Essays-Marissa Lamar

Music Emerging has collected essays from four musical women, a musical trio and myself. A simple word: struggles. I asked these women to send me essays about their musical journeys and their struggles. Hope you find inspiration in these personal stories. 


Marissa Lamar: Highland Kites, Los Angeles, CA


     "I always had a passion and love for music, and from a young age became obsessed with music that made me think, and made my feel. One of the first CDs I remember playing on repeat as a child was the Tracy Chapman album "Fast Car" that I'd taken from my dad's CD case. 

I spent most of my early 20s doing various types of volunteer work and working all the time. I always maintained that passion for music and writing and had books upon books of stories and poetry but never considered myself a singer, and didn't play an instrument. 


When I was 24 or so I ended getting extremely ill. For years I degenerated, going to various doctors to find out what was wrong with me. I was being cared for full time and was unable to do much of anything. A doctor in L.A. finally tested and diagnosed me with Lyme Disease. I spent a year and a half once diagnosed doing various treatments and recovering. Once recovered I wasn't myself, I felt numb, like I couldn't think, I had been on many medical drugs and felt like  my mind had gone to waste, the life I had prior to getting ill seemed distant and vague. 

I decided that I was going to do what I had always wanted and learn music. So in 2013 I started taking piano lessons and writing songs. Music quite literally brought me back from the dead. I started using my mind again to learn something new, something I loved and it gave me an outlet to turn everything I've experienced into something beautiful. Music helped me let go and it helped me move on. 

I knew from this point on that I had to pursue music, I had to make it my life and help people with my art in the same way art had saved me. 

In 2014 I formed my band, Highland Kites and released our first 7 song EP entitled "So Vicious". Since this time we have done many shows, toured and released our full-length album, "All We Left Behind". We are planning the release of our 3rd album in the summer - and are about to leave on another tour starting in Austin for SXSW. 

My goal as an artist is to help people. I want people to listen to my music and feel understood, I want people to know things can and will get better and that you can always turn your own life around for the better. Our goal as a band is to tour and play live as much as we possibly can, to do volunteer work and benefit concerts for causes we believe in and to just generally contribute to making this world a better place in any way we can with our art."

---Marissa Lamar


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Essays-Shanna O'Brien

Music Emerging has collected essays from four musical women, a musical trio and myself. A simple word: struggles. I asked these women to send me essays about their musical journeys and their struggles. Hope you find inspiration in these personal stories.

Shanna O'Brien-Bakersfield, CA


     "I was born in LaGrange, Georgia but didn’t live there long because six months after I was born my dad, who was a career Army officer, was transferred to Germany. Mom went on to have 5 kids and I was the oldest. I can’t remember when I didn’t sing.  Growing up we had talent shows in our back yard and Dad always asked me to sing my favorite songs every night at the dinner table --  songs like Berle Ives, “Little White Duke,” “High Hopes” and “Jimmy Crack Corn.”  Music was a part of our everyday life, with Mother singing her favorite hymns while cooking in our busy kitchen to Grandmother whistling her favorite folk songs while she puttered around the house. My Dad was eventually stationed at Ft. Benning, GA and we lived in Columbus.  It was there at the age of 10, that I had a defining moment when I “knew” I was a real singer.  I was a member of our church choir and one Sunday, during the morning service, the Preacher asked me to sing “The Lord’s Prayer.”  I was sweaty and petrified standing at the alter that warm Georgia morning. But when I looked out at the congregation and saw everyone smiling and nodding to each other, I got goose bumps of happiness all over my body.  After I finished singing, I heard the church bells ring and I ran to Mom and Dad and told them I knew what I was supposed to do with my life.  My Dad smiled and told me I did a great job and then he said, “You can sing all the songs you want to Sweetheart – just be sure you learn to type.”  Well that actually turned out to be good advice -- but at the time it felt liked my dreams had been squashed like a bug.

As I grew up, all kinds of music played on our 78 stereo record player – musicals like “Flower Drum Song,” and standards by Peggy Lee, Julie London and Harry Belafonte.  I loved that music -- but really came alive when I first heard Buddy Holly sing, “Oh Boy” and “Rave On” and Brenda Lee sing, “Sweet Nothin’” and “I’m Sorry” on the radio and then along came Elvis, Connie Frances, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the Beatles – and I was in musical heaven listening to my little AM radio in my bedroom, learning every song by heart, dancing around the room and singing into my hairbrush microphone.

I married at 19 and soon had two children.  I didn’t want to have children right away but the Viet Nam war was raging and my husband, who had just graduated from college, suddenly became eligible for the draft.  He came to me the morning he received his draft change notification, which said I had to be pregnant within 9 months or he would be drafted.  What choice did I have?  So my son was born within one and a half years of our marriage. I was barely 21.  I still had aspirations of being a singer but knew those dreams would have to be on the back burner for quite some time because of starting a family.


Soon my husband was offered a job in Hawaii where he opened the first TV Guide Magazine office.  While living on the island of Oahu, where my daughter was born, I went to a José Feliciano concert and was lucky enough to sit only a few feet away from the stage. I was so moved by José’s performance that I went straight away and bought a classical guitar that sat around gathering dust until the day I heard “bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air” – the song was “Clouds” by Joni Mitchell.  I did my best to learn that song but the rigors of taking care of two little kids made it quite difficult to have any time to myself for learning songs – much less guitar.

