More than Meets the Eye: Fiona Silver discusses her music, career success and building confidence

12/20/13 Fiona Silver In her music video for the song “Sandcastle,” which she just premiered last Thursday live at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, Fiona Silver frolics on the beach while sporting a 1950’s inspired bathing suit – with beautiful make-up to match – while building (wouldn’t you guess it) a sandcastle. Listen to the song, and you hear a heavy bass coupled with a sweet yet depressing sound of minor 7th chords on the ukulele. Then, Fiona releases her smoky voice. Some would say they are surprised to hear a big voice come from such a petite woman.

Fiona says, “Because I have played with many styles of music, the thread that kind of ties it all together is my voice. So, people comment a lot on my voice and the thing they often say is, “I can’t believe that gigantic voice comes out of that tiny body.” I’ve probably heard that about 100 times. Your outside doesn’t always reflect your inside, and I love that.”

The second sentence in Fiona’s quote then got me thinking about how often times in music, listeners and players focus too heavily on aesthetics – the artist’s physical appearance, what they wear, and the make-up. Now, I am guilty of doing this as well, at FIRST glance. Vision is our primary sense, not hearing. When we listen though, we find there is so much more to an artist and their music than meets the eye.

In this interview, Fiona shows me that even a talented, beautiful and imaginative musician still needs to humble themselves, keep their sight on the art they create, and focus on building confidence from the inside. More importantly, music can help with all of this. I am happy to welcome Fiona Silver to Music Historian.

I asked Fiona about the solemn tone of “Sandcastle” and the lyrics. There is a specific line which Fiona describes water rising on the shore and knocks down towers made of sand. I wondered what message she wanted to convey.

“This song is pretty unique and different in composition and vibe from the rest of my songs,” she explains. “It doesn’t have a lot of hooks. It really is a story, or a poem, about how you can be so focused on something that you really don’t see the big picture. It is the water, the image of a child, or me, building a sandcastle and trying to get all of the details right; being in a state of perfectionism and not noticing that the tides are changing and time is passing. The tide rolls in and knocks down the sandcastle. It is definitely a metaphor.”

While Fiona poeticizes her lyrics and keeps them vague so that they are relatable to anybody; the songwriter and singer also writes from her own experiences. One such experience that the lyrical theme of “Sandcastle” would fit within her own life include dealing with the dilemma many independent musicians have when they are presented with a possible record deal. Fiona Silver (on guitar)_1

“I would like to be signed to a record label if it makes sense for me. I don’t want to be so focused on getting a deal and everything around making music, that I miss out on really being an artist. Ironically, this goes back to the song, “Sandcastle.” I have met a lot of people who are just very focused on my look, and because I can also be versatile with genres – my voice has this range where it can be soft, then raspy, and then can also be belting and loud – they really wanted to push me into pop. For me, as an artist, I want to focus on my expression and creation. I think that if I focus on what I am actually making, things will fall into place as they should.

“The industry is in an interesting place. It used to be that this [a record deal] was the goal [for a musician]. Now, things are shifting. Artistic development is crucial and it is wild how [many labels within] the industry has dropped that.

“I am not interested in being boxed-in so that someone else can make money. I would love to have a record deal with a company that could nurture my talent and help me move to the next level. I am thoroughly confident this will happen one way or another.”

Although Fiona continues to simultaneously develop her own music and keep an open eye and mind for a possible record deal opportunity, she has experienced success independently. Fiona has collaborated with producer and owner of the Shabby Road Recording Studio, Roger Greenawalt on the annual Beatles Complete on Ukulele Compilation. In addition, she received an endorsement from Luna Guitars and has become the representing artist for their ukulele line.

“Someone just gave me a ukulele randomly years ago, and I loved it; and who doesn’t? The ukulele is one of the sweetest instruments on the planet.

“When I toured in Austin for South by South West, I stayed down there for a while with my ex-boyfriend who was a BMX biker. I made a video with him at the dirt trails, he rode the trails and I played one of my songs on the ukulele. A fellow BMX biker happened to also be a filmmaker, and he works for Luna Guitars. He told me, “We are just about to launch a ukulele line, and you would be the perfect artist to represent that. That’s how I got sponsored by Luna Guitars for ukulele.”

While sponsorships help with monetary needs, Luna has also helped Fiona connect with more artists around the world, including Pipo Torres, a guitarist and songwriter in Puerto Rico who played on “Sandcastle.”

