Interview: Natalie Denise Sperl of Kill My Coquette!

Underneath This had a nice opportunity to interview Natalie Denise Sperl. Please read more about Natalie before checking out the subsequent interview.

Natalie is the front woman of Los Angeles-based quartet Kill My Coquette whose self-titled debut EP just came out on January 20th.  Armed with attitude and boasting vital rock & punk with a twist of designer blues, Kill My Coquette is influenced by game-changing artists like Jack White, Lou Reed, Joan Jett and the New York Dolls, but they have a sound all their own.  Written and arranged by Natalie, the 5-song EP was recorded at Evelyn Martin Recordings in Los Angeles with producer Danny McGough (Tom Waits, Social Distortion). The first single is “3rd & Bonnie Brae.”

photographer:  Brandise Danesewich

photographer: Brandise Danesewich

You have been involved in several creative paths  – modeling, acting in film and television and more recently, music. What are the differences among these types of formats? What is unique about music?

With music, I have more control creatively. Acting and modeling I’m part of someone else’s vision. I can say whatever I want with my songs. It’s scary but more thrilling at the same time. Music soothes me.

Which moment or series of moments prompted you to pursue music?

I was getting bored of waiting around on film sets and all the down time between jobs, so I decided to try to write and play music, see where it took me. I started a band and started writing. I HAVE TO keep re-inventing.

How does a sense of geographic place, including being from the Midwest, affect your music?

I knew from early on I wanted to get out of there, see the world. I read so much about Hollywood and New York I knew it would be one or the other.  I’m glad I had those beginnings though, for being so far removed form the rest of the world. Wouldn’t have worked so hard, fought so hard otherwise, ya know? I would have been comfortable and complacent, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

You have described your influences as Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and especially Social Distortion. What about Social Distortion was so impactful?

Yes I talk about them a lot. I just really dig their music. Plain and simple.

I also hear female influences – Joan Jett and Hole (Courtney Love) seemingly most prominently. Have female musicians been influential? If so, who?

Yes both those women are huge for me. It’s not about loving every song they ever did either. It’s what they STAND for. The idea. THAT spoke volumes to me. Unapologetic. Aggressive. I have utmost respect for Brody Dalle, Janis Joplin, Chrissy Hynde, Patti Smith and even Madonna. All doing it on their own terms.

Do you consider your music feminist? Why or why not?

I’m not writing music because I have a feminist message I want to convey. I just happen to like a lot of bands with front women so I’m sure their influence can be heard in my music. Does that make my music feminist? You decide.

What stereotypes are still prevalent for women in pop and rock?

I’m not really aware of any. Pop music in general gets flack for all the auto tuning but that’s for anyone. Other than that I don’t know of any.

There seems to be a dearth of women in mainstream rock? What do you make of that lacking?

It’s hard. It’s dirty. It’s not for everyone. It would be much easier if I played solo with an acoustic guitar but I love the big sound you get with a full rock and roll band. Plus it’s all about electronic stuff now. People wanna feel good and dance. I get that but with my band I want to bring back the feel of music from back in the day when it was played because you had a point to make, felt restless, or just wanted to hear guitars cranked on ten.

How do you feel about the Sleater Kinney reunion?

I think it’s great all these bands from back in the day are touring again. It’s super cool to see they didn’t fall apart. I love seeing bands play live. Looking forward to their show.

Your music has been described as riot grrrl, rock, punk, and even “dirty pop.” How do you perceive these designations?

Better than “clean pop” I guess. The EP is a mix. A sampler. I have tons more songs. We decided on those tracks because it made sense and sounds cohesive. I’d love to write only punk rock, but other melodies are coming out, so there you have it. Just don’t call it “model rock,” lol.

How did the name, “Kill My Coquette” originate?

Kill My Ex was already taken I think. Coquette is euphonious. It sounds good.

photographer:  Brandise Danesewich

photographer: Brandise Danesewich

How are you feeling about the band’s EP?

I’m super excited to release it. All the work coming to fruition. It’s just fun to play rock and roll! It’s a good cruising soundtrack too.

I absolutely love the song “Festival Boy” (including the Journey sample!) What is the story behind that song?