After two years in Hawaii we moved back to the mainland and settled in a little town called Fairfax nestled in the hills of Marin County.  The kids were a little older and not so demanding by then and that’s when I had time to pick up that sweet classical guitar, teach myself a few chords and I started playing songs from my childhood and other folk music for my kids in pre-school, nursery school and 1st through 4th grade when all of a sudden the Bee Gee’s hit.  After that my children thought my songs were just too juvenile for them and I stopped going to their school to play for their classrooms.

One day while I sat in my living room, feeling quite musically rejected by my own children, I closed my eyes and quietly asked what I was supposed to do with myself now that the kids were in school and I had all this free time on my hands.  I “got the message” intuitively that I was supposed to write my own original songs and communicate my thoughts and feelings through them.

I was doing just that one spring morning when the doorbell rang.  I had my guitar in hand when I answered the door and standing there was a young man who introduced himself as Dallas Smith, a Fuller Brush salesman.  I told him I was just too busy writing a song to look at Fuller Brushes and his eyes opened wide. He smiled and said he was really a musician and would love to hear my song.  He was studying flute with Ali Akbar Khan, whom I heard was living in Marin,. Something about Dallas’ gentle demeanor made me trust him and so I invited him onto the porch, I played my song for him and as we talked, found out he was from Columbus Georgia and had gone to the same high school as me but we didn’t know each other back then.  I found that quite amazing!  Out of the blue, someone from Columbus, GA, who went the same high school as me, is at my door.  He asked if he could come back later in the day with his flute and I said yes and “that” was the beginning of my musical journey. 

Dallas got our first real gig at The Sleeping Lady Café in Fairfax, CA and we went on to play several other venues and music festivals in Marin County.  That was 37 years ago and he and I have recently reconnected through the internet.  I found out that he has a very successful business in Reno where he lives with his wife who plays electric harp.  Their business is called Healing Healthcare Systems and they provide healing music and videos to hospitals.   He is also in a band called Mynta and they tour India and Sweden. Back then Dallas helped me form my first band consisting of tabla, sitar, bass, flute and me on guitar.  After several gigs together, we dissolved due to other demands in each of our lives and he went on to pursue his dreams while I continued raising my children, writing songs and eventually formed my first rock band called “Siren.”  By then I had a Les Paul guitar and a Marshall Stack! Siren was made up of a bass player, lead guitar player, drummer and me.  We were just beginning to build a following by playing College concerts when my drummer passed away from a brain aneurysm in his sleep on the first night of a two night booking at Chico College in Northern California.  That was such a blow.   It devastated me and although the other band members wanted to continue, my heart just wasn’t into it and I went back to sitting in my living room writing songs and stayed busy with my children.


One day a guitar-teacher friend named David Fromer invited me to a house concert where I met a wonderful man named Matt Kramer, who was living in Los Angeles and booking the Troubadour.  Eventually Matt became my manager and we traveled up and down the West Coast touring colleges and doing house concerts.  I also performed at McCabe’s and The Troubadour as well as Westwood Art Faire. During that time my husband was making connections with the management of some of the biggest rock groups in San Francisco like Journey, The Doobie Brothers, The Tubes, Hewey Lewis and the News, Pablo Cruise and The Grateful Dead designing their album covers and hiring the best graphic artists in San Francisco, like Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, to render the art. Eventually the manager of Journey heard one of my songs and asked me to open for Journey at the Old Waldorf Hotel the night Steve Perry joined the band.  Here I was, a folk singer in a long skirt, standing alone in front of 1000 screaming Journey fans,  singing Jimmy Hendrick’s “Fly On My Sweet Angel.”  That took guts!

Later on I went into the studio with members of Pablo Cruise, The Tubes, Hewey Lewis and The News and Steve Miller Band to make various demos of my songs.  I loved working with such high caliber musicians and top level recording studios.  I recorded at The Record Plant, Wally Heider and Patrick Gleeson’s studio, Different Fur. We created a lot of great music but for various reasons it didn’t “make it.”  The powers listening said they “didn’t hear the hit.”  And sooner or later the bands went out on the road and I was left with great demos and no band – this was a very depressing period for me because I had the drive, ambition and in my opinion the talent – but in the end that wasn’t enough.

Feeling quite defeated by my aspirations to sing rock and roll, I retreated from the business for a while and started studying with a great vocal coach, Judy Davis, who had a studio in Oakland.   In her class, I not only learned how to protect and strengthen my voice, I also trained my voice and ear by singing the great standards like the ones I heard in my living room as a young girl.  Singing the standards was the way Judy taught articulation. The result of that was me performing in a showcase in San Francisco where several managers from Los Angeles came to check out talent.  That’s where I met Chuck Bennett who then became my manager and I started working on a show doing cover tunes like “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters and “I’m Not Leaving Without You” from Dreamgirls.  We took the show to Singapore to the Mandarin Hotel for a month to work out any bugs and after that to the MGM Grand Hotel in Reno.  It was in Reno where I had my first experience with vocal problems.  Performing two shows a night, six nights a week took its toll and I had to have cortisone shots in my throat to take down the swelling.  That’s when I realized that I didn’t want to continue in that direction. The words I “heard” in my living room years before were speaking to me again, “You were meant to communicate through your own original songs.” 

About this time my husband gave me an ultimatum “Give up your music career or give me up.”  So I gave him up and moved to Los Angeles.  This was the most traumatic period of my life.  I found myself emotionally devastated from being separated from my children who chose to stay with their father in Marin County, where all their friends were, and realizing that I had to get a job to pay my bills because my husband hid all our assets and I received no alimony whatsoever after eighteen years of marriage.  I realized I had to put my music on the back burner, again, and there it stayed for a good 10 years.

