Staff Q&A: Maria Tessa Sciarrino

STAFF Q&A/A booster for the local music scene, Maria Tessa Sciarrino can’t get enough of the Philadelphia sound.

“I think it’s great that everybody’s getting the attention.”

Staff Q&A: Maria Tessa Sciarrino

Position:
Assistant to the Director, Kelly Writers House

Length of Service:
3 years

Sidelight:
Sciarrino writes a blog, herjazz.org/maria, about local music.

Photo credit: Candace diCarlo

Maria Tessa Sciarrino studied photography in college, but admits she wasn’t the best student: “I was too busy going to concerts.”

These days, when she’s not doing her day job as assistant to the director at Kelly Writers House, she’s busy putting them on, too, as half of the local independent booking agent known as Plain Parade (music critic Sara Sherr is the other half). They support up-and-coming bands from Philadelphia and have organized shows in venues as diverse as the Manhattan Room, Silk City and various warehouses around the city.

Officially, Plain Parade got off the ground in 2002, but Sciarrino, 27, was immersed in the local scene well before that, running Sugar Town, a showcase devoted to women performers. The Plain Parade philosophy is simple: to support quality music acts and give them as much of the profits as possible. The groups love it, and responded enthusiastically when Sciarrino put out the call for local bands to cover other local bands for a download-only compilation, in celebration of Plain Parade’s third anniversary. The compilation, “Songs from the Sixth Borough” (available at plainparade.org) is chock full of gems from acts that have their roots in and around the city, including Method and Result’s cover of the Hall and Oates classic, “Private Eyes” and Rifle Nice’s unforgettable melding of Ween’s “What Deaner Was Talking About” with the distinct horns of the “Action News” theme.

“It’s only eight bucks for 18 songs. How can you say no?” says Sciarrino, adding that they refused offers to press an actual CD. “Once it gets on a physical CD … I feel like it would lose the focus of what the project was originally—which was just our little Philly comp.”

Q. At this point, there’s a certain cachet to playing a Plain Parade show.

A. This is what people tell me! [laughs] …We do have certain bands that have done really well for us. To us, music is a community thing and we do our best to support our friends and family, and we try to balance that with the business aspect.
We’ve seen a lot of bands that were just getting Tuesday night slots at the Khyber three or four years ago and are now the big deals in the city. It’s really nice to be a part of that and it’s really nice to see them succeed and flourish because we saw that.

Q. I assume the title of the compilation is taken from the [Aug. 4, 2005] New York Times article, which referred to Philly as the sixth borough?

A. It’s really funny—a lot of people have been really upset over the title. They think it’s a pro-New York thing, but I came up with the title because I thought it was funny. … If it was not me, someone else would have taken that whole “sixth borough” mess and done something with it. It was just sitting there waiting to be recontextualized.

Q. What direction did you give to the bands?

A. I pretty much gave the bands carte blanche on who they wanted to cover. I liked the fact that there were local bands covering other local bands. I think that’s really cool because … people don’t create stuff in a vacuum and it was nice to see that yes, these people do influence each other and talk to each other in a city where sometimes it can get really nasty and vicious.

Q. What do you make of all the attention paid to Philly right now?

A. I think people are fascinated by Philadelphia because it’s really an insular town.… I think it’s great that everybody’s getting the attention. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as a result of it, if it becomes larger. I don’t know how much larger you could get besides a reference on the “Gilmore Girls.” I loved that!

Q. What are the local bands right now that you think everyone needs to hear?

A. I feel like that about all local bands! Definitely, Spinto Band. The A-Sides, I think, are fantastic. BC Camplight and Buried Beds. They have a new record coming out soon and it’s awesome.

Q. How did you get involved with DJing on Princeton’s radio station, 103.3 WPRB?

A. The reason I got onto ’PRB [in 2001] was because I was dating somebody who was a DJ and he took me to the radio station and said, “You should totally sign up to be a summer DJ.” … This past summer I just decided to try something different—a local show. It’s really fun to be able to mix up Gamble and Huff, next to ’80s West Philly Pi Lam punk, next to whatever’s happening right now.

Radio and DJing is really my first love. When I was a kid, my parents had a stereo [with] a built-in mic and I would try to record music and stop and talk in between them—a very rudimentary format of DJing and certainly not high quality. I grew up listening to ’PRB. I think ’PRB is amazing and it’s really an honor to be a DJ there.

Q. Do you ever think that you’re influencing someone in the same way you were influenced by WPRB?

A. That’s kind of the way that I approach my show. I’ll play some old stuff and some new stuff and I’ll always think that somewhere out there, someone’s flipping on ’PRB for the first time and this could really change their life. It happened to me, so it could happen to anybody else.

For information on upcoming Plain Parade shows, including one on Feb. 10 at Tritone, go to: www.plainparade.org.

Originally published on January 26, 2006