Interview: Michael Harren!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing talented musician Michael Harren. To learn more about Michael and his music, please check out michaelharren.com before proceeding to the following interview.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming a musician.

I always loved music when I was a kid and sang in various choirs. I had a kid’s electric organ back then too, I loved to play mini-concerts for my family, mainly just short songs I had figured out by ear. One Christmas when I was around 13 years old, my mom bought the family a piano and I took to it immediately. I taught myself to read music, and then I started taking lessons. My teacher and I didn’t get along so well, so I stopped taking lessons after a couple of years, but I continued playing. I played for the choir at my High School in Tyler, TX, and in a band I had formed with some friends.

After I graduated from High School I had a really hard time deciding to study music. I had gotten the message pretty distinctly that there was little chance of making a living as a musician, so I chose to study Radio Television Production instead. Of course, I wasn’t all that interested in it and wound up flunking out of college during my first year, mostly due to my preferred career as an alcoholic and a drug addict.

I played in a few bands during that time, but it wasn’t till I sobered up in 1994 that I started to take piano seriously. I went back to college and studied piano performance and music composition. First at Houston Community College, then at University of Houston. I pretty quickly became connected with some theaters in Houston and started musical directing, and got some pretty steady gigs as a pianist.

How does being based in Brooklyn influence the music that you make?

I have become involved in some really interesting work here and gotten connected with great people just because of physical proximity. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn have a surprising “small town” feel, which has really served to push me out of the somewhat introverted way I live my life. For example, I met performer and intuitive Victoria Libertore at a coffee shop one block from my apartment, and seeds of Tentative Armor was written in her Archetypal Performance class. She’s also become a spiritual mentor, much of that practice (meditation, channeling etc…) informs my music and inspires new ideas I would not have had.

I’ve found that other musicians here have a spirit of openness and camaraderie I did not expect. People are always sending each other work, and sharing knowledge with one another, where I was expecting the music world to be a bit more competitive. I’ve learned so much from others who are just interested in sharing and being excited about creating new work in new ways.

In what ways do your social and personal identities affect your art?

I want to say that being queer, sober and vegan are the most prominent identities, though I can’t really think of how they affect my art. I have gone through a bit of a journey with how I relate with mainstream gay culture. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone from immersing myself in gay culture, then rejecting it completely, to where I am now — I feel more relaxed about needing to identify with any specific group. Truth be told, I think that process has really affected and shaped me as an artist where I feel safe to create what I am creating without TOO much concern with where this work lands. I’d be lying if I said I don’t care if this work resonates with anyone else, but I feel in a good enough place as a human to know that it isn’t necessarily my business whether other people like what I’m doing.

You skillfully synthesize aspects of classic musical with more electronic sounds. What inspired that combination?

The music I first fell in love with was what I was listening to as a teenager in the 80’s, I was really fascinated with synthesizers so I would consider that the root of my interest in composing electronic music. My first thought about my inspiration for combining electronics and acoustic instruments was Talk Talk’s 1984 album “It’s My Life.” I distinctly remember the first time I noticed that what I first thought of as a synth based album actually had some sprinklings of acoustic guitar and trumpet and various other instruments. I think it adds an interesting depth and character to the way things sound to combine the precision of electronics with the fallibility and imperfection of acoustic instruments.

One of your most recent singles, “Go” sounds like it could be in a musical. What is the story behind that song?

I was getting ready for my first reading of Tentative Armor at Judson Church. At the time, the show ended with a piece called “Five Tasks of Grief” which is the story of caring for my mom while she was dying of cancer. I wanted the show to end on a more uplifting note, so I wrote this song as an ending. It turned out to be a really heartbreaking song, inspired by a moment I had with my mom where I knew she was really suffering and I wanted to find a way to help her let go. I hope the song has an uplifting quality too in the way that it affirms that we really all are on this earth temporarily and embracing grief is an important part of embracing being alive.

I love the title, “Tentative Armor.” What does it mean?

To me, “Tentative Armor” talks about the idea of wanting to keep my distance others while still craving some kind of intimacy. Some of the stories in the show talk about just that. It could be not waking someone up on the subway who fell asleep on my shoulder, or having an anonymous sexual encounter in order to experience some level of intimacy while still protecting myself.

What was it like performing that show and making the related album?

Performing this material, especially the first time, was terrifying. I had written and composed all of the music in the safety of my apartment, and only a small handful of people had heard any of it. I had limited experience as a solo performer, having spent most of my time behind the piano playing for other people. Accomplishing that though, was really inspiring and motivation, especially considering that it was well received. Each performance of it since then has been a step toward taking bigger risks as a performer.

I am still in the process of finishing the album, and it is another set of firsts for me. The pieces on the album are like old friends by now, but I am mixing the album myself which presents its own sets of challenges. I’m happy with how it is all going, but it’s sloooooow!

How did the related book come about?

My long time friend luke kurtis had the idea for the book. He and I met on a Yoko Ono fan site in the late 90s and have been friends ever since. He came to the performances of the show and told me over coffee one afternoon about his idea to create the book and incorporate some of his photos into the book. I was really thrilled, because I felt it would be the perfect thing to pair with an album. Standing outside of the show, I was afraid the music and spoken word pieces wouldn’t work as audio recordings. The book is really going to pull things together and luke’s design is just beautiful.

What have been some highlights from performing live?

The first reading of the show was so outstanding for me. So many more people came to that performance than I expected and I really had no idea how people would react. I was really thrilled to have such a great response, especially from people who I didn’t know. There was a woman who came up and spoke to me after the show about “Five Tasks of Grief.” She told me that she was caring for her terminally ill Grandfather. She hadn’t had anyone to talk about what she was going through, so she hearing me tell the story about caring for my mom helped her feel like she wasn’t so alone. That was the first moment that I realized that there was some value to others in doing this type of work. I think speaking with that woman was the highlight of the whole process so far.

How has it been working and touring with Sandra Bernhard?