While working at a company called Medallion TV on Sunset Blvd., I met my next husband who was in the film distribution business.  We would frequently go out to the piano bars at the Cock and Bull and Mirabelle’s on Sunset Blvd.  So, of course, I would end up singing and eventually was offered a steady gig at a restaurant in Santa Monica called The Round Table.  One Saturday I decided to add a saxophone player to my show and went to Santa Monica Music Center to introduce myself to a player I had heard about.  I was told he was playing in a park close by with a jazz trio hired for a children’s park grand opening.  That’s where I met Terry Cano, who was playing keyboards. Terry and I started a relationship – which ended my second marriage.  He supported my dream of making an album of original music and over a period of four years produced my “Timeless” CD in our studio called Bird and Bear Studios in North Hollywood. The songs on “Timeless” were written over a period of many years and my friend, Dallas, performed “Sailin” (the second track) with me at The Sleeping Lady Café in Fairfax, CA, thirty-seven years prior. Terry and I went on to perform the great standards and swing music for hundreds of casuals, Elks and Moose Clubs, Country Clubs and Retirement homes in Los Angeles and Bakersfield.  

Soon I started performing my originals again at venues like Kulak’s Woodshed, The Talking Stick, The Guitar Merchant, Hallenbeck’s, Vitello’s, the M Bar in Hollywood, The Coffee Gallery and many others.  I became a member of Los Angeles Women in Music and served on the Board for over 5 years.  It was at Kulaks Woodshed where I met percussionist, producer Steve Reid.  We completed my second album, “Focus on the Light,” even though both of us were slowed down a bit by various medical conditions.

Music continues to flow through my heart, mind and spirit and as long as I can sing, I will.  I meet the most wonderful and interesting people.  I do it for the “love of it.” Creating and performing music continues to be a magical journey that fulfills my soul".

---Shanna has moved to Bakersfield, Ca where she sits in with local established players in various venues and has recently formed a band called "Waterfall" with her new love and percussionist, Greg Stanley. They will debut on April 27, 2018 at Bakersfield's Cafe Smitten. Shanna plans to release a new album by the end of 2018 as her music keeps flowing and flowing.

Essays-Skyler Reed

Music Emerging has collected essays from four musical women, a musical trio and myself. A simple word: struggles. I asked these women to send me essays about their musical journeys and their struggles. Hope you find inspiration in these personal stories.

Skyler Reed-Atlanta, GA

     "Music has been an influence on my life since childhood. I was automatically drawn to it, and having a musical mother only added to my passion. I have always felt a deep connection with R&B music, and the classics from this genre have been the theme songs to my life. I was never really interested in much else besides music, so when it came time to decide on a career, the decision was evident. I’ve always been a big dreamer and a chaser of what some may perceive as far fetched.

 I was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware for the first nine years of my life, and I remember my mother playing many records from impactful singers like, Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill. A pivotal moment in my childhood was the when my mother sang a Whitney Houston song to me. I knew that singing was what I had to do. As a child, I enjoyed performing at family functions, which evolved into school functions throughout my teen years.

My mother unfortunately passed when I was nine years old. The only way I knew how to deal with that was through music. I was taken in by my aunt and uncle, and was given a journal to express myself. I ended up writing my first song and winning a poetry slam in the seventh grade. My intention was not to make people cry, but I realized at that moment that I could impact the world through my lyrics. I continue to write, as a form of therapy, and with the desire to somehow help people get through their situations.


When college time came around, I decided to major in vocal performance at Virginia State University. I studied Classical music, which was a great way to learn proper technique. I then had to decide exactly what I wanted to pursue, because I have a background in several genres of music. I decided to go with my first love, R&B, because it’s soulful, has elements of Hip-Hop music, and I am free when I sing it. I get to write my own words, and sing melodies I choose, as opposed to singing notes written on a page and telling stories of composers.

Being an artist, period, is challenging. The competition is at an all time high, and they are continuously flowing in. This makes booking gigs and growing a fan base difficult. This also makes for a lot of false relationships and trickery. I have been in situations where I worked with people I thought had my best interest in mind. It turned out they were speaking false truths, and using me for their own gain. It’s hard to create genuine relationships and a proactive network this way, so I have learned to be very picky with whom I associate myself. I’ve also learned how important it is to do my research, and not go into a situation blind.

I have self-managed my career as well as playing almost every other role an artist needs.  I only outsource for things I clearly can’t do, like producing a beat and engineering my sessions. I like being self reliant, and I think being this way in the beginning stages of my career is beneficial. I’m learning what each position takes. I’m fascinated with how the music business runs, and I pride myself in being more than just a singer.

Being an artist is one of the bigger pieces to a giant puzzle of dreams I have. I love the challenge of constantly growing, and the fulfillment I get. I’ve never been more driven about something in my life. I hope to inspire and heal the world through my music. I believe everyone has a purpose, and I want to encourage people to pursue it. You really only have one life." 

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Essays-Cynthia Brando

Music Emerging has collected essays from four musical women, a musical trio and myself. A simple word: struggles. I asked these women to send me essays about their musical journeys and their struggles. Hope you find inspiration in these personal stories.

Cynthia Brando-Los Angeles, CA

Busking on the Santa Monica pier.

Busking on the Santa Monica pier.