A dreamy melodic tale of meeting someone new. We met at Coachella. Stormy..turbulent..beautiful..all at the same time. I had to write a song about it.

The vocals on “Close to Me” sound particularly passionate. What was it like making this track?

It was a song that came out of an improv kinda jam session. I had the chorus from the beginning, verses changed a bit. Vocally it was tough to get the right vibe but I think we got it.

“Post Teenage Angst” seems the most punk on the album. What is the “post” referencing?

It literally means after your teenage rage, don’t get soft.

What is next for Kill My Coquette?

We’re busy promoting the EP. I’d love to get on a bill with another band and do some shows. Maybe do a Southern California tour up and down the coast. I’d love to get to NYC and the UK too, or Germany. That’d be fun.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

See as many shows as possible. Study the greats.

Thanks so much!
Check out http://www.killmycoquette.com for all the latest news and tour dates.

-Sem

Interview: Jeremy David Miller of Rambos!

Underneath This has been looking forward to an interview with Jeremy David Miller, bassist and one of the talented vocalists of Rambos, a 5 piece band from Chicago. Jeremy describes Rambos as, “We are fast. We are heavy. We are Rambos. All who’ve seen the band live are Rambos too. Anyone who has ever heard the music is, you guessed it, a Rambos.” In addition to Jeremy, the band consists of JJ Evans (guitar and vocals), Ryan Anderson (guitar and vocals), Ian Tsan (drums and vocals), and Julie Meckler (lead vocals). Please read below for the interview.

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Describe your path to becoming a musician.

I grew up in a musical family. My parents sang together as a folk duo and they often took me and my brother and sister with them to their gigs.

When I was very young I remember looking at my dad’s musical gear as holy and off limits but once when my mom caught me pretending with one of my dad’s guitars, she gave me a chord book and I realized that I too could be using this gear and not just looking at it.

Fast forward to when I was 13, some friends of mine asked if I wanted to join their band as the bass player. I didn’t know how to play the bass nor did I own one. I took the idea and prospect to my dad and within the hour we had been to the pawn shop and back and I was getting my first lesson on the bass guitar.

The rest of my learning came from playing along with my cd collection for hours in my bedroom.

It did not take long for me start writing my own songs and while in high school, along with my brother on the drums, I put together the first band that I alone was writing and singing for.

How did Rambos form?

Rambos started at a house party. Some friends of mine were playing guitars in a very heavy way and one of our pals, Nik Bratz, who was hosting and showing off his newly made teepee, started chanting “Hiyawhtha,” to go along with the music. I thought it all funny and clever.

I left the party with the chant in my head and shortly after wrote the Rambos song called Hiyawatha, which appears on our album Rock and Roll Monsters.

After that I wrote the song Terrorize, also on the album.

With these two songs and a funny name I contacted my favorite musician friends and we formed the band.

What does the name mean?

The name was a joke. There was a Rambo movie poster that hung in the room were the band first rehearsed.

We just figured that if that one “Sly” guy is a Rambo then I can be a Rambo too and why not include everybody in on the gang and there you have it, we’re all Rambos. Minus the tough guy stuff.

In what ways does being in the Midwest influence your music?

I write a lot of songs. Love songs in the spring and summer and “kill em all” jams during the brutal winter.

I grew up in the Midwest. Everyone I play music with is from the Midwest. There is a laid back vibe that goes along with living in a place like Chicago. There’s no room for attitude in the Midwestern cities; it’s just too small of a space.

The Midwest is a very hardworking region. We don’t stop. And we don’t want to.

Your song “Human Monster includes the lyrics, “I only hang with monster girls who hang with monster boys.” Is there a significance to these?

The significance lies in the fact that if you are one “thing” then you tend to surround yourself with like-minded creatures, be it athletes, musicians or monsters.

The album overall contains references to vampires and monsters. Is this theme intentional?

Like I said, I write a lot of songs. Most of the songs I write are for another project, a folk duo that my wife Bekah and I do called “The Millers.” When Rambos started I was pushed in a new and exciting way of writing. The band was not going to be playing love songs, we are called Rambos, we had to playing fast and loud. The monster theme came on its own and I liked it and so I tried to stick with it the best I could.

