This eight-piece band of Brooklyn rockers gives some credit to New Orleans for their horn-fueled, funky sound.
[Updated] “For a while, there was actually a rumor going around on the Internet that we’re from New Orleans,” says Arleigh Kincheloe of funk-rock band Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, laughing. “We would go to shows and people would introduce us that way, and we’d be like, ‘Well, uh, we’re from Brooklyn. Don’t know where you guys keep hearing this.’” Kincheloe is Sister Sparrow, a petite, feisty frontwoman with a throaty, soulful voice that could easily be mistaken as southern. But the Internet got it wrong: she’s a New York native, though New Orleans inspired the music she now makes with her gritty, horn-driven, rock ‘n’ roll seven-piece band, the Dirty Birds. The band plays the Howlin’ Wolf on Tuesday night.
Five years ago, Kincheloe waited tables and saved her money so she could attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. “My friends had been going to Jazz Fest for years,” Kincheloe says. “I went to hang out, and I came back asking myself, ‘What just happened?’ It really blew my mind, and it was a big influence on my writing style. The vibe and energy spoke to me.” Though she used to sing alongside her musical parents in weddings and bars at an early age, she’d never pursued her own dream of a big band until then. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds had eight members from its very beginning – all the makings of a rock band plus a harmonica and horns. “I always knew I wanted a horn section,” Kincheloe says. “Once you add horns to your band, that automatically shapes the sound.”
Kincheloe brings song lyrics, a melody, and a rough idea of chord changes to the band, which usually takes over from there. She writes about what she knows; the band’s 2012 release, Pound of Dirt, explores life in Brooklyn and the bustle of a big city with dynamic, foot-stomping tracks like “No Rest,” or the 49-second long guitar solo titled “This Crazy Torpedo.” But the band’s been on the move a lot more since she penned that set of songs, and her writing reflects that. “My new life is spent mostly traveling,” Kincheloe says. “The lifestyle makes sense to me. The songs we’re looking at recording and putting out this year are about that.”
The road can be credited for making a performer out of Kincheloe, too. “I used to be more timid,” she says, laughing. “I didn’t dance as much. That stage presence was always somewhere inside of me, but I had to figure out how to be okay with it and not be embarrassed. I used to wear a lot more conservative clothing, like fancy vintage dresses and high heels. Now it’s a lot more rugged and something I can actually move in.”
The band’s funk-driven sound is one that New Orleans, and even Brooklyn with its growing brass band scene, regularly parties to. But when Kincheloe and her band take it on the road, the crowds react in a different way. “There’s a little bit of shock and awe,” she says. “A lot of people haven’t seen anything like this or don’t see it often. With New Orleans, everyone’s always told us, ‘You guys would be a perfect fit there.’ I think that’s true, but we want to be different or interesting enough for people to enjoy it. We’re the Brooklyn version.”
Updated February 20, 9:36 a.m.
Since we published this story, the people at The Voodoo Music Experience sent over the video of Sister Sparrow's 2012 set at Voodoo in its entirety. Here it is.