All in all it has been really fun. I was quite intimidated for the first few shows because I had been a fan of hers since probably the late 80’s when I saw Without You I’m Nothing on the big screen. One of the things that surprised me the most was how gracious she is toward me as a fellow artist. Seeing how hard she works is really eye-opening, and lit a fire under my ass. It’s really challenging showing up at different venues not knowing what to expect from the sound, the space, the piano and often not exactly sure what music she is going to want to do. That part of it especially has made me grow quickly as a musician. I feel like I am much more willing to experiment and go with the flow than I was before I started working with her. Knowing how hard she works in every part of her life, I am much less likely to allow myself to be lazy as far as what I need to do in order to get my solo career where I want it.

I love your song, “Invocation.” It seems to combine elements of spoken word. How did you put together that song?

Oh wow, this song has had a long journey. It was rhythmically inspired by a Steve Jansen song called “Captured Through A Quiet Window.” I loved the way that song has a rhythmic spaciousness. I figured out the time signature was something like 11/8 and I set to programming a drum pattern that had the same kind of feel, that’s basically how it sounds now, those big clunky drums. Once I started writing out the string parts I realized that I had made a mistake and actually written the piece in alternating measures of 10/8 and 12/8. Which gave it an even “floatier” feel to me.

A melody emerged out of that and then the different layers of synths. The first time I performed it, it didn’t have any vocals at all, they showed up for the second reading of the show, That middle part with the improvisational singing really feels like channeling to me, when I get out-of-the-way of it anyway. It’s a voice that emerges at the end of the show after all of the various challenges and realizations. the text in the beginning came to me in this moment of auto-writing, and it really is the message of the show to me. Kind of like: “you are here, perfectly ready to move on to the next thing. Let’s go!”

You have performed at Judson Memorial Church, which is known for its social justice work. Have you been involved with activist or other social justice efforts, and if so, which?

I am a pretty outspoken vegan and animal rights advocate, well aware of the fact that I need to put more action into my activism. I like to have vegan food and animal rights info at my shows, and I recently organized a fundraiser for For The Animals Sanctuary. Before I left Texas I covered some issues about the death penalty on my podcast at mikeypod.com. I covered the events leading up the heartbreaking execution of Frances Newton in 2005. I spent some time as an intern at Koinonia Partners in Americus, GA, which was the birthplace of Habitat For Humanity. I have to admit that this question has me feeling uncomfortably aware of how that work is comparatively absent in my life now. I need to open more space in my life for this again.

Did or do you have any other career aspirations outside of music?

I have been teaching music for many years now, but that’s the only other thing outside of music, and I actually teach music. Haha, I guess the answer to that is “no.” 🙂

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Just keep making and performing and doing what you want to do no matter what!

What is next for you creatively?

I am not quite sure. I have a couple of new spoken word pieces that I will be performing at my album release show here in NYC. Those may shape up into another show. I am really interested in gathering my more musical (aka less theatrical) pieces of work and start doing more straight up concert gigs. I’ll be experimenting with what that feels like at the album release show on October 14th as well.

Thanks for the interview!

You’re welcome and thank you for having me!

-Sem

Interview: Tan Vampires!

Underneath This just enjoyed interviewing Tan Vampires, a very talented band based in New Hampshire.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming musicians.

Most of the band participated in public school music programs in some way as kids, and a number of us studied music in college. We’ve all been playing in numerous bands since high school or before.

How did Tan Vampires form and how did you decide upon the band’s name?

I (Jake) wrote a batch of songs shortly after a previous band I was in broke up that I felt were worth developing into a new project. I knew the rest of the guys in the band through various past shared musical experiences, and also from our connection to the local NH seacoast music scene.

The name was just kind of a silly thing I had kicking around that I thought was memorable. Of course, shortly after I started performing under the name, vampires had a pretty big pop-culture moment, and I considered changing it, but ultimately decided since I’d had it first I wasn’t going to give it up.

How does being from New Hampshire affect the music that you make?

The music scene where we live is really special. The community is fairly small, and extremely close-knit. Despite being small, we have an incredibly diverse spectrum of musical styles and a disproportionately high level of talent. There’s a ton of cross-pollination happening, with many musicians playing in multiple groups and projects. I think this environment has allowed us to explore a lot of different musical avenues and take risks because the community encourages and supports individuality.

Who and what have been your principle creative influences?

This question would probably elicit very different responses from each of us. I’ve always read pretty ravenously, and my approach to songwriting and lyrics has always been rooted in some way to my sensibilities as a writer. Musically I’m all over the place. I studied jazz and classical music for a while, and I have an enduring love for soul and Motown, as well as punk, hardcore, and hip-hop.

Your music has generally been described as indie rock. What do you make of this designation?

I’m not sure indie means anything to the general public anymore. I recently read a review of a friend’s band (who are on a major label) where they were referred to as “indie.” I think that the fact that a band on a major label can be referred to as “indie”, without irony and with seemingly no awareness of the literal meaning of the word, indicates that the word has lost whatever descriptive power it may once have possessed.

In the context of what we do, well, I do consider us indie in the sense that we are independent. We are not signed to a label, our records have all been recorded, produced, and paid for by the band. We are not indebted to anyone else, financially or otherwise, and as such we are able to keep complete creative control over everything we do.

As for the “rock” part, it’s sometimes true, but I don’t feel beholden to it. I’m too interested in exploring different ideas to be beholden to any one genre.

In what ways is your creative work feminist?

One way is the way I consciously try to write from (and expose myself to) a perspective that is bigger than just “straight, white, and male.” That would be pretty dull and unrewarding, both for myself and for the audience. That being said, I don’t have a specific social or political agenda with my music.

How have your social identities informed your music?

I can’t speak for everyone on this one, but for me, having been a painfully shy, pretty nerdy kid, I think I ended up spending a lot of time in solitude: reading, writing, and practicing. If I had been more comfortable in my own skin I might have had more of a social life and maybe ended up not being as deeply invested in music as I am. It’s hard to say.

One of my favorite songs by you is “Digital Rot” off your debut album. What inspired that track?

Desperation and alcohol, mostly. I actually wrote that song about a week before we went in the studio to record what became “For Physical Fitness.” We had a bunch of songs, but nothing that felt like a really strong opening track for an album.

