Life On The Road / 25 April 2018

Sasha Dobson Talks Jazz, Learning Guitar And Neil Young

“If it makes me move its in the right place. Pocket. Fast or slow, so long as it makes me go.”

Sasha Dobson, New York-based singer songwriter’s first love was dancing and singing jazz, and has since added guitar, drums and most recently, bass, into her eclectic repertoire. Growing up with jazz performing parents, she kept the music lineage going, by following their footsteps and soon found herself opening for greats like Willie Nelson and Neil Young.

She’s got her feet wet in a handful of projects and a number of bands, including one she cooked up with Norah Jones and bassist Cat Popper, called Puss n Boots – an all girl alternative country band that thrives on vocal harmonies and switching instruments.

We got to chat with Sasha, and she tells us her story from idolizing her parents to sharing the stage with some of music’s biggest legends.

What was the moment that made you want to be a musician?

That’s a tough one, only because it all started so early for me. My parents worked at night, they played gigs to support the family… I idolized what they did and still do! I can remember being so small. I was a singer. And I remember so early wanting to play piano like my dad or drums like my brother. But that was something I looked up to so deeply that I didn’t really indulge in that part of the dream until my 20’s…

Who were/are your musical heroes?

I wish it weren’t so nerdy but seriously… I idolized my parents. They are and were the real deal in jazz. Just totally happening, swinging, joyful, successful, hip, all of it.

Ella Fitzgerald was one of my true first loves as a young jazz singer. Charlie Parker, Joe Henderson, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus. I also loved Sisters With Voices, Mary J. Blige, Nirvana, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, early Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan. When things got heavy and I started writing and playing, man, Elliott Smith stole my heart to the core.

What do you never leave home without when you’re on tour and why?

My running shoes and my yoga mat are a serious must. If I were on a bus tour I’d bring my juicer. I’m kind of deep with the juicer and I’m obsessed with ginger, lemon and kale, lol!

Exercise and eating as healthy as possible especially on the road are WAY crucial. The better I feel the more I can give 100%.

What’s your pre-gig ritual?

A solid night’s sleep, yoga, coffee maybe a Cliff Bar… practice, write, laugh a little, go for a run!

I love taking my time getting ready before the gig – turning off the phone, blasting records and diving into my look for the show; makeup, hair, sequins… maybe even dance around in my underwear! For me, the fun part is getting ready for the gig. I LOVE it!

What accessory can’t you function without when playing live and why?

I LOVE my Earthquaker pedals – Monarch, Dispatch Master, and Arpanoid, and also the Hudson Electronic Broadcast pedal, Vox curly cords and my Roland Compurhythm 5000 drum machine. For drums, my broom stick brushes, and my MONO stick case – that case is on stage with me on every gig. It’s perfect!

What MONO gear do you use at home, in the studio or on tour?

My MONO cases travel with me everywhere, every day, whatever band or gig. The M80™ acoustic guitar case, my Guitar Sleeve™ for my electric Gibson, my Vertigo™ bass case, my M80™ snare and stick cases….I use them all! I love that it’s a nice looking design. The real hook-up for me was when I could fit my 120 T 66 Gibson into the MONO M80™ case. It’s like a soft hard-case without the weight. I love that it fits in the overhead compartments on the plane, life changing… durable, compact and reliable.   

What’s your proudest achievement?

Learning guitar. Figuring it out and doing it for real. Writing. Singing and playing. I never thought I’d ever get there and then one day I just started trying. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m just so grateful.

You’ve done some touring with Norah Jones and Neil Young over the years, any memories you’d like to share with our readers?

Jones and I both came up on the scene around the same time in NY. I was completely immersed in jazz and she was dwelling in a few different places musically. We crossed paths on the jazz scene and hit it off. We started playing guitar together and I’m sure that companionship pushed us both farther than we’d anticipated. So she asked me “ wanna come on the road?”… oh man, i didn’t even have an amp yet. But of course, I said yes! I’d go a thousand times again. The heavy part was I barely knew how to play. Hardly knew any tunes. I mean, I learned. REAL FAST. I don’t think I have ever memorized more music for someone in my entire life. Like 40 Norah tunes! Its was amazing. She put the work in front of me and I did it!

I was fortunate to travel for a handful of dates with Neil Young, who I’d met twice at the Bridge School Benefit playing with Puss n Boots – my band with Norah Jones and Catherine Popper. Luke and Micah (Willie Nelson’s youngest sons) were in Neil’s band for the project, Promise Of the Real. For me, Neil is a bit like my Dad was. Strong, glowing, fiercely directed in his work, funny, kind, willing to help. He’s just amazing. I became close with Micah over the years after that tour, we keep in touch and do shows together here and there.

What would be your fantasy band line-up?

Jack White – drums

Paul McCartney – guitars and backup vocals

Don Was – bass

Ryan Adams – synth

Who was the last band you saw live?

I was fortunate to see Paul McCartney perform recently at Barclays Center and it was one of the heaviest musical performances I have ever seen. Just life changing.

What’s coming up next for you and your career?

I’m releasing music I wrote on my grandfather’s drum machine which I inherited a couple of years back after he passed away. This music was a really fun and new approach for me and it’s a joy to release it into the world. I only wish he and my Dad were around for this chapter.  I think they’d both be super pleased. I love music so much… especially when I get to play it with the people I am closest with. Nothing better.

You can check out the MONO Cases Sasha uses here, and our full catalogue here.

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