Blogger Ashley Bieniarz interviews Gaby and Sam from Sapphire Empire
JUNE 12, 2015
Genre(s): Neo-Soul influenced by Jazz, Hip-Hop, Folk and experimental
Gaby's Instrument(s): Lead Guitar, Percussion
Selci's Instrument(s): Singer, electronics, guitar
I first met Gaby at the Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba. We were both in the same chorus so I felt good about contacting her to interview her and Sapphire Empire. I had seen Selci on campus but hadn't had the opportunity to formally introduce myself. Gaby, Selci and I got together at the Hollow Reed and over some delicious tea and snacks, that I can’t remember the names of, we talked about Sapphire Empire. These girls must be on the same wavelength. They were so much fun to interview because they were constantly finishing each other’s sentences.
I love how this interview focused a lot on how to make a big band work. I've never experienced performing in a band and I had never asked any other the other artists I interviewed who were in bands what it was like.
Ashley: What started Sapphire Empire? Where did it come from?
Gaby: Well we met and started jamming together and it worked magically somehow.
Selci: Yeah, we met somehow. Apparently she used to see me on the bus but I didn’t see her.
Gaby: We also both go to the same faculty.
Selci: We met at a show and it was like “Oh I think I know you from choir”. Then we were like “let’s jam” and then we jammed and it was like ♪♫La la la, this is awesome! ♪♫ and still now every time we jam it’s like ♪♫La la la, this is awesome♪♫.
Gaby: We’re just good musical partners now somehow randomly comrades.
Ashley: So how did the whole band get together?
Gaby: Well we write the music primarily and then we have a lot of different members. We went through a few bass players and drummers. We ended up getting together with some people from the faculty of music. So our drummer Ben kidd, our keyboard player Anatol Rennie, our trumpet players Decarlo Jackson and Emily Kidd. They all go to the faculty of music. Our bass player is this little wunderkin, he’s this little 20 year-old who we met and he’s so good and wonderful. He doesn’t go to school with but we just love him so much.
Selci: He’s been in the band the longest and we love him dearly. His name is Lucas Redekop. We’ve had the group with all of us for about a year and a bit. It’s been a great band and it’s been super jamming, really great. And everyone is super down, so it’s nice! [laughs]
Ashley: How did you approach them? Did you know them first?
Gaby: We picked them out little by little we were like “Hey you know drums, you’re in the faculty, and I kind of know you. let’s jam.” And just like that.
Selci: and when we started jamming everyone realized how good it was. Everyone is a unit now. It’s really nice.
Ashley: What happens during these jam sessions?
Selci: I think if we just want to write music, sometimes we’ll just open jam and jam it out. That’s not an entire rehearsal though. Sometimes we will jam for a bit to get the juices flowing and then practice the songs that need work. Sometimes we will end up re-writing sections or change people’s parts.
Gaby: Basically it’s three things:
Someone has something that they would like to bring in that is incomplete and we will all work it.
One it will be completely random and open and don’t really know what we’re doing.
We’re fixing things or rehearsing. Making sure everything is tight if we have a show coming up.
Ashley: Is someone just playing and then someone else just joins in?
Gaby: Yeah they could yell out “this is in A minor and I’m going from First to Fifth to First” or Lucas will play a bass line and others will be like “ooh, what can I do with that.”
Selci: Even when we write the songs, we write the shell of the song but we aren’t writing every bass line or the drum charts. We bring it to the band and everyone adds their own artistic flavor and help complete it.
Ashley: Where does the name Sapphire Empire come from?
Selci: We were just brainstorming names for a show-
Gaby: No what happened was, we got a phone call for the very first show we were going to play and the woman who was printing the posters called and left a message saying “Hey, I’ll be printing the posters in an hour. Can you call me back with your band name?”
Selci: We were like “Uhhh”. This is when we had just been jamming for a few weeks and we were like “I don’t know.” We wanted something epic. I think somehow we were looking into names of different stones, we were searching books and sapphire came up which resonates a lot with me because it was my birth stone and I’ve been into it my whole life.