So, on a Saturday night ( I think we were going in the studio on Tues, or Wed) I drank about 2/3 of a bottle of bourbon at home by myself and all this terminology and imagery that I can only guess comes from my early 90s school computer classes started to come out.

I worry sometimes about the pace of technological progress and my own ability to keep up, especially as I get older, and I guess a lot of those feelings were coming out in songs on that record.

So I recorded a rough demo of the tune, and then must have passed out and forgotten about it until the band got together on Monday when one of the guys said “I think that song might work as an album opener” and I said “what song?”

And I think the version on the record was maybe the third or fourth time we ever played through the song together as a band.

You are quite adept at telling stories via music. What are the stories behind “Fake Southern Drawl,” “Secret Carnivore,” and “The Season has Come.”

I don’t often write about specific experiences in my life, and if i do it’s usually not in a direct fashion. I consider what I write to be fiction. Writing lyrics is a way for me to explore fictional scenarios, sometimes fantastical ones, that I otherwise might not experience. I consider it my job to make those works of fiction emotionally resonant.

I love the juxtaposition of mundane and unexpected images in the video for “Into the West” off your latest album, Ephemera. What was it like to make this video?

We really have to give credit for that video to Jeremy Collins (jeremyscollins.com) who also directed our video for “Digital Rot.” He came up with the concept and made it happen. We knew from working on “Digital Rot” with him that he had cool ideas and the talent and work ethic to execute them. So, basically we just signed off on his concept and showed up to film cameos.

It’s a fun way for us to do things, to let someone else take the reins, because it allows us to experience our own music in a fresh way when we see the video for the first time and see how the ideas have taken shape.

The artwork of that album is beautiful. How did it come about?

I believe Nick (Phaneuf, our guitar player) came across Taylor’s art hanging somewhere in Portsmouth, NH. She has a great, whimsical, illustrative style (taylorrosemakesart.com) and we felt like she could really express the quality of nostalgia that is so present in the songs on that record.

We asked her to come up with concepts, and she came back with a bunch of ideas. Then we worked with her to narrow down the focus, and she took our vague (and probably conflicting) ideas and managed to turn them into the beautiful artwork on the album.

What were some highlights of playing at South by Southwest for the first time?

We got to play some great shows with some great bands like Deer Tick, and the Felice Brothers. We even got to play a Spurs v. Lakers game in San Antonio with Mobb Deep while we were there.

One of my favorite things about SXSW was having so many friends from all over in the same place at the same time, which doesn’t really happen in the everyday real world.

Several months ago, we interviewed Wilder Maker. What is it like performing with them in Portland, Maine?

I believe our friend Jeff Beam invited us to play that show. Portland is a great town with a really vibrant music scene. We love playing there, especially when we get to be on such good bills.

Would or have you ever covered a Vampire Weekend song? 🙂

We have not. We actually don’t really do covers in this band. I’ve been known to play a few when I perform solo gigs, but I usually only cover songs written by friends. I suppose if I ever meet the guys in Vampire Weekend and become friends with them, their music would be fair game.

On what projects are you working currently?

We’ve got a bunch of new songs that we’re in the process of figuring out how to record/release. We were in the studio about a few weeks back tracking some of them, and we’ll probably be back soon to continue. We’ll make an announcement when we have plans to release something,

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Do it because you love it. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed. Also, don’t expect anyone else to help you. You’ve got to be prepared and willing to do everything on your own.

-Sem

Do Music and Politics Still Mix in the U.K?

Another great post by the talented Owen!

musicandotherthingz.com

You hear quite often that music and politics don’t mix and that is the reason why musical innovation has slowed, as we all look back and borrow from times when they did mix. For the most part that is true, but it is not universal by any means. It might not even be intentional if the listener makes that connection to a political happening, then it is a political song for them and may sway them to whatever debate they are interested in. It might not be as direct as ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday by Lennon and John Lydon might not be snarling ‘God Save The Queen’ to us all, but you’d be surprised what you find and don’t assume that musicians are automatically out and out liberals still either.

Most of these are in direct or indirect relation to Scottish Independence, E.U membership or general distaste with Mr Cameron and his Bullingdon Chumps…

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Single Review – Julian Casablancas and The Voidz – Human Sadness

musicandotherthingz.com

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz | photo via spin.com
After what has seemed like an eternity, we finally have something solid from Julian Casablancas and The Voidz. We now have an album title in Tyranny and a release date of September 23rd. On top of this, there is now a track listing of twelve songs with titles such as ‘Xerox’, ‘Nintendo Blood’, ‘Crunch Punch’ and ‘Human Sadness’, which is today’s release. It is the most un-Julian track you could imagine at eleven minutes long and opens with strings that are set aside Julian’s more harmonious yet distorted vocal. It is joined by heavy jumps sample driven jolts and high voltage lead guitars that are layered over the steady rotating riff rhythms. The song then begins to take hard base punches as the vocals rise in volume conclude a controlled chaos sort of opening as it filters down into a reverberating and distant sound with Julian’s vocal before launching to immediacy…

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Interview: Brandon Monokian!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Monokian, an actor, writer and director. Please read more about Brandon in a bio sent by him before proceeding to the interview.

Brandon’s original plays have been presented throughout New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey. They have starred the likes of Christian Coulson (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and Style Network star Briella Calafiore (Jerseylicious, Glam Fairy). Brandon co-created the Page to Stage arts programming for Princeton Public Library (for which they produced a mini documentary highlighting the work) and spoke at their Tedx series about his theatre protest project Revolutionary Readings. Brandon received national attention through Revolutionary Readings, which was used to fight the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices from two New Jersey libraries. Bitch Magazine called Revolutionary Readings “an awesome way to protest the banning of this book.” As an actor he has performed at the Vineyard Playhouse and Luna Stage in readings of The Ride by Carol Lynn Maillard (founding member of the Grammy award-winning Sweet Honey in the Rock). The Ride is a companion piece to In Development, a work he co-created with acclaimed actress Suzzanne Douglas and poet Yorri J. Berry. Brandon also appeared in Obie Award Winning PearlDamour’s eight hour piece How to Build a Forest (The Kitchen), PastTENSE (dir. Robert Woodruff), Love is in The Air (dir. Jeremy Bloom, The Cell), Shlemiel the First (dir. David Gordon, Skirball Center) and Überboy: The Story of a Hero (dir. John Bow, GOCTC). He is a three-time director of The Vagina Monologues for the V Day campaign, helping to raise thousands for various women’s charities. Productions of The Vagina Monologues he has directed have starred Amy Warren (Broadway’sAugust: Osage County), Briella Calafiore (Jerseylicious), Jessica Romano (Glam Fairy), Elaine Bromka (Uncle Buck), Suzzanne Douglas (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Parent ‘Hood), Julie Fain Lawrence (Concussion) and Stephaine Roth Haberle (Phaedra Backwards). For more information, please visit http://www.brandonmakestheatre.com and twitter @brandonmonokian

