I think it’s safe to say that there’s only one band in the world who can claim to contain individuals who have (individually) collaborated with The Crystals’ LaLa Brooks, Fugazi’s Joe Lally, The Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger, Hercules and Love Affair, and Beyonce… among many others. That band is Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, a nine-piece neo-soul outfit from Brooklyn led by Arleigh Kincheloe (aka Sister Sparrow). The band began as a two piece, with Arleigh handling the vocals and brother Jackson on harmonica, performing at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall. However, their sound quickly became realized as something quite a bit larger than could be handled by the siblings and they recruited the group’s other seven members. They released their self-titled debut in 2011 to critical acclaim and their sophomore effort, Pound of Dirt, another Kickstarter-funded project, was released earlier this year and boasts the band’s most impressive stuff to date. Although their epically anthemic take on soul seems to be the core of Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, the band also manages to produce funk with chops as major as you could ask for and riff-heavy blues that could easily fill an arena. Their demographic is a bit hard to pin down, but the band has shared the stage with the likes of The Black Keys, The Neville Brothers, and Dr. John and next Monday, September 24th, they will be supporting Allen Stone at World Café Live. I recently got a chance to catch up with Arleigh and chat about these live shows that are starting to gain a reputation, their highlights of 2012, and just how such a motley crew came to be a single, albeit nine-piece, unit.
Izzy Cihak: Your tour with Allen Stone kicks off in Philadelphia and, since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I’m inclined to ask if you have any significant thoughts on the city or favorite (or least-favorite) memories of Philly.
Arleigh Kincheloe: I’ll never forget the first time we played in Philly – it was actually one of our first times we’d played outside of NYC and our excitement level was extremely high. It was Halloween weekend and we had a gig at the Blockley with our friends, Rubblebucket. I made the Dirty Birds wear bandit masks and I rocked a huge set of black feathered wings. Only problem was, we were the only ones dressed up. It turned into a really hilarious and very insane night. After the show we descended upon a Trader Joe’s to stock up on road snacks for the ride home. I think everyone we encountered there thought we had seriously lost our minds. Our apologies to the people working the register that night.
IC: And what about Allen Stone? I understand that you’re quite a fan of his. How do you feel as though your sound and his mesh? What would you tell fans of his to get them to come out a little bit early?
AK: Allen is crazy talented. We saw him blow the doors off the room at SXSW in Austin this past March. It’s gonna be a really fun few weeks, I’m sure. Our sounds are definitely influenced by similar things (soul, funk, r&b), but I think they are different enough to make for a dynamic pairing and a really exciting night of music. To Allen’s fans, we’d say, “Come out a little early to get the Dirty experience!” We throw down pretty hard, and we think his fans are going to like it.
IC: How would you characterize your live show? It’s gained quite a reputation.
AK: Our live show is really high energy and just a good get-down. We all have so much fun on-stage and our goal is to make the audience feel the same way. It gets sweaty, loud, and definitely funky.
IC: You have quite a large band, who have quite varied musical resumes. What is it that drew you all together? Do you all have certain shared aspirations and/or influences?
AK: We all have an intense love of music. Each of us grew up in it or around it. Every member knew from an early age that this path of creating and performing was the one they wanted to walk. We all felt the chemistry in the room from the moment we started making music together. We had that Captain Planet moment (coining a new phrase here) where we could feel that our powers combined created something powerful and bigger than ourselves. That chemistry – that spark, the fun we have when we’re making music together – is what keeps us together to this day.
IC: Considering your sound and the most-talked-about sounds currently coming out of the area, Brooklyn seems slightly surprising as your choice of location. How do you feel as though your particular aesthetic works with Brooklyn? Do you have a lot of local peers that you particularly admire?
AK: We’d all been residing in Brooklyn before the band was formed, so we each have our own reasons for living here. The common thread is the diverse music and arts scene, as well as the inspiring energy of the city itself. As much as one genre gets talked about more than another, at any given time, there’s so much talent here that on any given night you can stumble upon brilliant music of any kind. There are so many touring bands that are based here that we love, including The Pimps of Joytime and Rubblebucket. It’s been an inspiration to have The Roots around the city more, given their involvement with Jimmy Fallon – Questlove has a weekly DJ set at Brooklyn Bowl, for example. Those guys never stop hustling either, and that’s really what NYC is about.
IC: You’ve been touring behind and promoting your latest, Pound of Dirt, for a while now. What have been the highlights?
AK: Bonnaroo, Mountain Jam, and Jazz Fest in New Orleans have been my personal favorites. But really the greatest thing is being able to travel the whole country. For example, Colorado – a year ago, I’d never even been there, and now, having performed more than 15 shows there and driven around a great deal of the state, I’ve fallen in love with all the beauty it has to offer. It’s a part of the world that has a huge place in my heart now – and it’s something I might not have encountered had it not been for all the touring the band is doing. Now I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states. I’m crossing my fingers for Hawaii and Alaska in 2013…
IC: What are Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds’ plans for the near future, beyond your dates scheduled through November?
AK: In the late fall/early winter I’m planning to do a ton of writing in anticipation of our return to the studio for album #3 sometime next year. We’re looking forward to a lighter tour schedule in the winter – it gives us time to write, rehearse, and keep the music fresh. It’s been a really busy year thus far and it’ll feel amazing to be in one place for a few weeks.