“I would have never known him if not for my sponsorship with Luna Guitars,” says Fiona humbly. “After I got sponsored, I learned about the different artists on Luna’s roster. He [Pipo] immediately reached out to me. I eventually went down to Puerto Rico for a vacation, and then met with Pipo. I jammed with him and some other great musicians he plays with and kept our connection strong since then. Now, we have this collaboration together. It is beautiful when you can connect with more musicians and people.”

Fiona has also received attention from the press. Curve Magazine named the musician one of the most desirable women next to P!NK and Tegan and Sara. In addition to feeling “honored” by the recognition, Fiona is also grateful for Curve’s support in helping give back to the New York City community that supports artists. Fiona explains:

“Curve Magazine is great. I got placed between P!NK and Tegan and Sara. Those are pretty big names in music now. Then, they featured me again in a full article in a later issue, where they talked about my music.

“They even sponsored an event I did to raise money for the Ali Forney Center – an organization that provides assistance to gay teenagers who are homeless. I put on an event where I played music, collaborated with other bands and DJ’s. We tried to raise awareness and funds for the center and have fun. Curve Magazine helped put the word out through social media.”

Fiona’s accomplishments reflect her ambitions as a young artist. Yet, all musicians in her positions who receive this great recognition all come from humble beginnings. Fiona kindly shares how she first became involved in music and how she decided to pursue music as a full-time career and lifestyle.

“My history with music is a bit varied,” she begins. “I started playing piano as a child. When I was a kid, I lived in a place that had a piano, so it worked out. Then, I moved and did not have the piano anymore. I would love to get back to that. I play around on the keyboard sometimes, but I haven’t really played anything in years.

“ I have an older brother who plays guitar, so I took his guitar and started jamming one night. I probably made the worst ruckus ever, but I felt amazing. So when I was about 13, I moved over to guitar and started taking lessons.

Fiona Silver_ukulele “When I picked up guitar, I started writing songs. My guitar teacher would record songs with me, then later on, I played bass in the rock band I had called Little Body and The Big Sound. Then, I picked up the ukulele.”

Fiona has always described herself as a creator. Fiona also claims that from a very early age, a tender 7 to be exact, she was determined to make a living with music.

“It really wasn’t a question throughout any of my adulthood or anytime through my teenage years,” she recounts. “I always just knew that this is what I wanted to do.”

Fiona was also born and raised in New York City, a place that is filled with opportunities, communities and audiences for music. On one hand, the saturation of culture and art sometimes proves a challenge. On the other hand, with the challenges also come rewards.

“Being in New York in particular, is kind of a double-edged sword,” explains Fiona. “The rewards come from having so many great places to play. There are many avenues where you can get your music out. But, there is also so much going on. It is really difficult to grow in a natural process without getting sidetracked by the concerns of image, marketing and business.

“In this day and age, artists before they make it big, really have to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” You have to do your own promotions, make your own flyers, social media, and all of these tasks that have nothing to do with the music you create. Those are challenges.

“A personal challenge is to have a solid band. There are so many incredible musicians in the city, and I played with great musicians, but they are also in 10 other groups. This makes scheduling difficult, but I go with the flow and keep meeting new people and play with them. In other places, like Austin, for example, where it is not so chaotic, people have more time to jam and live in the process of creating as opposed to hustling around it.

“The reward is working with so many artists and gaining inspiration. This city is very eclectic and I get exposed to so many styles.”

Our artist definitely absorbs the variety of musical styles in her own work. At the moment, she focuses on making a music video for another song, “Medicine Man.” This track differs greatly from the straightforward yet challenging “Sandcastle.” “Medicine Man” literally takes a person on a journey both musically and visually.

“I co-wrote this song with Roger Greenawalt, whom I have known for many years. It really is an example of everything I love about music. It really blends genres from disco to psychedelic to reggae.

“The video [reflects] the journey happening in the song. I wrote all of the scenes which play like a wild dream sequence. We shot in various locations like Ithaca, we shot in the basement of a gay bar in Williamsburg, and we shot in one of my favorite venues, Pete’s Candy Store, and even the studio I recorded the song in. I have so many friends in the video, and some really talented friends who helped create the video with me.  I feel if I worked with anyone else, they would have said “you are crazy.” These guys just worked with me and made it happen.

“Everything [in this video] comes back to this sense of community and other artists I respect who have a lot of imagination and just want to create. The director, Leslie Van Stelton, who also worked on “Sandcastle” and the make-up artist for that music video, DNicole also showcase their range of talents here.”