‘Peter Pan is Dead’ the graphic novel of the play by Brandon with art by Sara Sciabbarrasi is on sale now. CLICK HERE to order! For tickets to the Philadelphia Fringe production of the play running September 6 – 21 CLICK HERE.

brandonmheadshot

How did you become inspired to pursue a career in the arts?

I saw Les Misérables on Broadway when I was six (I begged my parents to take me after being obsessed with the cast album). I saw a young Lacey Chabert (of Mean Girls and Party of Five fame) on stage and thought “if this kid my age can do this, so can I.” Thanks, Lacey Chabert!

Who and which forces have been most influential along your path?

My parents, coffee and wine. Also, I’ve been lucky to have a few incredible artists mentor me for some time after I graduated college. Suzzanne Douglas from How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Elaine Bromka from Uncle Buck and Julie Fain Lawrence from Concussion have all taught me more post graduation than was possible to learn in a classroom setting. I’m forever grateful they took time to both challenge and nurture me.

How do your social and personal identities affect your work?

My work is so personal to me, and since my social identities and personal experiences shape who I am, they are of course reflected in my work. When I was younger I got picked on a lot… “loser, worthless, faggot”, I’ve been called it all. Had things thrown at me, even. Growing up was rough in that respect, but as an adult I rarely have had to deal with any of that; but the reality is if I wasn’t living in this year, in a fairly liberal location, my adult experience would be very different. So I remember my experiences, pay attention to those of others and I take action in my words, my work, my vote, and where I spend my money.

Peter Pan is Dead

With both “Grimm Women” and “Peter Pan is Dead” you have used fairy tales as a motif. Why this theme?

I’m interested in the fact that the source material for these plays (Brother’s Grimm fairy tales and Peter Pan) are substantially darker than the versions we are fed as children. I think part of me felt cheated when I found this out. We’ve been programmed for a happy ending and relatively smooth journey, when that isn’t life, and it also isn’t these stories.

Peter Pan is Dead graphic novel preview 1

What was it like modernizing Ovid’s work for your play “echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo”?

I think Ovid’s original poem about Echo and Narcissus may be the most beautiful thing ever written. echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo is my darkest, most personal work because I saw myself in both of those characters simultaneously. Maybe because I’m a Gemini.

To date, what has been the most surprising reaction to your writing?

Someone was audibly sobbing in the audience during one of the performances of echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo. I’m talking a good ol’ ugly cry. It was flattering but it also made me nervous.

How has it been alternating among writing, directing, and acting? What are the similarities and differences among the three?

Best case scenario, the similarity is that you are creating something in a collaborative environment. Sometimes when you are acting, what you are doing on stage is more dictated to you than collaboration, but for the most part I’ve felt like my ideas about the characters I’ve played have been valued. With directing it’s 100% knowing how to communicate with people in whatever way they will listen best, which is completely different for everyone. You have to be good at reading people so you know how to bring out what you want from them. The most difficult thing about directing is dealing with people’s egos. I come from the Kelly Cutrone mindset of “if you have to cry, go outside” but most actors aren’t familiar with that concept. They are fragile beings, so you have to treat them like Precious Moments half the time, which frankly can be tiring, but that’s what end of the day red wine is for. Writing for me is pure emotion and instinct. I write drunk and edit sober. I’ve learned to write with specific people in mind, because it makes the characters more textured. When I first wrote Grimm Women, the Little Red Riding Hood character was a really dark, dreary part. When we got Briella from Jerseylicious to sign on, I re-wrote it and she became a really cool, edgy, pot smoking train wreck.

Which has been your favorite character to write, direct, and portray so far? Why?

Credit: Kevin Monko

Credit: Kevin Monko

Write: Adrestia, the goddess of revenge in Peter Pan is Dead, because she takes action where others won’t.

Direct: Eurydice in Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Ovid’s myth because she was so complex and poetic.

Portray: I was in an eight our performance art piece called How to Build a Forest (you can see the whole thing sped up to six minutes here: http://vimeo.com/32998219 ), so not necessarily the character, but the whole experience was my favorite because it was a group of people working together to create something truly epic. The ego free spirit everyone approached the work with was inspiring and since it was early in my career, set a great tone for me on how to behave in future experiences.

How was it directing a reading of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology?

We did that to protest the fact that the book had been banned in two libraries. We called the performance Revolutionary Readings. At the time I had no idea what I was doing. I was just young and pissed off that this book was banned in both my school and public library. In the beginning of the process it was me, my partner in crime Victoria Fear, and a group of young, passionate, equally pissed off theatre artists just raising our voices in the town square, so to speak. At first we were just begging people to let us come and perform this work as a form of protest to this censorship, which we knew was a great injustice. We went from pleading to perform in small cafes, to getting invited to places like Rutgers University, Princeton Public Library and different Library conferences. News vans showed up to my parent’s house unannounced, I was getting called for interviews with different papers, and at one point for a brief moment was given a publicist. What we were doing was very controversial, and certainly a lot of people just wished we would shut up and go away, but we had a lot of people leave the performances in tears over the work because they were touched so deeply by it, which really spoke to why the material should not have been banned. I had just graduated college and couldn’t have foreseen the magnitude to which the project would grow. It was a trial by fire for me and so many involved. I gave a Tedx talk about it at the Princeton Public Library some time after the initial explosion of controversy. You can watch it here: http://youtu.be/w1X7TX4i1ew

Page to Stage series

What inspired you to co-found “Page to Stage” with Janie Hermann and how is it going so far?

