Sequoya is a music
band emerging from Durham, North Carolina, USA, the same North
Carolina-Virginia music belt that has produced a steady stream of terrific American
artists, from Dave Matthews Band to Aimee Mann.
Sequoya is a duo consisting of Bonnie singing a haunting, melodic lead vocal and playing
guitar, and Matthew playing bass and banjo, and adding backing vocals.
intelligent, thoughtful new compositions which, if one had to categorize
-- well let me say I don't believe in categorizing music, and I'm not good
at it -- too hard to remember all of the categories that have been dreamt up
through the years. ("Wagnerian Rock" is a good one I heard recently, in
reference to Meatloaf.) But if one had to categorize Sequoya's music, one
might call it "Good music." "Really good music." If you need categorization
beyond that, I'd say they had ties to traditional American folk music.
Alternative? For sure. Goth? I don't know what Goth is. Indie? Sure why not..
So, Sequoya is Bonnie
entrancing you with a haunting, melodic voice and Matthew combining
to play songs that are intelligent, thoughtful new compositions of
alternative, goth, indie, traditional American Folk music. If Matthew is
playing banjo, the American Folk part percentage rises. [To have a listen
yourself, click here
(and we suggest you leave it on while you read this interview) or watch for the videos below.]
With Sequoya preparing for a major
new cd release in winter
conducted the following email interview with Bonnie, who was
good-natured enough to type out long responses to our questions. We
felt like we were giving her a homework assignment, which she
dutifully responded to with well-thought-out, interesting answers. We give her an A+
on the interview, and present it to you here.
Matthew of Sequoya.
by Eleni Binge)
PBN: When and how did
Sequoya start? Bonnie:
Sequoya was formed in 1999. We are a duo performing here or there but
always creating. Band members are: Bonnie on guitars and vocals and Matthew
bass, and backing vocals.
How did you
come up with the name Sequoya?
When deliberating on a name we put together a few ideas and thought
about it for a while. We chose Sequoya because it has many
meanings. One for the tree which grows strong and tall, the other
for the Cherokee who's story speaks a broader lesson. Sequoyah
created a written language from the ground up and is worth looking
into.. We wanted to pick a name that had meaning, distanced by
time, yet relevant today -- Sequoya fit the bill.
working on a new album right now. It seems so far to have a theme
based around space. What is the background behind that?
We've recorded 5 albums so far and have released two in very limited
pressings; 50 for our first, "Like Water", and 30 for our second,
"Villain Victim". Both records were very DIY and given out to
friends and sold at gigs.
This new record
has been 4 years in the making and in the beginning my songwriting
revolved around the topic of space. I've always been interested in
astronauts and the overall vastness of space, so I found it leaking
into my songs. Not every song on this new record is about outer
space but each one is attributed to space in its many metaphors and
How is the
album being made? Have you signed with a label? We are lucky to live in a day and age where recording at home is
a very viable opportunity. Home recording is where I got into song
writing and music and I enjoy every aspect of it.
We have not
signed to a label and plan to distribute our music independently.
Joining a record label isn't out of the question. There is another
great example of the time we live in. There are so many great small
labels supporting musicians like us.
Sequoya in February
2007 (Photo by Tommy Terrell)
describe the recording process? Sometimes we will play the song together and then add a little
extra and other times we'll build a song from the ground up
recording each part separately. We're halfway through recording and
choose a different way to track each song. The songs we have left
are mostly banjo and guitar, which is a new medium for us to work
We are always
experimenting with different things and I was delighted to do an
internet collaboration with KidAmpon our song "Rocket". She really added a wonderful dynamic to
this song and I look forward to working with her again.
Internet Collaboration like? What tools do you use? Do you use some
sort of Collaboration software like WebEx or NetMeeting ? We
were working on a collaboration with our friends the ILLBOTZ,
who live in Virginia. They e-mailed me the song, I recorded some
backups and sent it back to them so they could listen to it. We were
planning on recording it in the studio whenever we were in Virginia
again, but they loved the version I sent them and ended up using it
on their record "Illbotz 2: Electric Boogaloo".
how well that turned out I asked Alisha if she would like to do this
with our song "Rocket". I sent her the song in an e-mail, she
listened to it, tracked her part, and then sent it back to me. I
used Cubase to mix it and I was thrilled with the outcome. Never in
my life would I have thought I could record a song with someone who
lives a thousand miles away. It's the best recording I have and
Alisha was a crucial part of it.
Sequoya at Duo Fest.
(Photo by Eleni Binge)
the songs, do you write as a team or alone?
