More than a decade ago, when she was just another unhappy teenager at South Eugene High School, Laryssa Birdseye took solace in music and drama, hanging out in the theater department by day and writing intense, personal poetry and songs by night.
Then came a few years of substance abuse, as she sorted out the angst and trauma of young love and failed relationships.
Move ahead to the present and Birdseye, now 31 and living in Portland, is supporting herself as a singer-songwriter, producing soul-popy confessional works about those failed loves to ever-increasing audiences.
On Saturday, May 7, she returns to Eugene to open for Portland folk-rock duo The Talbott Brothers at Sessions Music Hall in what will be a kind of homecoming for her.
“Weirdly, I haven’t played a lot in Eugene,” she says in a phone interview, “so this is like one of the first shows that I’m playing there. It’s kind of a hometown thing.”
Birdseye had a rough time as a teenager. “I was a pretty troubled kid,” she says of those high school years. “Looking back on it, I just had very, very severe anxiety. And that sort of manifested itself into all of these poor ways of coping with it. You know, basically every substance I could get my hands on. I developed a pretty bad eating disorder. So music became a refuge during that time.”
Theater at South was another haven. “Acting was my first love, and it was a little easier. You can recite someone else’s words and it doesn’t feel as vulnerable.” But the idea of actually performing her own work in front of other people remained terrifying, so singing didn’t come easily at first.
“It took me until I was like 23 to get comfortable. I moved to Portland when I was 20. And I remember going to an open mic and I just got so drunk before the show because I could not fathom standing in front of an audience, singing my own words.”
The drinking while performing continued until she began to realize that it wasn’t working out. “By the time I’m this drunk, I’m not doing it well,” she says. “When I turned 25, that was when I was like, ‘OK, it’s time to get serious.’ Now I’m sober, and all my shows are sober, and I really love and appreciate the journey it took to get to this point.”
Birdseye has been playing and touring full time for about two years, serving up a rich Americana-tinged mixture of genres in a voice that ranges from sad and plaintive to angry and ferocious. “It’s folk, it’s country, it’s pop, it’s soul,” she says. You can see and hear her work, from ballads and anthems to bitter breakup songs, in music videos on LaryssaBirdseye.com.
She’s spending a lot of time on the road; the rest of 2022 takes her to gigs in such cities as Seattle; L.A.; Chicago; Minneapolis; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and New York. That kind of travel is hard but rewarding, Birdseye says. “It’s a very stressful thing to do. But it’s the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Laryssa Birdseye opens for The Talbott Brothers at Sessions Music Hall 8 pm Saturday, May 7. $18 at SessionsMusicHall.com; 21+.