While Sabine McCalla is living and creating during modern days, this nuanced artist’s songwriting takes the listener back several, to pre/post-war eras brimming with the sounds the Folk Music Revival. Combining elements of gospel, folk, soul, blues, and Americana, Sabine spins stories of heartbreak and hope through intimate arrangements and honest inflections. Having amassed a loyal following in New Orleans and beyond, Sabine’s music has been featured by the likes of Spotify Editorial Playlists, national tour dates, and collaborations with like-minded peers, such as Eli “Paperboy” Reed, & sister Leyla McCalla. With her fully-crowdfunded, full-length album set to release Fall 2023, we caught up with this featured artist from our 5th Annual Music for Mental Health Benefit (2022) to chat all things music and mental health – read on for Sabine’s musings!
How would you describe your creative work in three words?
What is the earliest memory you have that made you think, “I want to do that!” in regard to pursuing music and the creative arts?
I hadn’t imagined myself becoming a musician. It was something that happened through time. It came through finding myself. I had always had an obsession with music; learning about different genres, making playlists, singing at the top of my lungs with my head phones in while cleaning my room. It took a lot of people saying, “You’re good at this.” And a desire to share a song.
Your music career has been nuanced, lush, and dynamic - from solo shows to ensemble work, background vocals to lead performances, playing local houses (Music Box Village!) to national tours. That's a lot of movement and growth in the creative process! With this trajectory in mind, how have your musical endeavors changed over time?
I began my start in New Orleans by just singing in backyards. I imagined that that’s what it was like pre-war, it helped me meet some incredible musicians whom I’ve recorded with, played with, sung with, and have overall deeply inspired me. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been able to have these past few years, and I’m excited to be putting out more music soon. I’d like to create more work, and collaborate with more artists, and develop a wider audience.
Allen Toussaint once stated, “Music is everything to me short of breathing. Music also has a role to lift you up-not to be escapist but to take you out of misery.” Reflecting on this sentiment, how has music gotten you through hard times in your life?
Music has helped me sing the blues away. It’s been there for me when I’m lonely, sad, and scared. It’s helped me give new perspective to situations. It has led me to feel compassion for myself, and others. And, has been a way to vocalize my inner desires. It does uplift me, like Toussaint once stated, and the confidence that that brings.
What does the phrase “Music for the Mind” mean to you?
It’s about having the music that you need for your mind in the moment. Music that nourishes you.
In addition to music as a cathartic measure, what other resources or coping tools do you use for your own mental well-being?
I have a few friends that I call on to talk to. I try to not focus too hard on things, or people, that aren’t serving me. I’ve recently started to focus on what pleasures me. Like spending time with friends, family, and my partner, and being active; sharing food, going on adventures, exploring the wilderness.
As we close our interview, what are some final thoughts that you’d like to leave our readers with?
I’d like to say thank you to those that are reading this, and have used my music to find solace in. I hope you find some creative practice, or spend time learning something that interests you. Finding joy in creation or learning can help bring you to a better place.
Find more on Sabine & her music at:
All photos by Dominique Richard for the Brett Thomas Doussan (BTD) Foundation.