Sonya Heller...The 2009 Grand Prize Winner of the Indiegrrl Songwriters Contest for her song "Justine"
Rolling Stone, Blues Again Crossroads magazine and Luna Guitars have all endorsed this American Diva who's been serving up her secret recipe of Urban Americana, topped with a jazzy/pop hot sauce. Sharing her time between France and the US...
She's graced many stages. Here are just a few:
Les Femmes du Monde - France
Les Mots de Minuit-France 2
Songs auf dem Boot-Berlin
Divafest - Russian River, Cal.
Columbia University - NYC
Redwood College - Cal.
Five Towns College - NY
Great American Musicfest -Harrisburg Pa.
Equinox - Radio France
Club Sunside - Paris
Vashon Earth Fair - Vashon, Wa.
Norcal Womensfest - Laytonville, Ca.
Sacred World Music fest - Los Angeles, Ca.
Full Circle Fair - Blue Hill, Me.
Hickory Fest - Hickory, N.C.
Concert on the Square - Jonesboro, Tenn.
Great American Weekend - Goshen, N.Y.
and lots more.
She's received rave press reviews in:
Rolling Stone - France
Crossroads Magazine - France
Music Morsels Magazine - US
Acoustic Guitarist Magazine - France
Kaele Magazine - Switzerland
Rootsville Mag. - Belgium
Maverick Mag. - UK
"Three star "HOT STUFF" from Crossroads for her album "Fourth Floor"
Kaele magazine had this to say "Sonya is out to conquer Europe and no doubt will succeed!!"
Her music speaks for itself and simply emanates from life on the streets of NYC and an old hip soul.
The French call her "Unclassable"...or unclassifiable, never writing the same song twice.
Gracing every event with her well seasoned vocals, and her very unique brand of guitar playing, get ready for some serious stage presence!
Sonya Heller-guitar and vocals
With trio add-
Sonya Heller - "West Eleventh Street"
Sonya Heller - "4th Floor"
Sonya Heller- "All of these Things"
Singles....Justine, Sur le Pont, The Train and Take it Easy are currently on regular rotation throughout France.
I Still Want You
Before the Storm
Love comes down to Love
Which Way is Home
Sur le Pont
Take it Easy
Sonya Heller live: it is on stage that she takes on her full dimension.
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Rolling Stone review/French and English Guillaume Fourticq with English translation-Ann Kirchoffe...
Rolling Stone review/French and English
Guillaume Fourticq with English translation-Ann Kirchoffer
Sonya Heller Nearly three years after her critically-acclaimed first album “Fourth Floor”, Sonya Heller is back with her guitar, her pop-folk inspirations and “West Eleventh Street”. This is the ideal occasion to interview this very discreet artist and to learn a little more about her.
West Eleventh Street, the sequel to Fourth Floor, is Sonya Heller’s complete address in two albums - a cool place to live, according to her. The first notes of her latest album were actually written in Paris during the summer of 2007; a long time to wait for an album, especially at a time where there are constantly new releases and where even U2 has two albums scheduled in 2009. But this wait is not as long as it seems. “Actually, I didn’t really wait nine years before starting this album, I tried to get down to it a couple of times, in 2004 and 2006, before being able to do so in 2007 in Paris.” What triggered it was the writing of Justine, the first song of the album. She admits having waited for this song which sort of fell on her at a time when she needed it. It was then that the writing of the album could begin. She didn’t want to produce it in a rush, as is often the case today. For her, writing an album takes time. A general line of ideas, fifteen songs, only two or three of which will end up as is in the end.
For Sonya Heller as for all folk artists, writing is very important. And she has her own way of going about it: “When I hear a story or I see something that touches me, I hurry to write it down, word for word at first, and then I give it a form that suits me better. Even if the text is an embellishment of reality. I try to feel my experience”. In her opinion, art is about creating something universal out of one’s personal experience. And when inspiration eludes her, all she needs to do is strum a few chords on her guitar or write a few verses. As for the topics in this album, they range from her personal experiences to the dance between spirituality and sexuality.She acknowledges that she has mellowed with time which enables her to write the lighter, more pop pieces herself, as can be seen in Sur le pont and Take It Easy. “In the past I wasn't in the right place to come up with some lighter pop tunes. I didn’t really feel capable of it. I must be lightening up a little with age...(smile)”
As far as the release of her new album is concerned, she says she is both very anxious and very excited, and would like to let go of the task of production, and get back on the road to share her music. Music that draws inspiration from the likes of Sting, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Georges Moustaki or Sarah Vaughn, as well as opera, chamber music or the Yiddish singer Theodore Bikel. Very much her own artist, one has a strong sense as to the importance of these influences in her life.
