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Q&A With Virginia Country Musician Sabra Guzmán

By Ashleigh Chevalier

Sabra Guzmán is performing with Matt Sircely at A. Smith Bowman Distillery, 1 Bowman Dr., in Fredericksburg, on February 28, 2015. They’re opening for The Judy Chops, a mountain swing, modern vintage Americana, blues and soul group from Staunton, Va. The show’s from 7:30 -10 p.m. Cover is $18 in advance (purchase online), $20 at the door.

YouTube Video of “Undone in Sorrow”

I asked the Charlottesville based, Virginia country musician a little about herself and her music.

New Orleans – Funniest one liner you heard while you were down there.
I don’t spend much time in New Orleans, more Lafayette, but I guess a good line that I’ve heard in the southern Louisiana area would be that folks call each other podnah as a term of endearment. That’s always sweet to hear.

What is the difference between California country flavor verses Virginia country flavor?
Well, California country is maybe more Roy Rogers or cowboy-like songs. Old Time music has ventured out that way over the last many decades, but this is my first thought that comes to mind when I think of California country — Roy Rogers, Woody Guthrie, Roy Acuff and Gene Autry. Virginia country flavor has more of what’s been cookin’ there since folks have started to inhabit that area in the 17th century: Ballads, fiddle and banjo tunes, and train songs. It’s a big mixture, that I’m sure California has also fed off of, but I guess I feel more bluegrass/old-time in Virginia than California, where the cowboy persona might be more prevalent because of the film and radio industry. This is by no means a correct historical account. Your question could go deep for days.

Have your travels affected the sound of your mountain roots music? How?
Of course. I cannot help but be attracted and influenced by the sounds I’m around. I don’t know if they mess with too much of what I do, but I’m sure that the music I listened to growing up, to the music I hear on pop radio stations, to the music I hear my friends play… I’m sure it’s influencing me somewhere. But, I also hold a lot of the traditional sounds close to my heart, and because I was stepped on those sounds so intently when I first started playing, those sounds are going to be hard to lose. But, I’m definitely more than one-dimension when it comes to playing music. I think we all are.

Define yourself in three words.
Layered. Silly. Serious.

Define your music in three words.
Playful. Dynamic. Approachable.

You do a lot of collaborative work. What keeps it cohesive?
Ha. What keeps it cohesive? Not a whole lot except as much sleep as we can get, notes that we might have taken, and listening to the sounds we might have recorded when we rehearsed. (Laughs). I definitely don’t encourage folks to go out and be in multiple bands, but, luckily, with this style of music (old time, bluegrass, jazz standards, honky tonk, etc), there’s a common language that can be learned, remembered and internalized, and once this sound has been learned/internalized, you can really play in a lot of situations with other folks, even if you haven’t been knowing each other for years.

Of course, it’s always best if a band has had time or years to formulate and mix and blend together, but you can also find music-matches rather quickly that don’t need a lot of cultivation time, and instantly they can sound pretty compelling. Music is, in some ways, as much group-oriented as it is individual. You could say I’ve been growing my own particular sound by playing a lot in the last 11 years of my music career, but when my sound starts to mix with others, that’s where some real magic can be found. It’s always a treat to be at a picking festival, a fiddlers’ convention, and just land on some jam that blows you away while it only takes little effort besides putting out what you just do naturally. I think that’s why so many bands who tour might come out of this kind of setting: you just can’t help but feel moved when the music is good.

Matt Sircely is based Washington. You are based in Charlottesville. What makes this collaboration different from your other collaborations?
Well, as a bassist for hire, I am working with a lot of different folks, and the music material and distance is always changing depending on the gig and the band. For Matt and I, one could maybe see the miles and quantity of states between us as what is most different. But as I described above, sometimes it’s about that first initial meeting, and the subsequent playing times that follow, that make you feel like there’s a viable sound to harvest from.

When Matt and I met at Blackpot Camp in Eunice, La., this past fall (we were both instructors there), it was just this instant connection: fiddle tunes, songs, and storytelling. And as we continued to share our life and music stories together, we felt a strong enough connection to think about furthering the music connection, giving it a chance to do something by spending time on the road together, and placing ourselves in music settings like Folk Alliance in Kansas City, Mo., to see what our sound and our output might be like. Also, a fun thing I’ve found with Matt is that there’s this duo connection that isn’t always found in band settings. When you strip down a band to just two people and their instruments, some other musical plateaus are achieved. I think whatever that first sound was between Matt and I was compelling enough to follow through with and look ahead to some future music work by touring.

For Fun:

1) What do you take in your coffee? Cream, Sugar, Kahlua? Black tea. No flavored tea. With nothing in it.

2) Milky Way or Snickers? If I was forced to, Milky Way.

3) Gillian Welch or Loretta Lynn? Loretta Lynn.

4) “Crazy “ or “Walkin’ After Midnight”? “Walkin’,” but I actually really like her “Honky Tonk Merry-Go Round” the best.

5) Biscuits, Toast, or Gluten free? Biscuits, if made right. Toast, if with butter. Gluten-Free ain’t so bad, either.

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