Moody Little Sister, aka modern folk duo Rob Stroup and Naomi Sparrow, promises audiences on its Northwest tour a paradigmatic shift in its music this summer.
Fans may remember the duo from past shows at Britt Festivals venues. Britt President and CEO Donna Briggs called their music “strong and memorable ... Naomi and Rob are provocative performing artists and agents of social change.”
Moody Little Sister performs at 7 p.m. Friday, June 15, at Headwaters, 84 Fourth St., Ashland. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Justin Gordon joins them. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com/event/3425517 or at the door.
It was a change of scenery that brought about a serendipitous progression as natural to the duo as its original approach to music.
“I always wrote songs,” Sparrow says. “I wasn’t trying to be famous or even trying to be a musician. Songs were a part of my life before I played an instrument.”
One day in 2010, Sparrow, know then as Naomi Hooley, left her home in Juneau, Alaska, with her 140-pound Labrador named Titan and drove the Alcan Highway to Portland to seriously pursue songwriting.
She met her husband, Stroup, the same year. A record producer at his Eight Ball Studio in Portland, he produced her first solo record, “It Was a Great October.” Stroup also produced music by Portland artists Tony Furtado, Anna Tivel, Skybound Blue of McMinnville, Chris Robley and others.
The couple shared similarities from the beginning: Each was raised in a religious family, isolated from mainstream music, and lacked any formal musical training.
Their songwriting — with Sparrow on piano and Stroup on guitar — reflected the melancholy of those experiences, along with the constant rain in the Northwest.
“It rained all of the time in Juneau,” Sparrow says. “There’s a thousand ways to say gray. And it’s rainy and dark much of the time in Portland. I think it affected my songwriting deeply. There’s so much emotion behind the depressive or melancholy feelings that I felt writing happy songs was out of my wheelhouse. It felt unnatural because of the environment I was in.”
As it turned out, the couple was fortunate enough to be invited on an eight-day rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The trip was expense-free on the condition Moody Little Sister would provide entertainment on the trip. With a piano much too cumbersome for such a trip, Sparrow got busy and taught herself to play guitar.
“It was my first time ever being in the desert,” Sparrow says. “I fell in love with it and decided we needed to tour places we’d never been to before in the Southwest.
“My husband was reading ‘The Good Life Lab’ by New Mexico author Wendy Tremayne. He contacted her, and she set up a show in a town called Truth or Consequences. We built our first Southwest tour around that booking.”
The desert air and sunshine appealed to the couple so much, they packed up — recording studio and all — and moved to Truth or Consequences.
“We call it ‘The Vortex’ now that we live here,” Sparrow says. “We’re not the only artists drawn to the place. It’s a growing artistic community.”
After a time in the sunnier climate, the couple noticed a tangible difference in their songwriting.
“I didn’t think I was capable of writing upbeat or light-hearted songs like the ones we’re doing lately,” Sparrow says. “The population here is made up of gritty, salty hard-working people. Even the plants, the cactuses and agaves have to be tough to live in the environment. I feel like the desert pulls on personal grit and determination.
“It’s actually a lot like living in Alaska, but with sun, light, levity and permission to expand the borders of songwriting. The darkness of Alaska and Portland felt so suppressive. A lot of time is spent indoors, where in the desert time is spent outside in the yard, under the stars, and in all that wide-open space. I feel like I can expand to be a bigger person.
“We’re excited to have the influences of the Northwest and Southwest in our music,” Sparrow says. “It will make a balanced batch of songwriting, and hopefully make our next record better than anything we’ve ever made.”
Moody Little Sister’s new single, “I Got Soul,” will be available on CD at the duo’s shows on this Northwest tour.
“This is a new paradigm for us,” Sparrow says. “We’re creating a new relationship with our fans. It’s all new to them ... and to us.”
See moodylittlesister.com for music and tour information.