MaryLeigh Roohan, indie singer-songwriter and road warrior, will return to Caffe Lena on June 25. The Saratoga Springs native hasn’t played a solo show in her hometown in more than two years, and she’s raring to go. The show at Lena’s will include some new songs written in collaboration with Jen Trani, a full band recreation of Living Alone (her last EP, which was raw, powerful, and fueled by terrific writing), and an exclusive giveaway for all members of the audience. Sunday June 25, will also be her first time performing on the Caffe’s new stage, which will undoubtedly have a special resonance, given that the artist cut her teeth at Caffe Lena open mics in her teens.
I caught up with MaryLeigh on the phone and we talked about her writing process, touring, collaboration, and the Capital Region community.
On writing, she’s notes that her process is organic, intuitive. “It’s different every single time,” she says. “There’s no formula.” She carries a notebook and pen to jot down phrases or lyrics, uses her voice memo app to record melodies, and sits down and “noodles until something crystallizes.” Basically, whatever works when the moment strikes. “As far as advice for people looking to get started, I just say sit down with an instrument and see what happens.”
She has no shortage of praise for the Capital Region’s community of musicians and artists. “Upstate is not short on hella pro players,” she says. “The region is blossoming with talent. It’s crazy.” As she visits other cities, towns, and areas, she’s reminded that the Capital Region isn’t messing around. “We’re so lucky to have Caffe Lena in our community, and the talent we have in the area is really incredible.” That’s not to say that challenges don’t exist. I ask her what can be improved. “Often, it’s musicians supporting musicians,” she says. “I’d like to see more people who aren’t musicians and people who are coming together. It’d be great to see more people who go to the big concerts get to the smaller shows too. The gap can be bridged.”
On the phone and through email, we covered a lot of topics:
The Alt (ALT): The show at Caffe Lena will be a homecoming of sorts. It’ll be your first solo gig in Saratoga Springs in two years. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to?
MaryLeigh Roohan (MLR): The past two years I’ve taken a little bit of a step back from performing solo. In addition to feeling a weird sense of pressure in regards to my “career” as a singer-songwriter, I really missed collaborating with people, and I wanted to spend more time learning and having fun outside of my comfort zone. I’ve been writing songs with my west coast friend Jen Trani, played lead guitar in two local rock bands (Swanfeeder and Candy Ambulance), and was fortunate enough to tour with my friend Chris Pureka, singing harmonies, tour managing, and opening a few shows for her in Europe. I also got to renovate a house, which isn’t music-related but was really fun!
ALT: How’s the road? What are some of your favorite places / venues?
MLR: Even though things can get a little crazy, the road always treats me well. I just finished that tour with Chris Pureka and spending some time writing with Jen Trani in LA. We were able to play at one of my favorite venues in the world this time around – Space in Evanston, IL. They’ve always treated me so well, the venue is beautiful and intimate, and it’s attached to an amazing restaurant and a killer recording studio. Being there feels like a dream. I have a major soft spot for seedy dives too. There are some great clubs in North Carolina and Chicago that I love, but Space feels like I’ve died and gone to heaven.
ALT: Are you able to write while on tour?
MLR: I hear some people can, but I am not one of them. Tour is always a little too hectic to sit down and get in the writing zone. I also enjoy taking some of those brief hours–when I’m not in the van, sound checking or playing–to explore.
ALT: So everyone who comes to the Caffe Lena show will get to take home an exclusive preview of your next record. Can you tell us more about the preview and/or the record?
MLR: Yeah! Caffe Lena is an incredibly special place to me. When I was sixteen or seventeen, I started going to their open mics religiously. The people I met there were crucial in developing my confidence and interest in growing as a songwriter and musician. I would sit with people in the greenroom and they would teach me cool things I could try on guitar, or we would talk about a song I was working on. The process of writing was made so special because of the people I met at Caffe Lena, and I thought the it would be fun and appropriate to share a work “in process.” All the songs I’ve chosen for the preview are at different stages of being finished. Some of them are fully-formed and professionally recorded, and some are little demo recordings I made in my living room. Often we only see the finished product, and I think there’s a lot of value in sharing how we get there.
ALT: Jen Trani will be joining you at Caffe Lena. Can you tell us about your collaboration?
MLR: Jen and I met on tour with Chris Pureka last Spring and were somehow able to find little pockets of time on the road to play music together. It can be hard to find people who you click with musically and as friends, but we totally hit it off. Since we live on other sides of the country, we would text each other little song ideas that we had recorded in our voice memo app and build from there. We’ve written a bunch of stuff together this way and I’m excited to share some of it at the show.
ALT: What else should The Alt audience know about the upcoming show?
MLR: I have the show set up as a three-part progression of sorts. The evening is going to start with just me and my guitar – I’ll be playing new songs and some old. Although it is incredibly embarrassing, I might even play the first song I ever played at Caffe Lena. Then Jen will join me for some of the things we’ve been working on over the past year. Since we live on opposite sides of the country, we’ve only played one other show together, so I’m really excited to have her and play these songs with her in front of a live audience. Finally, I’ll bring up the rest of the band (James Gascoyne on bass and Jon Cantiello on drums) to play my record, Living Alone. Because of scheduling and things, I’ve never been able to play this collection of songs with a full band in front of anybody. I am so excited!
ALT: What’s inspiring you these days? What music, books, movies, etc.? (I ask this question because I notice that a lot of writers, artists, and musicians I talk to feel a little stuck or distracted by the news cycle, and they find it hard to write.)
MLR: Most my inspiration comes from collaborating and community. The news cycle – among other things – can certainly get me down, so I feel especially thankful to have friends I can talk to about everything that’s happening. Despite all the ugliness that’s coming up at the moment, I’ve been able to connect with so many different people from all over and hear their stories and perspectives. It’s been really beautiful and helpful.
MaryLeigh Roohan will be at Caffe Lena on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs on Sunday, June 25, at 7pm. Visit www.caffelena.org for more information or to purchase tickets.