When Sylvia Grape’s “dear Ma” grounded her for five months in high school, she had no idea it would lead to a profession as a singer-songwriter. The old guitar lying around the house took on a certain sparkle. “I just picked it up and started fiddling with it,” Grape says. She’d found a companion in her isolation.
It’s nothing new for a high schooler to grab a guitar and start channeling angst into original songs, but from the start, Grape’s music stunned with its evocative lyrics, melodic hooks, and full-blown arrangements. She sounded more like a lost treasure of the ’70s than the unknown novice she was.
“It was a good outlet for me, a way to narrate my life, to be able to reflect on events a little bit and transform them into something that I feel more in control over,” Grape says.
She began playing wherever she could around her Kelseyville home in NorCal: local bars, country hoedowns, backyards. Audiences were enchanted by this young girl whose voice could glissade down from sweet trills into a worldly huskiness. Backed by nothing more than her guitar, she sang with the free experimentation of Regina Spektor and the ethereal power of Stevie Nicks. She has always filled her sets with her own songs.
Following a visit to her brother at UC Santa Cruz, she wrote a song about the town: “Santa Cruz, your mountains make me wholesome. Santa Cruz, I’m crazy crazy for you.” Before long, she was on campus as a freshman. Now a third-year psychology student, she continues to hold space in her life for music.
“I play every day. I’ve had to make it a routine for myself, turn it more into a habit, maybe ritualize it a bit even.”
This steady practice has made her a coveted performer, with bookings at local venues like the Blue Lounge and Rosie McCann’s. As her self-confidence has increased, so has her ambition to take her shows beyond mere entertainment.
“I don’t have much anxiety about playing shows anymore. But I used to. My main thought going into it was ‘let’s just do this, let’s just power through, finish it.’ Now I think I want something more—healing even. As a singer-songwriter, I don’t have a band I’m playing with. So I feel like a good way to expand my music community is to do it with an audience, and to feel like I’m connecting with people.”
The themes of self-care and healthy community pop up throughout her lyrics. “Being myself is harder than I thought,” she sings in “Unfamiliar Places and People.” In “Santa Cruz”: “Come closer now, leave your comfort zones, join hands with another stranger.” This is heartwarming music for troubled times.
Grape is currently putting the finishing touches on her first album, which will feature a collection of songs dating back to her earliest efforts. In the meantime, new songs keep pouring out of her in an ever-evolving response to her world and the wider one shared by all.
Sylvia Grape will perform at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 9 at the Blue Lounge with Revel Era and Myles Morgan, and at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 11 at Felix Kulpa Gallery as part of Phantaura Art Show. Follow Sylvia Grape on SoundCloud at soundcloud.com/sylviagrape.