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Broke-Ass Band Interview: Sonya Cotton

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We often interview people who consider themselves broke. We also interview a lot of bands. This is because most bands are broke. Today’s Broke-Ass Band Interview is with SF-based folk musician Sonya Cotton, who is fabulous and will be playing at the Rickshaw Stop on Tuesday, January 25th. She also knows a bunch of things about living responsibly and cheaply at the same time, so take notes!

Tell us a little about yourself!

I’ll start off by saying that Sonya Cotton is my real name!  I didn’t make it up (people often ask me that.)  I grew up in New Jersey.  Now I live in San Francisco.  I have a lot of love for this city, and I miss it when I’m gone.  I also yearn for the East Coast sometimes.  I love swimming in natural bodies of water.  I’m vegan.  I agree with PETA: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.”  My grandfather always used to call me “a born surgeon” when I would cut apples for dessert after dinner.  I like to fancy myself a surgeon of sorts.  I think with my music I aim to open people up and dig deep into their hearts and help them heal, in one way or another.

Tell us a little about your album that’s out now, your next show, the new record, and the kickstarter campaign.

My most recent album is Red River (released in July ’09,) which I recorded at Hyde Street Studio C with Scott McDowell, a very talented local engineer who has worked with Sean Hayes, Birds and Batteries, Sea of Bees, and many other noteworthy musicians.  It is a melancholy album but it has threads of hope running through it.  My next show is on Tuesday, January 25th at the Rickshaw Stop with Honeycomb and Ever Isles.  I’m so excited for this show.  You should come!  I launched a Kickstarter campaign three days ago (on January 14th) to fund the making of my next album and an east coast tour.  The album is a collection of songs I wrote in dedication and in memory of my mother, who passed away a year and a half ago from cancer.  My mom was an amazing woman and mother, and a very passionate animal welfare advocate herself.  We’ve already reached more than 50% of our goal, which is super exciting, but we still have a long way to go!

What’s with the dead deer on the cover of your last album?

Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey the sight of a dead deer on the side of the road was very common.  That particular deer on the cover of Red River was hit by a car just two minutes from my house (the house I grew up in.)  I feel compelled to pay respect to these animals that have been killed so cruelly, and for no reason.  They are simply the victims of our ridiculously destructive culture; we’ve developed their habitat, we’ve killed all their natural predators, and now we consider them “pests”.  I find this to be so disrespectful!  And such a common theme, played out upon so many species.  So that picture depicts me paying my respects.  The image of the dead deer also found its way deep into my psyche and my dreams while I was writing the songs for that album, many of which were inspired by my dreams and nightmares.

Tell us about your other project, Tiny Home and how it is different from your own.

Tiny Home started as an excuse for Gabe (Dominguez) and I to sing songs that we love that we didn’t write.  It’s a lot of fun, we sing everything from show tunes to old Irish folk tunes to songs our friends have written.  It gives us the chance to focus on the duet form, blending our voices, and creating unique arrangements and harmonies.  It’s so different from my personal project on so many levels!  It’s music that can be played almost anywhere in my opinion – from weddings to funerals – whereas as my music is more fitting just for funerals.

What is next for Sonya Cotton?

(Hopefully) to record this album in memory of my mom, and then go on tour in the east in May, traveling by train and bus as much as possible.

What should people be listening to (besides your music)?

Honeycomb.  Kacey Johansing.  Birds and Batteries.  Kelly McFarling.  Me in the Zoo.  Chris Kiehne.  And watch out for SHAKE YOUR PEACE!

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty, i.e. money:

Have any tips for aspiring musicians trying to make it on their craft?

House concerts are the best!  They tend to create an intimate setting where people really connect and listen.  The best way to be heard.

Best money saving tip in general?

Don’t eat out.  Make food at home, pack it to go.  Beans and rice and kale can go a long way.

How do you feel about squatting? And I don’t mean in yoga class.

