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Sarah Levecque

Singer-Songwriter Q&A

Photo credit: Chris Yeager

How old were you when you started playing guitar?

It think I was 18 when I started.

What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?

I’m not exactly sure? It was either a second hand Yamaha nylon string or a cheap Yamaha dreadnought with ridiculously high action. I’m not sure which came first. I had been working for a couple years so I had a little money saved up to pay for a cheap guitar/guitars and some lessons. I traded the dreadnought for some gear and gave my nylon string to my stepson Gabe.

Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?

Rumor has it that my grandfather was an amateur singer that performed in minstrel shows. I was not close to him so I don’t have the complete story. There was no shortage of music playing on the turntable growing up. My parents played music almost non-stop. All the good stuff too.

What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?

My current go-to’s are a Nash T-52 in Butterscotch Blonde, a Fano JM6 Standard in black, and an Epiphone 1966 Cortez acoustic. I also have a Martin CEO-7 small bodied mahogany acoustic that I play on some acoustic duo shows. I got to say that I really enjoy playing the Fano JM6. It’s an extremely resonate guitar that even sounds good unplugged. It has two humbuckers that have this great gritty, transparent tone. It's an earlier model before Dennis Fano sold the company. I think Dennis was using Lindy Fralin made pickups at that time.

Sarah's Nash T-52. Photo credit: Chris Yeager

Sarah playing her Fano JM6. Photo credit: Ted Theodore

Sarah with her 1966 Epiphone Cortez. Photo credit: Matt Robert

Sarah playing her Martin CEO-7.

What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?

I’ve been trying out these Stringjoy brand strings made in Nashville. They feel nice and slinky but I think they might have a shorter life span than some other strings.

I’ve also used D’Addario XLs. I usually use 10s but sometimes play around with 9s. I go back and forth between 10s and 11s on my Fano which is tuned to open D. I probably don’t change my strings enough, maybe 4 or 5x a year, or until I break a string.

I’m currently using phosphor bronze D’Addario and phosphor bronze Elixirs (Nanoweb) strings on my acoustics. I go back and forth between light and medium gauges. I hate the sound of new strings on my acoustics so I wait until they get real ratty before I change them.

Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?

I use a pick, I also play pick-less. When I do use a pick, I use Herco Flex 75 nylon picks. I also like the Dunlop .88 Max-Grips.

Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?

I do have a mini pedal board with just 3 pedals. The Strymon Flint (Tremolo/Reverb combo), TC Electronic Flashback (Delay), and the TC Electronic Poly Tune 2 (Tuner). I use the delay pedal the most. I have it on most of the time using a subtle slap delay. I use the tremolo on a few tunes but rarely use the reverb.

Sarah and her pedalboard. Photo credit: Peter Zarkadas.

Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?

My husband Peter Zarkadas who plays with me in the band does minor tweaks on all of our electric guitars.

Sarah's husband, Peter Zakardas. Photo credit: Mark Gordon

Sarah and Peter.

I bring my acoustics to Steve Morrill Guitar Repair in Boxborough. He does great work with acoustics.

Steve Morrill of Steve Morrill Guitar Repair.

I haven’t found a place to bring my electric guitars since Jim Mouradian passed. He was my main man. I heard his son Jon is doing a great job carrying on the tradition at Mouradian Guitar Co. but Wilmington is a little far for us. Might be worth the trip though.

Jim Mouradian

Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?

Gruhn Guitars in Nashville is pretty impressive. Probably the best guitar shop I’ve ever been to as far as acoustics go. Austin Vintage Guitars might be a close second. Gruhn has this extensive vintage Martin collection that is unlike any other.

At what age did you start writing songs?

I started writing in my early twenties, I think I was 22 or 23?

Photo credit: Anne White

What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?

In the past, the lyrics would usually come first. Sometimes a guitar lick would get things started. Lately melodies seem to be coming first. I still prefer old fashion pen and paper but if I’m on the go, I might jot an idea down in my phone.

Photo credit: Peter Zarkadas

Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?

Lucinda Williams, Tom Petty, Muddy Waters.

