San Diego has many talented singer-songwriters, but few are as active as Donna Larsen. In addition to performances with her own band, Messengers, Larsen is a heavy promoter of San Diego music, booking artists at events such as the Moon Stage at the annual Earth Day celebration in Balboa Park. Recently she’s released her bands self-titled debut album and has also penned a children’s picture sing-a-long songbook, “In My Own Backyard.” Music fans can check out Donna Larsen and Messengers, featuring Randy Hodge on lead guitar, Sam Hornedo on bass, and Paul McGee on drums and keyboard player, Jessi Sitar, during her “First Friday” residency at Amplified Alehouse on February 7 (8 p.m.).
Originally from Redlands, Larsen arrived in San Diego in search of a career. “I wanted an expanded experience in a larger city, and thought I’d be an actress,” she said. “So I moved here to go to college and work in Theater, which I did for a few years.” Her love of musicals led to making her own music. “Let me sing and dance and I’m happy!” Larsen remarked. “I have worked as a box office manager, a stagehand, lighting director, as a makeup artist, and production manager. So funny that as a musician I never did any sound engineering,” she mused.
Her decision to become a guitarist came easy. “After all those musicals, we would have cast parties and sit around singing and playing guitars,” she recalled. “I loved singing so much that I wanted to be able to accompany myself, so then learned a little bit of guitar. It’s a nice handy instrument to have at your side, especially for parties. Shortly after beginning to play I began writing my own music. It was fairly simple three chord stuff and it’s progressed since then, along with what I want to hear in my own music.“
She notes it can be hard to grab an audience’s attention with original music. “Finding your audience is an interesting thing. You know, not everyone likes the taste of the same musical fruit,” she laughed. “But sometimes they just haven’t bit into that variety before! Every time we play, people tell us how much they love the music and the vibe. It’s a pretty positive experience. That’s why we keep doing it. I think people basically just want to be happy – and that’s what we try to do with our music. I like to give people something to think about – to expand the perception in the message, lyrically, and put it together with some Indie Pop and Rock that’s a bit different than what you’d expect. It has been my experience that, once they’ve savored the sounds, they come back for seconds.”
The music biz is tougher than ever – what motivates you to keep going? “It is tough! And I have to say that clubs and concert venues do not pay any more than what they did in the 80’s. Unbelievable, right? Sometimes that alone is enough to get you feeling down,” she said. “In my band, we motivate and support each other to keep on sharing the music. It’s common knowledge that music and art define a society, so I’d like to help with that in whatever way I can. So, we do our best to bring something to think about to hearts and minds, feeding the soul, and making it fun for the listener,” Larsen said. “Seeing someone really listening, smiling, dancing, and enjoying themselves is the best gift for me. So, I guess ultimately, I’m trying to bring joy, harmony and peace into the life of the listener –one song at a time!”
Larsen is succinct on her favorite thing about being a musician despite the difficulties. “It’s all the other musicians and the interesting people I get to meet. When someone totally relates to a song I’ve written. When you can feel the love in the room,” she said.