SJ Tucker – Interview

SJ Tucker is on the road. Sooj will be performing at Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) Jun 14 – Jun 16, and then onward the next weekend to Free Spirit Gathering 2015 at the Ramblewood Retreat Center, Maryland, June 20 – Jun 22. We talked at Heartland Pagan Festival.

How does it feel to be the “Face of NeoTribal Paganism?

SJ: It is not that different from the way that life has been for me, up to this point. I feel the same support from this community that I have had from the very first time I stepped on a Pagan stage in 2002. I am humbled that I still get this level of love,  people coming to tell me that I have changed their lives just by being around and singing. That’s the part that tells me that I am still doing what I’m supposed to do, still getting that level of love and feedback. People saying to me that hearing a certain song changed something in them, it taught them how to dance again…I don’t think I would hear that if I were in any other niche than this. I don’t think I would hear that if I was playing in bars all the time. Why would I want to be anywhere else? I don’t have a textbook definition of “tribal” Paganism.  As I understand, it’s festival space. It is where we all live and hang out, in circles and churches, and our gatherings like this one. I am kind of spoiled because you don’t get this kind of love anywhere else. When I come back out of this world, for instance when I go to the grocery store, then everyone’s not necessarily going to be friendly. I forget about that when I am in this nurturing, collaborative space.

Is all your music done in some kind of Pagan space?

SJ:  For the most part it is. Pagan festivals and events, and sci-fi conventions, those are my two most typical types of events. I wouldn’t like it to be any other way. Here you have people who are already predisposed to like what you do, whether it is off the wall, or from a certain spiritual place, or a certain nerdy place. The benefits are through the roof.  Outside of festivals and cons, I would much rather sing in a community center or a VFW, and make it into my own space, than work myself into a restaurant or bar gig.  I have friends that are doing very well, and make good money at that. But the connections that you can make when you meet people on a level where they are searching for a certain thing, and it is a thing that you know how to tap into, is important to me. If you are performing on stage at a bar, your job is not to play well, your job is to help the bar sell booze. That’s not why I do what I do.

Do you like the atmosphere musicians create at festival?

SJ:  There are people who come from a place of competition instead of a place of collaboration and synergy. I just have a really hard time remembering to go on that competitive frequency when I have to, as a businessperson, because of how many times a year I don’t need to do that. I’m working with my tribe, I’m working with other musicians who go to Festival. I jump up on stage and we play on each others’ sets all the time. I like people who like to make each other look good instead of competing and trying to be better than one another. I much prefer lifting each other up than having to compete. It just makes me tired. I want everybody to rise up at the same time. I don’t want to be at the top of the heap, necessarily, when we go up.  I want everybody to be there with me. I have too many friends to want to leave people behind.

Sooj at Heartland

Sooj at Heartland

You have pretty much been solo whole career haven’t you?

SJ:   We have Tricky Pixie,  which is me, Betsy Tinney, and Alexander James Adams and that is the band. That will always be the line up. If one of the three of us is not there we don’t call it something else. So that is one commitment and then there is The Traveling Fates, which is me and Becca and Ginger. I have specific bands but it’s easier on yourself mentally, physically, emotionally when you are not always in a band, all throughout the year. I book things first as a solo and then find out what the facility can afford to let you do. Can they afford to let you bring in a cellist, would they like to book an entire Tricky Pixie show? Can they give us the support we need to get Alex in from the Midwest and Betsy from the Northwest. Logistically it is easier to be a solo performer more than 50% of the time. Sometimes it hurts my heart because I miss my friends, but I it just makes the time together more sweet when I do.

Do you have support of extended family now, a home to return to, or have you always had that?

SJ:  It depends on how you define it because with the whole the tribal thing. The only reason that I was able to tour successfully in the first place, back when I started doing this, the first time I came to Heartland in 2004 four, and that was the sort of the jewel in the crown of my first little teeny-weeny concert, is because of the friends that I have made that are willing to give me a place to stay when I need it and wherever I need it. For a long time I had a huge collection of house keys but I wasn’t paying rent anywhere. I was traveling so many places and never stayed long enough to out stay my welcome. Now I have a permanent address again, have cats, and houseplants, and utilities, and I am not used to it yet. It’s been two or three years since that situation sort of cleared the path to that destination. I still kind of feel a little bit cagey sometimes, like I need to go back on the road. It makes for a good balance because I don’t stay home too long.

