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Norman Music Fest: Q&A with Oklahoma native Abbigale Dawn

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Abbigale Dawn

Abbigale Dawn will perform as a solo artist at Norman Music Fest at 7 p.m. April 26 at Sergio’s Italian Bistro. She will perform with The Makebelieve at 1:30 p.m. April 27 on the Gray Street Stage.

Oklahoma native singer-songwriter Abbigale Dawn will return to the state to perform at Norman Music Fest both as a solo artist and with her band Abbigale Dawn and The Makebelieve.

Dawn, an alternative indie singer-songwriter, released her EP “Abbigale Dawn” in April 2018 with The Makebelieve, whom she has performed with since 2017. Dawn recently moved to Colorado and still performs occasionally.

Dawn said she wants to produce more music in the future, whether that be with The Makebelieve, as a solo artist or with a backup band in Colorado.

The Daily spoke with the musician about how she became a singer-songwriter, what inspires her music, how her sound as a soloist is different from her sound performing with The Makebelieve, and more.

Q: How would you describe your upbringing and how did you get into making music?

A: That’s probably the most interesting part of my whole story. I was actually raised in a log cabin in the woods. I was born in Norman city limits in a little house, and my parents built a log cabin out by Little Axe. It was just me and my sister, and my parents made the decision to homeschool us, which I am all for. It really worked out for me personally because I was able to really focus on the things I enjoy like reading and writing.

I started songwriting before I started playing an instrument and actually started writing novels before that. I would play with Barbies and make up stories as a little girl, and then I started to realize I may be too old for this. When I was 13, I started writing those stories instead of acting them out.

My writing morphed into songs, and I tried to play the keyboard and that was a nightmare. My grandfather had a really old guitar that was huge and in really bad shape, but I wanted to learn how to play. I took a couple lessons from my cousin and babysitter, and that worked for me.

Q: When did you start performing?

A: I didn't start performing until 2017. There is a SongWriters Association of Norman (SWAN), and I would go to that every Tuesday night and act like I wasn’t a songwriter, but they knew I was.

One night, I ended up going to the Deli on my mom’s birthday and it was karaoke night. I sang “My Funny Valentine,” and I was scared I was going to mess up so I sang a capella, and it ended up going really well. After that, I went to SWAN the next week and sang my first performance.

From SWAN I went to The Bluebonnet Bar open mic night and was offered a gig to play there. The Bluebonnet Bar has always had a really special place in my heart because they see people, are really kind and gave me my first paid gig.

Q: What were your performances like at Bluebonnet?

A: My first gig was three hours long. I had about a month to prepare, and I have so many original songs, and most of my initial sets were originals which is usually the opposite for people — they will start with covers and then start to write. I had been writing for about eight years that I had this massive list of songs. I didn't understand that I needed to play covers in bars if you want this to be a lucrative thing, if you want to get tips, if you want to be asked back and as an entertainer you have to play covers. I didn't think of myself that way though.

Q: What does your song writing creative process look like?

A: Even though they do just kind of come to me, it’s not an effortless thing. I do have to take the time to practice guitar and make sure my phone is way out of reach.

It is feelings-based. I have written whimsical songs before that don't have a lot of meaning that are just fun, but mainly 99 percent of my songwriting is like writing a diary. It's very emotional and therapeutic.

Q: Who are some of your music inspirations?

A: That has changed in phases throughout my journey. In the beginning I’ve always really loved jazz and took some voice lessons from professor of jazz Jay Wilkinson at OU when I was in high school.

I loved Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Melody Gardot. I also just listened to the 2008 jams like “Hey there Delilah,” and as I started getting into the songwriting circle, people would make suggestions for people to listen to.

A huge person who shaped my way of songwriting, which may surprise people, is Ed Sheeran. He has some songs that really touched me and the way he writes about reality. You don't hear an effort for attention in his songwriting — you hear a guy in a room with a guitar just telling a story, and that really did something to me.

Q: So how did Abbigale Dawn and The Makebelieve get started?

A: I had started playing a lot and booking a lot of shows, and I needed a band. I needed to branch out to do more, so I had a friend who gave me a couple contacts. It started out with Johnny Carlton, who is my bass player, and I went over to his house and played some songs. Johnny lived with Kyle Reid, guitarist, at the time who got in on it, and the core group ended up with Johnny Carlton, Kyle Reid and Sarah Reid, violinist.

Q: How would you describe your sound as a solo artist?

A: I always describe myself as more Americana, alternative or indie. I’m not quite country, but some of my songs are more jazz and some of my songs are more country.

Q: Would you say you have that same sound performing with The Makebelieve?

A: No. I would say they take all of the element in my more sassy and upbeat songs and multiply them by 10. We have an indie pop sound. It has morphed into more pop than any of us saw it going that way.

Q: Since you are performing as a solo artist and with The Makebelieve, how do those shows differ from each other?

A: When I perform with the band, we use a drum machine, and we use it for a lot of samples. That has been one of the funnest things I’ve ever worked with, so we have structured our songs into stories. It’s much more fun and energetic, and we are all on the same vibe. I do play the same songs in my solo sets, but not as many, maybe one or two. I feel like when I perform a solo gig, it’s either for money and I am singing a bunch of covers and really working the crowd or its really self indulgent. It’s a very different vibe from just me to full band, but they're both very rewarding projects.

Q: Can you tell me any songs that you are planning on performing at Norman Music Fest?

A: I have a few new ones that we worked up right before I left for Colorado that I am stoked about playing with The Makebelieve. We have enough in our repertoire for another EP if we wanted to record it next week, but there are a lot of songs that I am so excited about that are not on the EP. I have a handful of newer ones that sound really good with the band that some people probably have only heard once.

Dawn will perform as a soloist at Norman Music Fest at 7 p.m. April 26 at Sergio’s Italian Bistro. She will perform with The Makebelieve at 1:30 p.m. April 27 on the Gray Street Stage.

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