Hi guys, today I’m excited to be interviewing Alani Sugar! Welcome Alani, for those who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, my name is Alani Sugar, I am an 18 year old bluegrass fiddle player and I’m from Maryland (Baltimore area). I’ve been playing fiddle for about 9 years.
So how’d you get your start in music? Was fiddle your first instrument?
I started playing music when I was 9 years old. I joined my school orchestra in fourth grade and started learning violin in school. It wasn’t until four years later, my mom signed me up for violin lessons at a local music shop, that I discovered fiddle tunes. Which eventually led me to bluegrass. The teacher that I was paired with happened to be a bluegrass fiddle player.
And did your classical background help in learning bluegrass? And were there any ways it slowed you down?
I would say my classical background helped me learn the basics of technique, which were pretty helpful in starting to play bluegrass. It also helped me learn how to read music, which is a huge asset for me since not all bluegrass musicians can read music. I don’t think there are really any ways that it slowed me down.
So how’s the bluegrass scene in your area? Was there lots of jams to attend right away, or were they hard to find?
In Baltimore, we have a really great bluegrass scene. And lots of other traditional music as well. There is a lot of Irish music, Old Time, Gypsy Jazz, Trad Jazz, etc. There is a bluegrass and an old time jam that I attend regularly, and there is also no shortage of other events to be involved in. Plenty of bluegrass/ old time concerts, house concerts, square dances, even festivals.
That’s awesome! So what bands have you been in?And have you recorded or been part of making any CDs?
So, I play in my bluegrass band, Ghost Sugar. Our website is ghostsugarband.com. We have a lot of fun playing together and I have learned a lot from my bandmates since we formed a little over a year ago.
I also am a regular guest with a local group called Morning Sky. They are a husband/wife duo that sing beautiful harmonies and play guitar and mandolin.
I have not recorded with either of these groups yet, but I did record fiddle on the song “A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss” on Jim Bell’s album, “She Turn’s Me On”.
Cool! So what are five of your favorite albums, and how have they influenced you musically?
Hmm, good question! In no particular order:
1. Charm City Junction- Charm City Junction
2. Charm City Junction- Duckpin
3. Travelin’ McCourys- Travelin’ McCourys
4. Che Apalache- Latingrass
5. Che Apalache- Rearrange My Heart
These three bands all have members that are friends or mentors of mine. The fiddle player in Charm City Junction was my first fiddle teacher (Patrick McAvinue). He was the person that introduced me to fiddle music and I have no idea where I would be today if I had never met him.
The fiddle player in the Travelin’ McCourys (Jason Carter) is one of my other fiddle mentors. I met him at a music camp (Delfest Academy) in May of 2016. I really like his style of fiddling, and strive to emulate it. Not to mention he is just a wonderful person and I enjoy playing music with him.
Che Apalache: I am good friends with all the members of this band. And their fiddle player (Joe Troop) is a mentor of mine as well. I love their music, and the message they share with the world. They are some of the nicest people I know, and I enjoy spending time with them, as well as learning things from them.
And who are five musicians who you think don’t get the recognition they deserve?
1. Sam Stuckey- he’s an up and coming Pittsburg based musician. Really good guitar player, singer, songwriter, and band leader
2. Ricky Mier- One of the most talented and versatile banjo players I’ve ever heard. He also is great at mixing bluegrass with electronic music, which you would never guess could go together so well.
3. Dean Phillips- Really talented traditional bluegrass banjo player. He has only been playing about 5 years, I believe. But plays like a professional. And he learned from Baltimore banjo player, Mike Mumford.
4. Akira Otsuka- He’s basically the Japanese Bill Monroe. He played in one of the first bluegrass bands in Japan, now he lives in Maryland, plays shows every once in a while, and is also a producer.
5. Garrett Wren- He plays many instruments, including mandolin, guitar, and four string banjo, and many styles, including old time, Irish, and bluegrass. Very versatile and virtuosic musician.
So how many types of instruments do you play?