Janie Hermann and the Princeton Public Library had us doing a performance of Revolutionary Readings as a part of their banned book week. It was around that time I got to see the power of literature being adapted for the stage. We developed the series to promote literacy by presenting theatrical adaptations of written works in an animated, physical way. It lasted for three years and it was one of the best experiences of my professional career. Princeton Public Library produced a really beautiful mini documentary about Page to Stage which you can see here: http://vimeo.com/57147953

What was it like being part of The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues? Relatedly, how do you perceive theatre as being part of social justice?

Those pieces have such history, meaning and weight to them, and it was an honor and a humbling experience to be involved in them. I used to think theatre was a way of making things up, but now see it as a vehicle in which to tell the truth. We can see ourselves in the characters and the stories on stage, and by seeing ourselves we are able to reflect and change as people, which is how all social change begins.

I enjoy your commercials for Hallmark. One seems to represent themes regarding adolescence, which is a time period you seem to focus on in that work. What is it about this era of life that is compelling?

Thank you! It’s so interesting you bring that up because I never thought of those commercials that way, but that is a theme prevalent in my other work. We were just trying to sell a product, but also create something fun that people would laugh at.

Brandon Monokian

In what ways is your work feminist?

I’m a three time director of The Vagina Monologues, which is the most globally recognizable feminist theatre piece. By doing that show we were able to raise a lot of money for various women’s charities, as well create awareness and a dialogue about the horrific sexual and physical violence women have suffered globally and in our own back yards. I’m absolutely a feminist, but I’m not sure I would describe my body of work as a whole as feminist or not feminist, it’s more just a reflection of my life experiences.

Which type of music have inspired you to make other types of art?

Music inspires me to write. I know you aren’t supposed to list modern, “trendy” acts as inspiration, but fuck it, Lana Del Rey very much inspired echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo and Peter Pan is Dead. I wrote them at the same time, drunk on red wine, while listening to Young and Beautiful on repeat.

What insights would you like to share with aspiring writers?

I was in a Gen Ed level writing course in college, and we had to write essays each week. Every time we handed one in, the teacher (a writer by the name of Jess Row) would pick one essay, black out the name, and make copies of it for the whole class to correct. He picked my essay every week except one. At first I was mortified. Then someone told me that he wouldn’t have picked mine (and picked mine so often!) if there wasn’t anything there to bring out of it. The truth is I could have been doing a lot better, but I was 18 years old, and didn’t give a fuck about anything. So by the end of that experience, I was motivated to give a fuck and represent myself in the way I wanted to be perceived.

What is next for you creatively?

I’ve worked with artist Sara Sciabbarrasi on creating a graphic novel of the Peter Pan is Dead script which you can order online now. I’d like to start concentrating on multi-disciplinary work. I like the idea of bringing things together that people don’t think necessarily belong together… like theatre and comic books. So creatively, much more of that. The graphic novel is on sale here: http://peterpanisdead.storenvy.com/products/9117253-peter-pan-is-dead-graphic-novel

Peter Pan is Dead graphic novel preview 2

I also have a product line of “wine-cessories” called Cork & Wood which I’m going to be expanding on substantially this coming year. They’re on sale here: http://corkandwood.storenvy.com/

-Sem

Encountering St. Vincent – Gateshead Sage

musicandotherthingz.com

On the 27th August I experienced first hand the marvel and enigma that is Annie Clark a.k.a St. Vincent. One of the most spectacular events that you could experience in combining her truly innovative and ground breaking music with striking theatrics, effects and coolly executed dramatics. These were evident from the off as the synth bounces of ‘Rattlesnake’ hit the applause and St. Vincent strolled on to carry out a series of poses and stances before a urgent and crisp delivery of the track whilst moving on to ‘Digital Witnesses’ with all it’s live intricacies and detail of each strike of her guitar and slick presentation that is occasionally intercepted by Wiry and metallic guitar solos, which are delivered with ease. She went on to engage the audience by guessing the nickname for the people of “Newcastle slash Gateshead” was “Peaches” and that their favourite word was “osteology” which we might use in reference to…

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Interview: Hannah Georgas

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Canadian singer-songwriter Hannah Georgas, who discussed her self-titled album and highlights of her tour with Sara Bareilles.

While Hannah Georgas’s sound has evolved since her days playing guitar in Vancouver folk clubs, she continues to create thoughtful songs with lovely melodies. Her latest album incorporates synth pop sounds and features beautiful vocals while capturing a variety of emotions. The songs range from reflective and personal (“Ode to Mom”) to fun and catchy (“Shortie”). Notable tracks include “Somebody,” a song about unrequited love, and “Millions,” which was featured on an episode of HBO’s Girls.

You can find more information about Hannah Georgas at her website, hannahgeorgas.com.

Photo Credit: Jack Alexander

Photo Credit: Jack Alexander

What inspired you to become a musician?

My dad was always playing the piano and singing around me when I was a kid.  I saw how happy he was when he played.  He was also really good at it.  I think his love for music rubbed off on me and inspired me.  My mom encouraged me to take piano lessons at a really young age.  I began writing songs once I figured out my way around the keys.

What is the creative process like for you?

It changes from time to time.  I do think I get inspiration when I feel emotional about something.  Lyrics and melody tend to come into play first.  I do enjoy having my own space to think.

You have often been compared to another Canadian singer-songwriter, Feist. What do you make of this comparison?

I think she’s an incredible artist and I’m a big fan so I take it as a HUGE compliment.

I really enjoyed your performance when you opened for Sara Bareilles in Boston, MA. What are some memorable moments you have had while touring?

Thank you!!  The whole run was pretty incredible.  The two nights at Madison Square Garden were definite highlights for me.  The Greek Theatre in Berkeley was one of the most amazing places I have ever played.  The sound was unbelievable!

Your latest album is more synthesized than your previous albums. What was it like recording this album?

I moved out to Toronto to work on the album with my producer Graham Walsh for two months.  I really enjoyed setting up camp and living in a different city to focus on the album.  It was an inspiring time for me and the process was pretty magical.  I think the studio is my favourite facets of making music.

