the year. But that is our thing. We are sticking to that plan for a while.

Do you feel like you have to tour to make a living?

Well, that’s why you see all these bands coming back from retirement, like Journey and The Eagles. They’re coming back because there aren’t a lot of album sales, and especially at our level, we sell some at our shows, but if we weren’t touring we would not be able to take care of ourselves. It’s my only job so we need to.

Catch Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds with Zongo Junction at Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue, on January 31 at 8 p.m.

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