Hurray for the Riff Raff are not your average folk band, and the story of their lead singer is certainly everything but. Alynda Lee Segarra was a 17-year-old girl fascinated by punk rock and the world outside of the borough of the Bronx in New York. She ran away from her aunt and uncle’s home and found her way around the country aboard freight trains. Alynda finally found a place to call home in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she made ends meet by (seriously) playing washboard in a group called Dead Man’s Street Orchestra. As she met other musicians and learned more tunes, Alynda found a home for her smoky vocals when she founded Hurray for the Riff Raff. Comprised of Alynda, Yosi Perlstein, David Maclay, and guests, the band combines a contemporary soft-rock and soulful sound with the timeless folk of Bob Dylan and the Band. Their new record, “Young Blood Blues,” is out now. Alynda shared some of her fascinating story with Cherry Grrl.
Cherry Grrl (CG): Thanks for your time. First of all, “Daniella” is my favorite tune by you guys. Can you tell me about writing that song?
Alynda Lee Segarra (ALS): It’s one of the first songs I ever wrote. I felt that a girl named Danielle really deserved a love song, so I wrote it. It felt great to write a catchy song people could sing to; one that was simple enough that there were a lot of possibilities for it.
CG: I read that you “hopped freight trains in the States” for a while after you ran away. What is the story there?
ALS: A long story is there – too long to [summarize] here. I rode freight trains for a while, a couple of years, a short period compared to others. Most hobos are hobos for life, and ride for ten years or more. I am a baby in those terms – it’s not out of my system, but my life definitely changed enough that it doesn’t make sense to travel that way anymore. I miss it, and I respect those who are still out there doing it. It’s a very secret world in a lot of ways and I want to keep it that way, out of respect.
CG: What artists did you listen to growing up, and how did they influence your pursuit of music?
ALS: Growing up I was obsessed with 1950′s musicals. As a kid, around ages 5 to 10, I would watch “West Side Story” and “The Wizard of Oz” repeatedly. I would learn all the words and try to imitate the singing, as best as possible. Especially with Judy Garland, I worked really hard on capturing her pronunciation and tone. There is something so warm and clear about her voice, it’s very strong and yet it doesn’t overdo her “smoky” sound. She goes right for the song and doesn’t overplay anything. I recently understood how much that helped me.
Later, I got into punk rock of course, being a little weirdo. I loved the energy of the shows and listened to a lot of Kathleen Hannah of Bikini Kill. She made me love women before I understood I did too. Before I was too shy or scared to say I was a feminist I was singing along to “Rebel Girl” and when I got older and fell into folk music I found inspiration in all the greats: Odetta, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Bessie Smith. I sang a lot of Bessie songs when I was a street performer. They’re great to belt out, they taught me how to be powerful. Growing up, I stayed away from the classics like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Neil Young, etc. I wanted to listen to more women, and I’m glad I did. It made me search. Only recently did I start to really get into those guys and now I feel I can fully appreciate it, with my own background. I can learn from them now. It’s really exciting. (continued on next page)