“Ode to Mom” is a beautiful song that you wrote about your dad. What was it like writing and performing such a personal song?

It’s one of my favourite songs to play with the band in a live setting.  I feel really connected to the audience when I sing it and I feel proud to perform it.  I remember that song kinda poured out of me.  My mom was visiting me in Vancouver at the time and the idea popped into my head then.  I was reflecting quite a bit on what exactly was going through my mom’s head after my dad passed away.  I was trying to put myself in her shoes.

I enjoyed your cover of “Stay” by Rihanna. Are there any songs you would like to cover in the future?

There are a lot of songs out there that I’d love to cover.  PM Dawn is next on my list!

What music are you listening to currently?

I like coming home and listening to my record player.  I’m currently listening to The Everly Brothers and Andy Shauf.

What are some of your interests outside of music?

I love being active.  Tennis is my favourite.  Running clears my head and inspires musical ideas all the time.  Watching movies.  Drinking good coffee.  The  outdoors.  Taking photos (I’m not good but I think I could be..ha)

What insight do you have for aspiring musicians?

Surround yourself with people that want you to do well and with people you trust.  Write a lot.  Play music because you love it and don’t lose sight of that.

-Strike

Interview: Greg Alexandropoulos of Western Education!

Underneath This was pleased to interview Greg, lead singer of the indie-dance band, “Western Education.” According to the bio on their website, the band formed in the spring of 2011 after Greg plastered the UMass Lowell campus with flyers searching for kindred musicians.

Will Hunt (bass and production) and Georgio Broufas (guitar, backing vocals) replied and the demo process began. The band was complete when Mark Ragusa (drums) joined in early 2012. Around that time, Western Education released a self-titled debut EP, and another, The Weekend Sessions, later that year.The band’s full-length debut “Let Your Secrets Out” was released earlier this summer.  Notably, the band was selected as one of Boston Phoenix’s Top 13 Best New Bands of 2013.

Please read below for Greg’s thoughtful responses.

 

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Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

My mom writes country songs. I remember from an early age she encouraged me to pursue music. The big thing for me was when the music video for “Somebody Told Me” (The Killers) came out. That song got me into all of this new wave/post punk revival music. I think I was around 11 at the time. I remember sitting in front of VH1 waiting for it to come on. I was obsessed.

In what way does being based in Lowell, MA influence the music that you make?

It’s kind of the opposite. When I was younger, it was hard to find people who liked the bands that I did. It seemed like people just were not into this new wave revival thing. Being based in Lowell, where there are no bands like us, it makes you feel unique. Empowered to write the best songs, and finding that niche for yourself. We stood out from the crowd really early on- for better or worse.

How do your social identities, including gender, influence the creative process?

Tough question. I’m actually very much a homebody. I don’t like being in the big cities, even though that’s where Western Education has had to go to further the band. The personality of our songs is always: big, hugely catchy, over the top, anthem-like material. We don’t hold back. But I guess I’m kind of the opposite offstage. As for gender? I don’t know if that influenced anything. I’m not too interested in writing about clichéd love songs, or relationships. But that’s just me. Everyone contributes to the songwriting in West Ed, so that’s just my opinion.

You identify New Order, The Smiths, The Ramones, The Cure, Joy Division and Death Cab for Cutie among your creative influences. Have you covered songs by any of these artists? What is a dream cover song for you?

The first song we ever covered was actually “Last Friday Night” by Katy Perry. Covers are tricky business. I like covering girl group songs because it’s kind of ironic for a male rock band to play it. I don’t like doing covers by my favorite bands because I’m afraid that I won’t do them justice. As for dream covers? Let’s just say I really want to give “Dancing Queen” a shot, but I don’t know how everyone else in the band feels about that!

Which female musicians have been influential?

Confession. I actually really enjoy Enya. There is a little bit of her ethereal influence on some of our album tracks. Also, Florence and the Machine is great; the drum sounds are huge! Also, I own all of the Katy Perry and La Roux albums. For some reason I really enjoy early-pop era girl group songs as well.

You just released your full-length debut album, Let Your Secrets Out. I really enjoy the title. How did you devise it?

It comes from our song “Young Love”. It’s taken directly from the lyric. It’s a great title. I guess you could say that the meaning behind it is: I may sing you some very personal stories that I maybe wouldn’t tell you about in person.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Young Love.” What is the story behind that song?

That’s where the album title comes from. That song is actually one of the oldest Western Education songs. It dates back to winter of 2011, going into 2012. I remember Georgio had most of it already before he showed it to me. We worked on the chorus together, and that was it. It was the first song that got us into the Boston scene. It really kicked up dust for us in local media and radio. The demo version was originally released on our self-titled EP. It seems to be the big sing-a-long song at the live shows.

“Rivals” was the lead single. What was it like to compose that song?

That song actually took a long time. We had an original version around the winter of 2012-2013 that was way longer and had this synth interlude. That version is probably floating around the internet somewhere. I remember when we were writing it: Georgio had that awesome riff, and parts of the verses, and I wrote the “I ran through the street” part for a different song. But we ended up just mashing them together, and it worked out great. The lyrics went through several revisions over several weeks, as well. The version we released is a lot shorter. We worked with a producer named Drew Thompson Hooke to cut it down and make a version we liked. Overall, that song took like 6 months from start to release.

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Your song, “Lost Art” has a different sound. What inspired this track?

That is another song that took a long time. The original version was piano based, and there was this crazy guitar section. It just never felt quite right, so I remember one day Georgio and I were like “Why don’t we try an electronic version?” and that’s the version on the record. We cut out a lot of material, and transformed it into a synth ballad. It’s the one time on the album where we slow down and give you a chance to breathe. It’s one of my favorites to listen to. In studio, Steve Aliperta, from the band The Color and Sound programmed the drum kit.

Your album has both has a soothing and energizing sound on this album. Which emotions did you wish to convey most of this song on this record?

Our songs have this contrast of being very anthem-like and danceable, but the lyrics are sad, or introspective. I wanted to make an album that would get you off your feet on every song. No filler, no boring tracks, no overly long arrangements. I guess I wanted to make you dance, but make you think about your life at the same time!