     Four years ago I moved to Los Angeles with $450, a temporary place to stay and no job or connections. For whatever reason, now was my time, and I was filled with an overflowing energy to finally pursue a dream I had obsessively thought about for my whole adult life-music. I gave away most of my belongings that I had collected for seven years of living a life where I had established roots for the first time. Those roots were in Humboldt Co., in Northern California. I had spent most of my 30’s there; healing from the damage of deep depression and anxiety that I had suffered throughout my 20’s; damage that caused me to not pursue much of anything to its completion. My 30’s were more productive and was a time of getting a degree, starting meditation and Buddhist study and continuing my music in my secluded space in nature.  It was then that I started to perform out a little bit, but was still too terrified to really put myself out there. It wasn’t until the end of my time in Humboldt that I started to play out more, when I realized that I wanted to possibly leave and pursue music more professionally. I left behind a best friend, my tango and meditation community and my easy going existence. I packed up my Jeep with my cat, my small musical collection, some clothes, family heirlooms and some other items of importance. I had no idea what was in store for me-I had never even visited Los Angeles. When I arrived, I sprung right into action. I was elated when I received some responses online from music related sources I reached out to; and was left feeling naïve when nothing transpired, but I persisted. I got a couple of gigs and learned about the “pay to play” system of the city, where an artist agrees to a contract of selling a specific amount of tickets, and pays out of pocket if they don’t reach the quota. I was stunned by this, and would have none of it, but I managed to talk my way into getting gigs at a pay to play venue, the House of Blues, as a “fill in” performer when someone would cancel their gig. I “friended” random people on Facebook that lived in Los Angeles and had a musical instrument in their profile. I started to make some connections this way, and would eventually meet these people in person and form friendships. I started to go to music industry talks and events, and out to hear live music, mostly local singer songwriters. I got a low paying job at a group home as a fill in person, and later a steady 30 hour a week job in the school system which allowed me to get my own place-a very small and perfect studio behind a house.

House of Blues.jpg

     As I reflect back on my 30's in Northern Ca, before moving to Los Angeles, and the beautiful time of healing; I remember often feeling like I still wasn’t ready to take on the world. I continued to suffer a lot from depression, but was more functional. I accomplished much-like going back to school and graduating, but then I would sink back into seclusion. I also did a lot with my music, but nothing would happen. My life began to shift slowly and slowly until I had focused on my healing for enough years that I started to break out of my shell around my mid 30's. I had a new found energy that came from a strange mixture of deep sorrow and ambition. I always had great regrets about my lack of pursuit with music, which I always knew I wanted to do. I also was not very good; even though I had been playing and writing songs for many years. I never had training, and didn’t really know approaches to help me gain a perspective of my musical deficiencies and how to improve, but I practiced a lot, and got stronger-my music did end up improving to the point where I thought it might be good enough to do something with; unfortunately, I was in my late 30’s, which in my mind, seemed kind of late to be pursuing such an incredibly difficult career. Still, I didn’t care-I figured I wouldn’t know until I tried. Success at my age meant something very different than my thoughts about success in my 20’s. It meant navigating within the scope of my own unique path and not someone else's. It meant surviving in Los Angeles under difficult circumstances, which I did. It meant being involved in all sorts of musical activities, such as; playing gigs, street performing, running my own music magazine and concert series and ample studio time-I am currently in the recording studio working on two projects. These are just some of the things I am involved in that I had only once dreamed about-and I’m happy. This is success to me right now. I am not fully making a living off of my music-but I’m working on it, and I haven’t had to leave L.A. yet-and that is all that matters. I still think about the future and have my worries and fears as I now am in my 40’s. Sometimes they debilitate me for a day, but only a day. My life is trying and I’m tired all of the time, but I don’t let that get me down. I could give up music and get a more conventional job and have all of my worries disappear, but I wouldn’t be happy-I would be miserable. I’m still an able bodied individual full of ideas and an abundance of creativity. Until that runs out-this is right where I want to be.


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Essays-Donna Lynn Caskey

Music Emerging has collected essays from four musical women, a musical trio and myself. A simple word: struggles. I asked these women to send me essays about their musical journeys and their struggles. Hope you find inspiration in these personal stories.

Donna Lynn Caskey-Ventura, CA


     Music was a carefree part of my life as a young child. My sisters tell me I was truly a music fan from infancy- dancing in the play pen whenever someone would sing, crack out an instrument, or a song would come on tv. My family put a toy piano outside my crib that I would play through the bars with my hands or feet depending on which way I was turned. I’m the youngest of ten kids, and there was music throughout the house. Though my two brothers, the eldest, had moved out before I was born, they’d come visit and play guitar, banjo, fiddle. I remember sisters playing violin, viola, flute, piccolo, marching bells, piano, and singing when I was little. Whether they played instruments or not, all my siblings had the radio on and shared recordings of artists they liked with me. I remember singing along with Simon & Garfunkel and Peter, Paul & Mary records using my sister Kathy’s curling iron as a microphone. I loved playing piano, singing, and making up songs.


     Music was such a natural, normal part of everyday life at first, but I started to get self-conscious about it when I began school. Though my family was encouraging in many ways, my temperament was such that I took the slightest teasing and criticism from siblings, my mother, classmates, and teachers to heart and very hard over the years. For example, I remember singing to myself on the school bus on the way to kindergarten, and being aghast when a likely well-meaning sister told me not to because people were going to think I was “weird.” Oh no! Weird?! I worried people wouldn’t like me or want to be my friend.

     I started a new school in 5th grade, and it seemed like I was taunted relentlessly about everything- how I looked, dressed, acted, where I lived, what my father did for a living, the fact I was alive and breathing. The other kids also made fun of me for singing in music class, so I stopped. Then they teased me for not singing. Now I realize it was probably because I was the new kid, the outsider, and not at all personal, but I didn’t have that insight at age ten. I remember feeling extremely anxious, self-conscious, uptight. I got very quiet, wanting to go unnoticed in hopes of avoiding more criticism. I remember feeling afraid to sing in front of people anymore. Singing leaked out at times, anyway. I thought I was humming under my breath, unheard while we were working math problems at our desks in middle school algebra. Then the teacher asked, “who is doing that horrible singing?” A chorus of classmates answered, “Donna!!!” Feeling humiliated, I renewed my personal vows of silence.

