SN&R’s definitive Autumn Sky interview

Local folk-pop artist likes homemade cookies, libraries, sleeping late

Autumn Sky at her <i>Diminutive Petite </i>CD-release party at Luigi’s Fun Garden in November.

Autumn Sky at her Diminutive Petite CD-release party at Luigi’s Fun Garden in November.

Photo By amy scott

It’s probably fair to announce that Autumn Sky is the nicest musician in Sacramento. So kind, indeed, that when I likened her live set to pink eye, she wasn’t even pissed. In fact, she agreed to meet for coffee and an interview. Of course, the 20-year-old ingénue overslept and missed the Q-and-A session (she was up all night baking cookies!). Touché, girl.

So, the increasingly popular Carmichael musician’s official SN&R interview was done the old-fashioned way: via MySpace. Here’s a nibble:

Describe your first music-related memory.

My first music-related memory is also my first memory. I had, for a long time, a very vague picture in my mind that I figured had to be my first memory. I asked my mom to explain it to me a couple years ago. I was a little baby, in a big cardboard box in the middle of a green field. In front of me was this big crowd of dancing people, and in front of them was a stage where people were playing music. When I asked my mom what she thought it was, she went, “Oh! That was a Grateful Dead concert. Your dad and I used to go to them all the time. We put you in a box so you couldn’t crawl around and get high.”

(Please let it be noted that my parents have since then not put me or any of my other six siblings in a box, and it was only out of love.)

So, you’re a child of flower children!? That said, what role can music play to make a difference in the world?

It can make every difference, in any kind of way you use it. I believe the love of music is innate in everyone, and so its use can do a lot of powerful things. Music can move people. It can make you happy, it can make you angry, it can make you impassioned. I try to make a conscious effort to put music out there that won’t make the world even more of a bummer.

Age? Job? From around here? What do you do when you’re not doing music?

I just turned 20 years young this October, and I’ve been living in Sacramento for six years. Besides that, I’ve lived in Oregon, Wisconsin and Mendocino, California. When I’m not writing or performing music, I do housekeeping for an elderly gentleman once a month, and I work as a courtesy clerk at a grocery store.

Do you write songs about work?

I do, sometimes I even write them at work. I wrote a song called, “Katie, You’re a Hero,” and that was about a co-worker who used to bring cookies to work to get our boss to like her more and give her a raise. That was annoying, so I wrote about it. Her name wasn’t Katie, though. Just to be clear.

Describe how you learned to play guitar. When did you realize you wanted to be a solo artist?

I taught myself how to play guitar when I was 16. Honestly, it was because all the cute guys were doing it, and I wanted to have an excuse to hang out with them. I think it was a little bit easier for me to pick up than it was for most people, though, because I had taken four years of classical violin before that. I had, thankfully, been trained to hear and recognize notes by ear. And the fact that it was a stringed instrument definitely helped, too. Stringed instruments have a lot in common, so it’s easy to pick different ones up once you’ve learned to play just one.

Were you emo in high school/junior high? Any embarrassing musical confessions to make? Now’s your chance.

I wasn’t emo, no. I was the nerdy, artsy girl, for the most part. But that artsy part, combined with hormones, birthed a lot of emotions. And that made for a lot of sappy, angsty poetry and songs. I think the “emo-est” thing I ever listened to was the Used, or Panic at the Disco. But I’m not embarrassed. I still love Panic at the Disco. They’re kind of amazing.

What’s the first song you wrote, and what do you think of it now?

I wrote (and documented) my first song when I was 6 years old. It was called “I Have More Than One Feeling in My Heart.” It went,

I have more than one feeling in my heart
I have more than one feeling in my heart
Love, kindness, loving in my heart
I have more than one feeling in my heart.
Sadness, madness, sadness in my heart
I have more than one feeling in my heart.
Love, kindness, sadness, madness
All those I feel, in the center of my heart.

And, now that I get to see it on paper, it looks a lot like songs I write now. Although I dare say I use choruses and bridges more liberally than I used to.

I wrote that you seemed “too cheerful": Is that true? Do you write sad songs?

