Now more than ever, young women feel empowered to pick up a guitar and roar. But it wasn't always that way; in truth, in years past, the rock and guitar communities weren't always so welcoming to women, which, to put it mildly, was a real shame.
No longer. Up-and-coming six-stringers like Nita Strauss, Nikki Stringfield, Sophie Lloyd, and many more are dominating stages worldwide. Look at the success of Grammy-winner H.E.R. They’ve built upon the hard-earned success of predecessors as diverse as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nancy Wilson (Heart), Joni Mitchell, Orianthi, Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt, St Vincent, Kaki King, Muriel Anderson and so many others.
This brings us to one of the brightest young stars in the guitar world, Canada's own Sierra Levesque. 18-year-old Sierra has been featured in Guitar.com and is poised to share the sacred stages of the Sunset Strip with the likes of L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat this April.
I talked with Sierra Levesque about her experiences with the guitar, her latest music and gear, and what she’s looking forward to.
Andrew Daly: What first inspired you to pick up the guitar? Do you still have your first guitar?
Sierra Levesque: I first started learning piano and singing when I was seven years old. After growing up listening to bands like Guns N' Roses, Black Sabbath, and Mötley Crüe, I knew that I wanted to be able to play guitar solos and riffs like I had heard so many times in all of those heavy rock songs. I got my first guitar as a gift when I was 12 years old. It was an Epiphone Brendon Small "Snow Falcon" Flying V. I still have it, and I enjoy using it at a lot of my live shows!
AD: What was the first riff and the first solo you learned?
SL: The first riff I learned was "Sweet Child O’ Mine" by Guns N' Roses. I walked into my first guitar lesson when I was 12 and told my teacher I wanted to learn that song first. He said it wasn’t the conventional first song to learn, but that we could learn it.
Then, after hard work and learning the necessary chords, I finally started playing it to [be able to] sound somewhat like the song was supposed to sound like after a few weeks of practice. I performed it live while singing as well a few months after my lessons had started, and people seemed to enjoy it.
The first full guitar solo that I learned was the [Eagles’] "Hotel California." My first guitar teacher, unfortunately, passed away from cancer, so I was lucky enough to [then] begin taking online lessons with Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (Sons of Apollo, ex-Guns N' Roses, Asia) in 2020, and he helped me to learn this one. It was fun putting all of the solo sections together, and I really enjoyed focusing on the patterns within it.
AD: What are five albums that have shaped you thus far? How are their influences best reflected in your playing?
SL: IMPERA by Ghost
I’ve listened to this album over and over again, over 100 times this year, and I have taken inspiration from the catchy riffs in "Call Me Little Sunshine," the intricate keyboard parts in "Spillways," and vocal harmonies in "Kaisarion." The memorable, singable solos in all of Ghost’s songs have also influenced my own solo writing.
Heart, Dreamboat Annie
I have been described as having the vocals of Ann Wilson with the guitar skills of Nancy Wilson, and songs off of this album, such as "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man," have really shaped how my songs specifically feature these two abilities.
Scorpions, Love At First Sting
Many of the intro riffs in my songs are reminiscent of Scorpions songs from this album in particular. I [like to] go from heavy, driving riffs similar to "Rock Me Like A Hurricane" to soft, acoustic pieces similar to "Still Loving You," which the Scorpions always do perfectly.
The Pretty Reckless, Going To Hell
The sound of Taylor Momsen’s voice, combined with the catchy riffs on songs like "Heaven Knows" and the lyrics of "House on a Hill" sound similar to my own songs, lyrically, and by sharing the same angst-driven themes.
Avril Lavigne, The Best Damn Thing
Any song that Avril writes on piano really inspires my own piano-based songs. This album features both her soft piano and [her] pop-rock songs. The acoustic-[based] songs that she has written also have interesting riffs, combined with natural acoustic [guitar] tones.
AD: Tell me about any original music you’re working on.
SL: I have around 15 fully-completed and recorded songs, and working on a few new ones each week. I enjoy writing songs that people are able to relate to, with inspiration from everyday things that I have felt.
"Authority" speaks about wanting to rise up against figures of authority who try to control you. "Live a Lie" talks about not truly being yourself and [that] you would like to stop hiding [some] aspect of your life. My songwriting process usually starts with a guitar/piano riff or vocal melody, and then I build the lyrics on top of a main sequence or structure of chords.
AD: What guitars, pedals, and amps are you using these days?
SL: I’m very grateful to have a wide range of guitars to use to perform and record. My favorite acoustic/electric guitar is the Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster, for its versatility, ability to adapt to both acoustic and electric sets, and its unique look and sound. [I like] my RainSong carbon fiber acoustic for its rich sound, light weight, and crisp tone when recorded. My favorite electric guitars are ESP Eclipse models for their classic rock sound and many customizable color options. I also really enjoy using an Epiphone Tony Iommi (of Black Sabbath) SG Custom for live performances.
Sierra Levesque with her Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster, an instrument that delivers both acoustic and electric sounds. Courtesy of NewsOfTheNorth/Sierra Levesque.
I always use Fender Mustang series amps for performances. My favorites are the Mustang GT 200 and the Mustang GTX100. I usually use the "Master of Mullets" and "Basic '80s Metal" factory presets. The many preset [sounds] in these Mustang amps allow me to have many sounds without [using] pedals, but when I do use [one], it is the Morley Steve Vai Bad Horsie Wah pedal. It has a great sound!
AD: What are your immediate goals, and how you do plan to make them a reality?
SL: Release a debut single, and a backing video. I hope to announce more details about this soon. I was fortunate enough to take several online courses from Berklee College of Music to learn about music marketing and music release planning, to plan for my upcoming debut release.
As for backing videos, I have been performing with backing tracks for a little while. I play all of the guitars and sing live, and self-recorded all of the other instruments to make my own backing tracks to play on top of. I hope to film myself playing all of the instruments so that I can include this visual aspect into my show.
AD: What’s next?
SL: I am looking forward to attending NAMM for the first time (in April 2023), and [while I’m there] time, I will be doing two shows in April at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles. On April 14 I open for Faster Pussycat, and on April 15 will be opening for L.A. Guns.
I will also be recording new original music and videos over the course of the year in preparation for a debut release. I’m also creating new videos and content for my social media pages, where I can be found on all channels under the username Sierra Levesque Music.
Header image courtesy of Rose Bennett Photography.