Music Q&A: Blues Singer Kirsten Thien

The blues songstress and New England native will perform at Johnny D’s in Somerville on Thursday.

By | Arts & Entertainment |
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Thien

Photo courtesy of Kirsten Thien

Johnny D’s in Somerville is something of a local hideout for talented musicians. From alternative rockers to jazz greats local and international, the stage at Johnny D’s is no stranger to nights pulsing with cymbals, guitar riffs, and the sizzling energy of a live show. This Thursday night, Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers will be headlining a night of blues. Harpe and her band, who’ve just recently won a Boston Music Award for “Blues Act of the Year,” have been playing in Boston for a number of years now, perfecting their “Charles River Delta Blues” style, a fusion of country, Americana, soul, even reggae, and making quite a splash onto the blues scene. New England native Kirsten Thien and her band will open for Harpe. With three albums under her belt, Thien says she’s inspired by artists like Etta James and Bonnie Raitt. Get to know Thien before she swings through Somerville.

How did you initially get involved with music?

I grew up in southern Maine around Sanford and Kennebunk, and as a child, I got involved with singing at church. When I went to college in Washington D.C., I joined two different projects. One was a rock review concert, and the other was a jazz and blues band that focused on the music of the ’20s to the ’40s. That’s what really brought me to the blues in the first place. I was just about to graduate with a degree in finance and was on my last few rounds of interviews when I said, “Well, you know what? Instead of banking, I’m going to try and be a singer.” Just a small decision!

How did you get together with your band?

Moving to New York City really helped. I found people who were friends of friends, or people I knew from the music scene. When I got these guys to join my band, I was finishing my second recording and we were going to tour in support of that. We immediately started touring up and down the East Coast about seven years ago. In the last two years, with the release of Delicious, the blues community really started reaching out to me, so through that, I’ve been able to expand my touring base.

Have you ever played in Boston before?

I’ve flirted with Boston for years, but no, I have never played in Boston before. This will be my first show and I’m so excited. I cannot wait. People have been telling me about Johnny D’s for years, and I’m so glad Erin opened up this door for me.

How did you and Erin meet?

Erin and I met three years ago in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge. She and I randomly sat next to one another at an awards ceremony, and we really hit it off. Two years later, I was planning my April tour when she booked the gig at Johnny D’s. April 4 was open for me and Erin invited me to come play. It’s weird how sometimes you meet someone and you have a nice relationship, and all of a sudden something like this is put on your plate and it works out. Erin has a more traditional approach to writing and blues, and I take more of a contemporary one, so I love the fit.

You’ve played both festivals and smaller venues across Europe and America. Which do you enjoy more?

Both, really. Some of my favorite gigs have literally been in someone’s living room. It varies though. Once, after a particularly grueling trip to Washington, we stepped on the festival stage where nobody knew us and we hit them with our best 75-minute set. It was pure joy: thousands of people who had never seen us were really engaged in our performance. Sometimes you can even be in a place where it feels like no one is listening, but then after the show you have that one conversation with somebody and realize you’ve really touched their lives and put something there.

If someone can leave your show feeling three things, what would they be?

First and foremost they can leave feeling sexy. It sounds silly, but people have told me before that my show puts them in the mood. Also I’d love for them to leave and feel optimistic about how great life can be, and how they can do anything they want.

Ideally, where do you see your career going in the next couple of years?

I will be putting out a solo album within the next two months, and I’ve got songs written for the next studio album with my band, which I hope to start recording in 2014. I’d love to continue playing festivals and clubs, things that can sustain the band and keep us financially soluble. I’d like to find more of a balance between the business side of things and the creative.

Kirsten Thien will perform at Johnny D’s in Somerville on April 4.