Sonya Heller live: it is on stage that she takes on her full dimension.
A singing and songwriting Joan of Arc..guitar in her hand and her voice as a weapon
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Sonya Heller, born in New York City, appears to be conquering the world as a singing and songwriting...Sonya Heller, born in New York City, appears to be conquering the world as a singing and songwriting Joan of Arc, with a guitar in her hand and her voice as a weapon. France is already at her feet and Belgium will soon follow. For if it rains in Paris, the streets in Brussels will get wet! Still, it took a while before her new album came out, after her debut 'Fourth Floor'. Her parents, Miriam and Irving, well-known singers, put her on a musical journey and she soon was singing in clubs in and around New York city, soon followed by appearances at festivals in Europe, and for French television. She composed nine of the eleven songs on this new album herself. The songs lean towards folk/jazz or maybe pop/blues. In the tone of her voice you hear echoes of Joni Mitchell, whose 'Woodstock' she has recorded in a fresh own arrangement. Sonya can be compared to Jane Siberry, Ricky Lee Jones, Sarah McLachlan, Eva Cassidy and even Dionne Warwick, emotional singers who put their heart and soul in their songs and lyrics. In 'I Still Want You' she opens Pandora's box in her very own way, releasing lament, sorrow and yearning. The sad song 'Which Way Is Home', a tribute to 'Linda', evokes the disorientation in which the tragic heroin wandered. Pat Wictor underlines the desolate mood with his excellent slide guitar. Vicki Genfan sings along and when this subtle guitar player joins in with her six strings, you can hear a beautiful guitar harmony. On the heartfelt song 'Love Comes Down To Love', a welcome song for 'baby girl', Vicki joins in like a sister. Jess Willoughby plays bass with drive and intensity on 'Sur Le Pont', co-written with Vicki Genfan and Marni Rice, between her own gems. The instrumental arrangements of the songs all evoke the changing landscapes through which the songs wander in their jazzy ways. 'The Last To Know' moves with the autumnal melancholy of falling leaves, the piano and harmonica accentuate the despair. Sometimes we feel Sonya's rebellious streak, like in the magical 'Songlines', with its hauntingly exhilarating percussion, a song about the sad fate of the Australian 'bushwalkers'. I hope the words 'long as you sang you would surely survive' ring true for Sonya herself, because this musical poet is a natural composer, singer, and artist. (Marcie)
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(English translation) Tony Gieco Crossroads Magazine Sonya Heller *** Fourth Floor (Mosaic...(English translation)
Sonya Heller ***
Smooth operator! For those who might long for Sade, the beautiful “Metisse” of the 80’s, here come again those ethereal atmospheres, New York style, but with much less of a “radio” orientation. Polished work for the album from Sonya Heller, a key member of such Big Apple clubs as the Bitter end or the Knitting factory, which are true breeding grounds for talent and songwriters. Her soft and fragile music is just as welcome “coast to coast” outside New York and in most festivals of the genre. A delicate balance of folk and jazz envelops Sonya’s voice, which fits well with the spirit of the music without breaking any rules. A welcome respite from excess! Don’t look here for strident electric music, insidious super bass, or over-vitamined tempos. It’s a return instead to a timeless New York, away from fads, textures of brick loft and Mexican carpet. One thinks of course of Joni Mitchell (beautiful drums), of Carole King with a Latino flavor, or Ricky Lee Jones for the graceful and fresh arranging with a strong acoustic tendency. You get in a groove as titles follow in the warm glow of the album’s sound. The niche for “new feminine voices” is overcrowded and full of great talent. But far from the crowded channels with FM sound, Sonya easily takes her place in the “family”. As electric orgies threaten to saturate our ear-drums … it can be salutary to have this kind of album at hand.
To be kept near a bottle of Malibu…
Tony Gieco for Cross Roads (April 2006)
Sonya Heller inclassable!
