What I’m Listening To is a series where we talk to exciting artists, musicians, and establishment owners and get a five-song slice of their current playlist.

“I have seen women in their eighties in kitten heels slaying their strut across stage (ahem, Grant Avenue Follies), and brand new performers discover parts of themselves through the process of act creation they may never have otherwise. Burlesque to me is joy, celebration, acceptance, and opportunity for almost unrestrained exploration of imagination.”

Jay Siren cannot imagine life without music. The burlesque troupe founder, dancer, show producer, and this month’s WILT curator goes through life with her own personal soundtrack. “Music follows me everywhere, and I usually have some floating through my mind, even when sitting in silence. Music to me offers a catalyst for motion, movement, passion, and expression in one of its most powerful forms.”

Though she is multi-talented, Siren is not about to be joining a band any time soon. “Much love and respect to my musical friends, but I definitely learned early that was not going to be my strong suit,” she says with a laugh. Instead, she is taking the skills she learned from running her burlesque troupe Sizzling Sirens for a decade to revolutionize Sacramento’s alternative art scene with The Siren. “The Siren is a multi-disciplinary, multi-use venue complex that will directly contribute to the infrastructure and development of Sacramento’s alternative arts community, currently in its conceptual phase, moving toward a physical space in the to-be-determined future. The Siren seeks to fill a recognized gap in Sacramento’s arts and entertainment culture, creating a platform for alternative artists to thrive within our city’s larger creative and economic landscape.”

It’s a dream Siren has had for a long time (though she’d always imagined calling it “House of Sizzle”), but she needed a partner to help her. Someone with, “a special combination of skills that complimented my own to bring it to life, and that person, as far as I could see, didn’t exist here in that time.”

That is until last November when she produced a fundraiser for the victims of the Santa Rose fire aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain, a recreated packet ship that stops in Sacramento where she met Jay Sales and his wife Bernadette. At the event, he and Siren got to talking. “Jay is all music, tech, and business, with a lot of boldness and blunt expression mixed in. He is a born and raised Sacramentan with a real heart for our local arts scene and commitment to the future of our city–perfection!… Also, the hilarity and randomness of the fact that we are both Jay’s is in no way lost here.

One thing led to another and now they have a vision, business plan, and the makings of what Siren calls a “kick-ass core team.” They are excited to “share and evolve this concept with the participation and feedback of our artist and audience community.”

Siren is using everything she’s learned over the last thirty-two years to put the project into effect. “This includes understanding the importance of a dynamic, high-functioning team, driving a collective and cohesive desire to achieve goals through a combination of collaboration and personal effort. In my heart, I am a producer of entertainment first, which is a role that lets you wear many hats.” She plans to capitalize on that experience to create a schedule of recurring in-house productions with a high commitment to local casting, which is something that really excites her. “I have always approached the troupe’s presentation of entertainment experiences from this perspective, so in expanding that mindset to include all genres, it feels like a natural next step in the evolution of what we have created here together since we started in 2008. The ripple effect of that difference in scale will grow to include adopting new connections and collaborators, whose talent, skills and energy will directly contribute to the shape this vision takes as it settles into reality.”

All through this, she has not forgotten her burlesque roots. “Participation in this art form on stage and off has shaped who I am more than words can express. Burlesque opened doors to an incredible, sparkly, larger than life universe with a rich history and what I see as a vibrant future, full of people from every background with special stories to tell through the expression of their art.” Additionally, it gave her the skills she needed to develop the Siren. “Honing that imaginative muscle through curating burlesque entertainment prepared me to think and execute outside the box, which is something that has lent to not only the development of The Siren concept but the way that I approach life. I always say – if you can dream it, you can do it in burlesque!”

So what is producer, burlesque queen, and Siren visionary Jay Siren listening to?

Nina Simone-‘Do I Move You?’-“I recently performed to this song at the Darling Clementine’s Capitol Cabaret at Capitol Garage, and it has stayed with me ever since. I love the power of the lyrics, Nina’s strong and smoky vocal confidence, and the musicality throughout. So good!”

Shuggie Otis-‘Sweet Thang’-“I love this song for stretching and warm up, and use it in class often. I am a big fan of primarily instrumental tracks, and this one always takes me to a smooth and sassy place.”

Camille Yarborough-‘Take Yo Praise’-“When I listen to this song, I like to imagine singing the lyrics to myself as an exercise in self-love, rather than as a woman to a man. In fact, I use it for class cool-downs as well to impart the same message to students. You are what you got when it comes down to it, so own it! Love it! Praise it! Then take that energy to build a reservoir of confidence and self-love you can draw upon in times of self-doubt, cause we all get there sometimes.”

Al Green-‘Love and Happiness’-“This song always lifts me up and makes me tune in to my body. I love the music, and the vibe that he brings to the vocals. It leaves me groovin’ and feeling good.”

Defeye-‘Sizzle’-“Andru Defeye (another talented local producer, emcee, and creative beat-wizard) made this song for the troupe several years ago, which became the track played before and after every show, as well as a group act and the background to many of our sizzle reels. One of my favorite troupe memories took place in the Costco parking garage across from DNA Lounge in San Francisco before nine of us headed in to perform the tricky group act we brought to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender last year for Hubba Hubba Revue’s Burlesque Nation. It’s sort of a big team spirit act, so we were all getting pumped and warmed up together by our cars before entering the venue. One of us put this song on, and we all broke out dancing freestyle in the parking lot. I remember feeling so happy and full of love and appreciation for my team/troupe/sisters in that moment – it warms my heart to reflect upon it every time!”

[Note: video NSFW]

The Siren is starting with pop up events with the aim to eventually have a physical location. “We are letting community response dictate the evolution of this project, to an extent including when the physical venue takes shape. That’s where the experimental element of this comes into play–our goal is to create a community-minded institution for the alternative arts in Sacramento, and to do that we need community support! Excitement and attendance at the pop up events we are producing over the next several months will play a large part in the pace that The Siren’s development takes. So please–come on out and have some fun with us!”

The first event is on September 29 at the California Automobile Museum, all will feature “a cross-section of talent and style representative of some of what you might see on The Siren venue’s main stage on any given night,” Siren says, “It is going to be a big, super fun evening of dazzling entertainment and sizzling antics, delivered by some of Sacramento’s top-notch local talent, along with a couple of very special guests!” Doors open at 6:30 pm. Tickets range from $15 – $45 and can be found here.
Additionally, part of The Siren’s educational programming will include workshops from guest and headlining performers, to provide “new perspectives and experiences outside of what we have access to locally.” The first workshop is on September 30th at the Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange at CLARA, (2420 N St, Sacramento) with the headliners from the previous evening’s pop up: RedBone from Minneapolis and Jet Noir from Oakland. “I deeply encourage performers and non-performers alike get into the studio with us and soak up some sexy knowledge from our out of town pros as they present unique workshops to deepen your perspective on the art of burlesque and showmanship.” The participation fee is $20 per workshop or $35 for both, see here for more.
After those events, The Siren team plan to present a more genre-focused series of pop-ups every three to four weeks at various venues in the greater Sacramento area with a variety of artists and groups. This series will be representative of what the future venue’s in-house productions could be like. Information will be released as events are confirmed.
Throughout all that, Siren teaches a regular class series called “Foundations with Jay” which offer new performers the foundations of burlesque movement and style every second and fourth Tuesday at the Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange at CLARA. The class is open to performers and non-performers looking for fitness or to try something new. For more information, click here.

Words: Katta Hules. Photos courtesy of Jay Siren.

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