Most emerging indie artists prefer to downplay the “day job” aspect of their lives, but Sierra West is not only proud of her work as a Certified Veterinary Technician, she continuously finds ways to blend her passion for music with her love of animals.
Currently gearing up to release Hold Your Fire, her infectious new EP featuring folk influenced songs with a pop rock edge, the Connecticut-born and raised (now Boston-based) singer/songwriter has built an impressive following in her native New England. She’s performed on the coffeehouse circuit and regularly at hotspots like Club Passim and the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where she held the CD release party for her previous EP, Rocks, in 2009 at The Lizard Lounge. The celebration for the new EP is scheduled for August 14 at Club Passim. “Club Passim was once the famous Club 47, a historical Cambridge folk venue where Bob Dylan and
Joan Baez started out,” Sierra says. “It’s the reason I wanted to move to Boston.”
Sierra’s approach to performing is to create an intimate environment in which to communicate with her audience. Her performing history includes a month-long tour in the Midwest, playing “restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, colleges,” and two tours in Northern California, including a ten-gig trip through the Santa Cruz- Monterey region that grew out of a single house concert. During that excursion, she sat on radio station KPIG’s “The Hot Seat” on its “Please Stand By” show, performing two acoustic songs live in the studio that inspired instant enthusiastic responses from listeners, who called and emailed during the show.
On Hold Your Fire, she shares that intimacy with a dynamic band that includes guitarist Kevin Barry (Ray Lamontagne, Paula Cole, Mary Chapin Carpenter), bassist Richard Gates (Patty Larkin, Ellis Paul, The Weepies), Thomas Juliano (Seven Mary Three, Melissa Ferrick, Kay Hanley) on electric guitar, and background vocals by folk artists Catie Curtis and Mark Erelli.
Hold Your Fire, produced by drummer/producer Lorne Entress at Signature Sounds studio in Connecticut, includes the plaintive and heartfelt “It’s About Time,” which is slated for an upcoming regional radio promotion campaign. Beyond airplay, one of Sierra’s other goals is to have her music licensed for film and television.
During her years at the University of Vermont, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Animal Science (pre- veterinary medicine), Sierra was the first performer at The Radio Bean and performed as the opening act for Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”. While continuing her studies later at Mount Ida College—where she graduated #1 in her class—she traveled to South Africa via a partnership between EcoLife Expeditions and The University of Pretoria in a program called Vets-In-The-Wild. In the townships around Soweto, she and her companions volunteered for CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare), helping local vets spay and neuter, deliver food parcels and attend to malnourished, diseased, and abandoned dogs.
Through her work as a vet tech and musician, Sierra has found unique ways to give back to the animals that have brought her so much joy, starting from her childhood growing up on a horse farm in rural Thomaston, Conn. In addition to donating ten percent of the proceeds she received for one of her Cali tours to local animal shelters along the way, she did a benefit performance closer to home at the WGBH-TV Studios (Boston’s public broadcasting station) for Helping Hands (www.monkeyhelpers.org), the only non-profit organization in the world that raises and trains capuchin monkeys to provide daily, in home assistance to people living with spinal cord injury or other mobility impairments, inspiring the name of Sierra’s publishing company; 21 Monkeys Music.
Another cause close to Sierra’s heart and life experience is addiction treatment. When Sierra was 14, her 19- year-old brother was hit and killed by a drunk driver. “I went through my own battles after my brother’s death and I know the importance of having a center for people who need help, especially artists and musicians who seek the sense of community and support,” says Sierra, whose chosen professional last name is her brother’s middle name. ”Music is what drives me and connects me to my brother. When I think things are really difficult and want to give up, it’s great to have the ability to channel those emotions in song. Music helps me focus on the positive aspects of living.” The singer performs regularly to raise money for Right Turn (www.right-turn.org), an innovative, Arlington, Mass. based program that offers intensive outpatient and residential treatment services in a uniquely creative environment. As envisioned by CEO and Founder Woody Giessmann, “Anyone with a desire for creative expression, reco
very and the support of a kindred community will feel welcome here.” Giessmann, a founding member of the recently reunited garage pop band The Del Fuegos, was featured on Sierra’s earlier EP, Rocks.
Sierra penned three of the five songs on Sierra’s EP Hold Your Fire at one of the “Writing It Up In the Garden” artist retreats hosted several times a year by Nerissa Nields, a member of the folk band The Nields. The retreats are open to novelists, short story writers, songwriters, poets, journalists, memoirists, essayists and other writers. She remembers getting chills the first time she sang “It’s About Time” for the other writers in attendance at one retreat. It was inspired by a Gauguin painting on a postcard she was given as a prompt. It contained images of mountains and muddy ground, a running stream and an iconic figure; a eulogy to the past. “I’m not lost, but I’m not found/What went up, never came down/The whole world’s broke, somebody get some glue/It’s about time we start telling the truth.”
She continues, “I looked at the painting and started thinking about what’s happening in nature, the destruction wrought by people. I basically put myself in nature’s shoes. It was dually inspired by intense conversations I had with my father over the years. He would say things like ‘the whole world’s broken.’ In a more personal way, this is the answer to that conversation.”
The title track “Hold Your Fire” also reflects the descriptive, imagery-driven songwriting that characterizes Sierra’s current work. “I used to write about emotions more straightforwardly,” she says. “Now I use images to create metaphors to say many different things.” “Hold Your Fire” finds her using references to Antarctica and the Himalayas to convey emotions of longing, passion, and desire.
On the other side of the coin, she calls the upbeat, jangling “In Your Hands” the happiest song she’s ever written, about being in a good place in a relationship. Using the imagery of molding clay, Sierra tracks the connection to her partner as they mold to each other emotionally and physically.
“I have always had the feeling that my songs would fit perfectly in a dramatic TV show, the situations I describe fitting right into any number of onscreen scenarios,” she says. “I’m really happy I had the opportunity to make a great album that I can be proud of. It’s really a dream come true and I am excited about all the doors that are opening for me. There’s always so much to experience and so many ways to grow as a person and artist. I’ve been making music for years, but this feels like a really exciting beginning.”