Fiona does not currently have a release date for this video. When the public does see it though, they will observe the same grace, beauty and personality of the artist with great confidence. And, of course, listeners can expect to hear that voice that travels great physical distances. Reader, I encourage you to see Fiona’s video for the song “Tonight” as well as her promo video for Luna Guitars in which she sings “Sweet Escape.” While you are on her website, click on the “about” tab and you will learn about her vocal inspirations.

As I researched Fiona’s website and learned about the singers she admired, I wondered whether she tried to emulate any of these influences through her voice or music.

“Actually, I don’t,” responds the artist. “I feel like certain characters can come through, different sides of my voice. The genres which change from soul to rock ‘n’ roll to indie, all bring out different sides of my character but I don’t think like an actor. I never think I’m going to channel a specific person. I think the energy and influences, like Billie Holiday – who is one of my favorite singers without a doubt – and Aretha Franklin, are infused together to help create my sound.”

Armed with her sense of autonomy in her musical style, the songs she creates and the strong belief in what she does and represents, one will definitely see Fiona as a confident woman. Lastly, I wanted to know whether she is always this confident as a musician and person. If she is not, I wonder how Fiona builds up that confidence.   Fiona_Silver-3

“There are times when I don’t feel as confident as other times,” says Fiona. “I think I do walk with a sense of confidence in general. Part of that comes from the love my parents gave me as a child. Part of that also comes from growing up in a tough city and needing to toughen up. Sometimes, as expressive as I am, as much as I sing and dance and do all of these outward expressions, it is also important for me to get quiet. I love to do yoga and meditate, and also watch the sun set from my roof top.

“When I don’t feel as good, I definitely reach out to people who I love for support. I have an amazing community of friends and that’s huge in life. I express myself through song and poetry, and that really helps me process any pain. When I can move through the pain, it sort of transforms it from something that hurts me to something that helps me.”

An artist’s beauty, talent and imagination can certainly help in attracting the right people who will help them with their endeavors and career path. Yet, even with all the support in the world, a young artist must also toughen up and realize that not everyone in the music industry has his or her best interest at heart. Fiona shows me a musician does not have to change their demeanor, appearance or beliefs in order to experience success through their work. One must, however, persevere in periods of difficulty.

Transforming disappointment, pain or challenges into stepping stones towards success is definitely a stride in the right direction to building confidence as an artist. This is the lesson I learn from Fiona. Further, confidence has helped Fiona focus on staying true to her style and voice, while keeping out any distractions that might be counterproductive to her art. As she continues to sculpt a career that works best for her, Fiona continues to watch her environment. She is a creative soul who has experienced so many beautiful moments in the music world, while also having seen and acknowledging the challenges that knock at her door. Fiona will continue to build her castle, but when the tides roll in, she will be ready.

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The Beatles Complete on Ukulele with Roger Greenawalt: A Breath of Fresh Air

The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at the Brooklyn Bowl is a musical collaboration between young singer-songwriters on the New York City music scene and lifelong instrumentalists that met for the purpose of celebrating the canonical music of one of the most world renowned British bands.

Image Music producer and ukulele player Roger McEvoy Greenawalt led this event for the fourth time. This year, the back-up band he played with was The Angry Buddhist East Band. On stage, from 8:00pm to 12:00am this past Wednesday, Roger was also joined by a number of musicians of different professional backgrounds.

The Brooklyn-based experimental singer-songwriter, Alyson Greenfield was the first artist to jam with Roger on a cover of “Glass Onion” and “I Will.” The electric violinist who has toured the world with Cyndi Lauper, appeared on Saturday Night Live and the Late show with Conan O’Brien, Deni Bonet helped Roger and the back-up band transform the upbeat “Please Please Me” into a folky minor-key serenade. Avi Wisnia worked with Roger to turn “She Loves You” into a slow and sensual cover that echoed the pop singer-songwriter’s signature Bossa Nova sound.

Additional artists that joined Roger that night included: Mike Rimbaud, who covered “Can’t Do That”; Olivia Mancini who performed a rendition of “I’m Looking Through You”; the ukulele female duo, Supercute that performed “Getting Better”; Leah Siegel who performed “Oh Darling”; the underground industrial rock musician, Yuzima who covered “Hey Jude”; Craig Greenberg who together with Joy Askew performed a rockin’ version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”; and many more.

