Karen Savoca Interview

She's won seven SAMMY Awards, including Best Songwriter, Best Rock Vocalist, and Record of the Year.

Her CD, "Sunday in Nandua" was one of Performing Songwriters' Magazine Editor's Choice Top 12 DIY's for 1998.

In 1995, she received First Place honors from Musician Magazine Best Unsigned Band Contest.

Cafe Times said she has "a voice that can move cold stone."

By now, you just have to know we're talking about Karen Savoca.

"Here We Go" (Alcove Records) is the latest release from Karen Savoca and guitarist Pete Heitzman. It's a real honor to present an interview with one of Syracuse, New York's Best Musical Ambassadors - Karen Savoca.

Q - It wasn't all that long ago that you and Pete were playing places like Styleens, here in Syracuse. When did you reach a decision that you wanted to take your act out on the road?
A - Oh, well, we always wanted to tour, but, we had a band at the time that didn't want to travel much. So, we put it off for a long time. Pete and I always traveled down to New York City, and did some duo gigs down there even when we had the band (Mind's Eye) up here. But, it was really when we got a booking agent, 'cause neither of us were particularly fond of booking, and we both did the booking. We sort of traded off, but neither of us liked it very much. It's a hard thing to do for yourself. So when we got a booking agent is pretty much when we started to go out of town.

Q - Do you have a manager as well?
A - No. We manage ourselves. We tell people we're unmanageable. (Laughs).

Q - Weil, it's good for a laugh, but....
A - No, it's great to get rid of those wanna-be managers. We get a lot of people asking and I just laugh and say, 'Oh, no, I think I'm unmanageable. I'm very opinionated. You don't want to deal with me.' I laugh and hopefully they walk away.

Q - How do you know you're not turning away the one person who could assist you?
A - I haven't met that person yet. If someone like that appeared, hopefully, you'd know. But, up to this point, there hasn't been anybody like that. I know a lot of musicians have managers, and some don't. Some people need them more than others. Some people want to have a manager. It's something I really don't think about much. I'd like to have a publicist, but, a manager is really low on my list, as far as things we need.

Q - With all of the traveling you're doing throughout the U.S. and Canada, how does it pay you to tour? Are you selling that many CD's?
A-Well, we're doing well. You just have to keep busy. Last year we played a hundred dates. The year before we played one hundred and fifty dates. We're working a lot.

Q - It just seems that without tour support from a major label, the cost of going on the road would be too high.
A - You've got to do it smartly. You don't take gigs that don't pay you enough. You know what you need and where to cut corners and where not to. That stuff gets expensive, but we're doing alright. We're only two people. We're a couple. So we drive in one car. We rent one room. It would be really hard to go out with a band. That would get very expensive. That's much harder to do and obviously you need a lot more money coming in to do that. We sell CD's at shows. We sell a lot on the net. We do direct mailing ourselves. We've been compiling a mailing list for the last couple years, and that is really great because even if you're mailing to say, New England, for a stretch of dates, it's amazing how many of those people have friends, out in California. They're gonna turn their friends on to you. It works really well.

Q - Who does the publicity for you when you're in another city?
A - We're with a really good booking agency. We have one of the top booking agencies in the country for what we do. They book Ani DiFranco. They book Cheryl Wheeler. They've got some Canadian artists that are really well known. They book Greg Brown. You know a lot of these people don't play Syracuse 'cause there just isn't the right room for them. They're really good, and they're really respected. Pretty much everywhere we go, we work for good promoters. There's a promoter involved that helps get stuff to radio and the press. Some of the best rooms, a lot of them have a publicist, and we work with their publicists. You just do whatever you can. Word of mouth. Sending mailers. All that stuff. You gotta do it all.

Q - Is Alcove Music your own label?
A - Yeah. It's actually Alcove Records. That's the record label. Alcove Music is for our own publishing too.

Q - You record your CD's right here in Central New York?
A - At home, yeah.

Q - I hate to sound like a record company A and R guy, but where to you think the target audience is for your music?
A - I don't know. I really don't believe in target audiences. I don't know that they exist. I know they exist for 14 year olds. I can't really be concerned with that. All I know is that when we play, people really like the music. It seems to make people happy, and we're doing well, all over the country. So, I don't really worry about what the target is for it. We play to people who bring kids. We play to people in their seventies who come up to me and say, 'it's so wonderful to be able to understand the words.' (Laughs). I've always felt that the music appeals to a wide range of ages. In fact, I think that’s one of the big mistakes the record industry has made. They’re not doing that well. The majors have not been doing well, outside of their big, big artists that they sink a lot of money into, and basically make happen. They forget a lot of people. I think anybody over 25 is sort of ignored. It's really pretty stupid. There's a lot of people over 25 in this country, and they're not really signing anybody who appeals to anybody in that age bracket. I think that's why Independents are doing so well. They've been the only labels that have not made youth such an important piece of the puzzle.

