Sheila Saputo lives exclusively online. She has her own channel on YouTube, with 31 (and counting) videos that last usually about half a minute.
Oh, Sheila. You have to see her to believe her. She wears a neck brace, her right arm in a sling, massive glasses that make her eyes the size of saucers, and talks with a nasal Midwestern accent that’s somewhere between “Fargo” and Sarah Palin. You just want to pinch her cheeks — and then step away slowly and hope she doesn’t follow you.
On YouTube, though, she’s a star (in her own mind). There’s Sheila at Occupy Wall Street, doing the ever-important work of “making friends for life, hacky-sacking, drumming . . . .” In another video we see Sheila posing for glamour shots that will help launch her acting dreams, which she describes as “gigantic, bigger than I can even hold. It’s like having the whole world in your hands, but you can’t fit it in there or something.”
Also: Sheila Saputo is not a real person. She is the absurd creation of Rosie Thomas, a Seattle singer-songwriter whose indie-pop songs are unfailingly refined and often quite heartsick. Thomas dreamed up Saputo as an alter ego of sorts, and now Saputo is opening Sufjan Stevens’s Christmas singalong tour, which stops at Royale on Thursday for a sold-out performance.
We recently caught up with Thomas, and, as luck would have it, Sheila made a cameo during the phone conversation.
Q. How do you describe Sheila to strangers?
A. I always say she’s blissfully unaware. There’s a naivete about Sheila that’s wonderful. She doesn’t mean to offend. There are parts of her that can be perverse completely by accident because she’s just clueless. She’s just filled with joy. The grass in her life is always green.
Q. How was she born?
A. I found these glasses one day, probably when I was in high school, and they were so thick, I thought, “If someone lost these, they’re probably blind as a bat.” I’ve never found a pair thicker. Sheila came about because my brother was a pharmaceutical salesman — horrible two years of his life — and I went to see him in Chicago. I had maybe just signed a deal with Sub Pop but hadn’t put a record out yet. He was bummed about his life, and I thought, “I need to make him laugh today.” I looked around his apartment, and, this is true, in one corner he had a pile of neck braces and leg braces he had to sell, and in another corner were these broken fingers. So I put it all on, and then I had the Sheila glasses on. I woke him up, and he was hysterical about how ridiculous I looked. I said, “Meet me across the street at that Dunkin’ Donuts. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to make you feel better.” I walked over there and stood in line, and there were maybe nine people there, and it just got quiet when I walked in. I ordered a coffee, and then I couldn’t find it because I had the glasses on. Everyone was staring at this broken woman, and I knew I needed a finale. So I walked over to the table, pulled the chair out, and just fell onto the ground. The guy at the counter came rushing over and I laid on the floor moaning. When I finally got up, everyone was staring at me, so I took that broken, wobbly thumb I had been wearing, gave a thumbs-up, and said, “Keep on keepin’ on.” Then I started doing Sheila on tour.
Q. Is there a little bit of Sheila in you and vice versa?
A. Oh, for sure. I’m a quirky bird, and I think Sheila allows me to get away with more because there are things I’m blissfully unaware of. I always put my foot in my mouth, just like Sheila.
Q. Rosie, could you put Sheila on the phone for me?
A. Yeah, hold on. Let me go get her. We had to Nyquil her last night after the show. We just put a little bit in her tea. [Long pause, and then Sheila is on the line.] Hey.
A. Yeah, what’s up?
Q. How are your shows with Sufjan going?
A. Uh, magical. There have been a couple of nights when my name was on the billboard, and I was like, “Of course.” Sufjan and I went to second base one night by accident. I was in the Mary costume and stuff, and he just got into the Christmas spirit. But things have been sweet. I’m born for the road.
Q. I won’t tell her, but what did you think of Rosie’s new album, “With Love”?
A. Depressing. How many songs do we need to hear like that, man? People need bigger beats and stuff, if you ask me. Don’t hit ’em when they’re down. People need a skip in their step, and that ain’t gonna happen with Rosie’s music. Just put one Croc in front of the other.