How do you know when a song feels right and ready to be on an album or performed?

There is always this moment in the songwriting process where I start laughing, and we all can’t stop smiling about the song. That’s when we know we’re on to something good. Also, I hate excess length in a song, so we actively make sure everything is as tight and trimmed as possible. Even a 2 minute song can be too long if you’re not careful. Also, the melodic content is very important. If I can’t stop singing along to it, you know it’s ready to go. We are very harsh on ourselves, and nothing slips through the cracks.

I really enjoy the wistful sentiment of your earlier song “The Weekends.” How do you feel your experiences during your youth influence the music you make presently?

I guess that song is about being a child, and everything is awesome, but then you grow up a little and find out the world is filled with problems, and sad things. Everyone has problems, or issues that have to deal with, myself included. I guess for me, I always felt like I had something to prove. I’m only 21, but from the age of 13-14, I’ve always wanted to write better songs than what’s on the radio, or better songs than what people are doing around me. Lastly: I would like to do the same thing my favorite artists did for me when I was younger: write songs that would influence someone else’s life, or make someone feel better.

How was your recent show at the Middle East?

It was honestly great. People singing along to “Young Love” louder than I was singing on stage was a great feeling. I don’t remember many details though, it all feels like a 5 minute blur, even though it was a 40 minute set. We played the whole album start to finish, minus one song, “Look Away”. People were so receptive to us, and it was such a nice night for music. It was our album release party, and Boston coming together for us was awesome.

So far, what have been some highlights of performing live?

Probably people singing the words back to “Young Love” louder and louder every show. People dancing, or calling your name out from the crowd is nice, I guess. Honestly, playing live really stresses me out, and positive audience energy always helps.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Write good songs. There are enough crappy bands filling the clubs. Study how songwriting works. Why are your favorite songs so good? Never settle for bad or even average material. Be proud of your work, and really go for it. Don’t be a half-assed musician. Also, learn the business. I have a music business degree, and it has helped me immensely.

What is next for Western Education?

Hah. It feels like the album has been out for 6 months, but it’s only been out for 3 weeks. We’re honestly going to be promoting it for a long time, and that’s the plan right now. We’re also working some new material in practice sessions but the album’s release is the big thing right now. I actually love interviews, so thanks for the questions!

Sem: You are welcome! 🙂

Interview: Marlene Forte!

Underneath This was pleased to interview Marlene Forte. Please read more about Marlene (adapted from a press release bio) before proceeding to the interview.

Marlene, who is Cuban-American, began acting in her early 30’s and portrays Carmen Ramos,the Ewing family’s longtime Mary Poppins-like superintendent and mother of Elena (Jordana Brewster) on TNT’s “Dallas.” The second half of the third season of the series began this week on TNT.

Prior to being on Dallas, she appeared in a wide range of television programs including “The George Lopez Show,” “Bones,” and “ER.” Within film, she played the transporter chief in the 2009 “Star Trek” film by JJ Abrams; Mrs. Glass in “Real Women Have Curves”; and the memorable Pilar Brown in “Our Song.” Her upcoming role will be playing  a female Walter White in an independent film, further showing her versatility.

Prior to acting, Marlene had already lived a multifaceted life (and continues to do so!), having raised children and been an entrepreneur. As well, she has earned several honors and awards. Most recently, she received the “Pioneer Award” at the 2014 Reel Rasquache Art & Film Festival and an “Artist Award” from Union City.

Please read below for the interview.

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What was your life like before acting?

I was young mom who married her high school sweetie heart and was getting ready to complete her masters at Montclair State College. I was going to be a teacher or a lawyer. Now I play them on tv! Lol.

You entered acting at a relatively later time in life than many other people. What has that been like?

Well, everyone around me thought I was crazy. There was a lot of tears and yelling as I recall! Lol But I think it makes me a better actor. My job is to recreate life. How can one do that without living a life! By the time I got around to acting, I had graduated college, had a small business, had a child! That’s a life! Acting is not a horse race or a sprint. It’s a life choice. My life choice.

You were named for Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich. How has that been, and has this affected your career trajectory?

I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure it didn’t hurt! What a role model! I have an awesome of picture of her and another one of Bette Davis! LOVE her!

How have your social identities, including being Cuban, affected your creative experiences?

Absolutely! My social identity, my language, my culture, those are the things that make me Marlene Forte. Those are the things I bring to a role. No one can brings Marlene Forte’s experiences onto the page but me. And I can’t bring someone else’s life into the character.  That is what makes us all unique!

Congratulations on winning the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) Award for Excellence in Television. From your perspective, what are continued challenges with how Latino people portrayed are in television and film? What progress has there been?

Well we do have more representation on tv now than we did when I started 20 years ago but we still are behind African-American actors. The huge crossover success of people like Oprah and Tyler Perry is still not at our reach. There are two people who have really made a huge difference. The financial success of people like Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Zoe Saldana has made a huge difference for Latina women however.  And these women have their own crossover success but we need more folks producing,writing and taking the reign like  Robert Rodriguez for example! When the network El Rey takes off, it might be the beginning of something huge.

You have appeared in a wide variety of television programs from “24” to “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Which experiences stand out, so far, as the most meaningful?

I always love the project I’m working on at the moment!  But if I have to pick one, it would be Jim McKay’s Our Song. I love working on that movie and I love Kerry Washington!

What has it been like portraying a matriarch, Carmen Ramos, on this version of “Dallas”, and how did that opportunity come about?

It’s been a blast. I love Carmen! She’s my mom! And working with Larry was a hoot! To be part of such a huge part of American TV history is awesome.

What was your opinion of the original “Dallas?”

It was a huge success but I was a young mom trying to get thru college so I really didn’t watch it. I knew about it! You had to live under a rock not to back then! I had a t-shirt that said “who shot JR?”! Lol.

You have also been involved with a number of films. I appreciate the message of “Real Women Have Curves.” How was it being part of that feature?

I loved working in that film. That would be my second favorite job.  I audition to play the older sister but I guess I didn’t have enough curves back then! I was offered the role of Ms Glass and I was thrilled just to be part of it.  I loved working with Patricia too.