Gaby: and I thought it was funny that it was related to Sapphos which is the Greek island where they send all the lesbians and I thought it would be funny if people thought we were lesbians.
Selci: And empire rhymes with [sapphire]. It resonated with both of us and some people after even approached us saying, “oh that’s kind of like Sapphos” and we were like “oh cool, that’s good.” We’re pretty girl power.
Ashley: What other bands or musicians inspires your music?
Selci: Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse have really inspired my singing. Me personally, I’ve been listening to a lot of freak folk like Regina Spektor, Coco Rosie. Oh! Also MadLib.
Gaby: Nina Simone
Selci: Yeah for sure, she’s classic.
Gaby: She’s badass. She’s cool.
Selci: We probably listened to the same folk music when we were younger and then now we’ve transitioned into a lot more soul.
Gaby: Totally. I’d say I’m actually still into some kind of Jazz. If I had to name the top people that are really influential to me are Nina Simone, Charles Mingus, Q-Tip and Neil Young.
Ashley: What is your songwriting process?
Selci: Different often. We are the most productive when Gabi and I get together on our own time and bring in little riffs that we’ve thought of or stuff that we’ve written on our own time. We then get together, mishmash parts, add stuff and then bring it to the band. Sometimes we’ll do songwriting with the band but since there are six of us and it ends up being like “this is not going anywhere.”
Gaby: For me, the whole song just happens and I’ll write it out. Like the song High Fructose Corn Syrup I just wrote in one go. I didn’t write the words for it or anything so I brought it to Selci and she finished it.
Selci: Then we brought it to the band and refined the whole thing.
Gaby: So either the whole tunes comes out and then I give it to them to complete it or if I have little pieces of stuff I’ll come and meet Selci and we’ll sew them together.
Selci: Sometimes she’ll have a riff and I’ll have a riff and when we don’t know what to do with them, suddenly we’ll realize they work and we’ll smush them together and it will be this Frankenstein song.
Gaby: but they don’t sound like Frankenstein songs.
Selci: No, they don’t! It works!
Gaby: Yeah, it’s weird.
Ashley: I’ve never written a song with someone else so I don’t know how to bounce ideas off someone.
Selci: It can be tricky breaking that barrier. Starting out as “Do you think this is okay?” and eventually being like “I don’t care if you like this or not, I’m just going to play it.” Sometimes we really like what the other person wrote.
Gaby: You just need to be comfortable. I write some really weird stuff and I’ll feel it’s too personal or it’s too much about really personal things that I’m sensitive about.
Selci: But’s that’s what people want to hear. The truth. The honesty.
Gaby: You should do it. it’s an interesting experience.
Ashley: With the band, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
Selci: Our EP release!
Gaby: That’s true, that was great!
Selci: We released an EP in the spring and I think it’s a really early sound. We recorded the first 5 tunes that Gaby and I first wrote together and recorded them over the year. We did it pretty casually because we had been in school full time and it was hard. We got together, released it and we had a really really nice EP release. We’re not necessarily promoting the crap out of it but we now have something to show and to listen to and to reflect on. Now we are going to move forward and we are currently working on a new sound and a new album.
Gaby: I think we’re proud of the EP and I’m just really happy with everyone in the band and how we all get along and respect each other. We can go on tour and not kill each other.
Selci: That’s probably the biggest thing. Having such a unit.
Gaby: The people are committed and amazing people. They’re responsible and we all get along.
Selci: They’re all super conscious individuals.
Ashley: What is your favorite song to perform with the Band?
Selci: I don’t think I have one.
Gaby: I like playing the song called Bebop. because it’s about how much I hate school.
Selci: I was going to say that is my least favorite one because it’s really hard. It challenges me but I have to say these words so fast and I have to make it sound good somehow.
Gaby: That’s fine. we don’t have to have the same one. I didn’t think we would.