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Aux Etats-Unis, on la compare souvent à Joni Mitchell avec une touche d’Annie Lennox et de Suzanne V...Aux Etats-Unis, on la compare souvent à Joni Mitchell avec une touche d’Annie Lennox et de Suzanne Vega pour la voix, un grain de Sarah Vaughan pour le côté jazzy et une pincée de Joan Baez pour les influences folk de ses chansons. Mais comme toutes les grandes chanteuses, Sonya Heller demeure inclassable.
Dans la chanson "Into the Night", une clarinette pousse sa mélopée aux accents yiddish sur la voix veloutée de l’artiste, toute en finesse et en nuances. Dans une autre, Not a Whole to Say, l’Amérique rurale, exprimée par les sonorités country du violon, part à la rencontre de... Dans la chanson "Into the Light", une clarinette pousse sa mélopée aux accents yiddish sur la voix veloutée de l’artiste, toute en finesse et en nuances. Dans une autre, Not a Whole to Say, l’Amérique rurale, exprimée par les sonorités country du violon, part à la rencontre de rythmiques plus jazzy évoquant l’atmosphère particulière des rues new yorkaises. De même, les paroles laissent une place non négligeable à un certain mysticisme à la fois soft et coloré qui ne s’encombre pas de préchi-précha inutile (King of Kings, Body Wisdom…). De la beauté et de la simplicité avant tout… A l’inverse des politiques formatées de certaines maisons de disques, Sonya Heller ose le mélange des genres dans un ensemble parfaitement équilibré, témoignant par-là de l’authenticité expressive de sa démarche. Les médias américains s’accordent à dire qu’il s’agit probablement de l’une des meilleures chanteuses de pop/folk que les Etats-Unis aient entendu depuis longtemps. Et, en effet, ce tout premier album solo atteste sans nul doute du talent de l’artiste qui nous réserve encore bien d’autres surprises. Très éloignées des tubes aux mélodies faciles qui saturent quotidiennement notre cerveau, les chansons de Sonya Heller sont à écouter au coin du feu, bien au chaud sous la couette. Ou encore en vous levant du pied gauche le matin. Effet zen garanti !
Chronique de Zicazic
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Egérie des clubs new-yorkais du genre Bitter End ou Knitting Factory, Sonya Heller a acquis ses galo...Egérie des clubs new-yorkais du genre Bitter End ou Knitting Factory, Sonya Heller a acquis ses galons à l’école du jazz, du folk, de la pop et du blues mais aussi dans un registre classique où elle a vécu ses premières expériences de guitariste. Chanteuse au coffre digne de Sade ou de Norah Jones, la jeune femme n’en est qu’à son premier essai discographique et pourtant la presse internationale ne tarit pas d’éloges à son sujet, citant régulièrement en comparaison Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young ou Ricky Lee Jones … Bien décidée à frapper un grand coup, Sonya Heller nous sert un cocktail musical absolument délicieux qui se boit sans aucune gène et qui séduit dès les premiers vers. Piano plus voix ou voix plus guitare sont autant d’ingrédients qui, mélangés avec finesse et tact, conduisent à des ivresses irrésistibles …
Donner du cœur et de l’âme à des chansons, aussi bien écrites soient elles, est un petit plus que peu de ces nouvelles chanteuses à la voix ample et généreuse sont capables de donner ! Sonya Heller fait partie des quelques élues pour qui mélanger jazz et pop n’est pas un handicap, bien au contraire, et à qui tout sourit immanquablement dès lors qu’il s’agit de s’exprimer sur de délicats enchaînements d’arpèges. Usant avec beaucoup de savoir d’un groove imperturbable, l’artiste multiplie non seulement les couleurs mais aussi les saveurs et nous plonge de temps à autres vers la soul ou la musique orientale d’une façon plutôt discrète mais bigrement efficace. Glissant sans heurt d’un « Before The Storm » à un « Can Get To Heaven » ou d’un « Body Wisdom » à un « Until Then », « Fourth Floor » gravit un à un les étages du succès grâce à l’utilisation ingénieuse d’une voix d’une infinie richesse et à un talent d’écriture qui pousse chaque note et chaque rime dans leurs derniers retranchements pour leur donner diverses nuances encore plus agréables à chaque nouvelle écoute. Sans aucune violence de ton inutile, Sonya Heller rappelle que l’on peut avoir une voix forte et riche sans forcément beugler des « Je t’ai-meuuuuuuuuuh » de façon inconsidérée dans un micro et que l’on peut écrire des chansons qui tiennent très la route sans forcément faire appel à Goldman … C’est quand même rassurant !
