Portland-based singer-songwriter Tara Velarde wants to add surprising twists to her work, striving for a strong sense of individualism and creativity with each song she crafts.
On Velarde’s first full-length album, “Get Out and Walk,” the vocals range from bouts of light yelling to sweet and emotional. It’s a measured journey through Velarde’s heart with many musical styles tied up in a folk ribbon.
“It comes from a wide variety of genres that are inspirational for me,” Velarde said, explaining that a strong voice with pretty melodies is not enough. “I like to try to incorporate other vocal styles, genres and feelings.”
For example the song “Ridiculous” has a bit of a Latin rhythm and “Get Out and Walk” feels distinctly Celtic.
Velarde released her first EP under the name The Tara Novellas, with more of an ensemble set-up. Her full-length album is a more traditional singer-songwriter makeup. Songs vary from a full band to just Velarde. She is touring with a full band.
Velarde attributes her love for melody and folk music to her upbringing.
“I grew up singing straight up folk songs with my family,” she said. “I have five siblings and we just grew up singing together. My mom would have us sing camp songs and folk songs.”
In addition to singing, writing and playing music, Velarde also writes poetry, performs in music theater and teaches music, all of which influence her songwriting.
“The pillars of my songwriting are my voice and my lyrics, (but) the common thread is having a story to tell,” said Velarde.
Some of those stories on the album are very personal and vulnerable. Like the song “Farewell Brother,” a song Velarde wrote for her own brother who moved away: “And if family could choose one another / Nothing would change / We'd stay the same / I would choose you anyway.”
“It’s very personal for me,” Velarde said about “Farewell Brother.” “On the album, as a whole, that one stands out as my most-exposing song.”
A close friend of Velarde’s lost her father and asked her to sing it at his funeral. The lyrics will be carved on his headstone.
“It was kind of a wake-up call for me (that) ... my music could be powerful for other people.”
As much as it’s rewarding to see people relate to her work, she said, it’s difficult putting herself out there.
“It takes courage to step out and present something you’ve come up with,” she said. “These are my thoughts and my feelings and there’s nothing to hide behind.”
Of “Alone,” a perky, paired-down, soulful ballad about the quiet joys of solitude, Velarde said, “I wrote it after my first season as an elementary music school teacher. It was an intense experience. I was overwhelmed socially. It’s about stepping away from other people and secluding yourself.”
She said “Alone” has gotten the most reactions from people at her shows and that feedback is invaluable.
“Those things keep me going and tell me that it’s worthwhile.”
Velarde hasn’t yet made performing her full-time job – she teaches to pay the bills – but she hopes someday soon that will change.
“We’ve had so much momentum the last couple of years. … Five years from now I’d love to be doing this more full time,” she aid. “If I could be writing songs, periodically producing albums and touring around and playing live for people, that would be success for me. I’m working for that … as long as there are people who are listening and being touched.”