Sierra West is the latest talented queer lady to hit the music scene hard. West released her latest LP, “Hold Your Fire” in early September. Her sound is soothing, with an edge and her lyrics are sprinkled with metaphors referencing nature. West turned to music after the sudden loss of her brother to a drunk driver and her pain, love and hope is reflected in her sound. The openly lesbian animal lover chatted with me about music, break-ups, U-hauls and animals. What more could you want in a gay lady interview?!
Hot Femme: When did you discover your passion for music?
Sierra West: I’ve always loved living and creating music. I suppose it became my passion in high school after a difficult break-up. However, it became my career focus at UVM in Chittenden Hall when my new friend Dawn made me play in the hallway for all the girls on our floor. I never had so much fun. I later became one of the first performers at Radio Bean (Burlington, VT), which was quite a change from secretly playing and writing in my room at home. I have been playing out ever since. I will always be a writer and musician, perhaps I always was.
HF: What was your first song about?
SW: My Aunt Joanie secretly taped me singing in my room when I was around the age of 5. She mailed me the tape for my 18th birthday and one song was about my best friend Brooke, her older sister, and gymnastics. It’s pretty funny. I wrote other songs in 8th grade that were more environmental. I remember submitting to a magazine as a school assignment in which Jackson Browne would cover the song if it won. Mine was not chosen, but it was about saving dolphins and I bet it made someone smile.
HF: You’ve mentioned that Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are two of your most important musical influences, what is it about their music that you relate too?
SW: I really connect with the raw content, the lyrics, and the history behind the stories. They are the artists who opened my eyes to folk music. Actually, Ani DiFranco made me aware of folk artists like Woody Guthrie and Utah Phillips much along the same path. They were creating a movement, a community, a way of living. They didn’t just write songs, they changed lives…and still do.
HF: You’re here and queer; has that had any impact on your music?
SW: Absolutely, it keeps it interesting. In fact, I have performed at several Dyke March Fundraisers and opened for a few drag shows. One more recently in Northampton, MA called “Suicide is a Drag” for the Mass Coalition for Suicide Prevention. Being “here and queer” requires combating a lot of hatred, fear, and loneliness. It is important to be open and help other people feel supported and less alone.
HF: You’re a super huge animal lover, working as a vet tech and donating regularly to animal shelters….which is pretty par for the course for lesbians. Why do you think we all love animals so much?
SW: I actually never correlated the two together aside from knowing how much Ellen DeGeneres supports animal causes, but now that you ask I can see why. I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was four years old, but I didn’t realize I was queer until my senior year in high school. I can’t speak for everyone, but I imagine it is because animals usually don’t judge people or discriminate against them. They love unconditionally. Judgment comes with a history of abuse or trauma. I think it is our duty to speak for them and help calm their fear. We practice compassion and forgiveness because we are challenged on a daily basis. We combat fear every day.
HF: Have you ever U-hauled with a girlfriend and then written a song about it?
SW: I haven’t, but I did just U-haul all the way across the country for love. Maybe now is the time for that song to come out!
SW: Music is the only thing that keeps me sane when I think about it. I not only lost a brother and all of the friends we shared at the time, but I lost my unconditional best friend for life. The healing is never complete; it just changes form and reveals itself in new ways. He was a musician as well, an extraverted, fun-loving people person. I was very shy and quiet, but we shared music all the time. I know we would be performing together if he were here. He is with me every time I sing.
HF: Which songs (both of yours and in general) would you recommend for people who are suffering from the loss of a loved one?
SW: I wrote a song called “21” for Jay when I was 17 on my self-made album Depleted Oxygen. I have written others, but have yet to put them on an album. The three songs that currently jump out at me are “Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root (which was dedicated to him at a live show the summer after it happened), “Horses” by Rickie Lee Jones, and “Goodbye” by Patty Griffin. In general, anything that gets the emotions out.
HF: Your latest album, “Hold Your Fire,” was released earlier this month. What are some of the themes you explore and what message do you want listeners to walk away with.
SW: I explore various themes, but the most important message from the album comes from “Good Enough” because it deals with rejection and self-doubt. My favorite line from that song is “you want the castle, but not the sand”. I want listeners to overcome not being accepted. If a person doesn’t like you, a college doesn’t accept you, a radio station won’t play you, a job falls through, you don’t get picked for the team, or you don’t win the contest of your dreams or get the gig…just keep trying. Someone will think you’re good enough the way you are if you keep trying. It’s about stamina.
HF: You recently moved from Boston to San Diego, where can locals go to hear you?
SW: I will be attending and volunteering at the Independent Music Conference in LA October 18-21st (http://www.indiemusicon.com) and attending the HMMA as a nominee for “Hold Your Fire” (http://www.hmmawards.org) in LA November 15th. As a new artist unfamiliar with the area, I will explore the open mic circuit, especially at LeStat’s Coffee House on Tuesday nights. I will have a performance with ListenLocalSD (http://www.listenlocalsd.com) in the future and am very excited to build a fan base here. I hope to become well acquainted with the Belly Up (about a ten-minute walk from my new home) and have a community much like the one I had back east at Passim. For now, the best way to hear my music is online through my website, which will connect you to me through any link of your choice (http://www.sierrarocks.com).