If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

That’s tough. Tom Petty comes to mind.

What are your top three “desert island” albums?

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams, Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds, Wildflowers by Tom Petty.

What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?

I can’t remember my very first concert. As a teenager my parents brought me to lots of Unitarian church coffee-house concerts. I saw lots of regional songwriters like Mary Gauthier, Cheryl Wheeler, Bill Staines.

My first real big concert was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at one of the Great Woods incarnations. The last concert I attended was Ray Bonneville at The Bull Run in Shirley on 4/22/23. I met Ray while playing at the unofficial SXSW showcases in Austin. He played this incredible set with Gurf Morlix and Kevin Gordon at The G & S Club in South Austin. I was an instant fan for life.

The Beatles or the Stones?

That’s a tough one. The Stones had more of a direct influence on my music, so I’m going with the Stones.

Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?

I’m going to guess my first paid gig might’ve been with The Hal St. Louis Band at this place called The Happy Swallow in downtown Framingham. It was a real dive that went by the nickname “The Dirty Bird”. I’m guessing that was sometime around 1999-2000. This band was fronted by a baritone sax player and we mostly played swing blues. I don’t think I made much. Back then, if you made $50 each it was a good night.

Photo credit: Prash Saka

What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

It’s hard to say. I haven’t toured all that much and I mostly play small stages. I did have a blast playing The Concert for a Cure show at The Fallout Shelter in May. I played with a bunch of fabulous musicians that I had never met before. Really nice venue and the staff was so kind and attentive. Bill Hurley has a great thing happening there.

What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).

Oh definitely Church in Boston. It was one of those multi band nights. All I can say is that nobody got paid and the cops were called.

What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?

I think The Narrows in Fall River might have been the best sounding stage I’ve ever played on. I’ve also had some of my most enjoyable shows on the smallest stages like The Plough & Stars. The band and I had some really fun nights at this dinky little dive bar in Worcester named Vincent’s. If the PA is working good and the energy is right, the magic can happen anywhere.

Photo credit: Apple Kaufmann

How do you work out your setlist?

I work out my set lists in advance and email copies to the band. That way they can bone-up for the gig. I don’t always play with the same line-up, I keep a rotation of rhythm section players. I like to choose a moderate tempo song that might draw in the audience and end a set with a high energy tune. I might mix up the order at the show depending on what kind of energy I’m picking up from the audience. I also like to mix up the feels and tempos. Sometimes I’ll group songs by which guitars Pete and I are playing in order to minimize guitar swapping. For example, I might group open tuning songs together.

Photo credit: Suze Uttal

Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?

Get ready for some disappointment. You learn what works, and what doesn’t. What to do, and what not to do. One step forward, then 5 steps backwards. What’s worth it, and what’s not worth the frustration. Try to have some fun and hopefully the rest follows.

Photo credit: Chris Yeager

Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?

I think falling into the occasional rut is natural and part of the process. The worst thing you can do is to beat yourself up over it. Not everything you create is going to be great. Sometimes just writing a bunch of crap just to get it out of your system works. I might sort through it later and salvage a few nuggets that can be recycled for later use.

Photo credit: Artrocity

If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?

Who knows. I’m interested in wild bird rehabilitation, or if I had the schooling, forensic science has always fascinated me.

Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.

I have an on going residency at The Plough & Stars in Cambridge. You can find me and the band there every first Sunday of the month from 4-6PM. I’ll be switching out my Sunday just for the month of August. I’ll be playing the second Sunday, 4-6PM. I’m swapping with Adam Sherman who normally plays the second Sunday afternoon. I’ll be back on for the first Sunday in September. Here’s some upcoming summer shows.

8/13 at The Plough & Stars in Cambridge, 4-6pm

9/3 at The Plough & Stars in Cambridge, 4-6pm

9/9 at The Porch in Medford, 7-10pm

9/17 at The Stomping Ground in Putnam CT., 1-4pm

9/22 at Medusa Brewing Company in Hudson, 6:30-8:30pm

Photo credit: David Kelber


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