In your experience, how has the portrayal of women in film and television shifted in the past decade?

Well, we have more leading ladies now. With the success of shows like The Closer and Scandal, and shows like that, we now have more opportunity but nothing compares to the boys’ opportunities! It is still a man’s world but we definitely making waves and we definitely see less women in the kitchen…unless you are Carmen Ramos on Dallas! LOL.  I always say, we rarely see Carmen out of the kitchen! LOL

What was it like working with Tyler Perry?

Awesome! I love working with him. Super focused. Doesn’t waste your time. And he is really talented about creating work and getting his work done! PLUS he has a pretty awesome studio in Atlanta.  That’s what the Latino community needs! I will say it again!

How does being part of a film compare to  television industry work?

TV work is much faster.  There is not much rehearsal and we shoot an episode in 8-10 days.  I film takes a least three weeks and that would be considered a very fast shoot.  Movies get shot and we don’t see them for at least a year, if not longer, and if I guest star on a TV show, it will probably air within a month; unless it’s a pilot.

What is your perspective on the current indie film scene in the United States?

Indie films are now a million dollars.  I shot Lena’s Dream for 60,000. The only really cool thing about indie films now, is the digital aspect of the whole filming industry.  It’s much easier in that respect.  No more film.  No more film processing.  No more over exposing film! LOL Mistakes cost a lot less.

How do you balance your creative work with other aspects of your life?

I don’t live in Hollywood.  I really like to get away whenever I can.  But my work is a big part of “my” life.  It’s hard to separate it.  I have a daughter, a husband, a dog and 2 cats! That’s plenty of balance.

What insights do you have for aspiring actors?

There are no answers or easy fixes.  Acting is a life choice.  Love all aspects of this journey because it’s a long road and it’s over when you’re dead.

What is next for you professionally? 

Well, we are waiting to hear about  Dallas; we are not picked up yet for the 4th season.  But I am planning on doing a play with my husband in NYC next year, and I’m looking forward to the release of an indie movie I shot the end of last year called Assassination of a Citizen.  I play a really bad ass lady who runs meth in east LA.  Never played anything like that before.  I’m excited and little nervous about it! We will see!

-Sem

Interview: Minor Soul!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing the talented Minor Soul, an acoustic-pop band composed of two brothers Jack and Max Wagner. Last year, Minor Soul released their debut album, “Home Is Where You Are.” For more information, please check out http://www.minorsoul.com/ and proceed to the interview here!

Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

Jack: So I got my first guitar when I was eight, and I began learning all the Beatles songs and immediately began writing songs. When Max was about 13 and I was 15, Max started stealing my guitar from my room and playing it, so I decided to buy him a guitar that year for Christmas and I also taught him a few chords. Eventually we started writing songs together and we recorded some of our songs and put them up on YouTube. And to our surprise we were contacted by Dave Stewart, who is a music legend and the songwriter and producer from Eurythmics. He loved our music and flew us to LA to produce some songs and get us started in the industry. And since then we have been playing shows and writing and recording non-stop!

What has been it like working together as brothers?

Max: It is amazing working with my brother because we know each other so well and are so comfortable. We can be very honest with each other, and we know that we won’t take it personally and we both know we love each other. So it’s a very healthy and constructive partnership.

What has been the most powerful moment performing live?

Jack: Probably when we first started getting fans to our gigs who were singing along to all the lyrics in “Beneath My Skin”! That was the moment when we realized that this music we write is important to people. It was very special.

Who and what have been your influences?

Max: Jack and I have very different influences — I love pop music that’s on the radio today, and Jack is more old-school and listens to Radiohead and the Beatles and Bob Dylan. So the both of us bring something different creatively when we write.

How have your personal identities affected the music that you make?

Jack: Well Max and I are both very sensitive people so I guess our music is emotional and quite personal to us. We sing a lot about love and all the things that come along with that. And also about growing up.

In what ways has technology played a role in your careers?

Max: Technology has been great in many ways for us! We are very active on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, which is how we connect with all our fans. And we also produce most of our own music on our laptops so in that sense technology has been a great help in our career.

Your style has been described as “acoustic pop.” How would you characterize your songs?

Jack: Our songs are just honest pieces of music that we think people with connect to emotionally. We write our songs from an emotional place inside of us, and most people go through similar emotions. But our most important stylistic weapon is our harmonies, for sure.

The debut album is called “Home is Where You Are.” How do you define a sense of home?

Max: This was the debate we were thinking about when we decided to name the album “Home Is Where You Are.”  Jack and I have a very difficult time defining what home is. We were born in London, grew up in Hong Kong and now we live in New York. So we decided that home is wherever the people you love are, and that can be multiple places around the world at the same time.

My favorite song on that album is “Everyday Feels like Sunday.” What is the story behind this song?

Jack: Thank you! We are very proud of that song. We just wanted to write a simple song about waking up next to someone special and realizing how great things are when that person is around. We wrote that one completely together from start to finish.

How was it working with Dave Stewart on “Beneath My Skin?”

Max: Working with Dave was an incredible experience. He is so talented and so creative, and a great friend of ours now. His production on “Beneath My Skin” really paved the way for the style of music we have now. He started us off, and has had a massive impact on our career.

I really like your new single! How did you decide to entitle it, “Charlie Chaplin?”

Jack: Charlie Chaplin is another song we wrote completely together in our dad’s living room. He had some DVDs of Charlie Chaplin movies and we thought that Charlie Chaplin would be such a powerful character to have in a song about someone who is too shy to admit his feelings. It happens to all of us, and he is one of our lifelong heroes.

If you could have another profession outside of music, what would it be and why?

Max: In a parallel universe, I think I would probably be a celebrity chef like Gordon Ramsay, and Jack would be a football player for Chelsea FC.

What are you up to next musically?

Jack: We have a ton of new songs that we can’t wait to share with you all. There may be another album coming soon! But that is our little secret, ok?

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Max: The best advice we can give to aspiring musicians is to be true to yourself, to believe in your own art and to not take “no” for an answer. And also learn Protools so that you can produce your own music!

-Sem