     Then there was my experience with piano. I loved playing songs I made up as I went along when I was very little, my mom felt I had a “nice touch” on the instrument, as she put it, so she signed me up for the very lessons she would’ve loved to have as a child given her own musical tastes and talents, but a piano never mind instruction were luxuries her parents could far from afford in Depression-era rural Virginia. I soon discovered I had trouble reading musical notation, however. I could hear that the kid whose lesson was before mine was moving through the exercise books more quickly than I, so I therefore came to the conclusions at the ripe old age of seven that my teacher didn’t like me and I was “bad” at music, after all, despite my love for it. Trying to translate musical notation into what I was supposed to do with my fingers let alone practicing felt like a chore and a punishment. Before long, my mom said she’d be better off throwing money out the car window than to keep paying for lessons, so I quit. I tried piano again later at what I mistakenly believed was the geriatric age of thirteen. I witnessed tiny, seeming prodigies play circles around me at recitals whereas my nervous, clammy hands slipped and fumbled on the keys. I again became the victim of my own false assumptions- this time the beliefs that I clearly needed to have started playing as a fetus in order to have a hope of being “good,” and that I just wasn’t born with an innate talent for beloved music. So I resigned myself to singing along with my favorite recordings while no one was around to hear me. I sang in large choirs at school where I felt somewhat hidden and safe. I compulsively made mix tapes of songs that caught my ear and touched my heart and shared them with friends, family, acquaintances. 

     Though I felt discouraged musically, I did have a knack for visual art and writing that was acknowledged in school, and I had more confidence in those more solitary, less performance-oriented mediums that allowed me to share with people indirectly, without need of being seen or heard. Those became my primary modes of creative expression growing up and as a young adult.

     I headed off to college in the Blue Ridge thanks in large part to art scholarships. I had heard and been around old-time and bluegrass music my whole life to some degree, but I absolutely fell in love with it in the mountains. I was a regular attendee at the local fiddle and banjo club and would hang around the periphery of jam sessions to listen and soak it up. I fell in love with the banjo in particular and found myself getting weepy at the sight and sound of them. I was even dreaming about banjos. 

Photography by Jay Heninger.

Photography by Jay Heninger.

     Around that time, I went to a Mike Seeger concert at an intimate venue, and his stories and approach gave me hope that music might be accessible to me, after all. He played multiple instruments including banjo by ear rather than by notation. He shared beautiful, soulful songs he learned from untrained players who made music as part of their everyday lives. I was heartened by the notion that folk music belongs to everyone, and that everyone can make some kind of music- even, maybe, dare I believe, by me. My explorations of old-time and folk rekindled that carefree, playful, matter-of-fact spirit with which I approached music as a child. Inspired, I soon bought myself a banjo as a college graduation present. My life was so unsettled, it was another couple of years before I actually started learning to play in earnest. By ear. At what I, once again, mistakenly believed was the geriatric age of 24. It turned out I had a knack for banjo. Plunking out those first songs within a matter of days, weeks, and months felt like sheer magic and a dream come true. Within three months, I started writing songs, singing solo in public, and playing shows. I was off and running, learning how to play, write songs, perform, and sing all at once and as I went. I’m still at it nearly fifteen years and soon to be two albums of original songs later, and it still feels like magic. 

     Sometimes I forget the magic when the latest incarnations of self-doubt, mistaken beliefs, and fear come calling in new and various disguises. Yet when I’m in the midst of writing or playing a song for the love, wonder, and joy of it, I can again reconnect with that pure sense of music I first experienced as a young child.

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Interview: Donna Lynn Caskey-The Love Still Shows interview and photos by Cynthia Brando


     I consider myself very fortunate to have met Donna Lynn Caskey-in an intimidating city of often ego centric artists-she is a beacon of light; a person that exudes a warmth and friendliness that is gentle and calm in the bustling and turbulent city of greater Los Angeles. We met through the singer songwriter circle and got to collaborate musically where I got to know her better through the process of songwriting. Her process was inspiring and foreign to me-a free form exploratory style of which the jewels were selected; I would later come to find that this embodies her artistic personality. Her latest album, "The Love Still Shows", which she recorded with Ed Tree at his San Gabriel studio, is garnering attention on the folk music scene. I wanted to learn more about Donna Lynn and met with her at her home in Ventura, California.

M.E. “Do you like collecting banjos-why do you have so many?”


D.L.C.  “Part of it, is that you tune five string banjos differently to get different tunings. For the longest time, I only had one. My first banjo I had since 1999. I got it at Happy’s Fleamarket in Virginia. I wore part of it off learning to play. I started playing it in earnest in 2001. The second banjo I got was fretless and that served a different purpose. Banjos started out fretless; at that time I was playing a lot of old time music and it was really cool to play fretless banjo with fretless fiddle-because it’s not a tempered scale. Frets are an approximation of notes, so it was really cool; you can actually get more in tune, believe it or not, and then you can also get those fun micro tones in between notes, so it was fun to have that as a color….so that was my second banjo-the third one I got was to get more key access. I got the third one around the time I started playing open mics more and going out; so it was nice to not spend my whole 15 minutes tuning…I bought another one out of someone’s trunk. This one came out of a friends neighbors shed for free and it sounded good tuned down. The oldest one; the flea market one…..this one really spoke to me; the one with the star-it’s a Vega; it’s from the 20’s. I walked away from it a couple of times. It feels like my big girl banjo and it’s probably the one I play the most. It just has a really great sweet sound. I was in Santa Monica and popped into McCabes because they have a banjo room and I can’t help myself. This one was unassuming; kind of hung on a lower part of a side wall; not very flashy or anything. I picked it up and it felt very good. Then I looked at the price tag and said…ooooohhh…I have good taste! I had five banjos at that point; so I put it back. A week later I was back and I didn’t see it and my heart fell, but then I saw it, and then a birthday was coming up in a couple of months…but I walked away from it again; but then I called them and asked them to hold it; “I’m sorry I walked away from you!” The latest one I got is a baritone banjo; so it’s tuned down. My home of lost and found wayward banjos”…