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Sonya Heller - Fourth Floor The Big Apple's latest gift to the singer/songwriter world may be one o...Sonya Heller - Fourth Floor
The Big Apple's latest gift to the singer/songwriter world may be one of the most ear-opening in a long time. A bit Joan Baez, a little P.J. Harvey and even a breath of Gillian Welch are felt here, but overall this is about a lady with a wonderful emotive timbre to her voice, weaving poignant stories from the heart with unique vocalizing styles. The songs are very well-composed, from the subtly snappy folk vibe of "Before The Storm" and rainy night smooth jazz of "Not A Whole Lot to Say" to the haunting lilt of "King of Kings." Phenomenal guitar plucking by Sonya and stellar instrumental back-ups add extra spice.
French Press/Top Ten Picks
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Peu connue en France, cette artiste a néanmoins su gagner le cœur de nombreux fans outre-atlantique...Peu connue en France, cette artiste a néanmoins su gagner le cœur de nombreux fans outre-atlantique. Aux Etats-Unis, on la compare souvent à Joni Mitchell avec une touche d’Annie Lennox et de Suzanne Vega pour la voix, un grain de Sarah Vaughan pour le côté jazzy et une pincée de Joan Baez pour les influences folk de ses chansons. Mais comme toutes les grandes chanteuses, Sonya Heller demeure inclassable.
Dans la chanson Into the Night, une clarinette pousse sa mélopée aux accents yiddish sur la voix veloutée de l’artiste, toute en finesse et en nuances. Dans une autre, Not a Whole to Say, l’Amérique rurale, exprimée par les sonorités country du violon, part à la rencontre de rythmiques plus jazzy évoquant l’atmosphère particulière des rues new yorkaises.
De même, les paroles laissent une place non négligeable à un certain mysticisme à la fois soft et coloré qui ne s’encombre pas de préchi-précha inutile (King of Kings, Body Wisdom…). De la beauté et de la simplicité avant tout…
A l’inverse des politiques formatées de certaines maisons de disques, Sonya Heller ose le mélange des genres dans un ensemble parfaitement équilibré, témoignant par-là de l’authenticité expressive de sa démarche. Les médias américains s’accordent à dire qu’il s’agit probablement de l’une des meilleures chanteuses de pop/folk que les Etats-Unis aient entendu depuis longtemps.
Et, en effet, ce tout premier album solo atteste sans nul doute du talent de l’artiste qui nous réserve encore bien d’autres surprises. Très éloignées des tubes aux mélodies faciles qui saturent quotidiennement notre cerveau, les chansons de Sonya Heller sont à écouter au coin du feu, bien au chaud sous la couette. Ou encore en vous levant du pied gauche le matin. Effet zen garanti !
Fourth Floor ... Attention dans les bacs Printemps 2006 !
Fourth Floor/No elevator Needed!
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Kaele: What are your first childhood memories as it relates to music? S.H. I remember growing ...Kaele: What are your first childhood memories as it relates to music?
S.H. I remember growing up in New York, with a house full of my old Russian relatives who all played stringed instruments from violin to guitar and hearing music all the time. My fondest memories are of my Mother who had a crystalline soprano, a complete natural and could play anything on the piano without having to read any music. My parents played the folk music of Theodore Bikel, Miriam Akeba, and Geula Gil, so I had the influence of international Folk Music at a very young age. I remember sitting down at the piano at the age of three, and playing Mary Had a Little Lamb using only the black keys. Playing the recorder with my sister probably around the age of 5 or 6 and driving my brother crazy in the car on long family trips to the country. I remember the first guitar my father bought me at the age of 14 for $25- That was the beginning for me. I would lock myself up in my room for hours on end with all the guitar chord books of my favorite artists, trying to learn every thing I possibly could on my own.
Kaele: Can you describe what the scene is like in N.Y these days and where you you fit in?
