Segarra grew up in Bronx, and is of Puerto Rican descent. She says she was raised by her aunt Mirida and though she was distant from her mother she remained very close to her father as a child.
When she was between 13 and 14 years old, “the minute I could take the subway by myself, I headed to the Lower East Side because I knew that’s where all the weirdos were, where all the punks were. I was always taking an hour subway ride out there. And that’s really where I feel like I grew up because I spent so much of my time there—all of my friends were there. That’s where I learned a lot about New York and about the world, really.” Segarra became a regular attendee of hardcore punk shows at ABC No Rio.
Segarra left her home in Bronx at age 17, spending time crossing North America, hopping freight trains. “I grew up with my aunt and uncle who raised me, and they were really really great parents, you know? But it was mostly just about how I felt like I didn’t know how I could grow in NYC. I felt stifled there in certain ways, even though I loved it,” Segarra said, referring to how big New York City was.
“Well, I didn’t tell them. I ran away. And that’s definitely, when I look back on it, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I really regret how much it hurt them and how much it worried them. And like I said, they’ve been so supportive and understanding….. So basically it was the day after I turned 17, I left. I had already dropped out of school, and things were really hard because I knew I was hurting my aunt by feeling so lost. And she was confused as to what to do with me at that point. I just told myself that I had to get out into the world. I’m gonna catch a ride with my friends and figure this out and travel around and follow this desire that I had to see the country. I just had faith that I was gonna figure it out…. That’s definitely a lot of what drives me today is just feeling like I’ve gotta make these people proud. They really sacrificed a lot for me.”
After playing the washboard for a while, Segarra picked up the banjo that a close friend had given her and began writing her own songs. Segarra, drummer/violinist Yosi Pearlstein and bass player David Maclay are the core members of Hurray for the Riff Raff. The trio is often accompanied by accordion, guitar, organ and musical saw players.
NPR describes the band: “As a group, Hurray for the Riff Raff is, and has always been, proof that millennials are not lazy or unobservant or wandering — or, more accurately for the famously peripatetic Segarra, that not all who wander are lost. She has a voice rooted in history, making music to change the present. Hers is the voice of the future.”