M.E.  “What was it about the banjo that made you have the epiphany that it was your instrument?”


D.L.C.  “Part of it was Mike Seeger making it seem so accessible, but I was already in love with it; the sound of it; something quirkily humble about it. I like music that touches my heart, or music that gives me goose bumps or makes me feel or think. I would go to the Roanoke Blue Grass Club and hear these versions of Shady Grove that were amazing. I loved that ensemble of high ringing banjos, but there was something very soulful to me when I heard people play clawhammer old time songs. That style was geared toward accompanying yourself singing. I had that love of singing, so that style spoke to me, and so I first learned clawhammer; frailing which is the family of the style I play.”

M.E.  “Which one is your oldest banjo?”

D.L.C  “This one is the oldest; it is from 1890-the brand is Gatcomb. It’s funny because I posted something on Facebook when I acquired it and the current owner of the Gatcomb company; someone who works for them found me about a year ago because they were trying to gather stuff for the current owner’s birthday; so I sent a cd and I got a thank you message; it was a bigger company back in the day, and now is smaller I think. How I got it-a couple years ago it was Labor Day weekend and my sister Cathy who lives in Ohio sent me an email with a pic of a banjo and a written sign in squiggly paint-“200 dollars OBO”-so I wrote back; for that price, get it-I didn’t know it was from the 1800’s. I looked up the serial number; there’s a Gatcomb company registry; from the serial number you can see what year is was made….I knew it had belonged to this guy in his 80’s-it was a one day flea market. Labor Day weekend in Ohio; he said it belonged to his grandfather and it been wrapped in a sheet in his closet for decades. He was happy it was going to someone who would play it. I play traditional songs on it; I also play a couple of Christmas songs on it and  there was one song I wrote on it….

Banjo’s ancestry is African. Instruments that were gords with a stick in them and got strings; and when people were enslaved here, they built similar instruments and that evolved to what we know of as the banjo-and then; the early banjos through the 1800’s, most of them had gut strings.”

M.E.  “Tell me about your latest recording.”


D.L.C.  “It was in process for awhile-this will be my second; I started recording demos for it over a year ago, but I had this back log of songs. I had some I was clear would go on the new recording and then I had some other songs that were just nice to make a demo of it and have some sort of documentation of it. And in the process of recording demos, I had some songs that I felt there was something to them but they didn’t feel finished; so in the process these songs evolved into more finished forms. I wrote songs for 12 years before I even made my first album. I started writing songs while only playing banjo for 3 months. I was learning everything as I went along; I got my feet wet with recording demos during that time; in a lot of peoples home studios.”

M.E.  “You haven’t felt the sense of rushing to do anything with music?”

D.L.C.  “Well, sometimes there’s self generated pressure, and also people wanted recordings from me or liked certain songs. When I made my first one it was clear that there were several songs that people had been asking me for, for years, that meant something to someone, so it was clear that those meant more to someone that just me, and it would be good to finally provide that. I had written forever, but it took awhile for my banjo playing to catch up to my songs. I was writing songs that were over my head; some of my songs-it took me quite awhile to have the skill to play the banjo to play my own songs; I still encounter that-writing songs beyond my singing skills.”

M.E.  “In your bio, you were made fun of for singing and subdued yourself”

D.L.C.  “Sometimes when I ‘m singing I’m trying to work through the obstacle course of my own feelings and body and physicality and to communicate through all that; my own personal obstacles; sometimes it’s like an out of body experience. Like I’m a lightening rod; it ‘s almost like there is so much energy; it hasn’t felt totally natural to be on stage; it’s a highly activating experience; people looking at you and bright lights; dealing with my glasses and standing a certain way for the microphone; it has it’s own set of skills. Learning what I can do to take care of myself to still feel my feet on the ground to try to be in my body as much as possible and not just freak out.”

M.E.  “So you are part of a calendar featuring women and banjos called “Banjo Babes”-how did that come about?”

D.L.C.  “It’s not my project; I’ve been in it the last 3 years. There is this banjo player based out of San Luis Obispo-Erin English. Her dad plays accordion and there was an accordion calendar for years, and she’s rather enterprising, so at some point in the summer of 2013, she contacted me and some other female banjo players around the world. The first one- we had a banjo player from Uzbekistan who was the only banjo player, far as she knew, in Uzbekistan. Erin asked if I wanted to be a part of this thing….so I”ve been in it the past 3 years; it’s mostly about the music but a fun way to get it out there.”

M.E.  “Part of your creative process is to create collages, and many of them! What is it about this art form that you are drawn to?”


