Sonya Lorelle moved to Norfolk a year and a half ago from Missouri, where she had earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling. She released her second album, The Life You Wanted, in September and performs Tuesday evening at Port Folio Weekly’s Fat Tuesdays after-work concert at the Granby Theater. When we spoke the week before Thanksgiving, she had just returned from winning the North Carolina Songwriters Contest at the Carrboro Arts Center.
JN: How did you end up in Norfolk?
SY: “I came here on tour because I had a friend living here. And while I was at a show I met a guy who turned out to be pretty cool. So I had two people that I really liked here then. I thought this was a logical place, being a central location to go up and down the east coast. It has a lot more culture and things available than where I was in Missouri, so it was overall a good package for me.
“I left high school and I was going to be a big star. [laughter] But then I got to college and no one cared that I wrote songs. I was singing Italian arias, but that was not really what I was interested in. So I switched to psychology and minored in music. I was in the jazz band playing the piano and saxophone. I was all into the music thing, but I didn’t want to be a choir teacher or an opera singer or a band director.
“I went down to the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2002, and I said, ‘This is it!’ It wasn’t Italian operas---this is the kind of music that I want to do and I didn’t know there was this whole world open where singers and songwriters can play their music and they don’t have to be famous.”
JN: So that was when you first realized that you could do this?
SY: “Yes; I was so busy doing my other life…But after I got that bug in me, I just couldn’t ignore it any more. The big turning point was…I spent a month in Europe. While I was over there wandering around by myself, I had this idea that I could sell everything I own and just go on tour. So I came back and had a huge garage sale with a sign that said, ‘I’m selling everything to go on tour.’”
JN: Who were your influences?
SY: “I had always loved the old jazz stuff like Ella Fitzgerald and the new stuff like Diana Krall and Harry Connick, Jr. So I think that’s where the jazz influence comes from. But then probably the torchy, emotional influence comes from Fiona Apple, Patty Griffin and Sarah McLaughlin, the more emotional singer/songwriters. And I did have the jazz piano lessons and all that, so I have a few of those skills in my back pocket.”
JN: Most of your songs seem to be about relationships. Are they written to somebody in particular?
SY: “Mostly, each song has a person that I had in mind, but it’s not one person. They are either true about me or true about somebody else that I know. ‘Make Love Forever’ was actually about a friend that got married and was very disillusioned afterwards. So just through talking with her, I was empathetic about what she was feeling. And ‘Close Enough’ is a love song and I wasn’t with anybody at the time---I was just imagining being in love!”
JN: Are you living the life you wanted?
SY: “I’d say definitely. I’m getting to do what I wanted to do. I have my new CD out---I was in the studio doing it myself and I got it just the way I wanted. I’ve made friends through it, played more shows, I’m traveling---traveling is a big piece of the life that I wanted. People are so nice; it’s just great to meet all these people that I wouldn’t have met before. It kinda pulls me out of my shell. So that’s definitely the life I wanted.”
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