She can often be heard strumming her guitar and belting out original tunes and familiar melodies among the cobblestone of Pike Place Market.
“When we would take trips to Seattle, I remember seeing so many musicians, but very few women (and especially no Asian women) out busking on the street,” said Carly Calbero. “I figured that it was better than a minimum wage job and I could really use the time to practice.”
Born in Hawaii and raised in Marysville from the age of four, Calbero, 19, performed in choir through grade school, middle school, and high school. She also participated in band in high school and taught herself to play the guitar for the last eight years by watching videos on YouTube. On top of that, Calbero writes her own music and plays some piano and electric bass. She started busking in the Seattle area in August 2010.
“People don’t expect me to sound the way I sound because I’m Asian and I’m short,” said Calbero, who is half-Filipino and half-Japanese. “I try to be very loud and expressive in my music.”
Although she was accepted to Berkeley in the hopes of pursuing a music career, Calbero found it too expensive. Driven to continue her path in music, she bought books, researched online, and built her own recording studio. Calbero strives to break boundaries and succeed at all odds, playing for youth that do not think they can get very far; inspiring and motivating them.
“This is what I want and what I want to do, and no matter what, this is what I’m going to do,” she said emphatically.
Many of her original songs are autobiographical, she noted. She started writing her own songs at the same time she picked up the guitar. At 15 years old, she started feeling confident in her own music. Her wife and drummer, Nika Wascher, is very supportive, she added, noting they have been performing together since high school.
In addition to her own crafted work, Calbero draws inspiration from a wide range of music, from Pat Benatar to techno. She said she tries to mix up her musical repertoire as much as possible. She aptly describes her alternative-indie-rock music as “a powerful and passionate voice paired with driving progressions and experienced lyrics, reminiscent of Brandi Carlile, KT Tunstall and a more upbeat/intense Sarah McLachlan.”
With her passion for music in all its forms, some may be surprised to learn that when she was growing up, Calbero was not allowed to listen to secular music. The turning point was at age 13, when a teacher sent her to a jazz camp at Edmonds Community College. At that point she was hooked. She said the famed jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald’s powerful voice inspired her.
“Jazz started everything,” she said of her musical path.
Last year, Calbero was voted the nation’s fourth best street performer in the “Street to Stage” contest, presented by Rolling Stone magazine and Sprint. Calbero was scouted by Rolling Stone for the contest in April 2011 when she was performing Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” in front of Pacific Place. The contest started in June and ended last September. Since then, she has been contacted about performing at private parties and a number of other venues, including Cellars in Everett, Everett Historic Theater, and Seattle’s EMP.
“I am still busking, but not as much since I’ve had more gig opportunities,” said Calbero, adding that she would love to play for an indie and underground label, like Vapor Records or Onto Entertainment, that would allow her to grow a strong fan base.
Calbero can often be found at Seattle’s Pacific Place or Pike Place Market. She will also be performing with Wascher at the Northwest Folklife Festival in the Ladies First Showcase on the Vera Project Stage at the Seattle Center on May 26 at 11 a.m. Admission is free. For more information about her upcoming performances, visit www.carlycalbero.com. Videos of her music can also be found at www.youtube.com/user/carlycalbero.