I have over 200 songs I like to choose from when I start to pick a set for a show. Sometimes this can get a little daunting, so I like to pick a theme for the show. Some shows have a little bit of whimsy, a little bit of cheer in them, and some shows are heavier and a little darker. For that particular show, I knew I couldn’t give a sincere performance singing sad songs, because I wasn’t sad. It was the launching of something (that something being an EP, Diminutive Petite) that I spent a year and a half working on, that people were finally going to be able to hold, and that made me incredibly happy. I thought I might as well use that feeling and put on a show that reflected how I felt—although at the end I did play two very heavy, serious songs. But it was a bit late then, and I think most people had gone to bed!

Most people who have seen me live often, though, have seen a lot of my sad songs. I think they’d agree I can get pretty emo.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you, music-related or otherwise?

Well, I have a stalker, I suppose that’s kind of crazy. It’s definitely the most colorful thing that’s happened to me, which probably isn’t saying much for the rest of the music world. But it’s definitely been an experience.

Stalkers are popular lately: you, Vivian Girls. Hopefully that jerk’s taken care of or locked up?

No, but he’s disappeared for the most part these days. He used to show up at shows or festivals, or steal posters. But he’s been gone from the scene for a few months now. Probably because I have some great friends who can pull of a menacing look really well. We’ve got each other’s backs.

What inspires you?

Sometimes it’s little things, mostly people I know or people I meet, but mostly it’s books. I’m a huge library nerd, and books give you the greatest stories to work with and try to emulate. I’m a huge fan of the melodramatic—of a story that really catches onto you and just won’t let go—and I try to present that in what I write. I’m reading Anna Karenina right now, and it’s about crazy relationships, so a lot of the songs that I’ve written recently have been about love. I read Alice and Wonderland before that, and so I had a lot of silly, very rhymey songs. And so on and so forth. You get the picture.

What were you doing the night before you overslept and stood me up?

I was baking cookies after a radio interview in San Francisco. I really wasn’t lying when I said I’d bring you some to make up for the slight; all I need is an address to send them to.

Are you a multi-intrumentalist? If so, which ones?

I am, but more for my own exploration (and maybe someday, a cheaper album-recording bill) than for performance. I play the guitar, Autoharp, ukulele, piano, rhythm sticks, shakers, lap harp, harmonica, recorder, accordion, organ, pan flute, bongos, flute, German lap harp and the classical violin. I’ve only taken four instruments to the stage so far, and mostly I stick with my guitar and my ukulele, and once in awhile the Autoharp gets into the picture. Piano would be nice to have onstage, but I would have to get a better keyboard. The one I have now is only good for practice.

When you’re alone—walking, thinking—do you hum rhymes, melodies or harmonies? How does music work in your head and how does this translate to recording/performance?

I do. Most songs start off from me humming to myself, or whistling. And I know the harmony to every song on my iPod. It’s not something that I ever notice myself doing, I’ve been doing it for so long it’s really second nature to me. It’s nice, though, because it makes songwriting very simple and organic. Instead of forcing myself to sit down, telling myself, “Now you’re going to write a song,” songs come out when they want to. They come out when I’m inspired. And it’s a lot of fun to be able to bring those moments to record, or to perform for people.

If I jacked your iPod/CD collection/vinyl collection, what would surprise me?

I have a lot of Radiohead. Some Flobots, and some Dead Prez. I don’t think most people would peg me for a political hip-hop kind of girl, but you know, sometimes you really need to roll down your windows and turn up the bass.

Dead Prez? Do you rap/sing along with rap in the car?

I’m not very good, so I try when I’m driving by myself in the car. I used to do a cover of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” but that might be the most rap you’ll ever hear from me at a show.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in five years?

I can answer that idealistically, or more seriously. I think I’ll do both. This is what I know how to do, this is what I dedicate my time to, and this is what makes me happy. Five years from now, I would love to be a working artist basing it all off of a strong foundation of good work, good performances and good musicianship. It would be nice to have a national fan base, and to be able to tour and record under a label. It would be a dream to be respected (if not famous, only a few can ever get that far) by people in the industry for being good at what I do.

I know that the music business is hard. I’ve learned it firsthand. But I’m not here to try and give up when it gets difficult. I’ll be here, working my hardest as usual, eight years from now if I need to be. Because even if I never get “discovered,” even if I never reach acclaim, this is me at my best. I’m really happy, truckin’ along like this, meeting fun people and getting to go to interesting places. I love to write, I love to sing and I think it’s safe to say that I’m going to be here for a long time.