After Sarah Quintana’s performance at the Lagniappe Stage on day one of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the New Orleans native spoke to The Daily Reveille about her career thus far and what she has planned for the future with her Miss River Band.
The Daily Reveille: How was your set today [April 22]?
Sarah Quintana: It was really awesome. We’ve been working on this material together and we’ve had six shows as a full band this spring. I’ve toured solo and played a lot of clubs and smaller venues in my trio, but to have the full band in full swing, this has definitely been our best show.
TDR: Is this your first time at the festival?
SQ: This is my third time at the Jazz & Heritage Festival, but my first time with my own band.
TDR: Are you the main vocals in the nine member group?
SQ: Definitely, yeah. I’m the band coordinator, I wrote a lot of the material, I play lead guitar and I sing. Because we’re alt country jazz fusion, there’s moments where other members of the band will steal the show and I love that, it inspires me.
TDR: How are you able to all effectively work together and contribute input with nine people?
SQ: That’s one aspect of the jazz paradigm that facilitates us. Because a lot of my musicians have a background in jazz, there’s a lot of standard jazz orchestra songs forms. We take a lot from traditional jazz and from swing and we take a lot from alt country and pop in our arrangements so things are a bit more unexpected and fun. It keeps the momentum of the storytelling in the song going, instead of turning around the same song form over and over, you have a bridge or some kind of unexpected element to look forward to.
TDR: Do you like playing at festivals or smaller venues better?
SQ: I love it all. I’ve been really lucky to tour in smaller clubs in France and lots of summer festivals in France — it’s just different. There’s this fresh, open energy and you feel like you can scream as loud as you want to and dance as hard as you want to on stage at festivals, versus theaters or more intimate clubs, where I think with the song and the storytelling, we’re connecting intimately to the audience. At the forefront, both have a lot to offer and I like them both.
TDR: How long have you been doing this for?
SQ: I’ve been doing this semi-professionally and on this level for six years. I’ve been involved with the arts all my life, painting before [Hurricane] Katrina and music after Katrina. I didn’t expect to do it professionally but I got hired in a great band in France — I started touring with a saxophone player who’s pretty well known in jazz over there and it gave me my foot in the door to fund projects and start touring on a different level so I’m really grateful.
TDR: How was touring and living in France versus touring and living here?
SQ: I think once you get to a certain level they’re the same and artist welcome is just wonderful, especially once you get to the people. But I do personally feel like it’s easier to make it in France. There’s more funding for cultural stuff in France and because I’m from New Orleans, I fall into the “world music” category, which has its own industry and its own set of rules, so it’s really easy for me to get booked there. In New Orleans, I’m a toss up doing jazz country fusion in a place that wants mostly red beans and rice music to cater to a tourist economy. I try to please everybody, but I also try to stay true to my artistic convictions.
TDR: Do you want to expand your touring or do you want to stay locally in New Orleans?
SQ: We’re looking for new management and for a new booking agent, but I’m going to take them to France. I think strategically and personally, France is a great place to have a band on tour. I’ve done these venues and I’ve played these festivals, I already have a fan base so I’m confident about CD sales and making it work. I know I can take care of my guys, in America it just seems like such a toss up. I feel comfortable doing that as a solo artist, but since I’m kind’ve “Mama Goose” in the equation, I want to make sure my guys and gals get really well taken care of.
TDR: How long have you and your band been together?
SQ: 2013 going into 2014, so maybe two years. Just meeting people I vibed really hard with and that could do the songs, but also free improv and be on the spot and in the moment. That’s why I’m so drawn to jazz, alt country is more textbook. These alt tech guys I work with are studio magicians, they are the most professional people I know in the studio, and the jazzers are a little more cool and laid back and want to focus on the form in a different way, and I just love both of those things. The band’s sound itself is coming together in the here and now. Every day some new horn parts or dance features or some new arrangement is coming into the mix and it’s because we’ve had wonderful gigs where my guys are paid to be working on their talent and do what they were born to do, which is shine, they’re brilliant.
TDR: What do you want the audience to feel like at one of your shows?
SQ: I want them to feel inspired. The album is water themed, so we actually used live Mississippi River sounds to make music out of. We just stretched our imaginations and tried to make great music and I’m really happy with it. I want people to feel like they just got a deep tissue massage, drinking a fresh juice hanging out on the beach somewhere.
TDR: Are you working on any other projects besides this?
SQ: I am, I have a project I’m going to start called 1,001 songs and it’s based off of “One Thousand and One Nights.” I’m going to write 1,001 songs and really dive headfirst into a new songwriting project where it’s solo, and I’m filming myself and recording myself daily and posting it and licensing it and putting it out there daily as I write. I’m really inspired by this idea of calling — In “One Thousand and One Nights,” the guy has to tell a story every night to survive and I really feel that way about art. I love the idea of a ridiculously hard and slightly unattainable goal. It’s going to be on a Wordpress platform. We did really well with this album, and I’m just ready to get back to the drawing board and write some new stuff.