A Chat with Song Sisters

Talking with people about their life and work is something that I am very familiar with as a recent journalism graduate, but I have never met two people as incredibly genuine as Stefanie Guzikowski and Elissa Margolin of River Sister. Having met through the music scene five years ago, Elissa and Stefanie have built a name for themselves on the Seacoast. 

Tell us a bit about yourselves, how you met, and what inspires your music. 
Stefanie: She [Elissa] inspires me. She’s my song sister, we like to call each other that. 

Elissa: I was in another band and Stef was a friend of another musician in town, well, Stefanie is married to another musician in town, Chris Guzikowski, so I knew Stefanie and I knew she was a great singer. I knew she was particularly adept at just sitting in and creating beautiful harmony. And so we invited Stef to sit in a show for a couple of tunes. When Stef sat in, just everyone got quiet, there was just something magical that happened. I think we all felt it. And you know, there are these moments in life where these little magical sparks happen. 

Stefanie: I had heard about her [Elissa] before I actually met her. My husband, Chris, who told me about her, had already met her at the Blue Mermaid at their open mic nights on Wednesdays. I said, ‘yeah, I really want to hear her when we meet her.’ When I went to meet her, that was really cool. Over the next hour I got the opportunity to sing with her and we got so many compliments. People said our voices just blended together so well. 

How did you come up with the name “River Sister”? 
Elissa: Stef and I were inspired by Rising Appalachia and they are sisters and we felt such a strong connection to one another. We liked the idea of having “sister” in the name and then living in Portsmouth and being close to the river is probably the easiest description of how we came up with the name. What is funny about our naming story is that we almost named the band some really bad names. 

I know you kicked off the National Concert to End Gun Violence; what other causes or large groups have you supported and performed for? 
Elissa: Stef and I played for a book launch at South Church for LUNATION it’s a poetry book. We have also opened up for large festivals like the Seacoast Congress of Sound with a full band and we also did Revel in the Meadow. We can give that big show sound and that is what we will be bringing to The Music Hall. 

You’re performing for the Big Brothers Big Sisters benefit concert with Good Will Harding. Can you tell us a bit about that and your love for 80s music? 
Stefanie: Separate from River Sister, we are backup vocalists for Good Will Harding, which is my husband’s band. The Big Brothers Big Sisters concert happens each year; it’s on November 6 this year. Because of our harmony, my husband loves how Elissa and I sound together, and he is kind of the bandleader. He asked us to become backup vocalists and it just kind of stuck.

Elissa: I love doing backup for the band. It’s a challenge and pushes my vocals to a place I don’t normally go. I also love getting to play this character and rock out for a night. We assembled some pink wigs and I felt like I got to play someone else that night, wear some really high heeled boots, a pink wig and rock out to some British rock. 

What can people expect from your show at The Music Hall? 
Stefanie: Elissa is our amazing songwriter and we do a lot of original songs thanks to her. Each song, Elissa has a really creative, interesting tuning on the guitar that she does. It adds a challenge for the rest of the band, well, maybe more so for me, a really good creative challenge, for us to get together and help finish producing a song. She will write songs with River Sister in mind, and you can just tell when we get to the base of it, it’s really cool. Our sound is almost like jazzy-folk or indie-folk. 

Elissa: I remember the first couple shows we played, our repertoire was a little thin. And we would have to stretch some tunes just to fill a set. And now, you know, we comfortably have so much original music that we can share and even finding that some people know our songs and are sharing them back at us, which is so gratifying. I just want to say that the Live Under the Arch series has brought The Music Hall out into our community. I just want to applaud The Music Hall for making that move during the pandemic, and continuing to support the best of local and regional acts. We love The Music Hall and love making sure that we as community members support and attend shows there that continue to inspire us so that we can keep making our art.

Come see this amazing band on Friday, August 27! More information here.