One of my favorite songs on your album is “Radio.” What was it like making this song?

I remember writing this song at home on the piano. We had just got a dog, a white lab and we named him Radio.

The song was not written for or about him but if you think about it, there are so many great songs that sing about the Radio and I wanted one too. I actually have at least 3.

The lyric about “burn down the disco” is real. It’s about the event that took place at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979. It was deemed Disco Demolition Night and most of the fans had showed up to see crates filled with disco records be blown up on the field and not for the game between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Which is your favorite song on the album? 

Terrorize. It’s catchy, it’s fun. It’s also the second song, after Hiyawatha, that I wrote for the band. After writing Terrorize my mind went crazy with ideas for different songs. I was a very exciting moment.

Who is “Poet Murder” about?

Me. Or just poets in general.

With a pen you are given the liberty to kill off whomever you please and in any way you can conceive.

I am not a violent person but I do have a very busy imagination.

What are some of the differences between performing live and recording?

Recording can be a very time consuming process. You want to create a mirror image of what you believe your songs and ideas should sound like.

On stage, all bets are off. You still play the songs the same and you want the audience to get what you’re putting out but it’s a different beast. Recording can be exhausting. Playing live is exhilarating.

David Byrne, among others, has said that rock is dead. What do you think of this statement?

I never think of rock being alive or dead.

If you’re doing it then it must be alive, right?

David Byrne is a genius but I think what he meant to say was, “I’m dead tired of rock and I need a nap.”

I hear a garage and rockabilly sound to your music. How do you characterize your style?

I tend to tell people that Rambos is a rock band. It’s a very general thing to say but it fits.

We rock, you rock, they rock.

When I listen to your album, I feel the influence of the band X. Is that accurate? Who have been creative influences?

Honestly, I’ve never listened to the band X. I saw Jon Doe solo once and thought it was good but I never went down that road.

As a young songwriter I was influenced by the lyrics and delivery of Matt Skiba from the band Alkaline Trio. Here was a band writing about dark stuff such as murder and blood and I just loved how he’d leap into a scream for the dramatic ending a song.

I really loved the band’s first 2 albums.

Beyond that it’s all about the lyrics: that’s my game. Elliot Smith, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Gillian Welch. I love these people and their gifts for melody and imagery.

Which other art forms are influential on your music?

Books. I read a lot. Right now I’m reading the Lonesome Dove series by Larry McMurtry, real cowboy and indian stuff.

My wife’s art is also a big influence on me. She’s always drawing or painting or decorating; our entire apartment is her canvas. She makes art under the name RadioBirdDog and can be followed at:

radiobirddog.blogspot.com

When you live with someone who is always creating art you want to keep up and I do that with my music.

In what ways has your music been feminist?

Rambos is a very masculine name, I know this but in stating that “everyone is a Rambos,” we proved that by enlisting one of the most powerful women I know to help front the band: Julie Meckler.

Julie is a songwriter and performer on her own and her music is beautiful. She’s the kind of person you want to be around, the kind of person that attracts people to her and the kind of person that you don’t want to cross.

I was just listening to Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue #1 album today and he has that song called “She Came Along to Me,” in it he says “woman are equal and they made me a hell of a man.” These lyrics are old, older than Billy Bragg, they were written by Woody Gutherie back in the 40’s when people had a much different view of the sexes and specifically, roles in the workforce and household and then here is this guy saying that nothing good comes about without the added aid of woman and not just the aid but by letting them and everyone just play their part.

This I agree with whole heartedly.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Never stop creating your art.

Write, write, write. Practice, practice, practice.

You don’t deserve anything you didn’t work for.

What is next for Rambos?

Rambos is releasing a 7″ to go along with our Friday February 27 show at Chicago’s Hideout.

After that we’ll be writing and playing just as before with the hopes of having as much fun as we can while turning as many heads as we can in process.

Full album available for download at https://rambos.bandcamp.com/releases

Follow Rambos on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rambosmusic

and see our most recent music video at http://vimeo.com/105571164

-Sem
 

Interview: Tamar Haviv!

