Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds fly to jazz and funk fest

Tahoe Onstage

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds fly into The Village at Sqauw Valley on Saturday, the opening day of the Brews, Jazz and Funk Fest.
Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage photos

Revered naturalist and scientist Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution and natural selection after observing the multitude of different bird species in the enchanted Galapagos Islands. He realized the birds that were most suited and adaptable to their environment would pass on those same genes to future generations, creating a lineage of ever-evolving offspring that would be ideal for their unique environment. The key for a species survival, it seemed, was its ability to change over time.

Down in the Galapagos, Darwin never had the chance to observe Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds in thei natural habitat, but there is no doubt he would have seen his theory of evolution at work. Sister Sparrow, also known as Arleigh Kincheloe, and her flock of musicians The Dirty Birds have been a modern soul powerhouse for close to a decade, sticking to a familiar flight pattern of working together on writing an album, recording that album, then touring that album.

That all shifted with the band’s latest album “GOLD.” Sister Sparrow was about to become Mama Sparrow to her first child and the group wasn’t going to be able to record the same way it had since its inception. Additionally, Kincheloe had known for some time that at some point she was going to have spread her wings a little bit more creatively and evolve as an artist beyond the identity of The Dirty Birds.

Isolated in Brooklyn from her bandmates, Kincheloe took the opportunity on “GOLD” to do something different. It is the first album that Kincheloe wrote without the direct involvement of The Dirty Birds, instead opting for collaboration with a number of different writers. With more control of the band’s sonic space, Kincheloe took to incorporating different sounds and styles, adding a little more pop and rock razzle dazzle to the group’s soul vibes. It’s a natural evolution from what the band has done in the past and is a great example of a band rising to the demands of life to deliver a phenomenal artistic statement

Kincheloe has moved out of the city and back to her roots along the Hudson River nesting and preparing for her second child. “We’ve got a pool at our house and so the friend group comes up on the weekend to get out of Brooklyn and we have these weird, ’70s lounge days at the pool,” Kincheloe said. She also wants the next album to be a more family affair and hopes to write with her bother and Dirty Birds member Jackson for the first time. What lays on the horizon for Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds is uncertain, although we know they have the adaptability to be something a little different to deal with whatever life throws at them. Both for the survival of its species and the enjoyment of its fans, that’s a great thing.

What was the biggest leap forward with this last album “GOLD”? In other words, what songs put you the furthest out of your comfort zone?

It was “Plastic Paradise.” I did a lot of co-writing on this album and that was with a different writer than any of the tracks and the producer Carter helped write that one. It was a totally different vibe than anything I would have come up with on my own. The melody is something that didn’t necessarily come from my brain, so it was super different and so fun.  Definitely took me a few minutes, even when I was tracking the vocals. It was a little more difficult for me, it wasn’t a hundred percent in my wheelhouse, so I had to focus and find that.

Was multiple songwriters something you’d like to pursue in the future?

I liked it, it was something different. You are going to get something that isn’t in your brain, it’s going to be an amalgamation, which is cool. I think in the future I will have less people in the room, maybe just one person with me. My brother and I have been talking about getting together and writing songs.  After all these years, it is still something we haven’t really done. But he’s been working on songwriting himself this year and exploring this side of his brain.

I’m due in October and we are stopping the tour in mid-September. We are going really close to the date (laughs hard), but we are just rolling the dice with this one. But once things settle down on the music front I’m going to be able to sit down with Jackson and get together in our relaxed setting and focus on music. That’s my main hope for the next year, hunker down and write with my brother.

What have you seen in your brother’s writing so far that peaks your interest?

He hasn’t shared that much, which is kind of exciting. But what I like about his musical sense is that he has real beautiful sense of chordal structure and the way things flow together.  I’m very curious because he’s smart as a whip and really funny, so I’m excited to see how his lyrics come out.  I’d say he’s really inspired by more melancholy music and I’m more bright and happy, so it will be a really interesting to have us tone each other done a little bit.

Going back to “GOLD,” it seems the creation of the album was born out of a sense of both wanting to do something different and the practicality of your pregnancy and the fact it had to be done differently. What did you have the most fear about when going to your band about this?

That was a scary conversation to have. ‘Ok guys, I’m going to take this one on my own, you know?’ They were pretty cool about it. They got the reality that I was going to be having a child. No one was available to just be in New York for an extended period of time. They understood the reality of it logistically speaking — it just wouldn’t make sense with the way we’d used to

I had also been honest with them before that about wanting to do more of a solo-ish record and explore that. This is the first and only band I’ve started or been involved with in a serious way. This has been my boundary of my musical life from the beginning. It was good for me to be able to tell them, ‘love you guys, this is not ending, I just need to explore this other thing.’ I was nervous they’d feel a little left out, which I would have those feelings. It’s hard to not feel ownership of something you’ve been doing for such a long time. But they are great guys and we got through it.

If you did not have your first child coming along, do you think you would have been in a situation to ask for that creative freedom?

That’s a good question because emotionally I think I had gotten there, but being pregnant gave me the courage to take those steps. I could have easily been persuaded to do another full Dirty Birds tour that year I was pregnant. I had come to the guys earlier and told them I was physically getting burned out.

I have a bad back, largely in part to touring. Being home and being able to take of myself makes it better. and for years and years I didn’t do that. I was chasing the tour and making it happen. I was finally at the point where I was in so much pain I came to the guys and told them I think I need to take a year that was lighter, maybe even take the first six months of the year off.

I thought I might have to have surgery, so it was a big life change on my mind and emotionally draining to be in that much pain all the time. The guys were really understanding of all that. Of course managers and agents will try and creep in the gigs here and there. I said yes for a few things and realized the calendar was getting filled up and I had not accomplished what I tried to do, I’m a pushover I think.

Fast-forward a month and I got pregnant, it was a surprise baby. Well, I guess I have to take the time off now fellas (laughs). Maybe it was subconscious body thing; maybe this will slow you down. As musicians or anyone who has a really physical job, it’s hard to turn down because that is what you signed up for, right?

When you had your first child, did you learn anything about your parents or realize anything about your parents that you hadn’t been noticed before your child?

Oh, totally, and I feel like it keeps happening. Mine is a toddler now and they are crazy, then to think my parents had four of these little monsters. Just the amount of patience and what you deal with. I have a good relationship with my parents but it definitely makes you have a lot more respect and understanding of what they’ve been through. Every parent makes mistakes, there is just no other way to do it. So you just have to think about which way you are going to mess your child up (laughs). You can’t win them all. Your parents did the best they could with what they were handed — it’s a wild realization.

Also the amount of love you can have for a person, you don’t really understand until you have a kid. I’m sure it sounds cheesy, but it’s true — this is how my mom feels about me. It’s unbridled, nothing matters love that is very powerful. I’ve given my mom a lot of real hugs, like this is hard, I’m sorry.

— Garrett Bethmann

  • The Brews, Jazz and Funk Fest is this weekend in The Village at Squaw Valley.
  • Cover: $10 Beer: $5, there will be 35 craft beers on sale. Well behaved dogs on a leash are welcome.
  • Saturday’s lineup: Anders Osborne: 6-8 p.m.; Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds: 4-5:30 p.m.; Sal’s Greenhouse: 2-3:30 p.m.; Rigmarol: 3:30-6 p.m. on the First Street Stage

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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