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10 minutes: Maria Sebastian on songwriting, inspiration

Shared marquees with acts as sonically opposed as the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and Southern metal slingers Jackyl is the mark of career both accomplished and impressively chameleonic.

But for Buffalo-born singer/songwriter Maria Sebastian, it’s always been about moving where the music takes you. Whether during her start as a strumming 16-year-old at Club Utica, navigating the alt-rock scene of the '90s or now teaming her story-based lyrics with Americana or sometimes soft-rock-leaning rhythms, she’s never been easy to pin down — and that’s a good thing.

Mystery adds intrigue to an arsenal honored multiple times by the Buffalo Music Awards, and one that plans to gets richer with the artist’s soon-to-be released album, “Be.”

Sebastian is now unveiling some of this solo material on stage  including a date alongside her poet husband, Perry Nicholas, who will join Sebastian and other friends at 7 p.m. April 29 in Clarence’s Penny Lane Café (10255 Main St.). She took time to discuss her past work, forthcoming material and her always evolving career calling.

Question: Of all the musicians you’ve played with, who stands out as most memorable?

Answer: Richie Havens. He signed CDs until the line was gone. He didn't have to do that.

Q: You've referred to 2009's "Yellow Envelope" as the best album you've ever produced. What elements make it shine so bright?

A: It's the variation of the songs. I started it under the influence of Liz Phair and the Gin Blossoms and finished it with Lucinda Williams and John Prine. It took six years, but my inspirations changed a lot in those years, and it makes the song order a surprise as each one passes.

I wish folks would pop it in their car and listen start to finish. I have a riot doing that even now. Other drivers must think I'm on the phone, but I'm just screaming "yes!" at my speakers. This was a big change for me. Some of my early discs make me want to change my name.

Q: How does the material due for "Be" compare to this past work?

A: I got off my own back after five years of overthinking and allowed myself to write something not so clever but universal, even a bit on the poppy side. I decided the lyrics didn't have to have a message or a lesson.

I also have Nelson Starr with me again, and his recordings never sound "local." If I had the budget, he'd make it a world-class record. He's had to hold back and work within my financial limits, but he won't be able to help himself. It'll be exquisite.

Q: Friday's show will feature poetry from your husband, Perry Nicholas. What about your material is particularly compatible?

A: We love words, we inspire each other, and we like short shows. We keep these at about a set each, we talk with people who show up, we have a wine or a coffee, and we hope something sticks for the listeners. Family ties kept us local all these years, but thanks to the acoustic music and poetry scene, we can still perform live.

They don't care how old you are, so now it's on the road for Perry and me as often as possible. We have shows coming up in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and across New York State. We hope to keep building on that.

Q: Many musicians consider their craft a calling. Do you feel this way?

A: It's a calling, a gift, and sometimes a curse. It chooses and owns you, so you sacrifice everything for it, and it either pays off or it doesn't. I guess you just have to keep redefining what "worth it" means. For me, the draw is trying to say something better than the last time. That's not something you retire from, so it's more about keeping going. If you happen to grow along the way, that's extra.


Who: Maria Sebastian, with poetry from Perry Nicholas and Friends

When: 7 p.m. April 29

Where: Penny Lane Cafe, 10255 Main St., Clarence

Admission: Free


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