Underneath This had the wonderful opportunity to interview singer-songwriter Tamar Haviv. Her debut album, You and Me Without Pajamas, is made up of beautiful, well-crafted songs with honest lyrics and lovely melodies. She took the time to discuss her songwriting process, feminism, her thoughts on being labeled “quirky,” and the meanings behind her songs. You can find more information about Tamar Haviv at tamarhaviv.com and at the links below.

Tamar Haviv

Photograph courtesy of Ron Haviv/VII, Art by Kazoo Studios

Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

Path! Ah, things are so not linear in my head in that way…there was no path…I’ve just always been writing songs since I was really young, before I knew the language to call a song a song.

Melodies and lyrics would come to me and I would walk around singing. I didn’t realize this meant anything other than ‘this is just one of the things that I do’ – like I didn’t realize that other people didn’t do it…and it took me a while before I let myself really focus in on it and actively make decisions to move towards it – purchasing a guitar etc.

You have moved around a lot. How has that influenced your music?

I was thinking about that recently, I think mostly because my songs on this record are based on my life and relationships and moving around shifts the landscape and timing and can alter the form of things – and also the language and intonation and actual nuance of literal sound in a courtship – so if I’m documenting an interpersonal connection, that will all show itself somehow.

Is your music feminist? If so, how so?

I don’t know if my music comes across as feminist at all – in this moment I am equating an element of feminism with a certain strength. One that can also be shown when expressing vulnerability as well.

There are some empowering moments within these songs, like even in a more crushing heartbreak song like “Arrested,” there is a lyric:

you may be lighter than me
but i’ve seen things
you won’t let yourself see
you may have your phd
but the way that I love.
you can’t even conceive.

But there are also some more disempowering ones, that I wouldn’t want other girls to feel. Like in the song “Peanut butter sandwiches,” there is a lyric:

i think that you are beautiful
and i feel like i’m nothing

All in all, I hope that my songs can help to uplift and empower women. Even in the record’s sometimes sorrowful voice, if a song can resonate with anyone and make them feel less alone, that would be a gift to me.

What have been some highlights of performing live?

I loved performing at Webster Hall as part of the Tinderbox Festival. Also, opening up for Jesse Harris at The Stephen Talkhouse – that was especially sweet because one of my favorite Artists came to see the show that night, Rufus Wainwright. He came to see Jesse Harris and actually missed my set completely but, there is still something tender knowing that he came out to the show that night. Whenever I go hear an artist play I think about all the people from all over the place that are preparing to go see the same show – the collective consciousness of that and how that ties people together in a significant way. So even just the fact that Rufus Wainwright got himself to the same venue as me on the same night was pretty fabulous, I have to say!

Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls and Sir Paul McCartney have praised your music. That is quite an endorsement!  Have these artists been influential? Who and what have been other creative inspirations?

Yes, they have been very influential and it is truly humbling having their support.

Other than music, I am very moved and inspired by film and photography, both being in front of the screen as a viewer well as being behind the camera.

Which songs have you or would you like to cover?

There are many to cover in the future, too many to name but you can find one that I have yet to release here on YouTube.

It’s a song you will most likely be familiar with from the musical Grease called “You’re the one that I want” – I did the cover with the brilliant artist Greg Daniel Smith.

How was the title developed?

Well, the whole album explores these intimate relationships – and the title comes from a line off of the title track of the record, “i like you.”

The title is open to interpretation in terms of how deep the listener wants to hear the record as a whole.

I see the title as a bit of a balancing act in itself…strangers coming together and trying to cohabitate and coordinate such delicate and basic daily rituals – can present so much awkwardness, absurdity, beauty, frailty, laughter, love…it’s all kind of amazing & expansive.

The opener to your album contains very little music. What inspired that decision?

I like your questions Sem!