D.L.C.  “There’s something about a collage-I can’t take myself too seriously-it’s like 3rd grade with glue sticks and torn paper; magazines that I get out of the break room at work or recycled bins. I’m not trying to make some major artistic statement. It’s just tearing through magazines and anything that catches my eye or my heart or makes me laugh in the moment, and then just ripping it out and taping or pasting it together on cheap sketchbook paper. A lot of it is based on Jungian psychology, and Jung talked about “active imagination”-he had these huge books of drawings and writings-art that was not necessarily for the sake of being on the wall, but just to create as your own symbolism in the moment and to process your life creatively. It’s kind of fun for me to make these because I don’t always know what they are about but it’s interesting looking at them because I’ll see parallels I didn’t notice when I was making them. I got more insights about what was going on with me by looking at them. Sometimes there are themes-keys or hearts-hearts are a big deal with me. This one has a rodent theme. It’s playful and child like.”

M.E.  “Is that how you approach music a lot of times?”

D.L.C.  “I try to be seriously playful about music, but also it helps me when I’m getting serious in a way that doesn’t seem to serve me or the art-because sometimes I can get really serious “I really care about this a lot and I want it to be perfect”, and I get stressed about it and anxious and insecure….so it’s counter productive……to have a lightness about it is important. Collage is helpful because sometimes I’ll be working on a collage at the same time as a song-sometimes I’ve made collages around a song I’m working n and it’s helped me find a word in a song.”

M.E.  “My favorite tune on the new album is “Look at Me,” printed here. Can you talk about what this song represents for you-is it about learning to accept ourselves fully?”  

Look at Me

I confess I dress to impress you

Every day I cast a spell

Paint my face and don a costume

To be the one you love so well


Look at me- but not so closely now

Look at me- but not so close

Look at me- but not so closely now

Look at me- not so close!


Tailor made to fit and to flatter

Accentuate, slim, trim and hide

Designs to attract and distract you

Looking slick but sick inside


Look at me- but not so closely now

Look at me- but not so close

Look at me- but not so closely now

Look at me- not so close!


Dressed to kill a secret sorrow

Dressed to fill an empty ache

Dressed to win your approval

And still I didn’t feel okay


I’m sorry for the ways I used you

I’m sorry for the times I lied

I’m sorry for my confusion

Begging for what you can’t provide


Today I dress to please myself

A grey-green hat to match my eyes

Patchwork kaleidoscopic color

I feel at ease shed my disguise

I feel at ease shed my disguise


Look at me- closer now

Look at me- come close

Look at me- come closer now

Look at me- and let me see

©2016 Donna Lynn Caskey (P) Cordulia Music BMI


D.L.C.  “For me, this song represents and explores some of the ways and reasons we as humans might present a front to other people. The ways we can, consciously and unconsciously, create and craft our identity and the image of ourselves we project into the world. What will we highlight and accentuate? What will we omit or downplay? How will we “curate our content” and “embody our brand” as the ubiquitous marketing buzzwords of the day proclaim? What are we proud of, and what do we hide in shame? Look at me! Pay attention to me! Like me! Love me! Reassure me! Seeking external validation. Clothes, manner of dress can be part of it for sure, but to me, the clothing symbolizes much more than that. For example, a case could be made that just about anything and everything posted on social media is a form of, “look at me!” This song also explores the possibility of showing up as-is, in our regular clothes, so to speak. To validate ourselves, to allow ourselves to be seen more fully; and what might we see when not so preoccupied with managing our own image and impression?”

M.E.  “Do you think there is a larger issue with women and how they choose to dress for men?”

D.L.C.  “Though the narrator of the song makes reference to painting one’s face with makeup and some of the lyrics could also double as fashion magazine headlines targeted at women, I experience the act of putting on a facade of some sort, creating or presenting a story of one’s identity, as a universal human experience that transcends gender. That said, I see where societal gender conventions, messages, and expectations can influence differences in the manner women and men may present a facade.” 

M.E.  “So we both are musicians who are entering the mid stage of our lives and still doing our music-what keeps you going?”

D.L.C.  “It’s funny to me that I feel called and compelled in some way to express myself, share songs publicly, perform, even though it is often not easy or comfortable for me. Look at me?! In most ways, I actually prefer folks didn’t. A big part of what keeps me going when I’m tempted to retreat into a more quiet, private, inward life are the messages I regularly receive from people, often strangers, that the songs I share encourage them in their own lives. A few of many examples- someone recently wrote to thank me since they inexplicably woke up with my song “Time Of Delight” stuck in their head, and that it set a great intention for their day. Another person told me she finds herself singing that song every time she works in her garden. A teacher wrote that listening to my first album helped her prepare her classroom for the year and to serve her students. Someone wrote me that the song “I Am Willing” was in their head the morning they were heading into surgery, and that it brought them peace, comfort, strength, and hope. Another said the lyrics of “It Ain’t Personal” helped him face some difficult tasks. Others have said the song “Beauty Queen” makes them feel better about themselves and their appearance. In the title track of the album, “The Love Still Shows,” I make reference to "my heart touched by a hopeful song" as one of the seemingly little but truly huge things that have “seen me through" life. If any of the songs on the album touch someone's heart in a way that helps them through their day, wonderful.”


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Heather Zide-Sound Majesty Interview by Cynthia Brando

Heather Zide started out small booking a few local bands and is now a booking extraordinaire with her company based in Los Angeles called "Sound Majesty."



M.E.  "How did the birth of Sound Majesty happen?"

H.Z.  "Flashback to 2013 - I started working for HRS Records (vinyl mastering) and worked on Kyle McNeill’s “Happy At Last” record, which led me to try to get him and a few other local bands booked at various local venues. Then in April of 2015 while at a Deadfinger show (now called The Dose) I met someone who runs another music booking collective and we started booking shows together. Last July I booked my first show on my own under the name Icy Flamingos, in August I changed the name to Sound Majesty. The name Icy Flamingos came about from a dream I had back in March of 2013, but besides myself there is only one person who knows what the reference is about. The name probably sounded weird to the people who didn’t know the reference." 

