MaryLeigh Roohan, 21, began playing guitar and writing songs at age 15, but she wasn’t taking it too seriously back then.
“They weren’t good — I just want to make that very clear,” she said, laughing. “I kind of wrote goofy songs. I think I was too embarrassed to take myself seriously. I started writing more serious songs when I was around 17, and that’s kind of when I started going to open mics like Caffe Lena, and playing at the Moon & River [Café] in Schenectady, stuff like that.”
In the past year, the Saratoga Springs musician has increased her profile on the local scene with a new quartet, MaryLeigh and the Fauves, which since forming has played high-profile gigs at the second annual Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s Battle of the Bands and Exit Dome, WEXT-FM’s fifth fundraiser concert.
With her mix of sunny indie pop, jazzy crooning and heartfelt lyrics, Roohan is definitely on the “serious musician” path now. So what changed?
MaryLeigh and the Fauves
with Olivia Quillio, Bethel Steele
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Hudson River Coffee House, 227 Quail St., Albany
How Much: Free
More Info: 596-0959, www.hudsonrivercoffeehouse.com
Getting up courage
“I don’t know,” she said. “I think part of me always wanted to take it seriously, but I think I was just — I was scared of sounding ridiculous, so I kind of just stuck with being ridiculous. I didn’t play any serious stuff to anyone really, until I kind of got up the courage to go out and do it. Maybe it was becoming 16 — I really don’t know.”
The Fauves, featuring drummer Zachary Edwards, bassist Dave Farnsworth and trombonist Heather Bisch, play next at the Hudson River Coffee House with Olivia Quillio and Bethel Steele on Friday night.
At this point, the group is playing out almost every weekend — next week the band will be in Hartford, Conn., and in early March they’re headed to Boston. With friends in Burlington, Vt., Hartford and the Boston area, the band has been able to gradually branch out of the Capital Region.
“The kind of mind-set I’ve taken — rather than taking three or four weeks out of your life and driving a lot to go down to Texas, where you probably won’t be able to afford another drive down there for a while — it makes sense to kind of hit places within three hours of Saratoga, so we can start building fan bases in those areas,” Roohan said.
The current lineup of the band has only been playing since April, when Bisch joined the group. Prior to that, Roohan, Edwards and Farnsworth played as a trio in the area.
Edwards and Roohan knew each other in elementary school, eventually reconnecting in high school. After Roohan’s first year at Skidmore College, the two began playing gigs and open mics together, just acoustic guitar and percussion, meeting Farnsworth in the process.
“We messed around in my basement, just kind of played my songs, and did covers and stuff like that too,” Roohan said. “We found Heather in the same way we found Dave, just playing open mics and stuff — for a while, Dave and Zach were the house band at the Putnam Den, and one night Heather came in and said, ‘Let’s play some blues, boys.’ She was adopted pretty quickly into the group after that.”
Roohan is still the group’s primary songwriter, although she gets arranging help from the rest of the band. Her influences encompass a wide variety of styles, from Joni Mitchell and Sam Cooke, to Weezer and Radiohead.
Since playing with the band, her guitar playing has evolved to allow more space to breathe within the songs. She still uses an acoustic guitar primarily when the band performs, but often she lets the rest of the band carry the tune.
“When you’re writing songs just by yourself — I used to play out a lot just by myself — you have a lot of space to fill with just a voice and a guitar,” she said, “whereas having a bass, a drum set and a trombone and a guitar and a voice, you have to think of space a lot differently. So spatially, my songwriting has opened up; I’m not always strumming a guitar.”
Early last year, Roohan, Edwards and Farnsworth recorded a nine-song debut album, “The Docks,” both in Saratoga and at the Music Shed in New Orleans, with financial help from a friend. But with Bisch in the group, things have evolved quickly — the band now has 10 more songs that they’re hoping to begin recording in May.
“I don’t really want it to sound exactly like a live performance,” Roohan said. “I don’t want it to sound like something that you can go home, listen to it for free, and have the same experience as you would at a concert.”