Melissa Sandoval: From Mortuary Science to Live Music

About two years ago, singer/songwriter Melissa Sandoval was on the brink of a record deal in New Jersey when the offer went sour due to circumstances out of her control. But what seemed like a big disappointment at the time actually became the spark she needed to produce her own album, Memory in the Sand, in Delray Beach.

She's been performing her own originally produced music in South Florida for the past few months and has big plans on the horizon. But this Delray diva actually started out her career 19 years ago in New York City. The songstress comes from a close-knit El Salvadoran family, and her parents were her biggest supporters.

Her diva-strength voice echoed through nightclubs before she even got to middle school.

"The person that inspired me the most to just get up there and sing was Selena," Sandoval says. "As a little girl, I loved her, and I wanted to be just like her. When I was performing at 10 in bars and clubs, I used to dress up like her. That was a big part of the reason I decided to start singing."

Though Selena was an idol that definitely drove Sandoval to the mic, the Glee Club at her elementary school was actually what initially captured her attention. She attended a music-focused high school in Manhattan where she was trained vocally and offered opportunities in musical theater. This is where her star started to shine brightly. But by the time college came around, Sandoval decided to take a "safer" route and study mortuary science, thinking she could always pursue music on the side.

When her family moved to South Florida to open a Cuban Restaurant in Sunrise, Sandoval became a funeral director, but it wasn't long before she grew tired of the industry and music kept calling her to the stage.

"It's actually one of my biggest regrets that I didn't stay in New York and pursue music more seriously," she admits. "Now that I'm older and I have a bit more level head, I can say, 'Hey this is what I want to do, and I don't care about anything else.'"

Sandoval has sung with Dominican bands, Top 40 acts, and more recently, her boyfriend Matt Stacy's band, Kocosante. Then about two years ago, Stacy and Sandoval decided to start writing and producing music together. After creating 15 original songs and recording, they were ready to take their sound to the streets.

"I try to put my experiences into my music, and hopefully somebody finds empowerment in them and they lift themselves up too," she says, "because life is hard, it's difficult. I get over the hard times by writing; that's my release. So if somebody hears a song that they can relate to, and that's their release, then I've accomplished my goal. What I really want is to connect with people through my music."

Sandoval's personal favorite song is also the title of her album, "Memory in the Sand." It's about loving someone yet having to let them go because ultimately they aren't right for you.

The track is based on her own breakup story and wants to empower others to go after what they deserve, even if it's painful.

"Every song that I have written is based on a true story," she explains. "It's based on people I got pissed off at one point, or a guy I went out with, or just recreating the feeling of waking up next to somebody you love ... and that's where my songs come from. My hope is that other people can connect with it and relate."

At a recent open mic night at Dada in Delray, Sandoval captured wandering ears and made that connection by singing some of her songs and landed a performance this week. Sandoval's goal now is to keep going and not look back. After all, Sia was 39 when she became famous, Sandoval says. It's never too late.

"The main thing I'm focusing on right now is playing more and just not stopping," she says. "There are so many places I can perform. Anybody that has ears, I want them to listen to my music."

Melissa Sandoval, 11 p.m., Wednesday, January 14, at Dada, 52 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. No cover. Visit her Facebook page.

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Michelle de Carion