S.H. There’s a vibrant scene in NYC even though no one can afford to live here anymore! We have great new clubs and the revitalization of old ones. We have songwriter circles, where a group of us get together every month, share songs, and give critique in order to keep improving our craft. We have open mic’s at local clubs on nights that are not very busy where 1—15 songwriters sing two songs each in front of an audience of peers and club goers. It’s a great way to be in a club atmosphere without the pressure and get the song out there to the public before you go on tour. I am also on the planning committee for several music organizations like Indiegrrl.com that promote and support the independent artist. The internet has completely globalized the concept of community! So while I’m in New York, the scene extends around the world.
Kaele: There are some obvious influences in you music (Folk, Jazz vocal and Pop) and a penchant for the exotic like Middle Eastern, Klezmer. Do you see those as personality traits of yours or your identity?
S.H. I see each album as a journal of my life at a particular moment.This album reflects both my identity and my personality. Certainly my Russian and Jewish heritage have influenced my style of writing and singing. There is a dark poetry, a sweet sadness, a tainted joy that emerges out of the souls of a strong and oppressed people. I believe I embody both those qualities thru the voice my Mother and all my ancestors passed on to me. With that I must add the great sensitivity and vision of my Producer, Hui Cox, who has worked with everyone from Richie Havens to Liza Minelli.
Kaele: Who are the voices in the world of Pop, Jazz or others who really touch you?
S.H. For harmony, without doubt, Crosby Stills and Nash. For one of most groundbreaking and eclectic singer/songwriters, …Laura Nyro. For the poets, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. For the honey, Sarah Vaughan. For the “edge”…Kurt Cobain. For sheer brilliance every which way…Sting!
Kaele: Tell us about your creative process. How do you start writing?
S.H. I sit with my guitar, a notebook and a tape recorder. I start to play and sing anything. I try to write without thinking too much and ask questions later. To ask them too soon is to censor yourself and the creative process. A friend recently told me, what you write is none of your business! Just get out of the way and let it happen. Other times, for instance, when you are commissioned to write something specific, it’s purely an exercise in good craftsmanship. Either way, it is an amazing experience.
Kaele: So whats your pull to the other side of the Atlantic? What is it about Europe?
S.H. Maybe this is my fantasy, but if it is, I prefer never to know the truth. Europe for me is a journey back to my Grandmother's way of life, and my Mother's roots. Where Elders are respected and Age is not a crime. Where a Womans beauty is revered at any point in her life. Where the Artist is still respected as a great contributor to society and is offered support. Where food is bought fresh everyday at the market, and people are properly greeted upon entering a place of business. Where taking ones time eating, drinking or having a coffee is still what makes sense.I love the closeness in proximity from one country to the next. The abrupt change in language, taste, smell, dress, attitude and body language. As an American, this is the most fascinating.
Although I have to say there are places in the US where I have not understood my own language because the accent is so thick. I can’t imagine how that is for a foreigner.
Kaele: Who are your favorite French singers?
S.H. With my roots in folk music, I have to say that George Moustaki is one of my favorite French songwriters. “Ma Solitude” and so many of his songs are exquisite. In a class by themselves you have Claude Nougaro and his “Toulouse”, Leo Ferre “Avec le Temps” and Jacques Brel. These are artists of such intense passion.
Kaele: The beauty of your voice is that you're able to cross into so many musical genres. You seem to enjoy the challenge of exploring and taking adventures into new frontiers.
S.H. Yes, absolutely. I worked recently on the Psalms of Ra with composer Jim Berenholtz. These are ancient Egyptian and Hebrew texts put to classical music using both Middle Eastern and Western instruments. I’ve sung on German electronica music and I am always looking for something very cool to do with my voice. It’s a very special gift, and I’m always open to pushing the limit!
Into the Night
Always in Time
Before the Storm
Looking for the Sun
Cant Get to Heaven
Which Way is Home
I Can Feel Your Hand
Not a Whole Lot to Say
I Wanna Be
Don't You Leave Me
King of Kings
Gabriel and Julie
All of These Things
Take it Easy
44 Years and Waiting
The Last to Know
I Still Want You
Sur Le Pont
The Last to Know
and many more...
Typical sets run around 40-45 minutes and between 9-10 songs each. I don't do covers normally, but I'm happy to take requests!
There are no upcoming dates at this time.