Velazquez’s new album celebrates the ragged edges
Local singer-songwriter Sabrina has been working behind the scenes for just about a year to record her music and prepare it for a wider audience. Her concert this week will mark the beginning of a new stage.
Sabrina (last name Velazquez) performs Wednesday at TheVenue with some friends from the Honolulu indie music scene, in celebration of her new album, “The Hawk & the Hunter” (now available at Bandcamp.com and on iTunes).
After going to this year’s South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, in March with a contingent of fellow Hawaii musicians, Velazquez moved to Portland to record her album with the assistance of producer John Askew and drummer Brian Wright. Last year at about this time, she used funding website Kickstarter to raise money for the studio production
Supporters who contributed to her project will soon be receiving CDs, and additional copies of it will be available at the show.
Now, with album calling card in hand, the 31-year-old will weigh her career options, which will probably keep her on the mainland, although the concert is one she wants to share with her local fans and friends.
With Shopping List, Pink Mist, Kai Salus, Kelli Heath
Where: The Venue, 1144 Bethel St.
When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday
Velazquez said that even if she fell short of the Kickstarter funding goal of $5,000, she would have borrowed the money to make the album that she had been mulling for many months.
“There are so many songs in my head, I wanted to make a new record every time,” she said.
TGIF sat in on a September meeting between Sabrina and Askew in a studio in the industrial part of the city, on a gray, rainy Portland day. There was an easy give-and-take between the two as they talked about making “The Hawk & the Hunted.”
“When I brought my songs to John, he asked his friend Brian (the drummer) in our pre-production meeting what he thought and I didn’t know what to expect from him. I was surprised when he said, ‘God, these are so good’ — so me, John and Brian basically became a band.”
Askew — who Velazquez chose to be her album producer because of his work — said, “As we were listening to the master, Sabrina and I wanted to make a specific kind of a record. We only had a few big goals in mind to accomplish: keep it organic, warm-sounding, without tons of embellishment. What made it easier for me is that here’s someone who can sing and play guitar well, so I wanted to see how little we could get away with. For instance, if any one guitar or vocal take was done early on in recording a song, it would usually survive on the final mix.”
“I would give John ideas on how I wanted certain songs to sound by giving out genre ideas,” Velazquez said. “Like with ‘Drakes,’ I wanted something that would sound like the time period Nick Drake was in (influential British folk-rock singer-songwriter of the late 1960-early ’70s). Or with other musicians I admire, like Cat Power, who I feel is honest to her songs and albums.”
“The key was to come into the studio with a couple of little ideas,” responded Askew. “The goal was not to make music that sounded false. We didn’t mind that it has some rough edges, like buzzing from amplifiers, or outside sounds leaking into a given recording.
“It’s actually a very simple record, but realistic and idiosyncratic sounding.”
Looking at Velazquez, Askew said, “It’s totally about the song and your voice, which I think is great.”
“THE HAWK & the Hunter” is basically a spare-sounding album with experimental touches here and there.
Velazquez sings with conviction, especially on the songs “Hollow,” the dreamy “Places,” and with naked emotion on the aforementioned “Drakes” and “Dark Rider,” the latter a much better retake of the original from her early EP “The Anomaly.”
You might think that at Wednesday’s concert, Velazquez would want her musical guests to mimic the sound of her recorded songs, but that won’t be the case.
“I want everyone to bring their own sound to the show,” she said at a rehearsal in Honolulu a couple of weeks ago, at the Blaisdell Hotel space downtown.
She’s invited the Shopping List trio to join her, as well as Mike Pooley of solo project Pink Mist and band Painted Highways, his fellow bandmate Kai Salus, and her fellow singer-songwriter Kelli Heath. “Playing as a collective, it doesn’t have to be perfect. … I want different interpretations of my songs.
“Coming together spawns good ideas. Both bands rock really hard, so this will definitely up my rock status, and it’ll help me reach a different audience. We’ll also do one Shopping List and Pink Mist song each, plus I want to do a cover song from Beach House, who’s my favorite band.”
After the rehearsal, Pooley said, “Sabrina’s songs, since she usually does them as a solo, have a lot of room in them that the rest of us can fill in. Since I’ve played with her in the past, I trust her talent and skill. There’s a cohesive trust between us, so I’m not stressing over our playing together.”
Velazquez will return to Portland to continue her music work after the show. “I want to record again,” she said. “I have all these ideas for EPs and albums that I want to do in different styles, since I like so many different kinds of music. I also want to start licensing my songs for commercial use. It’s going to be a challenge to see how far I can go on my own, but I welcome it.”
—Gary Chun / firstname.lastname@example.org