Portland singer-songwriter Tara Velarde fuses a wide range of vocals and Latin rhythms to create a concoction I can only describe as diva folk. In the course of one album, Velarde maneuvers her voice from feathery to spine-tingling. You could compare her to Ingrid Michaelson or Laura Marling, but she raises the bar for folk-pop with her experimental and multi-influential mash-ups within the genre.
Velarde has been churning out tunes for a decade, releasing her first full-length album, Get Out and Walk, in July 2015. “I have a rule for myself,” she says. “If I feel like a song is coming on and I’m going to start writing something, then that is more important than anything else. I’ll skip class, call in sick to work or miss a holiday and be like, ‘Sorry, I was writing a song!’”
In order to write, she has to be alone. Period. Then the magic happens: She fuses a mixture of blunt and angelic vocals to express lyrics that sound like a soul put to melody.
Velarde’s influences as a musician stem from her family, but her experience in teaching kids introductory music has been a catalyst for some parts of her performance career.
“When you’re teaching a classroom of fourth graders, you have to be really confident in what you say and you have to be able to monologue,” she says. “You can’t have any pauses or breaks.”
Her deeply rooted ties with music, plus a solid group of new band mates, are taking Velarde’s folk fusion in a direction she’s been waiting for. Stephanie Landtiser (keys and vocals) pulls of stunning harmonies alongside Velarde, while Bryan Mejia (bass) and Joe Deardorff (percussion) keep the rhythm steady as their songs hop from bluegrass to borderline Celtic. Former Eugenean and fellow folksy singer-songwriter Olivia Awbry fills in on backing vocals and guitar.
Velarde says she hopes more folks will join the crew in time, but at the end of the day, she’s just happy to finally be a frontwoman — and diva — at the mic.
Catch Tara Velarde plus Americana duo The Grahams and self-proclaimed psychedelic Motown band Flies With Honey 10 pm Thursday, Dec. 8, at Hi-Fi Music Hall; $5. 21-plus. — Kelsey Anne Rankin