You have pretty much been solo whole career haven’t you?

SJ:   We have the band Tricky Pixie,  which is me, Betsy Tinney, and Alexander James Adams. That will always be the line up for that band. If one of the three of us is not there, we call it something else. So that is one commitment I have apart from solo shows. Then there is The Traveling Fates, which is me and Bekah Kelso and Ginger Doss. I have specific bands, but I think it can be easier on you- mentally, physically, and emotionally- when you are not always in a band, all throughout the year. I book things first as a solo artist, and then find out what the facility or event can afford to let me do. Can they afford to let me bring in a cellist? Would they like to book an entire Tricky Pixie show? Can they give us the support we need to get Alec in from the Midwest and Betsy from the Northwest? Logistically it is easier to be a solo performer more than 50% of the time. Sometimes it hurts my heart because I miss my friends, but I it just makes the time together more sweet when I do get to play shows with them.

Do you have support of extended family now, a home to return to, or have you always had that?

SJ:  It depends on how you define it, because of the whole the tribal thing. The only reason that I was able to tour successfully in the first place, back when I started doing this, the first time I came to Heartland in 2004, (and that was sort of the jewel in the crown of my first little teeny-weeny tour), is because of the friends that I have made, who are willing to give me a place to stay when I need it and wherever I need it. For a long time I had a huge collection of house keys, but I wasn’t paying rent anywhere. I was traveling so many places so often, and never stayed long enough to outstay my welcome. Now I have a permanent address again, I have cats, and houseplants, and utilities, and I am not used to it yet. It’s been two or three years since the  path cleared to that destination. I still kind of feel a little bit cagey sometimes, like I need to go back on the road or else I’ll be trapped. It makes for a good balance, because I can stay home when I need to, but I don’t stay home too long.

As a performer you always come across as happy and excited to be wherever you are. Is that harder to do after you’ve done it for 10 years, are you still excited when you leave home?

SJ:   Right now, I am still excited. It has been going since February but shorter trips because I have a sweetheart, and a “Man Friday” if you will. He is a Capricorn and has very deep roots with his family and the place where they are. If we are gone for more than a couple of weeks, he starts to wilt. He starts to not be able to really enjoy spending time with other people. I’m having to learn to gauge that in him and either send him home when he needs a rest, or get us both home before he runs out of steam. That’s one of the levels of relationship commitment that I have not experienced before. It is worth it. There was a time between the end of 2010 and about the middle of 2012 that I was just flat exhausted. I had been working myself way too hard, because that was all I knew how to do. I didn’t know how to slow down, and I had all of the mamas, and priestesses, and elders I knew come into me and say, “Baby girl you need to rest, you need to rest right now because you’re in trouble.” I was listening, and I was getting to that point as fast as I could. Periods of vocal fatigue and illnesses started stacking up on me, one on top of another. The time I came to stay with you and Judy, I was sick as a dog and had no voice left. I have learned how not to do that to myself. During that time period I had a really hard time putting my joy forward, because I was hurting. I was so tired that I was not able to do the job that I wanted to do as a performer. I just didn’t have it in me. My reserves were gone, and I had to learn how not to work too hard. I’m getting there now. I feel like I am in the Master class. Someone came into my life who would support me, and let me have some place to go home to and be safe, and not to work for six months if that was what I needed. I got to do that in the beginning of 2013. I stayed home from Yule to Beltane, with only one trip out– for my birthday, because there was a Tricky Pixie show that I really wanted to do. I had never been able to take a break like that before. It all comes back to the support that this community has shown to me. That I can even afford to take the kind of a break in the first place is because people got it, liked what I could do, and  responded, purchased CDs from me, and actually paid for tickets to shows. I then had the finances that I needed, in order to not work myself to death. I’ve built my strength back up again, so I can be happy, and I have enough to give. This year, we get to the end of the concert or festival and I’m not exhausted. I value that more than I used to. I get to make it home, and then maybe collapse, but when I’m there, the kitty is purring.