Ashley: Do you have any advice for people who want to start a big band?
Selci: Just keep asking people to play with you and then don’t get discouraged when people don’t keep playing with you or you don’t want to keep playing with someone. Keep on going.
Gaby: Yeah, don’t get discouraged. We went through so many people.
Selci: People have their own agenda and it’s hard to find people who mesh with you. Ask as many people as you can. And keep asking after that.
Gaby: If you see a band and you think their guitar player is really great, as them to jam! It can feel really discouraging and I think some people are reading this interview are thinking “they just got lucky and find the perfect band?” But man, we went through tons of people and it was really frustrating.
Selci: We had a drummer for a long time that Gabi didn’t jive with that I was really attached to him and we didn’t know what to do. We almost broke up at one point but then felt we had to just keep going.
Gaby: It seems like the biggest deal, but it’s not.
Selci: People will see us in our band and ask how we have such a great band.
Gaby: Well, we went through so many people. Don’t worry, we went through it too.
Selci: It’s all what you manifest too. If you’re like “ooh no one wants to play with me! The world’s going to end!” Well, no one is going to want to play with you. But it you’re like “okay! I’ve got to keep trying because this is what I want to do!” Manifest that energy and people are going to want to play with you because you’re not being a bum hole. I know it can be hard to find people to jam with but you just have to keep on looking.
Ashley: Where would you recommend to look?
Selci: At shows!
Gaby: Go to shows! Check out the music scene!
Selci: Check out some bands. There are so many awesome people playing. The scene in Winnipeg is thriving. There’s really good venues. If you don’t know where shows are happening, just go to the handsome daughter on any random night. Go to the Goodwill on any random night. Go to the Park theatre any random night. If you don’t like the bands, check another night! They have all genres.
Gaby: Just ask. I’m pretty sure if anyone asked anyone in the band to jam, we would say yes. I mean if someone asked me to jam I’d probably say yeah.
Selci: People ask me to jam all the time and sometimes I have to say “sorry I don’t have time right now “ or sometimes I do. You’ll definitely have to put yourself out there. If you’re not willing to do that it’s going to be pretty damn hard to find someone to jam with.
Ashley: What kind of stressful situations or challenges have you’ve had with being in a band?
Selci: Well now that we are a solidified band and we aren’t dealing with a lot of turnover of people. So I guess just making sure everyone is happy.
Gaby: and everyone’s needs are being met.
Selci: and everyone is feeling okay and comfortable. Gaby and I have moved through a lot as a result of being in a band together. We went into this band barely knew each other and then ended up seeing each other constantly. We come from really different backgrounds.
Like Gaby is a first generation Mexican chick and she has crazy pride. She has experienced many things in her life that I’ll never experience with regards to oppression and race. With me, I’m the epitome of the type of person that she, like, want to be when she was a kid because that was what seen as the ideal or something. So she has a lot of really intense issues that I encompass. A lot of my beliefs for a long time were non-intentionally ignorant but a little ignorant because of my upbringing. I’m not aware of what it’s like to be a racial minority. I’m not aware of what it’s like to be a first generation immigrant. So there’s tons of stigma that I had and that she had from the opposite side of the spectrum that we’ve had to move through together. And now we’re both way better people and we ‘ve learned so much from each other. I even think that’s on a large scale but even with relationships with other members of the band and we had to navigate how they work as a person. We want to make sure everyone is comfortable because when you are sharing such a bond with someone like making music you have to be on the same page as him or her. You can’t make music with someone when you don’t feel like you are one the same conscious level as him or her. It doesn’t feel satisfying or something substantial.
Gaby: Yeah, I think at this point we are just trying to navigate relationships. Because being in a band for us is like being in a big family. We have the music thing happening, we’re pretty organized, and we have goals that we want to accomplish in terms of careers and financial success or whatever. But we are focusing on being feasibly a working long-term functioning band. So we have all these plans, which is the easy part because the hardest part is the relationships.
Selci: Just making sure everyone is good.