M.E.  "Do you have a background in music?"

H.Z.  "I don’t actually have a formal background in music. My background is actually in medicine! But I feel like music is better medicine than anything you can find in a bottle of pills or i.v. bag. Music has always been a big part of my life. My first job was at Banana Republic in 2004 - each month corporate would send us the soundtrack for that month that was always filled with the coolest indie/chill/atmospheric music. I discovered a lot of really great music through that, like Sebastien Tellier, Zero 7, Röyksopp, Goldfrapp, and Death Cab for Cutie. I was like a little kid on Christmas morning each month waiting for that month’s CD to arrive, I used to get so excited to rip open the package and pop it in the store’s sound system and find out what gems I would discover and hope that it was good because it would be playing on repeat for the next month!"

M.E.  "What is the most challenging aspect of the job?"

The most challenging aspect — oh God do you really want to know? I’m not sure there’s one thing, it’s more like a bunch of little things. But at the end of the day it’s totally worth it! I guess one challenge is getting people to go see a band that they are not already familiar with. I always put bands together that I think have complimentary musical styles, so if you’re coming to see one band you’re probably going to like ALL the bands on the lineup. I want people to think of shows like a 4-6 course dinner, meant to be experienced from start to finish. In other words don’t just come for the entree (headliner) - get there early for the amuse bouche, hors d'œuvre, and appetizer (openers) the second course (main support) and stay for the palate cleanser, cheese course, and dessert (closers). Another challenging thing when booking shows is when bands don’t communicate, if every band could tell me right away either they can play, or can’t, or are checking that would really make the show booking process faster. Sometimes they just leave me hanging with no response - which I’ve found can mean anything from ‘we are checking to see if we can play’ to ‘no weren’t not gonna play’ to ‘hell yeah, we’re down! (but got too excited and forgot to actually say that)’ or ‘we have multiple band members running our Facebook page and thought that one of the others responded to the message.’ Probably the most challenging aspect is finding the time to do everything I want do to and all the things that go into throwing shows - booking the bands, making the flyers and event pages, promoting the event, making sure the bands are promoting the event, sending out the show advances and coordinating set times, load-in and backline etc., photographing the show, taking video of the show, editing the photos and videos and posting them online - especially during weeks when I have multiple shows. 

M.E.  "What is the most rewarding part?" 


What I do is very rewarding! Music is such a powerful force, I think it's the most powerful force besides love. That feeling of getting lost in the music - where in that moment you forget about everything else and nothing else exists. It’s almost like stopping time. Almost a transcendental experience. The most rewarding part is packing a venue from side to side and front to back - and everything that goes along with that. Everyone’s happy and everyone wins when that happens. The energy in the room is incredible! When that happens it is a result of everyone working together and doing their part to make it happen, so it's a great feeling of togetherness! It’s great having an idea for a show in my head and watching it come to life and see it actually happen! I love seeing people at my shows having a great time and knowing that I had something to do with that - I get to create something and make people happy. It’s great when people come together a for a few hours and forget about their differences and just enjoy the music. It’s also rewarding getting to help bands that I really like and believe in get exposer. Hearing one of my band’s songs on the radio is really rewarding too! Getting acknowledged by the local music community and having bands/other promoters/venues reach out to me because they see what I’m doing and want to collaborate with me is also very rewarding! It used to be when I would discover a new band, the most I could do would be to tell a few people about them. But now I’m in the position to bring that band to a wider audience by booking them which hopefully leads to radio play or write-ups in music blogs/publications or them getting booked to open for a national touring band. 

M.E.  "Any others involved with Sound Majesty?"

H.Z.  "It’s just me running Sound Majesty. I’ve been really lucky to get to book and collaborate with so many talented bands. I kind of like challenging myself to see just what I’m capable of on my own. But I’m also excited about some collaborations that are happening... My motto is everything is better with music - I want to put music everywhere!" 


Pics from the Music Scene-Around L.A.

photos by Cynthia Brando


Allen Morris at the San Fernando for "Music Emerging Presents."

Allen Morris at the San Fernando for "Music Emerging Presents."

Dave Osti at the Copper Still Bar for "Music Emerging Presents."

Dave Osti at the Copper Still Bar for "Music Emerging Presents."

Ali Handal at the San Fernando for "Music Emerging Presents."

Ali Handal at the San Fernando for "Music Emerging Presents."

The Wild Mountain Mystics with Jake Kelley at Matt Denny's Alehouse for "J.C. Hyke's Songwriter Serenade."

The Wild Mountain Mystics with Jake Kelley at Matt Denny's Alehouse for "J.C. Hyke's Songwriter Serenade."

Brit Rodriguez at the Spoke Bicycle Cafe. 

Brit Rodriguez at the Spoke Bicycle Cafe. 

Syd Straw in Atwater Village for "Music Emerging Presents."

Syd Straw in Atwater Village for "Music Emerging Presents."

Syd Straw with Lyn Berteles and Karyn Kool in Atwater Village for "Music Emerging Presents."

Syd Straw with Lyn Berteles and Karyn Kool in Atwater Village for "Music Emerging Presents."

Jaime Wyatt at the Hope Lutheran Church for "City Roots."

Jaime Wyatt at the Hope Lutheran Church for "City Roots."

Teresa Tudury at the Coffee Gallery Backstage

Teresa Tudury at the Coffee Gallery Backstage