Two years ago New York band Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds hit the scene with their first self titled record. Now with a second record under the belt the band is still on the road touring the country as they play small town venues and big city festivals. Fusing the musical backgrounds and influences of nine different musicians into one unit, the Dirty Birds are a powerhouse of soul, funk, rock and a little bit of country.
Arleigh Kincheloe, Sister Sparrow herself, and her brother Jackson take the band back to it’s roots when, in their youth, Arleigh would write songs and Jackson would play music to them. Over time the project grew and Arleigh’s desire to have a band with a full horn section became a reality. And thus was born the Dirty Birds.
The Grateful Web’s Angela Gattuso recently had a chance to catch up with Arleigh while on a couple day’s break from tour to talk about live performances, inspiration, the logistics of working in a nine-piece band, and spreading the word of the Bird.
GW: I’m Angela Gattuso, I’m with the Grateful Web and today I have Arleigh from Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds on the line for an interview. How are you doing today?
Arleigh: I’m doing well, thank you. How are you doing?
GW: Good, thanks. Are you on a break right now from touring or do you just have some free days inbetween?
Arleigh: Well, actually, we have a couple days of break in Brooklyn. We leave again tomorrow, but I’m sort of enjoying this day in Brooklyn. It’s about 100 degrees here.
GW: Yeah it’s been a little hot lately. Are you spending time at home?
Arleigh: Yeah, I am. I’m sort of hiding out in the A/C and trying to sort of sort things cause we don’t really get a lot of time at home. So you know, it’s just those days where you just do your laundry and stuff.
GW: Right, yeah. It’s nice to do that for a change. I imagine being on the road it’s a little bit different of a lifestyle.
Arleigh: Yeah, absolutely. But it’s nice, I mean it’s definitely one big adventure and you can see the whole country which is really awesome.
GW: That’s good. You guys have been on tour for a long time now too, so is there an end in sight or are you guys just kind of going to keep for a while and see where it takes you?
Arleigh: I think we’re going to just sort of keep riding the wave. We are planning to take a little bit of time off once the weather gets colder, probably near the holidays. But yeah, we’re pretty much just truckin’ along and that’s kind of our plan is to just keep touring and sort of, it seems that the more we do it obviously the farther along we get. So it’s kind of one foot in front of the other and just trying to enjoy it while we do it.
GW: That’s good. I was looking at your guys’ touring schedule and it looks like you’re doing a lot of festivals and similar type things and a lot of those shows are free. Are you just doing that to get yourselves out there or is touring something that all of you guys have just really come to love and playing in front of audiences?
Alreigh: Well I think it’s a little of both, you know. I think we absolutely love playing and I think that’s the first reason why we started to do it. And then as we sort of saw the responses and people start to like it, you know, we figured out how to make the logistics work with nine people on the road, which took some time. But you know, after that it’s, we’re trying to spread the word of the Bird, if you will, and at the end of the day it is what we love so that’s why we do it. And we hope that by us having such a good time on stage other people will have also a good time for sharing that with us.
GW: You had mentioned that you guys are going to take a break maybe around the winter. Is your plan then to get back into the studio while your taking a break from touring, or just kind of relax or do you have new material?
Arleigh: Well right now we’re super focused on Pound of Dirt which we just put out a couple months ago, and so you know we’re sort of slowly writing some stuff. I’m the principal song writer and so it’s been kind of a challenge for me to try to write while on the road and you know, I haven’t quite hit my stride with it yet. So I think what will happen when we get a little time off will be a lot of writing, actually, and so then after that we’ll start to get back in the studio. So I think for us the way we’ve found to work in the best way is I’ll write the songs and we’ll arrange them all together and then we pick them out on the road before we like to put them in the studio. We find that the songs sort of evolve and they grow and they get more meaning, you know, or they get deeper or more exciting or whatever as we play them more and more. So it’s sort of like kneading the bread and getting all the good stuff in there, so I think that’s probably the plan. But right now we’re just trying to, I mean we’re being pretty chill about it. It was a really crazy recording process for Pound of Dirt because we didn’t take any time off from the road so we were recording in our, quote on quote, days off, which I think it was like two months where I sang every day or something crazy like that. Which was a challenge, it was really intense. But it was amazing and fun and I’m so happy it worked out the way it did. But I think hopefully this next time we’ll be able to like, I don’t know, maybe just like three weeks. But it was cool.
GW: Since you’ve been having a challenge hitting your stride while you’re on tour with writing your songs, do you think once you slow down and take a break you’ll look back on that and form inspiration from that? Or where do you usually get the material for your songs?
Arleigh: Yeah, I think that just life experiences definitely inspire me. But I think sometimes with me, and I guess I get like writer’s block or something, but the inspiration does come from thin air it seems like. Like the other day I woke up with a song in my head that sort of happened in my dream, which is a good tool to use when you’re dreaming. Just a stream of consciousness, free and creative. You’re mind’s not worrying about anything and so that was exciting. I was like, oh, there we go, there’s a little nugget of inspiration there. And you know, I did go ahead and write a song out of that. So it kind of comes and goes but I think that just living the lives that we do now, it adds so much to the music and because that’s all we do, it’s just all music. And it kind of, it definitely shapes how we play or how I sing or what we end up writing. And yeah, I think it’s a nice little cycle, you know, like blending each piece into each other.
GW: Before you guys had put records out and it was just you and your brother writing songs and playing together, did you imagine it growing into something this size or what were you envisioning at the time when you had this dream of becoming a musician and taking your music on the road?
