The first look of confusion never gets old for Arleigh Kincheloe when she takes the stage and opens her mouth to sing.
The petite, 5-foot-4-inch woman with the big voice is Sister Sparrow. And the seven men at her back boisterously playing the horns, drums, harmonica, guitar and bass are The Dirty Birds.
“It can be like, ‘Whoa, what is happening?’” she laughed last week during a telephone interview. “There’s a lot of instruments and a lot of people on stage and a lot of noise. And, honestly, one of the comments I get after every show is, ‘You’re so small for that big voice coming out of your body.’ It’s a surprise for people.”
After playing 150 shows in 30 states, just this year alone, the word about Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds is getting out. With a four-track EP, “Fight,” on the horizon, the 8-piece band will return to the Stephen Talkhouse on Thursday, August 22, for their third show to date at the Amagansett performance venue—this time with fresh material, a few new members and the professional recording experience of working with producer and “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson.
It is a level of success Ms. Kincheloe never imagined while growing up in the Catskills, she said. She got her start singing in the family band to an audience that never seemed to leave their “party house.” She was a product of her environment, beginning songwriting at age 18. Right around the same time, her 20-year-old brother, Jackson, picked up harmonica and fell in love, he said.
“We just started playing together,” Mr. Kincheloe said during the conference call with his sister. “Her songs and some covers in this little hallway in our house. It just went from there.”
In 2007, the siblings packed up and moved to Brooklyn, New York. They worked late-night restaurant jobs through their first “starving-artist years,” sacrificing music for income.
“It was a little rough but I’m really glad we chose to do it,” Mr. Kincheloe said.
A year later, the brother-and-sister team got back on track. Ms. Kincheloe wanted a big band, with a horn section, and she wasn’t backing down.
“I was very stubborn about it,” she said. “I’m really glad I felt that way and stuck to it.”
They reconnected with their drummer cousin, Bram, who pulled in a few childhood friends, including Ryan Snow on trombone. Since then, a few of the instruments have switched hands, but the band now sits with guitarist Sasha Brown, bassist Josh Myers and a rounded-out horn section with Brian Graham on baritone sax and Phil Rodriguez on trumpet.
“We are a big family,” Ms. Kincheloe said. “We eat together, we sleep in the same hotel rooms and we’re traveling in one vehicle. We’re really a family and we’re always laughing. There’s really not that many fights, I have to say, which is great.”
Being on the road is a huge source of inspiration for the songwriter, she said. Her first album was written and inspired by the Catskills, while the second incorporated a Brooklyn grit and edgy grind—a sound absent from the mainstream.
“We are different, and there’s always a slight pressure when you see people who are successful in the industry. But you get your surprises,” Ms. Kincheloe said. “I remember my manager calling me and saying, ‘There’s a dude playing banjo in this band and they have a number-one hit!’ That was Mumford & Sons. And at that time, it was really surprising. It’s really wonderful that it’s coming back around and people are appreciating that again.”
Riding the resurgence of soul, the band will play a healthy dose from their two albums to the Talkhouse crowd. The set list will also include a few new songs—the title track from “Fight,” which is a ballad and a departure from the group’s signature sound, and “The Long Way,” the first single off the EP.
“That’s actually one of those rare songs that came to me in a dream,” Ms. Kincheloe said. “I was in Brooklyn at the time and I had this dream I was on stage with The Dirty Birds and singing that song. I woke up and I was like, ‘I’ve got to write that down.’ Gift from the universe? How is that possible for it to come out of a dream?”
While on tour in Los Angeles, California, in March, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds recorded the EP with Mr. Jackson.
“It was surreal, for sure,” Ms. Kincheloe said of working with the Grammy Award-winning producer.
“It was intimidating to think about before we got there. He’s a big personality, but it was really easy,” her brother added. “He’s really good at getting good music out of us. He let me do what I do on stage, which was refreshing.”
His sister murmured in agreement, and he continued, “I feel like it would be hard to make us into something else, you know? We just get to do our thing.”
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds will play The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Thursday, August 22, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 267-3117 or visit stephentalkhouse.com.