We usually write alone and then play them for each other during the
writing process. We offer each other suggestions on the lyrics or
music. Sometimes Matthew will help me with a lyric I'm having
trouble with or he'll play a riff that inspires me to write a whole
song around. I sing songs Matthew wrote entirely like "Weary" and I
help him out with his solo material by singing and playing on them.
I think that's why we are a good team; we support each other's
creativity and have our own musical identity.
first for you, the music or the lyrics?
I usually write them both at the same time. When writing a song I
will choose a subject that I want to talk about and build a story
line around it. If I have some music first, I will go through my
books and choose words that I've written previously to inspire me.
about other artists who, when they're writing new songs, basically
don't listen to other music. When you are writing music, do you
listen to other music, or do you shut it all down.
I don't stop listening to music while writing. I am inspired by
other artists and hearing their songs urges me to create. I like to
listen to music while I'm recording because I can learn a lot from
different techniques and recording situations that I hear in a song.
favorite place to write new music?
On my couch or during our practices. I used to write better in the
mornings but that has changed. I never know when the creative
moment will hit, I just hope I remember it again later.
Matthew on bass guitar; Bonnie on guitar
and vocals -- Sequoya at the Cave in 2006
(Photo by Charles Latham)
How long have
you been playing guitar? I've been
playing guitar for 9 years. I used to walk to work early, around 5am,
every morning and would take along my walkman player and listen to
mix tapes. I had been writing poetry for years and on one of those
walks I just decided that getting a
guitar and learning how to play was what I needed to do to share
it. I was 22 then and I thought it might be too late since most
guitarists start early, in their teens.
Who are your musical influences? Well the moment I decided to start playing guitar I was
listening to a Joni Mitchell song "Little Green" so yes she was a
big influence. I have been inspired by so many musicians it
would be hard to name them all but here is a small list: Crass, Aimee Mann, Ani Difranco, Cyndi Lauper, Gillian Welch, Damon
and Naomi, Ghost, Woody Guthrie, and Billy Bragg.
The biggest influences to my music are all of my creative friends
that I've met through the years who have been making music and
writing songs. Playing with them, going to gigs, and talking with
them about their musical life inspires us to keep moving forward.
At what point
did you feel confident enough to start playing live? Did it come
right away? When I first started playing guitar performing live was very
important. I joined a rock band called the Wyld Stallyns. None of
us knew how to play our instruments at first but we planned on
playing shows as soon as we were able. Our first live gig was 6
months after I began playing and I remember how dizzy and self-conscious I felt. I started going to open mic's after that to help
get over my stage fright.
At what point
did you feel confident enough to start writing songs? Did it come
I started writing immediately and I still play some of those songs
to this day. The best thing I ever did was buy a Yamaha 4 track at
a pawn shop. I started recording these songs and really learning
how to write and play. The process was fun and often included
practices and little sessions with my friends in my living room.
don't go anywhere without their favorite guitar. What guitar do you
play with? Do you have a favorite guitar? Is there a guitar that you
dream about owning, or are you content with what you have?
Shortly after I started playing I bought a Taylor 410 series
guitar. It's easy to play and sounds so beautiful. It's still the
guitar I use but I'm open to all brands and styles of guitar. My
electric guitar is by Cort and is called "The Effector". I love
this guitar because it has wonderful tone and never goes out of
Victim Insert 2004
I'm dreaming of
owning a Tenor guitar. It has only four strings and caters to a
melodious style of playing. I've only seen one for sale in a guitar
shop and that was about 4 years ago.
I have a friend
who's an engineer, and when he goes over to his relatives'
houses, he says he's always getting asked to fix the refrigerator, or
their computer, or some other household appliance that needs fixing.
When you go over to your relatives' houses, do you get asked to sing
This is a cute question and yeah that happens. A lot of times
people will invite us to a party and ask us to bring our
instruments. It's fun to play with other people and hear their
songs in an open environment.
The Live Gigs
You're based in
the Durham, North Carolina area. What's your favorite place to
Bull City Head Quarters is our favorite place to play in Durham, but
there are other great venues here as well. 305 South, Broad St.
Cafe, and 307 Knox Salon. Living in a tri-city area our options
aren't limited to Durham. We've played at some great venues in
Raleigh and Chapel Hill like The Cave, The Cat's Cradle, and The
independent group, are you booking your own gigs? How much of your
time does that take?
Booking gigs is surprisingly easy. A lot of the time, a traveling
musician will ask the venue to place them with a local artist
similar in style, then the venue or the artist will contact us.
