Review & Interview: Sweet Sienna bring the classic rock era edge back to 2018

Sweet Sienna are a new band in the New York City scene. These musicians in their 20s and 30s and have a passion for classic rock and the blues and it shows in their music. They strive to bring back the edgy energy of the classic rock era to today’s music.

The blues rock influenced band are made up of Alan Christopher John on guitar and vocals, Katrien Van Riel on bass and vocals, Carina Tamer on lead vocals, Austin Tucker on keyboard and vocals, and Andrew Berry on drums.

“Believe”

“Believe” is their first single, released on 24 August. You can listen to it on Spotify, download it on iTunes, or stream it on YouTube.

The song begins with very 70s sounding guitar and organ, reminding me a bit of the Doobie Brothers. True to the single artwork, it has a great sound for a road trip.

The lyrics (my favourites from the song), “But I know I’ll make it through if I believe” and “When I rise up from the bottom I won’t slow down until I’m on top” have a positive message, just to keep going and go for your goals. It’s definitely a song I want to hear live.

At about 2 minutes and 20 seconds in, there’s a really cool guitar solo. The chorus is catchy. My husband was overhearing the song while I was listening to it and he likes it too! Excellent work, Sweet Sienna and I look forward to hearing more of your work.

Chatting with Sweet Sienna

Angie Moon: Tell us about the band: How did you get started and what got you interested in music?

Sweet Sienna: The band initially formed as a small jam project. Alan and Austin wanted to put together a blues and classic rock group and after auditioning a few people, they found Carina, Andrew, and Katrien. Although we all had former music projects and had played shows, everyone seemed to really click together and Sweet Sienna was formed.

Angie Moon: How did you get into classic rock?

Sweet Sienna: Everyone in Sweet Sienna grew up on classic rock. It’s part of our DNA and although we weren’t around when that music was initially being made, that’s all we want to listen to and play. We’re taking classic rock sounds and matching them with lyrics that our fans can hopefully relate to.

Angie Moon: Do you collect vinyl?

Austin: I love vinyl and actually gave my 8th grade presentation – 8 years ago – on the comeback of vinyl. There’s nothing better than physically holding an album and hearing the slight imperfections and warm sounds of vinyl. 

The whole process of listening and collecting vinyl is an amazing experience that many young people are starting to take advantage of, which I think is great!

Angie Moon: What is your opinion on vinyl vs digital?

Austin: Vinyl and digital music are great for different occasions.  If I’m on the go, it’s much more convenient to listen to digital music. Streaming has taken over the music industry as a whole and all you need is a smartphone or internet-enabled device to access virtually any song you can think of. Catalogs from older artists are always being released on streaming services as well. That being said, if I want a true music experience and a warmer imperfect sound, vinyl is the only way to go.

Angie Moon: What would you consider your essential classic rock albums?

Sweet Sienna: That’s a tough question. You’ll get a different answer out of us depending on the day you ask. But we always come back to these classics… Who’s Next by The Who, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, and Moving Pictures by Rush. 

All of these bands and artists helped to invent the classic rock sound and most of them are still rocking out to this day.

Angie Moon: What have you been listening to recently?

Austin: I’ve been listening to a wide variety of genres and newer artists recently.  Alan and I also saw Ozzy and Ringo Starr this past week so I’ve been getting back into Sabbath and revisiting a lot of The Beatles catalog.

I love putting my entire library on shuffle and listening to some of the same stuff over and over again, but I also love hearing newer releases and staying current with emerging artists.

Angie Moon: Have you seen any of your favourite musicians live? If so, which ones were your favourites to see?

Austin: I try to see as many live shows as I can. Concerts are a totally different world. Last summer, I worked many shows at a venue in New York City and helped put on one of Tom Petty’s last shows. I’m so thankful I could see such an extraordinary talent in my lifetime. 

I also love going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Getting to see Ringo Starr jam with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Joe Walsh, Joan Jett, Beck, Miley Cyrus, Green Day, John Legend, and Gary Clark Jr. is not something you see everyday.

Alan: I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen dozens of shows. I’ve seen the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Paul McCartney, The Who and the list goes on and on.

There were a few that really stuck out to me though. Visually, I’d have to say Kiss with Poison on the Rock the Nation tour, as well as Mötley Crüe with Alice Cooper on the Farewell tour, really blew me away with the visual effects. I’ve seen all four of those acts multiple times, but those shows really made me want to be up there and give the audience a good stage show.

Being a blues man, seeing Buddy Guy up close at BB King’s club in Times Square and seeing Clapton at the Garden was really special. And of course, there was seeing Guns N’ Roses three times on the reunion tour because who the hell thought that was ever going to happen, right?

Katrien: The Red Hot Chili Peppers at Lollapalooza 2016 were phenomenal! The Kooks provided a pretty dynamic show, I think in early July, and I personally cried when I saw Roger Waters just because his melodic choices were brilliant and the technical aspects (i.e. lasers, projections, lights) were brilliant spectacles (though Alan disagrees with regarding his choice to have political content but I think it was daring of him and his narrative is valuable as anyone else’s).

