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Creative Spotlight: Audrey Ochoa

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Audrey Ochoa grew up surrounded by music. Her parents were both professional musicians, and with instruments scattered all around the house, it was
almost inevitable that Ochoa would pick one up and fall in love with it.

“Performing is the most genuine way of expressing myself,” says Ochoa. “I stumble over words a lot. I get nervous easily. But when I’m playing is when I feel like there’s no filter…. I get to just express exactly what I’m feeling.”

And yet, Ochoa chose her instrument almost by default. Her sisters chose to play saxophone and flute, taking them off the table, and trumpet was out of the question, since Ochoa’s dad was a professional trumpet player and she didn’t want to be caught in his shadow.

That left one instrument: trombone.

Ochoa has gone on to become one of Edmonton’s most unique and engaging trombonists. She released her debut album, Trombone and Other Delights in 2014, and has released two albums since then: Afterthought in 2017 and Frankenhorn in 2020.

She doesn’t let herself become pinned down by a single genre and plays “whatever… genre will have her,” from jazz and Latin, to punk, rock, and ska.

But Ochoa notes, “As I get older, the more I’m like, ‘Genres aren’t real and music is music.’”

“The thing that changes is the audience and how the audience participates in different types of genres,” adds Ochoa. “In a ska band, for example, it’s completely different energy than a chamber ensemble. And sometimes I’ll miss the environments, like the energy of a dancing, drunken Friday night crowd versus an engaged Sunday morning crowd.”

Ochoa is also a bandleader and a music teacher, and while these might seem like distinct roles, Ochoa explains that they are really the same thing.

“When you’re a band leader, you’re trying to facilitate everybody in your band to be successful and to have a collaborative, but… singular experience.”

“I want the people I’ve hired to play my music… in a way that satisfies my artistic vision — because, oh God I have one of those now —” says Ochoa with a laugh, “but also that they feel that they’ve contributed properly and that we all feel successful. And that’s actually exactly what education is.”

Ochoa is currently working on her fourth album, The Head of a Mouse, that is set to be released in October. It’s named after a phrase her father always used to say: “It’s better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion,” and it’s an album she wrote for herself, not with any specific players in mind.

Her creative process for writing and recording her albums has been very different for every album she’s created, and it continues to evolve.

“I’ve taken on more responsibility in the writing and the recording and the producing,” says Ochoa. “The more I do this, the more absolute control I want over things, which I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

The producer of her first album was the legendary Tommy Banks, who she gave a lot of trust.

“If he said, ‘I want to change this chord,’ I’d say, ‘Absolutely!’” says Ochoa. “Now, (almost 10 years later), if somebody says, “I want to change this chord,’ I’m like, ‘Absolutely not, don’t touch my music!’”

Ochoa has played so many diverse gigs throughout her career, and most recently, she toured the United States with the first national tour of the musical Hadestown.

“As a bunch of like-minded people trying to perform their absolute best capacity eight times a week for a year — that’s like nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” says Ochoa.

Even though the musicians played the same music every night, it was never boring.

“It’s like whack-a-mole. There’s always a new mistake that’s going to pop up, or a new challenge,” says Ochoa. “The cast number was (about) 20 people. That’s 20 things that could go wrong, or 20 variables every single second of the show. So it’s actually very intense and you always have to be very aware.”

Ochoa has had many fantastic experiences and worked with some incredible musicians, but she is quick to point out that it isn’t the so-called caliber of a venue or how well-known the musicians are that makes a great musical experience. One of her favourite performances to date was playing to an almost empty room during Blues on Whyte.

“It was the best experience ever, and nobody was there!” says Ochoa. “The coolest part about performing music is that the most incredible moments will happen where you least expect them.”

Look out for Ochoa’s new album in October, and check out her other work on Spotify and other streaming platforms.

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