I tend to sing normal wacky silly stuff in my day to day, likely to balance my more serious melancholic reflective nature and my two dear friends had just piled into my car and I simultaneously wrote and sang that little ditty for one of them in the back seat and it just stuck…it didn’t have instrumentation then so, it made sense to keep it that way…

I know the album can feel quite lighthearted at times but, recently actually, my favorite astrologer Eric Francis of Planet Waves was talking about my record on the radio, which was an amazing honor, and he called it “deceptively simple” which I really appreciated. Some of the songs on my record may have a lighter feel but can also touch on darker things. I wouldn’t say that it has a dumbed down quality to it necessarily but some songs definitely do have a simplified way lyrically of expressing some things and  I think ironically that might come from my poetry background. I used to write 6 minute songs describing my feelings towards someone or something, the super details: the intonation of someones voice, a birthmark on their neck etc. But then there finally came a time where I was like, “There are a million ways that I can tell you how beautiful I think you are and how much I want to be nearer to you but instead of the elongated poetics I’m just going to unabashedly tell you, I really like you. There it is.” and that’s actually much more forward and courageous than wearing all of these sweet words in front of that feeling.

I really enjoy “Adore.” What is the story behind that song?

Thank you! “Adore” is pretty word for word – It was a complicated situation because for various reasons I wasn’t able to be forthright about how I was feeling towards this person.

And I think also to myself to some degree. And there is something else quite special to me about this song – the way in which I wrote it is unusual for me – it has happened before, but not many times – where I went to sleep, and woke up in the middle of the night and had the entire song, ALL lyrics & melody I just sang it once into my phone and went back to bed. When I woke up in the morning I hardly remembered it had happened because I REALLY didn’t actively participate in it – it just crept in. I think it had just been brewing on so many levels for me and it was ready. But that’s also what I find so fascinating about songs and songwriting, that sometimes it really is about being a vessel for what’s already there – I guess it’s like those conversations artists have had about sculpting from stone and removing the excess stone that was in the way of the piece to begin with…it’s all perception.

“Orange” has an alternative country vibe at times. How would you describe your style overall? 

“Orange,” that’s one of my favorite songs on the album. You know personally I’m pulled in so many directions musically – I think these songs work well together as a collection and there were many we had to cut because they really didn’t fit the overall feel in the end. Style wise, sure, I’d say this record could be considered ‘left of center, quirky, pop,’ but that’s only to help people get a grasp on it… I’m not sure if trying to quantify genre actually makes meaning.

Your music has also been called, “quirky.” What do you make of this adjective?

Yea, as I was saying, I’m not opposed to “quirky” and it works for me I suppose but, like anything else when we start building squares and titles for who and what and how we are and see each other – it’s important that we also build windows and give each other expansiveness and room to rotate evolve, thrive. We need to be supportive of each other as artists and beings to find our true nature and rise.

“The Good Has Won” blends the personal and political. What worries and inspires you most about the world today?

This is a tough question, without overthinking it…

What worries me most would be that with all the accessible technology today, younger generations will be so isolated, numbed and disconnected from their heart and spirit that they will not know how to make basic human connections with one another in actual real time…Like just the sweet interactions that can happen between strangers…that that ability, sensibility & magic could be lost. What inspires me most…I love seeing all of the amazing talented artists that are coming up right now, their strength and self-expression is thrilling.

What is the meaning of “Girls Away from Girls?”

This song is quite literal – I can say a lot things but, I guess no matter who anyone is in a romantic relationship with, despite the gender of all involved, it’s important to find balance and maintain friendships as well…

Another voice complements yours on “6am.” How was it to harmonize?

The beautiful Frank McGinnis is singing with me on “6am.” His voice is luscious, so it was a complete pleasure singing with him.

He also joins me on the song “Orange.”

In the same song, you write, “I have to laugh at the epitome of what an artist is supposed to be.” Per the media, what are singer-songwriters supposed to be like these days?

Sem, I just need to stop and recognize your tenderness and attention to detail and just the outright loveliness in your work at this moment. I just feel touched by all your incredible listening.

Now, to answer your question!

I don’t know what Singer/Songwriters are SUPPOSED to be like today – my hope would be that they are out there speaking their truth, not being afraid – or being afraid and speaking it anyway – you know how fear goes! I say these things for myself as well. I hope we don’t give up and stop putting our songs and ourselves out there due to lack of funds or a feeling of lack of appreciation – because music and Artists have saved my life over and over again – So I hope Singer/Songwriters are feeling lifted up and nourished.