Arleigh: Well do you mean the size in terms of number of band members or do you mean like being at this point or...?
GW: Both, I guess. I mean it seems like it would be hard touring with so many of you guys but it seems like you’re doing very well for yourself keeping busy on tour and selling your records.
Arleigh: Yeah, well I definitely think when I was envisioning this project I knew I wanted a huge band. I mean I knew I want a full horn section and you know, once you add that you really have...it doubles the size of the band. And I was pretty held bent on that being it, so I knew if I was hopefully successful in finding those numbers. And then as we go along, I mean, every new little milestone, as small as it might be, it really does sort of thrill me. I don’t really have any expectations for anything but when I was a kid I definitely envisioned being a rock star or whatever. But you know, you grow older and you try and put things in perspective. And I’ve learned to not let myself get too worked up or too excited because then you know, you sort of stay grounded and you don’t get your feelings hurt when something doesn’t come through. If that helped to answer the question, I do feel like, not surprised because we are working really hard and I feel like hopefully we earn everything we get. But you know, I am definitely like, oh yay, goodie we did it.
GW: By the nature of the band just being that large and the kind of music that you’re playing, it seems that there’s a lot of room for improvisation. Is that something you guys like to incorporate into your live set or do you usually just stick more with what you have recorded or that sound?
Arleigh: There’s always a lot of soloing so all of that is totally improv. But the boys sort of told me this early on that I didn’t really notice about myself, but that they were like, “Man you sing the song different every time and it’s really cool because it inspires us to sort of do the same and to have that freedom and creativity.” And I was like, really I do that? So yeah, I think, I mean we definitely don’t...we try to play to the audience as much as can and I think that just from there immediately changes the vibe of the song. So you might not hear the same thing twice with us, which is exciting, and I think with so many people in the band we need that to sort of...we don’t want to get stuck in a rut and we also do want to keep challenging each other and ourselves. And so I think that’s a good way to do it, but we don’t get too crazy. But yeah, for sure.
GW: Cool. With there being all of you guys on the road together do you like to play the smaller venues? People generally do just because they’re more intimate, but is that more of a challenge for you guys?
Arleigh: Well, I guess it depends on how small. Sometimes we get so crammed on the stage, you know, it’s hard to fit everybody. But no, I personally, I think it’s sort of apples and oranges between cultures and festivals, I mean obviously, but there is something really sort of magical about being super close to your audience and being able to after the show just talk to everybody. Which I really love to do because it’s just meeting all sorts of cool people all the time and there’s always a story and always somebody’s long lost cousin or whatever. So I love that, I think it keeps it super interesting out there on the road. But that being said, I love playing festivals. It’s a whole other thing; it just sort of feels like a playground for musicians. It’s sort of like ok, we’re going to set you all free in this little field and you guys just go nuts, you know. And that’s cool because of that reason. We do meet a lot of other bands and we get to share those road stories with those people, and you know.
GW: Sounds like a fun time. I know that you come from a musical family and all of you guys come from different musical backgrounds and interests. Where does your interest lie or where does your inspiration come from as far as musical tastes go? What kind of music do you pull from to bring into the band?
Arleigh: Right, personally we were listening to a lot of sort of, I don’t know if you’d call it country rock or not. But my mom listened to a lot of Bonnie Raitt, which was huge for me, she was really inspiring. And then my dad was really into The Band, which was, you know, as far as my musical education goes, that was like 101. Then you know to top it off you have the Little Feet, which I think you sort of got that New Orleans-y thing going on there and my dad was definitely into the Grateful Dead so that was also in there. So I think for me and my brother we kind of come with like the Americana, sort of bluesy, rocky stuff. And the guys in the band, we have a lot of shared influences in that way, but there’s also a lot of jazz background for other players. So they bring that different element, whereas Jackson and I didn’t necessarily listen to a lot of jazz growing up at all. And I mean not jazz in the way the boys would classify, but my dad would put on Nat King Cole or something, a little Duke Ellington or something. But yeah, so it’s cool to see how all these different tastes sort of mesh together and create something sort of new, you know. But for me specifically I sort of find my home in those records you know, sort of the American. In my mind it feels like my mom and dad’s generation of like, what they grew up listening to, and that’s kind of what stuck with me. So I’m kind of an old lady, but I kind of like it. I’m kind of stuck in my ways and I have to sort of force myself to branch out. But you know, that’s always a fun little to thing to do anyway.
GW: So is there any newer music that you listen to now that influences you or do you tend to stick more to that older stuff you grew up with or music that sounds like it?
Arleigh: Well I’d definitely say certain things have influenced me. And I’d say like, going to New Orleans and hearing the brass bands there for the first time really re-birthed brass bands, like they’re power is huge. That was, I think the first time I went to New Orleans was right when the band was first starting, or when I was first getting it together, so I think that was definitely influential. Although that is sort of old school style but still happening now. And then there’s this band, The Wood Brothers. First time I ever heard them sticks out in my mind. Which is so different from what we do but there’s something about the way they sing and just the style of their song writing that I was really drawn to and I’m definitely in love with those guys.
GW: Yeah they’re good, I like them also.
GW: Cool, well I think that was all that I had for you.
Arleigh: Cool. Well thanks for taking the time.
GW: Thank you for the time. It was really nice talking to you, I really appreciate it.
Arleigh: Yeah, you too. Alright take care.
GW: Thank you, you also.
Arleigh: Alright, bye.