New CD!

Do you schedule recording time?

SJ:   I wish I could get to that point, that’s the smarter way to do it. Now, it is sort of touch and go because I learned that, unlike the earlier years, I cannot really record and tour at the same time. I used to be able to do that. Now, the music I’m making is more complex, and I’m a little bit more exacting. I am more of a stickler for the details than I once was. I don’t want to have to divide half my energy to performing when I would rather be giving it everything I have. I don’t want to have to give half of it to recording when at the same time, I would rather be giving that my all. It’s more sanity-making if I can do one or the other. I prefer to have mostly finished projects before touring.

Sometimes I have different events to tour out to, even after Samhain. I am trying to get to where I don’t have any traveling after Thanksgiving. I’m doing this song-a-week commitment this year. We write a song from a random prompt, record a rough version of it, and submit it each week. I am in a group of about 20 songwriters, a peer group. I have started already performing a few of these songs, even though we are only 16 weeks into this.

Can we find those on your website?

SJ:   Not yet, when I release them. This is cool for me because that means that when I do get home to record I will have material to play with.

Can we find those on your website?

SJ:   Not yet, but you can when I release them. This is cool for me because that means that when I do get home to record I will have lots of new material to play with.

Do you have a message you want to get out to Pagans and your friends this year?

SJ:   If you have a choice between love and fear, choose love. We have the militarization of our police force, which clearly is becoming something we are more aware of, and it is a problem. Whenever there’s a misunderstanding, nine times out of ten, it’s because someone is afraid. They don’t want to admit that they are afraid. It is so simple to just break it down to those two things, no matter what is going on. It is either love or fear that is motivating us. It’s hard to choose love sometimes because you don’t know what you’re walking into. I understand, because I have just as many fears as anyone else. I’m trying to be more aware and more galvanized in my compassion. I came from people who taught me how to do that pretty well.

You must come from good stock?

SJ:  I do, and it’s weird, because a lot of the men, a lot of the folks on my mother side of the family, are either lay preachers or ordained ministers in the Methodist Church. We have one cousin who’s a Baptist preacher. I am incredibly close with my family. In fact, I need to call my mom, she worries. Her older brother is the current minister in my immediate family. When the Witches & Pagans Magazine article with that quote (The Face of NeoTribal Paganism) came out and I was on the cover of the issue, my uncle the minister was the first person to look me in the eyes and say, “You better save me a copy.” That is the people I come from, they choose love.

Do you have a message you want to get out to Pagans and your friends this year?

SJ:   If you have a choice between love and fear, choose love. We have the militarization of our police force, which clearly is becoming something we are more aware of, and it is a problem. Whenever there’s a misunderstanding, nine times out of ten, it’s because someone is afraid. They don’t want to admit that they are afraid. It is so simple to just break it down to those two things, no matter what is going on. It is either love or fear that is motivating us. It’s hard to choose love sometimes because you don’t know what you’re walking into. I understand, because I have just as many fears as anyone else. I’m trying to be more aware and more galvanized in my compassion. I came from people who taught me how to do that pretty well.

You must come from good stock?

SJ:  I do, and it’s weird, because a lot of the men, a lot of the folks on my mother side of the family, are either lay preachers or ordained ministers in the Methodist Church. We have one cousin who’s a Baptist preacher. I am incredibly close with my family. In fact, I need to call my mom, she worries. Her older brother is the current minister in my immediate family. When the Witches & Pagans Magazine article with that quote (The Face of NeoTribal Paganism) came out and I was on the cover of the issue, my uncle the minister was the first person to look me in the eyes and say, “You better save me a copy.” That is the people I come from, they choose love.

Find SJ Tucker and get her newest CD! You can check her tour calendar and follow her adventures!

Nels Linde

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