MARIANA QUINN-MAKWAIA w/ SMOKE & SUGAR

What are you working on right now and why are you excited about it?  I’m very blessed to be working on a few different projects that satisfy my multi-genre fancies: The Kai Lovelace jazz trio. The Sibylline is a folk duo with my ethereal composer of a sister Alice Quinn-Makwaia. VibeMosaic is an electronic neo-soul project with the magical Brad Morrison. Finally, Smoke and Sugar which is how we met at The Bitter End! We’re really excited to be putting out our first EP of neo-soul / alt-rock music called “Mindings” on Friday, October 6th. For any fans or explorers in the NYC area come join the celebration at Downtown Art in the East Village.

Did you grow up with music in your family?  Yes, my Dad’s a musician and composer as well as a voice teacher. My Mom is an actress and acting teacher. Actually most of our family friends are artists of one form or another. My sister and I grew up singing together. Sometimes my family would go on a walk and realize we’d been lost in some daydream and all four of us had been humming different tunes at the same time.

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  I went to a concert of my Dad’s friend Paul Silber when I was about nine. He was singing jazz and blues standards with piano accompaniment. It was such a simple arrangement but he made me fall in love with those songs, with the call to improvise that exists in jazz and with that beautiful porous boundary between performer and audience.

What was your first public performance?  My first public performance was in preschool. I played a fly in an adaptation of The Itsy Bitsy Spider. I made it to the front of the stage and then burst into tears. I went through a very intense shy phase in my youth.

How do songs come about for SMOKE & SUGAR?  I love this project because everyone involved is a composer and a musician. We tend to start with a seedling from one of us, and then allow it to fill out as we bring it to the rest of the band. First with melody and mood or lyrical theme. Then add counterparts maybe break up sections or embellish parts and lay out the lyrics.

Do you have any day-of-show (or pre-show) rituals that help you get in the right mindset to perform live?   I tend to channel all of my nerves or excitement into my hair and the set-list. The first lets me fuss over minute details in an internal headspace until it’s time to get onstage and the second lets me fuss over the flow of the evening with everyone in the band.

Who is on your musical Mount Rushmore? Lianne La Havas, Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone. The Beatles, Stevie Wonder is a prophet.

What’s your favorite thing about the music scene in New York right now?  I love how many New York musicians want to build community rather than compete. It can be so hard being an artist in a world that finds creative thought dangerous. Of course we’re all stronger when we uplift each other.

Last minute, you are asked to perform on a new version of Soul Train but they want you to do a 70’s cover — what tune do you chose for the band?   Oooh we already do a cover of “Master Blaster” by Stevie Wonder! But since that’s a 1980s single I’d go for “Ebony Eyes”. My favorite secret tune from Songs in the Key of Life.

You are granted special access to a time machine called ‘The Day Tripper’ in which you can go backstage and hang at any concert in history: what are your coordinates and what happened?   This may not be very original but I’d give a lot to be able witness what happened in Woodstock in 1969.

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