Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Artist Interview With Sierra Hurtt

Hello, everyone - MissTaintedLove here. 

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to interview Miss Sierra Hurtt, the very talented daughter of R&B songwriter Phil Hurtt. 

Let's get this interview started, and I thank Sierra again for the chance to interview such a talented artist!


MTL: How were you first introduced to music in your life?
My dad’s in the business. I’ve never not known music. It runs in the family. I taught myself piano at 3 years old, just to keep up. I probably sang before I spoke.

MTL: At what point in your life was the defining moment that made you realize that you wanted to make music?

The first time I wrote a song, I realized that I was capable of more than I’d given myself credit for. Prior to that, even though I’d always been involved with music somehow, I’d never taken it seriously.

MTL: I see that you have a backing band. How did the band all come together? What are the names of the other members?

I have several musicians that I work with, depending on the country. In the US, I work with Daniel Bacon (bass), Russell Gellman (drums), Sam McIlvain (guitar) and John Stenger (keyboards). Daniel travels with me, so when we’re in Portugal, we work with Rui Costa (guitar) and Pedro Santos (keys, percussion, horns) in something I call the Portudelphia Project. When Daniel and I are in the UK, we work with Lee Adach (drums) and DJ Harman (guitar). In 10 days, the Portuguese members will meet the US members for the first time. We’ll have one rehearsal together, and then do two shows together. It’s how we roll.

MTL: What are some other notable musicians or writers that you've worked with?

Well, I started out working with my father, Phil Hurtt. He used to bring me in on various projects, even as a kid, to do voiceover or backing vocals. A few years ago, we did a project with a whole host of music legends that included George Clinton, Kathy Sledge, the Funk Brothers, members of MFSB, Barbara Mason, Bunny Sigler and others. It was a big Motown-meets- Philly thing, and even though R&B and Soul aren’t my genres, I was proud to be a part of it. Aside from that, I’ve been able to work with some pretty amazing musicians, most of whom aren’t household names. People like Chuck Treece, Devin Greenwood, Frankie Chavez; people I admire. Oh, I did accidentally share the stage with Erykah Badu, once.

MTL: What music/artists have influenced you the most?

My list of influences is legion and usually leaves people scratching their heads and listening intently to my songs to try to find them. I’ll name a few: Sting/Police, Tool, Gotye, Kelis, Sia, Cocteau Twins, Ella Fitzgerald, Chopin, Pat Metheny, XTC, Metric, Skunk Anansie, Silence 4, Dead Can Dance, Karen Carpenter. I don’t just love music, I live and breathe it. Everything I hear influences me, either positively or negatively. Music shapes me.

MTL: How would you describe your style of music?

I used to call it American Mud, but I don’t anymore. It’s more global than that. I’ve heard the term “genre-defying” applied to my stuff, and I really like that. I hate being stuck in a box. I write rock, I write celtic folk, I write American Fado. My voice can be soulful, so I get the Soul label a lot. Basically, I take what I love, throw it in a kiln, and then try to mold something new out of it. It may make it difficult to sell to shops and to radio, but it’s who I am and what I do. People tell me that, if I want to get anywhere in the music business, I need to conform. I disagree. I will stay true to my music. Whatever happens happens.

MTL: What do you feel sets you apart from the crowd?

I have no idea how to answer that. Maybe the fact that I have no idea what I am doing. I have no guide, no plan. I react, as a writer. Something moves me, and I respond. I think that is why my songs are all over the place, stylistically. Even the covers I choose are reactions. Maybe that makes me a little different, but no more than Sia. No more than Gotye.

MTL: What can you tell us about your very first studio release? How have you changed since then?

My first release was a single called Letting Go, and it too was a response. The engineer that I’d worked with on some recordings with my old, defunct band had sent the song to a DJ friend of his in Manchester, UK. The DJ started playing it on the air, so I released it as a single. That led to the EP, 8 or 80. All of the songs on there were from my old band, except for the last track. Alchemy was so unlike anything I’d written before, that it intrigued me. I wanted to know what else was inside me. I realized I’d grown, or maybe just changed, and hadn’t realized it until that song came out of my mouth. I guess I became more aware of myself as a songwriter, and as a creative person, without the filter of a band around me.

MTL: If you could describe yourself and your music in five words, what would they be?

“Well, I wasn’t expecting that.”

MTL: What are your goals within the coming five years as an artist?

I want to work with even more musicians, more songwriters. I’ve met some really amazing people over the last 3 years. I hope to collaborate with them, as well as continue to write on my own. Ultimately, though I do love to perform, I want to write for other people. I look forward to the day that I turn on the TV or the radio and hear one of my songs sung with someone else’s voice. Or, hey, it could be my own, Why not?

MTL: What do you feel is the best piece of music you've created? Why do you choose this one?