What has it been like writing about personal experiences?

It’s just always what I have done – the songs are just an extension of my experiences but, every once in a while I do write about a situation that is not mine directly.

On what projects are you working on next?

I’m so excited to start work on my next record & share even more new songs with you!!!!! There is a bit more writing to do and things take time and costs etc. but I am very looking forward to my next new project! And in the meantime there might be more music videos coming soon too! Have you seen this one?

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Explore whatever it is that is most interesting, exciting & delighting to you, despite what those things might be for others.

If you are following your intuition and making artistic choices that resonate and feed you most, ultimately I believe others will be drawn to what it is you are creating.

-Sem

Interview: The Kut!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing The Kut, a basement rock trio from London, England. The band’s energy shines through in the distinctive, melodic tracks on their EP Make Up. You can find more information about The Kut at thekut.co.uk and thekut.bandcamp.com. In our interview, the band discussed the meaning of “basement rock,” the influence of grunge and alternative bands on their sound, their thoughts on sexism in the music industry, and their experience performing at the London 2012 Paralympics and Olympics.

The Kut

Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

Hey, thanks for the interview. For me personally I’ve always been pretty interested in music and singing. I started the piano at age 4 but mainly played it to sing along too. By the time I was about 7 I used to write songs and my dad would always have me on the karaoke at the hotel where I grew up. By the time I was not too old I would sing to full bars of guests, either acapella or with a beat. It was something that was part of my everyday life and that I loved. I think my dad always wanted me to be a singer. By the time I was about 13 I’d been through quite a few instruments and none of them really seemed to suit me or interest me enough to keep up with practicing every day. When I found my sister’s guitar in the other side of the hotel I actually fell in love, though. I used to play for hours and hours a day until my fingers would bleed and then some, eventually learning to strengthen them up using surgical spirit or super glue just to keep on playing. I don’t have a music theory background, though. When I first started with the piano I did follow that, but soon I decided it was better in some ways to make my own way without theory. Even when it came to scales I didn’t want to know them then. Initially I’d use it to write music around songs I’d written the lyrics and melody for, but it soon helped me to write even more songs as I’d be able to use new riffs to inspire me to sing. At 14 I formed my first ever real band. I always knew I wanted to be a performing musician even if I didn’t know how to get there or where it would lead.

You have identified several grunge and alternative bands who have been influential including Hole, L7, The Deftones, Placebo, Nirvana and Faith No More. How does your style reflect these feminine and masculine influences?

We really love these bands and they’ve been really influential in our lives. Like Ali always says in this context, you can’t be what you can’t see. Female bands and, for me, female rock vocalists have always been a really heavy inspiration because of that. But I never really grew up with that whole sexist vibe about oh this is a man’s game, or believing that you can’t play rock because of your gender. That’s only something that’s come up recently because so many people including past band members have had issues with the gender being a key part of what we do. Deftones, Nirvana and Faith No More are all amazing bands too, though. I guess we probably take on some of the grunge sound just as a result of what we’ve listened to, although it’s never a case of that when it comes to writing. The things that inspire me to write a song are very much about the real world – someone that says something profound in passing, an experience, whether social or perceptual, or just the moment when a new melody comes into my head. The longer we’ve been together the more you can see our influences coming out, though, which I have to say I like. Just a few years ago we’d read a ton of great demo reviews that all referred to different acts and no one really knew where to put us in terms of our influences. Now we’ve tried to work on putting out material that’s a bit more cohesive genre-wise and in that way we’ve been through our own development process. Sure it would have been nice to have a major label development deal and a funded block of time in a rehearsal studio to figure that stuff out, but it didn’t come, so we fought through and are now beginning to find our identity as a band. I think it’s an important aspect of where we are now and it’s something we did off our own backs because we love the band and making music.

Underneath This agrees with Maha’s perspective that “it’s a shame that being an all-girl band is still seen as a gimmick.” Why and how do you think that sexism persists, and has there been any progress from your perspective?

