Sorcha Cribbin-Merrill is a woman of many genres. Folk. Check. Soul. Check. Blues. Check. Jazz. Check. That’s what makes her music so tantalizing. From track to track on her CDs or from song to song in her live performances, you never know quite what you’ll be hearing. That’s talent.
Learn more about Sorcha Cribbin-Merrill on her website.
Take a look at this Sorcha video.
How would you best describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?
Indie folk with blues, jazz and soul rolled into it.
How long have you been a touring musician?
Does the Grange Hall circuit in Downeast Maine count? In eighth grade, I performed in various Grange Hall concerts with my family band. I played piano, Dad played guitar, and my (step) Mom played bass. It was the best first experience performing my original music.
I performed sporadically through high school and college, but I’ve been seriously touring for the past 10 years. When I moved to Portland (12 years ago) I committed to making music my primary focus. Early tours involved long weekend trips throughout New England, while working a full time job. Gradually, I shifted the balance so that music became my primary focus with other jobs fitting in around it.
Have you always been a solo act or have you been part of a band?
I love performing solo and I love collaborating. I always have a few projects going at once, though I primarily tour solo. My band, Sorcha & The Clearing, began several years ago as a five piece and now we primarily play as a trio. It’s thrilling to share a full sound and create arrangements together, while preserving the essence of each song.
I also adore my duo projects. I tour on and off with Jo Sorrell, cellist/singer; Connor Garvey, multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter; and others. There’s nothing quite like creating sounds and harmonies that feel bigger than two people. Ramblin’ Red, the first Portland band I was part of, was a powerful quartet of ladies centered around lush harmonies and original folk/bluegrass music. All these musicians continue to inspire me and have been an incredible support.
Has guitar always been your instrument of choice? Was it your first instrument?
Piano is my first love. When I was 12, I wrote my first songs on a piano that lived in our laundry room. I took lessons briefly, but spent more time making up my own songs than practicing classical pieces. Thankfully, my teacher was understanding and encouraging. I picked up the guitar in high school, and it soon became my go to. I studied classical guitar in college for my music minor. Guitar continues to be my primary instrument, though pianos keep luring me in.
I became infatuated with claw hammer banjo during Ramblin’ Red days, and incorporated that texture into performances. And I’m giddy whenever I get to thrash around on a drum kit.
Tell us about your writing process. Are you someone who can just sit down and write a song in a day or do you percolate over lyrics and melodies for some time before feeling like you’re got something worthwhile to share with the world?
Yes and yes. I like to give each song space to unfold in its own time. Sometimes they come quickly, others take weeks, months or years to finish.
When I get stuck, I like to take songs away from instruments…on a walk, on a drive, into the kitchen. I’ve found some of my favorite beats by tapping a wooden spoon on a saucepan, or humming a melody over the clang of the washing machine. Or, I’ll hear a conversation or news story that suddenly brings relevance to an idea that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Sometimes words wait for a melody. Sometimes a melody waits for the right lyrics. I also love song prompts and deadlines, and can occasionally whip out a new song in a couple hours. They’re not always keepers, but I save everything. Sometimes a phrase or a melody will appear in a different song, years later. I record voice memos of ideas all the time.
What artists do you find inspirational?
My father is a brilliant songwriter. He and my mom were my earliest musical inspirations. I’m also blown away by the talent in Portland, Maine and in my travels.
Ella Fitzgerald. Nina Simone. Stevie Wonder. Tom Waits. Feist. Prince. Lucinda Williams. Anais Mitchell. Patti Griffin. Paul Simon. Lake Street Dive. Lauryn Hill. Sigur Ros. Rodrigo y Gabriela. The National. The Black Keys. The White Stripes. Olas. The list goes on…the list is long…
Tell us about your new CD, Quiet. Where did the name come from? What can we expect to hear on it?
This new album is spacious and takes some improvisational risks. The title comes from the cornerstone song, titled ‘Quiet.’ It refers to the atmosphere in which these 12 new tracks came to life. If you take the title literally you may be surprised; the songs range from intimate, solo pieces to full band rock outs.
Quiet was recorded at Beehive Productions studio in Saranac Lake, NY in the Adirondacks. I met this incredible husband/wife team (audio/video/design) from touring there with Jo Sorrell, who used to live there as well. Beehive’s Jeff Oehler and I co-produced it. We recorded many of the songs, or parts of them, live. We left space to stretch out, improvise and play with new sounds I’ve always wanted to explore (electric guitar and drums, in particular).
Our Maine music community is incredible. For this project, however, I was honored to collaborate with three musicians in my broader music community I rarely have an opportunity to work with: Jason Rafalak on upright bass, Raky Sastri on drums. And, my longtime creative collaborator Meg DeFrancesco contributed vocal harmonies.
Your bio says that you’ve actually played some of your songs with a 19-piece band called the Fogcutters. What was that like?
This was the most thrilling 10 minutes onstage, to date! (Well, tied with our band performance at Stone Mountain Arts Center.) The Fogcutters is an incredible contemporary big band comprised of 19 Portland, Maine musicians.
For several years, they hosted an annual show called Big Band Syndrome where they invited local songwriters to perform 2 of their songs arranged especially for the big band. It was an honor to be invited among the special guests a couple years ago, and extra special to have my songs arranged by my two bandmates. Adam Montminy, our bassist, heads up the sax section and Chas Lester, our drummer is one of the two lead singers. We performed at The State Theater here in Portland, Maine. It was a really special experience.
What are your short and long range plans?
Short term, I can’t wait to share this new album with the world, and hit the road with an expanded arsenal of instruments.
Long term, I’m interested in exploring music publishing and licensing opportunities. I also have a strong interest in the connection between music and the brain, specifically the powerful impact music can have on people with dementia or chronic pain.
Meanwhile, I want to continue learning and getting better at my craft. Between tours, I plan to continue Maine based projects, teaching ‘music exploration’ to young students, volunteering with the Center for Grieving Children, and performing for assisted living facilities. I’ve also loved being part of songwriting programs such as The Lullaby Project, where songwriters work with young mothers in challenging situations to write lullabies for their babies.
Thanks for asking me to reflect on these great questions, Kathy!