One might call this event a breath of fresh air, especially if the individual looks to get away from the confines of mosh-pit concerts or the house DJs in New York City’s most expensive clubs. The Beatles Complete on Ukulele allows Brooklynites to enjoy music among a crowd of respectable musicians and audience members. On this note, I will talk about some of the reasons why this event is attractive, as well as reasons for why some people might be turned away. 

A Wide Range of Listeners

The meeting of musicians of all ages and different musical backgrounds attracts a crowd of people that come from different walks of life and span across a wide age range. Some audience members might have formed a friendship with the musician from past shows, and have come to this event to lend their support and see a familiar friendly face on stage. Some might have just come from work, looking to have good and clean musical fun.

The majority of the audience absorbed the atmosphere and performance vibe just in front of the stage. The bar in the back of the performance space, just at the right of the coat check, was occupied by individuals that had planned social meetings with several of their closest friends and acquaintances, and purposely wanted to keep the music in the background. However; this is not to say the music didn’t reach them at all in the foreground of their conversations.

As I waited at the bar for a Brooklyn Lager and a long flat bread pizza, I listened to Craig Greenberg and Joy Askew play “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and applauded them. A British man in a long black blazer and shades to my right joined me in my applause and remarked “This band definitely rehearsed!” I responded with a nod of agreement.

Everyone enjoys themselves and the music 

I watched Yuzima lead the crowd in a sing-along to Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” – a moment that lifted everybody’s spirit and created a sense of community in the audience. Earlier in the program, Leah Siegel sang her rendition of “Oh Darling,” in which she gracefully choreographed a physical performance that communicated beautiful anguish. This performance could only make some of the feel like Leah was specifically singing to them.

 Whichever artist came up to the stage, Roger was always in the foreground interacting with the main act. This makes audience members, especially those who are new to the Beatles Complete, naturally think that Roger is a part of all these groups. As for those who are returning for a second time to watch this line-up, they will also feel like Roger is a part of every musical act. Roger’s complete sense of comfort and joy in performing with each consecutive performer might attribute to this visual affect. Some might even begin to wonder how he finds the energy to stay on for the entire four hour program.

Ticket holders get their money’s worth   

I applaud the musicians for overcoming the distractions from the bowling area adjacent to the main stage. Every musician that night performed with Roger and The Angry Buddhist East Band like they were at an intimate venue. Attendees can rest assured that they will get their money’s worth at the Beatles Complete.

On this note, I should mention the ticket is only $10.00. However; if you are very pleased with what you hear and see, you will probably feel compelled to enjoy some food and drink. Now, here is where I believe concert attendees will run into a petty and annoying detail: Brooklyn Bowl is an expensive place.

Price for food and drink a little bit high

The drinks are all over $6.00 and customers can only use credit cards for a minimum of a $10.00 purchase. Although this might be great for attendees that crave food; a dish as simple as a Margherita flatbread pizza is at least $10.00. This and a drink come to $20.00 per individual, and this is only bar food! In addition, the kitchen closes at 11:00pm – something that audience members must research in advance.

Although I can come to understand the kitchen has to close at some time; the price for food and drink is still a little bit high. However; I do say the price is definitely worth the great experience at The Beatles Complete.

Avoid the “Gypsy Cab” after the show

I must also warn concert attendees that if they wish to take a cab home, they must vigilantly seek a yellow cab service as opposed to the white or black Lincoln Town Cars that are used in the highly popular and dodgy “gypsy cab” scheme. The outside of Brooklyn Bowl will be lined with both real taxi cabs and false ones.

See who is active on the NYC Music Scene

In conclusion the positives of The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at Brooklyn Bowl weigh out the negatives. The greatest strength about this performance includes Roger Greenawalt’s love for the Beatles, ukulele and collaboration with great artists on the independent music scene.

I am happy to share some very muffled-sounding videos from Wednesday night’s performance right here on my Youtube channel. I apologize for the poor sound recording quality but I hope readers form a good idea about the experience they might have if they’re interested in coming out to Brooklyn Bowl either for next year’s Beatles Complete led by Roger or other musical occasions. And then, of course, there is always the bowling.

Finally, for those real music lovers out there; The Beatles Complete is a great opportunity to see who is active on the independent music scene of New York City. Most of the artists that performed with Roger on stage that night are very likely to have something new – an album, a tour, or exciting musical project – taking place in the New Year.

So, to those that came out to the Beatles Complete last Wednesday night, I hope they enjoyed themselves and the musical experience. For those who did not, I encourage them to learn more about the musicians, including Roger Greenawalt, and make a trip to Brooklyn Bowl for next year’s performance.