There’s definitely positive progress with sexism in the music industry. I don’t personally find it offensive when someone says we are an all female band, because we are, but then when that’s the only focus and it’s not the music, then that’s a problem. It should be about the music first, although our gender does often get picked up on because of the riot grrrl genre too.  I guess there are a few stereotypes about females playing music – probably some of the same ones that you’d see on an anti discrimination campaign. Also as Courtney Love says, there only ever seems to be space for one female in rock at any one time. Its a sad state of affairs because it should be about the music and sure if we can empower other females to get together and pick up instruments then that has to be a good thing too. I guess that we’d never want to be known for just being an all female band, we want to be known for our music first and then because we are female too.

In what ways is your music feminist?

The thing is that our music isn’t feminist…Sure we are pro-equality but our music is about other things, about life and experiences.

Maha has also said, “We love female fronted acts, but for us the focus has always been the music.” Please say more about this.

In terms of the acts we love we are always getting compared to other bands because they are female fronted or all female bands, and while we do love female fronted bands, we are more in love with just writing songs, playing gigs etc. We see each other all the time, it’s not new for us that we are an all female band if you know what I mean, so it’s something we feel is really natural and normal to us. When we step into the outside world, i.e. out of the rehearsals and gigs, we get a lot of comments on it which are great. But then when we get compared to other bands based on their look and genre it doesn’t seem to make sense. We do have a lot of influences in our songs so for a music fan they are there to pick up on.

How does being in England influence the music that you make?

The UK has a great music scene as far as we’ve experienced. In some ways because we are a small country we can travel easier and now get around to a few cities repeatedly across the year. It’s a great thing for us. That said, we listen to a lot of American bands, and the grunge scene is a big influence on us and the music we play. We’d love to get out and tour abroad though. It’s something we haven’t done yet and it’s now a case of finding the right agent to help us to do that.

The Kut

You have described your style as “basement rock.” What does this designation mean?

I think it was something that stuck with us from a while back where we were reviewed as a basement rock band, probably because we used to rehearse in a basement in a party place over in New Cross in South East London. We were always the band in the basement mixing it up with a load of styles. Although we’ve definitely locked down our sound more now, at the time we used to genre hop a lot more. Some of the tracks in the set were ska influenced or with breakbeats – some of that we’ve still managed to get in the set in tracks like DMA with the ska riff in the chorus and Mario with the breakbeats in the verses. Basement rock for us was a way of combining those elements in rock without being straight up rock and without not being rock. It was just the ability to experiment with our sound within the rock genre.

What were you up to in the nearly four year span between recording music?

Haha yeah I know…I’m hearing you! It was a big gap, we’d just released the Closure video and it was on NME TV (RIP) – it was a great channel. We’d been given our own one hour show and it was going to be really exciting to put it all together. Things were really kicking off for us. We started to speak with Dennis Ryder, who managed Ugly Kid Joe and Evanescence and he’d got us in touch with the head A&R at Warner. We were told they loved the tracks, feeling they were really strong songs, and that they wanted to see us live. It was like a big weight lifted but suddenly we weren’t recording. Sure we were doing a lot of demos, but there wasn’t any real movement on taking them and getting them professionally recorded. We’d also had some bad experiences with producers in the past, and I will tell you, there are a lot of sharks out there when it comes to the industry and money! We just couldn’t afford to work with someone who wasn’t going to do our tracks justice. We focused on gigs, rehearsing and a lot of frustration came into play. It was really a tough time because what we really needed to be doing was recording and releasing more songs! It became a long stint of nothing and something I’m only just getting over now. We were back in the studio yesterday though, so that’s got to be positive. We won’t be letting it happen again!

I am really enjoying your new EP, “Make Up.” How did you develop the title?

Hey thanks a lot. We really wanted to put a collection out that showed a few of the new tracks, but also had some of the older stuff on there. Make Up is an emotional track for me personally. It’s not particularly the lead track – in my opinion that is No Trace, but No Trace wasn’t even a song when we decided to record an EP. Make Up was one of the tracks that says a lot about the frustration and hiding your emotions, to not let the world know how bad things are. It was a cover up story. When we saw the cover, someone had sent a portfolio of art to Criminal Records. When we saw that it looked like it was the perfect cover for us, and the designer, Echobeatstudios added all our info to it and made the art.