Well my main instrument is fiddle. I also can play a little bit of mandolin, guitar, and a tiny bit of clawhammer banjo. But the only instrument I “really” play, is fiddle.
Tell us about your fiddle? Do you have multiple fiddles, and which is your favorite?
I only have one fiddle, and although it’s not a very nice fiddle, I love it and am content playing it. I surely would buy a nicer one if I had the means, but I do really love the one I have.
Do you know anything about the history of your fiddle, or how you came by it?
I believe it is a German fiddle from the mid-1800s, but don’t quote me on that. I got it from a lady named Amy Hopkins, from New Freedom, Pennsylvania. She is a great instrument builder, luthier, and private music teacher.
Does it have a name? And if so, what, and is there a story behind it?
Yes! My fiddle’s name is Lindsey, named after the violinist Lindsey Stirling, who was one of my heroes around the time that I got this fiddle.
Cool! Have you written any songs or tunes?
Yes! Well, I’m just learning how to write. I wrote an instrumental tune over the summer, called Camel Ride. It was inspired by my first time riding a camel. I thought the experience was so fun, I was texting all my friends afterwards and telling them about it. Later that night, I was busking on the streets of Jerusalem, when (one of the people I texted) Jason Carter, who is a mentor of mine, texted me back and said I should write a tune about it. So I started improvising a tune right there, and that’s where the idea came from. If you’re interested, here’s the link to my bands version of the tune:
I have been dabbling with the idea of writing songs with lyrics, and have written some songs, but I haven’t showed them to anyone yet. So maybe one day.
That’s cool, I love that casual name drop lol. So last year you did a fiddle tune every day, which is how I found you, what was the reason for the tune a day challenge?
Well there were a couple of reasons I did it. I first saw this challenge done by Fergal Scahill, a great irish fiddler, in 2017 (and again in 2019). Turns out a bunch of other people have done it, including Vi Wickam in 2012 and Patti Kusturok in 2015 and then again in 2019. At first I was interested in watching these videos but never considered doing the challenge myself. My first fiddle teacher, Patrick McAvinue, started this challenge at the beginning of 2018. That’s kind of what planted the seed that I could possibly do it too. So I started planning and preparing. Patrick only lasted about 50 days with the challenge, so that partly made me really excited to do the challenge because I knew I could “beat” him.
And what did you learn from doing the challenge? (Other than a bunch of awesome tunes)
I definitely learned that there are so many fiddle tunes, practically an infinite amount of tunes to learn, especially if you take into account all the different folk music traditions (bluegrass, old time, irish, scottish, new england, etc.)
The other thing is more of a thing I learned about myself: I have the willpower to set a goal and stick to it until I achieve it. Something that apparently not everyone has.
So what’s next?
Well I have been working on some new projects lately. I have been trying to learn how to teach, so I have a few students but have been looking for some more. I’ve been playing with my band, Ghost Sugar, a lot lately, and having a lot of fun with that, and also learning a ton. I’m learning how to sing, and how to sing harmony, both which are so hard! I also am hoping to get involved in more bands so I can learn and play even more. My goal is to become a professional musician, and in due time, I think I can do it!
Is there any question that I didn’t ask that you wanted to be asked?
No, I think that’s good! Maybe also mention again that your viewers should check out my band, Ghost Sugar on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and our website, ghostsugarband.com. And that I’m available to teach fiddle lessons in person or via Skype. They can find more info on my website, alanisugar.weebly.com.
Otherwise, thanks so much for interviewing me!
Ok thanks for taking the time to chat with me, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors!
Y’all be sure to check out everything Alani is up to here:
Alani’s YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtBE4i3o_AagaEBzJQf6V5g
Alani’s website: alanisugar.weebly.com
Band YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCqemn_oxk5Mww6JdRDnODQ
Band website: ghostsugarband.com
Band facebook: facebook.com/ghostsugar
Band instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ghostsugarband
Hope y’all found this interview interesting! Till next time
Thanks so much for having me!
Y’all thanks for reading!