Sewickley’s Sierra Sellers has a budding, promising music career
Saturday, November 2, 2019 | 12:01 AM
Sierra Sellers, 24, is one of the youngest and most promising voices in Pittsburgh’s soul scene.
On Aug. 10, she performed at Pittsburgh’s Very Own 2, a concert at Mr. Smalls featuring the city’s most prominent female R&B singers. Con Alma, a jazz bar that opened in Shadyside this spring, chose the Sewickley native to sing at its first neo-soul night in October.
Sellers said she draws much of her inspiration from ’90s and early 2000s-era neo-soul artists such as Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. However, the singer-songwriter’s music fuses multiple styles, including jazz and hip-hop. Recently, a collaboration with Pittsburgh rapper My Favorite Color landed on Spotify’s popular Libra playlist.
But before her music reached the ears of thousands of listeners, Sellers performed at Quaker Valley High School functions and Sewickley events. She credits the musical friends she met as a high school student for encouraging her to pursue singing.
One of these friends, guitarist Alex Jeffe, grew up near Sellers on Backbone Road. As he recalled, his band in high school was constantly cycling through singers, and they invited Sellers to join them for a rehearsal.
“We knew she had a good voice. We kept telling her to sing louder, and come out of her shell,” Jeffe said.
The band played publicly with Sellers for the first time at the gazebo on Broad Street during a rainy day in 2009.
Jeffe and Sellers continued to play together, performing during breaks in the action at Quaker Valley basketball games and opening for events at the school auditorium.
Sellers said she had bad stage fright when she first started. But over time, her confidence began to grow, thanks to the help of Jeffe and other friends.
“(Jeffe) really pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone and help me through some stage fright situations,” Sellers said.
As she reflected on her young career, Sellers said she particularly values the people who helped her along the way.
“I think my biggest accomplishment thus far has just been meeting so many people. To be fortunate enough to be surrounded by supportive people … I think that’s a really beautiful thing,” she said.
The 2013 Quaker Valley graduate now plays with a regular band, consisting of a drummer, bassist, keyboardist and sometimes a saxophone.
Each musician, she said, brings their own hip-hop, jazz and other musical influences to her songs, all of which she has written herself. Sellers’ first self-titled EP came out in 2017, and she plans to release a second one, called “Ophelia,” in early 2020.
Sellers said the people around her influence her songwriting process, too.
“It could be my own experiences, it could be something that my friends, they’ll tell me about,” she said about her lyrics. “I do write a lot about love and relationships and encounters.”
Jeffe has remained friends with Sellers, and the two still play acoustic shows together. He has seen her grow into an extremely confident musician, adept at both songwriting and performing.
“She definitely is multifaceted. She’s a really good songwriter, could write an amazing song in a day,” he said. “When she records, she knows what she needs to sing, so it doesn’t take her long, and she produces music really quickly.”
Sellers, who works full-time at the Sewickley YMCA by day, said she is pulling back a bit from performing before the end of the year, to focus on “Ophelia.” Her next big local show is Nov. 16 at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville.
But the next few months will present new opportunities for Sellers to pursue her goal of becoming a touring musician and songwriter. She heads to Philadelphia in November and Austin, Texas, in 2020.
Sellers hopes to get more gigs while in Austin and take advantage of the opportunity to reach new audiences, in one of America’s burgeoning entertainment hotbeds.
“I’m really looking forward to getting out of Pittsburgh and kind of testing out my music in different places and really gaining some of that experience,” she added.