There are some clubs that are harder to get into. If that's the case
all you need to do is put together a good CD of your songs and most
importantly frequent the venue and talk to the person who does the
What are the
difficulties involved in playing live?
I would have to
say sound is the toughest part of playing live. You never know what
you're going to get. There are times that you won't hear anything
on the stage and that's completely different from what the audience
is hearing. You may feel that no one can hear you so you shout your
songs or play too hard to compensate and end up sounding terrible. I
feel that it is best to play intuitively and utilize any feedback
the audience may give you. If the crowd is really noisy, then play
with your heart and realize that they are having fun and so should
you. I don't spend much time analyzing our performance after a
set. Being critical of yourself ruins the fun for yourself and
Sequoya at the Cats Cradle 2005
difficulty with playing live is the anticipation I feel a few weeks
before the gig. There's always the chance that people won't show up
and I worry about disappointing a venue or a band we are booked
with. Even if that happens I have found that things always work out
in the end. Some of the most enjoyable gigs we've played had the
fewest people in attendance.
What do you find
are the joys about playing live?
Putting away our instruments and chatting with people there, or
listening to the next act set to play. Interaction and witnessing
live music is the best benefit. People are more inclined to talk to
us after we've played and it's surprising to find out how much you
have in common.
I also love
sharing our music with people. When you're writing a song you
rarely think about how it will come across to others. You're more
concerned on how you feel about the music or storyline. Some songs
don't translate well live and then there are songs you don't really
like that audiences groove with and will ask you to play them more
I'd love to hear
St. James Infirmary live. What's your favorite song(s) to play live?
There is a great example of a song I didn't think would go over well
live but it has ended up being one of our most requested songs. We always
open with songs we enjoy playing because it helps us get into our
performance. It also depends on what kind of mood we want to set.
A few of those songs would be "Rocket", "This Time", "Barren the Sea", and
Matthew at Broad Street 2007
Do you do any
Yes, we love to and used to play a lot more than we do now.
Usually our set contains at least one cover which acts as a
comment inspired by the nature of the gig we're playing, or
a homage to an artist we admire. A few songs we like
to play are "The L&N" by Jean Ritchie, "Voices Carry" by
Aimee Mann, "Jesus Christ" by Woody Guthrie, and "Redemption
Song" by Bob Marley blended with "Strange Fruit" written for
Do you typically
close with a particular song? Not
always -- we try to vary our set lists and have a different one each
time. When we choose a song to close with we usually go with
something up-tempo like "Weary", "Insofar", or "Slaves to the
Mine". However if we've written a new song or want to set a more
introspective mood, we'll play those songs last.
Wife" -- wonderful song; wonderful video. The video has a home-made
feel to it, and yet the way the pacing of the slideshow matches the
tone of the music, and the subtle things that are done with color
changes and zooming, makes the video come alive. Who created that
video? How painstaking was that to put together?
That was the very first video I made and it was very enjoyable to
create. I had been collecting photos from space for a few years,
most of which were taken by the Hubble Telescope. Much of the video
was me experimenting with the effects available and I learned a lot
about editing while making it. Thank you so much for your kind
thoughts on the video and song. I am very proud of them both.
The video to
Rocket is another wonderful video. Who created the video? Who's
phonograph is that?
I wanted to see if I could make a music video. I have been watching
them all my life and felt it was time to try it. We spent most of
the day filming and I spent the later part editing it. There is a
painting of a house in the "Rocket" video created by Matthew's
Grandfather in the 60's and a mirror I had painted a week earlier.
was a recent purchase from a friend of ours. We have several 78
players but this was the first wind-up and we were very excited when
we got it. We have a fairly large record collection but we didn't
start collecting 78's until we acquired several records from The
Carter Family. Some were the very first records they ever recorded
in Bristol Tennessee in 1927.
Do you guys have
any band t-shirts yet?
No, we don't have any merchandise yet. That's something we've been
researching to coincide with the release of our new record.
Everything happens very slowly for us. All these years we've been
playing music because we love it and it brings us joy. Only
recently have we considered broadening our horizons and taking it to
the next level. We're still keeping the day jobs, but there is no
reason why we can't do both.
When are we
going to see you in the NYC area?
We've never toured before and plan to start short regional tours in
the next year. NYC isn't that far away so it's also a consideration.
We'd love to see the city and meet musicians in the area.
Sequoya at Farm Dysfunction 2003
(Photo by Kent Moore)
We'd like to finish by thanking
Bonnie for taking the time to type out her thoughtful answers, and
can't wait for the new album.
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