Angie Moon: What are your favourite songs to cover?

Sweet Sienna: Baba O’Riley is always a fun one.  The crowd loves it and sings along which is what it’s all about.  Programming a dual-layered arpeggiator while simultaneously taking care of the piano parts was a challenge with the setup, but it sounds mind-blowing once it all comes together.

Evil by Koko Taylor is another great one that we have a blast performing and really does a great job showcasing everyone in the band. 

We never play a cover, or any original for that matter, the same way twice and love experimenting with different sounds that we hope the fans will enjoy.

Angie Moon: Which bands are your biggest inspirations?

Sweet Sienna: The goal of Sweet Sienna was always to take the music industry today, which seems to be bombarded with autotune, electronic beats, and to be very blunt, ridiculous lyrics, and to bring it back to its soulful, bluesy roots with a rock and roll edge.

In our music you’ll find the those soulful, bluesy roots in the style of Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Gary Moore, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy and B.B. King. You’ll find some southern layers of The Allman Bros and Lynyrd Skynyrd and the vocal harmonies like you might hear on Fleetwood Mac or Eagles records. You take all that and mix it with the presence of big riff/big chorus driven arena rock acts like The Rolling Stones, Journey, Def Leppard and Guns N Roses, and you’ve got Sweet Sienna!

Angie Moon: What inspired “Believe”?

Alan: “Believe” was one of the first songs I wrote when the band was forming. I was sitting on my couch and the lyrics and chords just came to me. What I feel the music industry lacks today is the ability to tell a story with a song. Guys like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Billy Joel, when they write a song – you’re not just getting lyrics and a melody – you’re getting a story with a soundtrack to it. 

Carina: “Believe” stands out with ascending tonalities and uplifting words to inspire hope and a positive feeling overall – that “you have revved up this roaring engine and I’m never gonna stop.” We want people to feel good, just like we do when we rehearse, create and perform.

Angie Moon: What was writing and recording “Believe” like?

Alan: As previously mentioned, I put the song together really quickly. But as the band grew, so did the song. It grew literally to the last second of the recording process. Each member was able to add something special.

It started as just a simple guitar and bass riff, piano, drums and 2 vocal parts. It eventually turned into about 8 different guitar parts, multiple layers of synth, organ and piano, a beautiful rhythm section and vocal harmonies that made you feel like a gospel choir kicked down your door!

Austin: I think the entire band was shocked at how quickly we were able to record the track. We all had a collective vision for how we wanted the finished song to sound, but Max Morin at the Brewery Recording Studio in Brooklyn really helped us make that vision a reality. Many things in the track, like the guitar feedback at the end and some harmonies, happened on accident, but really gave “Believe” a unique sound.

Angie Moon: What is it like being part of the NYC music scene?

Sweet Sienna: The NYC music scene is great and we are grateful to connect with such talented and driven musicians. Every musician that we’ve come across in the city puts their blood, sweat, and tears into their craft. 

Don’t get us wrong, living in the city and trying to make a living as a musician is not easy. There is a lot of competition and everyone is extremely talented, but the beauty of the NYC music scene is that everyone wants each other to succeed. 

Aside from Alan, we’ve grown up in different parts of the world. We are so thankful to be welcomed by the NYC music community and meet other like-minded musicians.

Angie Moon: What is next for Sweet Sienna?

Sweet Sienna: We have some exciting projects in the works.  At the moment, we’re getting ready to release our debut EP. We’re also continuing to play shows around NYC and hope to be expanding to the tri-state area soon. 

Unfortunately, we can’t put all of our songs on the EP or even the debut album, but our plan is to keep putting our music out there and putting on fun shows for our fans. 

Everyone has that one song, or a few songs, that really made a difference in their lives. We hope our music can do the same for people. If the fans are enjoying our music as much as we enjoy making it, then we can’t ask for anything more than that!

Angie Moon: How would you describe your live shows?

Sweet Sienna: We strive to put on shows that pair great music with a unique visual experience as well. Another unique aspect of our shows is that we try engaging with the fans as much as possible. 

The music is just as much the fans’ as it is our own and we love having them be a part of the music creation and performance. Our performances are high energy, soulful, and most importantly, fun! No two Sweet Sienna shows are the same.

Angie Moon: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Sweet Sienna: Make music for music’s sake, not for anything else. Make, sing and create what your soul craves to say – that’s truth, that’s heart and that’s what the world needs right now. In good times and bad, music will always be there to help us through. Music is a universal language so keep the musical conversation going and rock on!

Sweet Sienna will be playing their next show on Friday, 26 October 2018 at Connolly’s near Times Square. Tickets are only $10.

Click here to visit Sweet Sienna’s website. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick.

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