Q - You won Musician Magazine's Best Unsigned Band Contest in 1995. That was a big deal, yet I don't believe anyone in Syracuse made a big deal about it. How come?
A Oh, that's a very good question. I don't know. I just picked up the New Times today. Pete brought one home. There was something in the music column this week that says something about me, Joe Whiting, and Mark Doyle, being like brand names in Syracuse. They're basically saying that people but what they know and that nobody's buying unknown musicians. It just really annoyed me. We've all been at it a long time. I don't have a summer home anywhere. (Laughs). We're still struggling you know. This has been going on a long time here. I know all these people personally, and they're friends of mine, and they're nice. I don't think they mean any malice. I just think there's this sort of jaded attitude. I think Syracusans have a little bit of an inferiority complex. It's a good place to live. We're always happy to come home. We love it here or we wouldn't live here. It's great. The cost of living is low. It's a nice place to live. There's this attitude that you can't do well enough if you live here, and it seems when you move away, then you get a little more attention. You kind of have to leave, and that's a shame, because then the same people who are always sort of sarcastic and biting about you doing well when you live here, complain when you go. You're sort of damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Our thing is we just try not to care anymore, about what people say. It was really annoying to me to read this today. It was just like weird. It was odd. So strange, me, a brand name? (Laughs). I don't think so.

Q - Do you remember who the judges were in that contest?
A - Yeah, I do, because that's the reason we sent it in. We liked the judges and we actually thought that they might be open to what we do. It was Roseanne Cash, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Sonny Rollins, and producer Butch Vig. But, we just thought it was a good mix of people and maybe we had a shot. We didn't think we'd win.

Q - And when you did win, did any record labels contact you?
A - We got a few inquiries, but, we weren't that interested in it, so we didn't pursue it. The best thing is, it looked good on our bio, and it gives people something to say when they introduce you. And we got some gear, and that was nice.

Q - How did Pete feel about "Mind's Eye" being dropped in favor of Karen Savoca?
A - Oh, he's the one that encouraged me to do it. (Laughs). Well, for one thing. Mind's Eye was the band, and we didn't want people to be confused when they came out and there was only the two of us. So, we knew we had to change it. We tried using both our names and found that people didn't remember either of them. It was too much. It was too much information. And so, he just kept telling me to use my name, and I just kept saying no, I don’t want people thinking I'm an egomaniac. He said, you're not. It's just smart. So, finally we started doing it, and it's been so much better. People have a hard enough time alone, with my name, much less two names.

Q - Not to mention the title of one of your CD's "Sunday In Nandua" which neither Dan Dunn or Eric Will of the "Homegrown" radio show can pronounce.
A - They can't. I rib 'em about it all the time. Those guys are so funny.

Q - Is it really that funny? Those guys are in the business of communicating and they can't talk.
A - I know. I know. (Laughs). There's a part of me that sort of likes it 'cause they're so unslick. But, you gotta laugh at it. They do it to everybody unless somebody’s name is really easy. (Dan Dunn and Eric Will can't pronounce the name Savoca either). So, I don't feel slighted. I joke with 'em. They know. I tease 'em about it. They're great guys so I cut 'em a lot of slack. They're real sweet guys. The SAMMY's they did the damn thing. I think they announced 'Sunday In Nandua' as 'Sunday In Nunday', (Laughs), which is really funny. They're having a good time, but, I hope they're getting my name right by now.

Q - What Big Band did your mother sing with in the '50s?
A - Oh, you wouldn't know.

Q - It wouldn't have been Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller or someone like that?
A - She didn't sing with Glenn Miller, no. She did sing with Les Brown's brother. He had a band. At that time there were a lot more Big Bands. That was the thing. She lived near Fresno, California, and there was a TV and radio program that she was a guest vocalist on. She was a Big Band singer. That was the style. She'd go out in a nice dress, sing a couple of songs, and sashay off. You know, that's what they did then.

Q - What does she do these days?
A - She sings around the house. (Laughs).

© Gary James All Rights Reserved