Club Passim Blog

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Artist Center Stage: Sarah McQuaid
Rising star Sarah McQuaid’s voice has been likened to malt whiskey, melted chocolate and “honey poured into wine” (Minor 7th). A captivating performer, she seduces her audience with cheeky banter and stories from the road, as well as with stunning musicianship; in her hands, the guitar becomes much more than merely an accompanying instrument. Born in Madrid (to a Spanish father and an American mother), raised in Chicago and holding dual Irish and American citizenship, Sarah McQuaid refuses to be pigeonholed. Her musical output reflects her own eclectic background: she spans the genres with both her beautifully crafted originals and her interpretations of material from around the globe and down the centuries. Sarah is also the author of The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book, described by The Irish Times as “a godsend to aspiring traditional guitarists.” She has presented workshops on DADGAD tuning at festivals and venues around the globe, as well as here at The Passim School of Music. We had a chance to speak with Sarah about how she became the artist and Passim family member she is today.

Looking back on such a long line of accomplishments, can you name an event that occurred in your music career that has helped shape who you are as a musician?
The move to Cornwall in 2007 was a real determining force in the direction of my current musical career, because it was through doing that this that I met Zoë (author and performer of 1991 hit single “Sunshine On A Rainy Day”) and co-wrote the songs for the Mama album with her. That’s what made me really start to see myself as a songwriter. Prior to that I’d thought of myself more as a song interpreter who happened to write an occasional song. Working with Zoë on the songs for that album [Crow Coyote Buffalo, released in 2009] taught me an awful lot about songwriting and inspired me to start working harder on writing my own songs.

How would you describe your musical style in your own words?
I draw from lots of different genres – folk, jazz, traditional, contemporary, classical, medieval – but I try and bring my own individual style and feel to whatever I do. One thing a lot of people have commented on is that my guitar playing is very much to the fore of what I do — I’m playing harmonies and counter-melodies and counter-rhythms on the guitar, so it’s almost as though my guitar and voice are doing a duet, rather than the instrument just backing the voice.

What draws you to the stage?
There’s a buzz and a magic when you’re performing live in front of an audience that it’s impossible to replicate in the studio or at home. I love it when people at the audience talk back to me, and when I’m getting a good reaction from the crowd it seems to turn my energy level up a notch and make me play and sing better than I would otherwise.

What brought you to Club Passim?
Both the club and the school of music are lovely places to play and teach—really nice staff at all levels, and everyone is very friendly and welcoming. Club Passim was actually the first solo gig that I ever did in the USA, back in February of 2010. It was the first show of my first solo US tour, and I also gave a DADGAD guitar workshop at the Passim School of Music the day before the gig. I have played at Club Passim and given workshops several times since. The workshop I’m giving on this tour will be the fourth one I’ve done at Passim School of Music.

What has been your favorite Club Passim moment?
I had a very emotional moment on that first visit to Club Passim, in February 2010. I’ve got a lot of family in Boston, so I had a bunch of aunts and uncles and cousins in the audience, none of whom I’d seen for a long time as I’ve been living outside the US for most of my adult life, first in Ireland and now in England. I played a song that I wrote about my mother, who’d died six years previously, and looking at all those people at the front tables who’d known and loved her, I couldn’t stop a couple of tears from rolling down my cheek — and then I saw them dabbing at their eyes and fishing for tissues as well. It was lovely, though.

What do you see for the future of your musical endeavors?
Right now I’m working hard on putting material together for my next album, which I’m hoping will be out early in 2015. In the meantime I’ll keep touring hard and doing as many press interviews as I can. I’m in the middle of an eight-week US tour at the moment, with long drives every day and concerts pretty much every night, so it’s hard to see past tomorrow. It can be crazy, but I’m enjoying it immensely!