I think squatting is awesome!  And of course a little scary.  Gabe (my boyfriend) used to squat, and I got to enjoy his squat with him.  It was pretty unbelievable.  He lived in the apartment above the Revolution Cafe for about 9 months, paying no rent.  Granted, there were nights we would hear strange noises and he would walk around the apartment with a baseball bat poised and ready.  So that was a little disconcerting.  But it also felt adventurous and exciting!  He even held a “Squatluck” there for all our friends.  Everyone came over and sat around sharing food and songs.  It felt so naughty!  Just make sure you don’t get caught!  We were lucky.

Where do you live now and what are some good cheap/fun things to do in that area?

I live in Glen Park, in a 7 person co-op.  Walking around Glen Canyon is fun and free!  You can sometimes see and hear coyotes at dusk…so cool.

What do you refuse to spend money on?

Christmas presents.  I’ve been making Christmas presents for people ever since I was a kid.

What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought and how did that feel?

I’m bad with superlatives, but something I spent a good chunk of money on was pressing my last album, Red River.  I decided to do full-color artwork, an 8-page lyric booklet, and I worked with Stumptown Printers in Portland.  They are a bit more expensive than other print shops because they use all recycled paper and non-toxic inks, and they’re a relatively small cooperative.  I felt it was the best decision ever!  They are worker-owned, and they have the best customer service I have ever experienced.  Everyone should work with Stumptown!

What’s the best deal you’ve ever gotten?

A shirt from the Anthropologie sale rack.  Originally $200.  Marked down to $9.95.  Really. And it’s the coolest shirt I own.

What is your favorite free thing to do?

Pet dogs.

You volunteer a lot. That’s free. I’m always trying to get Broke-Ass Stuart readers to do community service, but we’re a pretty lazy bunch. Stories? Tips?

The two organizations I’m involved with right now are: Family Dog Rescue, (where I walk and hang out with dogs in need of homes,) and UCSF (where I go and sing for patients.)  Dogs are bundles of pure love.  You will feel happy if you hang out with them.  And they will feel happy too.  It’s so easy.  As for singing for patients at UCSF: this is one of the most profoundly meaningful and emotionally difficult things I’ve ever done.  If you’re a musician and you’re interested in getting involved, email me ( They’re looking for more musicians to get involved.

Car vs. bike? Expound!

Bike!  Duh.  Cars kill people and animals every day.  Bikes, not so much.  Cars as death machines.  Bikes are joyful, and they make your legs sexy and strong!

Favorite cheap eats in the Bay?

La Corneta, Sunflower, and to splurge a little I love Souley Vegan in Oakland!

If you woke up a millionaire, what’s the first thing you’d buy?

Land (near a river.)  And then I’d build a tiny home out of recycled materials (see: Tumbleweed Tiny House,) or perhaps a cob structure.  And then I’d adopt lots of dogs and let them run around.  I’d like to eventually make this land a sanctuary for all sorts of animals: chimps retired from labs, elephants retired from circuses, etc, etc.

Despite not having money, do you still love your life?

Of course!  Money stinks!  I think we should go back to the barter system, if you want to know the truth.

Tuesday, January 25, 8pm
Sonya Cotton, Honeycomb, & Ever Isles
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell St. @ Van Ness

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Chloe - Pennywise Reporter

Chloe - Pennywise Reporter

Chloe's youth was split between California and Kauai, frolicking on a macadamia nut farm in the tropics and landing finally in the Bay Area. Raised by super-Jew hippies, and the youngest of three sisters, Chloe learned early the virtues of thrift, economy, and green living. To the chagrin of her parents (who hoped, of course, for a Jewish doctor or lawyer), Chloe has put her degree from UC Berkeley to great use by becoming a folk singer. As "Chloe Makes Music" she plays shows throughout SF and beyond, donning vintage frocks, selling handmade merch, and pinching pennies as she sings for her supper. Calling Berkeley home for the last six years, you can think of Chloe as the website's East Bay Correspondent, opening your eyes to the hippie-filled, tree-hugging, organic-loving, vegan-eating, but way-overlooked and awesome assets of Berkeley, Oakland, and beyond.

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