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Artist of the day: Sheila Kirsten Hughes and the TSP Orchestra



Sheila Kirsten Hughes and the TSP Orchestra serve up a heady brew of original music. Their sonic palate is hybrid of folk, celtic, and earthy tones with saxophone surges reminiscent of LeRoi Moore of Dave Matthews Band.

Culling from an array of influences as diverse as Peter Gabriel, Rage Against The Machine, The Cure, Sting, Counting Crows, dubstep, and polka, they have concocted their own unique music formula dubbed “soufté,” which Hughes describes as a “soufflé of soul. No formulas, just flow.”

The ingredients

Hughes is a self-taught musician who began playing piano by ear at 14.  In high school, she was involved with vocal performance. Having lost her voice due to a bout with pneumonia, she comforted herself by learning to play the piano. Over the years, she also picked up the guitar and cello.

She started playing around the Bay area as a solo act with husband Chris Hughes running the soundboard. He eventually joined her on bass, putting into motion what would eventually become the TSP Orchestra. He describes his role as a “sound engineer who plays bass, not a bass player who engineers.” A few years later, drummer Alex Wolfe “sychronistically came into place” when they met him at a meetin of Just Plain Folks, a grassroots music organization. Saxophonist Jim Mara found Sheila through watching her performances on YouTube. He offered his services, auditioned, and has been with them ever since.

Their name “TSP Orchestra” was inspired by a movie, but the details concerning such are a closely guarded secret. “I’d have to kill you if I told you,” Hughes says.

The recipe

Sheila composes the words, melody, and basic framework on piano and/or guitar. The rest of the group brings to the table loose quasi-improvisational arrangements based on Sheila’s chord structures: “Play what you feel, it’s part of the soufté.” Through this method, each performance tends to be unique. “It’s not experimental or jam-bandish, but it leans on that elbow a little bit,” Chris says. “Sometimes our songs will go eight to 10 minutes long and will tail off, and we’ll all just stop at the same time.”

On the stove

Suzanne Willette, the founder of the New Seeds Festival, recently asked Sheila Kirsten Hughes and the TSP Orchestra to co-headline a performance with the Tampa Bay Ballet. This quickly morphed into a collaboration of sorts, with Lindsay Clark, director of the TBB, choreographing dance to the music of Hughes and company.

The group recently finished recording their second album, If These Stones Could Speak, which will be available Saturday at the New Seeds Festival.

Sheila Kirsten Hughes and the TSP Orchestra will headline three shows with the Tampa Bay Ballet at the New Seeds Festival. Shows start at 7 p.m. Saturday and March 25 and 26 at the Smith Black Box Theater (on the campus of Tampa Preparatory School), 727 W Cass St., Tampa. Tickets are $25-$30. For details on the show, click here.

-- Aaron Lepley, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 2:37pm]


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