The fast track from Taylor Swift to Jim Morrison
Syracuse, N.Y. rising star Sydney Irving’s musical journey may be just beginning, but she’s already been nominated for three major regional songwriting awards.
History tells us that Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships. Facebook tells us that Taylor Swift was the star that launched a thousand guitars.
One of them is in the hands of Syracuse, New York’s Sydney Irving, who, right now, is in the process of recording her third full-length studio album.
Irving’s dad—a pretty serious music lover himself—had actually purchased a birthday guitar, a white electric, for Irving when she was 9, but she’s not sheepish about admitting that it sat in her bedroom corner gathering dust until she discovered Swift, who became, as she has for so many aspiring young musicians, something of a lodestar.
“I think it was just how she could write a song about her life and what she was going through,” Irving says, “and you could connect with it immediately.”
A Breedlove Passport 12-string followed the next Christmas, a gift inspired by Swift’s jangly strum. Once she got to playing and writing herself, Irving, now 16, didn’t look back. As noted, she is already deep into tracking a third disc of original tunes with producer Steve Sopchak. They’ve established an efficient two party system in the studio, and Irving plays live on her own and with her backing trio, The Mojo (as in the Muddy Waters’ classic “Got My Mojo Working”), at venues throughout central New York and the Salt City.
“When it's solo,” she says, “it's a little more intimate, and I can improvise. But, with the band, there's definitely more power behind you. And I love playing with these guys, because together you can make sounds that you can't make by yourself.”
Like many contemporary artists, Irving splits the difference live between her own work and songs that have touched her, and which she hopes will affect others. Swift was the early wellspring, but Tom Petty is her current hero. Her tastes also embrace ZZ Top, Post Malone, Barns Courtney and, perhaps not surprisingly, bad boy Ryan Adams, who actually recorded his own tribute to Swift’s 1989, covering the entire album.
“Throughout the years, I’ve discovered a lot more music,” Irving says, “and that’s where it all comes from.”
Irving, who has been nominated as singer/songwriter for three Syracuse Area Music Awards, has long played a Made in Bend Breedlove Premier Concert Copper CE, and also uses a Breedlove Lu'Au Concert Natural Shadow CE ukulele, which, she says, makes familiar chord shapes sound fresh. She has a symbiotic relationship with her instrument.
“It's a great guitar. I love the tone and how it feels in my hands. It's got a great balance, so I can do a lot of fingerpicking and then hard strumming, and you can hear both of them equally through the PA.”
“I just love playing. I can just be who I am, and simply having a guitar in my hand puts everything at ease. Maybe I don't feel the greatest on any given day, but that night I go and play a show and I just feel a lot better.”
Breedlove’s commitment to the environment makes Irving feel better, too, especially as she’s now rocking an all solid wood Organic Collection Performer Concerto Bourbon CE.
“It's important to keep the earth healthy,” she says regarding the instrument’s sustainably sourced exotic tonewoods.
Unlike many of her fellow working musicians, Irving is striking a different kind of balance, juggling attendance at high school with gigs at high profile spots like Binghamton’s Spiedie Fest (supporting Starship featuring Mickey Thomas) and Turning Stone Resort & Casino on evenings and weekends. She knows enough to take both seriously.
“Right now, during the academic year, the week is for school and the weekend is for music. So you do your homework, then later you can play guitar. I try my best to keep up with it, but it's definitely tough sometimes.
Irving is adamant, though, that the music is real, and she sees it as the path forward for her life. Given the sheer hooks and songcraft of numbers like “Flames” (from 2018’s The Halfmoon Sessions) and “Weighing Me Down” (from 2017’s Hello Stranger) she well should.
“I write what I know,” she says matter-of-factly, echoing Woody Guthrie’s sage advice. “You can't really write anything that you don't, so I explore emotions and feelings, stories I hear from other people or things I'm going through. My lyrics aren't super upfront; they’re a little more coded. It’s tricky, it can still feel like people are reading your diary, but I've done it since I was young, so it's not that difficult.”
An unabashed fan of classic rock, Irving notes that legendary Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison has recently, particularly from a lyrical standpoint, taken stronger sway over her work.
“I feel like my songs are a little more dark,” she laughs knowingly. “They're definitely not as dark as his, but we're working on a new EP right now, too, and the songs are ... well … they’re not super bubble gummy, that’s for sure.”
Interviewed & Written By Michael Eck