The very last song on Stranger is a track called Ties That Bind. That song was a complete surprise to me. It was written on the very last day of mixing. The album was complete and I walked into the studio, looked at my engineer, and said “we have a new song to record today.” The look on his face was priceless! The song is a capella, though, so I’d recorded most of it at home. We just needed to clean it up and bit and he mixed in about 20 minutes. But the song…the song gets in your head and sticks there. It was the same when I wrote it. It was just suddenly in my head and I needed to get it out. I love when stuff like that happens. But to answer your question, Ties… may be my favourite today, but the real favourite is always the song I write next.

MTL: What can you tell us about your current album "Stranger"? What was it like going into the studio for that one?

Stranger is my first full-length album. I planned it out very carefully, and when that plan fell completely apart – scheduling, song choice, musicians, location – it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It went from being this blueprint of what I thought it should be, to being something more organic. It was recorded in three countries, in 6 different studios, with 15 people and I think it fits the theme perfectly. The title track, and some of the other songs, began life when I was on the road in Europe last year. I am surrounded by incredibly talented people, and they helped me bring my songs into the world. I’m forever grateful.

MTL: How do the music and lyrics of "Stranger" differ from your previous work?

“Stranger” was written while I was on the road in Europe. I felt the alienation that I think every traveling artist feels when they’re in a strange place, no matter how welcoming the people are. At the end of the night, after the gig and the after-parties, you’re alone. Well, I am. I can’t speak for all musicians, lol. But the song also speaks to the stranger that one can be to one’s self; looking in the mirror and not recognizing who you are anymore. My writing is more retrospective now. I’ve always been introspective, but this is a little different. And I’m giving advice, which is not something I thought I would ever do.

MTL: What plans do you have in the near future for music release/recording? What can you tell us about the new release? How does it differ from your old material?

The next project I devote myself to will probably be a release from the Portudelphia Project, the thing that I do with Daniel, Rui and Pedro. We will rope Russell in joining us, I think. We need to record together; it’s too special of a project not to do something. Other than that, I have a ton of collaborations underway, some with DJ-Producers, but also some songwriting for a friend that is working on his solo debut.

MTL: What upcoming tour plans do you have?

I have been invited to perform at Philadelphia’s Portuguese Heritage Festival. They asked me to invite some friends along from Portugal, so I invited Hejira, Frankie Chavez and the Black Mamba to come over to Philly. I’m really excited to present them to the local scene. I think they’re going to blow everyone away. Other than that, we are planning the Fall portion of the Stranger tour, which will take us back to Europe. I hope to do more in the U.S. as well, but sometimes you have to leave home to make your mark.

MTL: Any words of advice for young/aspiring musicians who are just getting started?

Fear and doubt are powerful weapons against your creativity. Don’t give them any more respect than they deserve. Be honest with yourself about your abilities. Don’t surround yourself with people who always say ‘yes’, and don’t surround yourself with people who always say ‘no’. ‘Maybe’ is a beautiful word. Possibilities are truly endless, but realism is key. Find your gift, and fly with it.

MTL: I noticed your Twitter mini-profile says "sing, write, perform, travel, rinse, repeat". What is an average day like for you as a music artist? How crazy do things get?

Many days, I am huddled in my home office/studio either looking for avenues to pursue (collaborations, exposure, marketing, etc) or I am writing…listening. I listen a lot. That may sound boring, but I have long periods of frenzied activity when I’m on the road or recording. I enjoy the time to myself that I do get, and I guard it fiercely.

MTL: As another artist I must ask, what are your opinions on the state of the music industry, and how do you feel you fit in with it?

I get asked this question a lot, and I try to be diplomatic when I say that I think it is in a bit of a mess. Sometimes, it seems there are two separate industries: one that mass-produces, and one that mass-creates. I prefer to think of myself as part of those mass-creators. There is so much unbelievable Indie talent in the world that it blows my mind. What we see on TV and hear on the radio is such a tiny fraction of what’s out there. I don’t understand how people can live on such a restricted diet. I don’t, like some, dismiss all major acts as talentless and corporate. For some people, once you become successful, you’re a sell-out. No one can deny the talent of people like Adele. To deny it shows nothing but bitterness. Whether she sings your style of music or not, recognize the talent. But there are hundreds of Adeles in the world, singing and recording, who may only ever be heard by the people in their local pub. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing right about it either. Not everyone can, or should, “make it.” But the playing field isn’t level and it never has been. The mass-producers are short-sighted, and as a result the mass-creators get short-changed. Indie music can’t get on the radio, in the shops or even on the stage. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it is how things have always been. I always encourage people to support their local artists. Music is hard enough work without local support. Believe me, I know. I gave up on it once, myself. The Internet saved music, in my opinion. I know it saved mine.

MTL: Anything else you'd like to share?

Just want to give a shout out to my fans, the Purple Nation. Without them, I’d be in my room all the time. =)

If you want to check out more of Sierra's music - which I HIGHLY recommend - you can check her out at her sites here below...

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