A Story Told

Musician Salina Sias has grit and it shows in her life. At 17 she had made it to the state-qualifing round in classical singing in Texas, but Sias lost her singing voice -- just like that. So Sias was forced to move on and she headed to New York to study acting. But even after working 10 years in marketing, in New York City to support herself, music still called to her, and she wanted to connect with what was most real. Sias found a vocal coach and began to play music from a borrowed guitar. Her singing voice came back and the music that has influnced her has been diverse, from Joni Mitchell to Sissel, a Norwegian soprano.

The stuggle to find her place has led her to write songs that fill a complex range of personal feelings and insights. And her recent release, A Picture of You, shows that her music and singing are strong. In this interview Sias touches on what draws her to music and what keeps her looking forward.

G.M. Burns: Music is powerful. Do you remember the first time you heard it, and how you felt at the time? (What feelings do you recall?)
Salina Sias: My mom used to teach aerobics when I was five or six years old, and I used to sit in the back of the exercise room. The music was upbeat and gave me a burning desire to get up and move, but I was shy. I used to pretend I was the instructor in the privacy of my own room - I felt free. The other time I truly listened is when I was given a tape of classical music - this was when I knew I couldn’t live without music. I felt like I was home.

When you were growing up -- what music did you most enjoy?
I grew up in a small town and was only exposed to whatever the radio stations were playing - I’m not sure I was able to make a conscious decision about my taste in music until I was old enough to drive. My mom loved Barbara Streisand and my stepfather loved Lionel Ritchie and Neil Diamond. That’s what I listened to mostly. I enjoyed it all, because it was music.

Tell us what makes the lyrics and stories of music so worth while for you?
I can’t have one without the other. When we speak of words that mean something to another human being, we unconsciously choose our inflections - this happens when we are most vulnerable. A story is best received when told honestly and with an open heart.

As an artist which five CDs made you stop and take notice?
For me, it was about the artistry, not just the album. I think I may have been a painter in my past life - everything I gravitate towards tends to create a visual in my mind. If the sound matches the lyric beautifully, I see an image, sometimes a collection. For example, I highly respect album art.
1. Samuel Barber (in this case, it was the composition, “Adagio for Strings”) - from The Elephant Man soundtrack

2. Tom Waits (Mule Variations)

3. Otis Redding (Very Best Of)

4. Michael Jackson (Thriller)

5. Tori Amos (Under the Pink)

Your music is thoughtful on your current release New Day. When you crafted the songs such as “Meet Me in the Sun,” and “New Day Comin’,” what was the songwrititng process like for you?
I take as much time with crafting songs as I do with those I love. The process for each one is different. And my main instrument is my voice.

Are you looking forward to touring in support of the CD or do you feel a tad nevious about doing a lot of traveling for it?
I look forward to singing and performing in general.

Which five shows have you seen that you enjoyed both the performance and playing?
No particular order:
1. Leonard Cohen - 2010 tour. I went to Las Vegas on a whim just to see his show, as it was the last on his tour. It was like magic.
2. Random evening/morning at Smalls Jazz Club - it was so late, I don’t even remember what trio was playing, but it was phenomenal. It was four in the morning, and I found it difficult to get up from my seat.
3. Gospel tent at NOLA Jazz Fest any year.
4. Mary Fahl at the Cutting Room recently - her voice carries, lifts, and soars.
5. Children’s’ choirs at Christmas time.

In your spare time what do you read?

Would you like to add anything else about your music?
I’m in the middle of writing the second half of my EP, and as of right now, it might be totally different. I keep telling myself I should keep it focused, more consistent with the voice I have already presented. But it has never been like me to be predictable. If I am predictable, then I am not learning. I can’t wait to share what I’ve been working on, and I am eager to find out what else lies ahead.

by G.M. Burns