Naomi Sparrow is a sun-chaser. The singer-songwriter grew up in Alaska before migrating to Portland.
“When I moved to Oregon, I had an upgrade in weather,” Sparrow tells me over the phone from Appleton, Wisconsin, where her group, Moody Little Sister, just played the Mile of Music Festival.
An upgrade in weather, or so she thought.
“In Portland, I pretty much did my time in hell,” she says, referring to Oregon’s famously gloomy weather. Sparrow and her husband, guitarist and producer Rob Stroup, ended up winning an all-expense paid rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
“Once I felt that heat, it was all over,” she says.
Eventually, the duo relocated to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where they wrote and recorded their brand-new release, Great Big Mama Sunshine.
“This town,” she remembers thinking about Truth or Consequences, “the minute I drove out of it, I missed it. We went back three more times,” she says, the third time with a moving van.
Great Big Mama Sunshine is a collection of storytelling folk-rock songs, recalling at times Indigo Girls and at other times Melissa Etheridge, with an ornery streak, like on the song “Rooster,” in which Sparrow sings, “I’m gonna give you a run for your money.”
Heading into the studio to record the self-produced album, Sparrow and Stroup hoped to make a stripped-down record.
“These songs came out of the can and demanded attention and bigness,” Sparrow says. Big, like the New Mexico desert, an expansiveness reflected in tunes like “Big Ole Blue,” “Tumbleweed” and “Child of the Wild.”
Sparrow feels free in her new home, and you can hear it.
“The Northwest and Alaskan environment is a brooding environment,” she says. “I respond to nature.”
If nature is grey and dark, “then I respond grey and dark. We’ve settled into our sound,” Sparrow says.
“These are the songs I’ve been wanting to write my whole life,” she continues. What’s been missing in the past was the hot southwestern sun, grit and dirt. “There’s this strange desert thing that reminds me of Alaska. It lets people grow wild,” she says.
Sparrow’s been making music since the tender age of five. Her first exposure to music came from the church, and in rural Alaska there just wasn’t much else to do.
“You play cards and tell stories to each other,” she says. “I continue to tell stories. Our stories are important. We see each other when we tell stories.”
In her 20s, Sparrow began writing music in earnest.
“My influences were nature, silence and time to myself. Then the human experience. I’ve been sensitive and drawn to other people’s stories,” she says, calling herself a reluctant performer.
“I was writing songs for so long, they were my own personal thing, my diary entries,” she says. One day, she realized musicians don’t just write songs for themselves. Performing was part of the package.
“That was real bummer of a day,” she recalls, laughing. Luckily, Sparrow’s gregarious personality lends itself well to the stage.
“That’s the most natural place I feel in my life,” she says.
Moody Little Sister plays along with longtime Eugene favorite Laura Kemp 8 pm Friday, Aug. 16, at Tsunami Books; $12-$20 sliding scale, all-ages.