One of my favorite tracks on that album is “Mario.” What is the story behind that song?

That’s great! We love playing that song. It’s probably our most Jane’s Addiction track we have on the record. We were having a mess about in rehearsals and I was playing the Super Mario theme song on the guitar. One thing led to another and we were in the midst of a full blown jam. It had a great energy and after we got the sound down it was where it was. The lyrics were about the frustration and the feeling of fighting back against it. We can’t be the only people who were made a lot of promises and felt fed up at the system and everything in it. It was the realisation we were on the verge of a personal and culture based revolution.

What are some of your favorite songs to cover?

Hm, we haven’t really done many covers, but we have played Love Buzz and the Distillers once or twice. Oh and of course L7’s Pretend We’re Dead : )

How was performing at the London 2012 Paralympics and Olympics?

The London Olympics was a great experience for us. Initially we were selected to play at a pitch at the London Olympics by the Teenage Rampage Foundation. It was a lot of fun, and after we played we were invited back by the stage bookers to play on one of the main stages in the Paralympics. It was a great thrill for us! It was a shame we couldn’t invite our friends, though, because it was all sold out, but the stage was awesome! We had no idea it would be such a big one, and as we approached it was like a huge pod. It wasn’t until I saw the pictures after that I realised how awesome and futuristic it looked. We had a great show and it’s something we would have never had the opportunity to do if it wasn’t for the Teenage Rampage Foundation.

What have been some other highlights of performing?

I guess it goes in circles, but at the moment we are getting to travel a lot and hang out. We are best mates, so if we can just go out to different places, hang out, meet new people and go away with a few pounds in our pockets, it’s all a highlight really. I love playing live and the heckles from within the band. We all believe in each other as musicians and performers. There’s something very special about being proud of your band mates and rocking out together.

So far, what insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Right now I’d say, it’s a tough long slog if you want to make music your career – but don’t let the world hold you back and if you believe in something, just go for it, fight for it. Don’t give up! But also, listen to what people around you say…don’t be blinkered, and take on everything, even your critics – not to the point that it breaks you down, but just so you know the difference between reality and ideals. Music is a path for people who can’t live any other way. It’s not something you choose.

What is next for your creatively?

We were back in the studio with our producer James LeRock Loughrey. He produced the three new tracks on our EP and we are really excited about how these new ones are going to sounds. We will go in next week to work on these and put down bass and vocals and see how it shapes up.  We managed to record four new songs we’ve added in the set in the last four months. One of which we just did yesterday and never even played out or in a rehearsal. It’s going to be exciting and good to be going out there with some brand new ones plus Hollywood Rock n Roll which is one we’ve been playing out for a while now. After that we are working on getting out more videos and a new EP for the new year. In the meantime I guess we will just keep our heads down and get as many gigs in as we can.

-Sem and Strike

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

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

Interview: Nick Flora!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing talented musician Nick Flora. For more information about Nick and his music, please check out the interview and these social media pages: http://www.nickflora.com, http://www.twitter.com/nickflora, http://www.facebook.com/nfloramusic, and http://www.youtube.com/nickfloramusic

What were some moments that sparked your interest pursuing music professionally?

There were a lot I’m sure. My dad is a professional jazz musician and music theory professor. Growing up, I watched him pay our bills by working hard at making music. It never occurred to me that THAT wasn’t an option on “career day.” So I filed that away from an early age.

Also being a teenager in a small town who had just started plucking away at the guitar and pouring over the pages of Rolling Stone and Spin magazines. Seeing pictures and interviews with artists I looked up to–playing the instrument I had in my bedroom–had a profound impact on me. Another big moment for me was seeing Ben Folds Five on a short lived PBS series called “Sessions At West 54th” one night in 1997. They were dressed like me and my friends, they talked like us too. But they sang and played their instruments like true pros. I figured I could get to the point where I was doing this professionally if I just kept at it. I just needed to connect the dots; to get from here to there.

How has Nashville been influential to your career?

There’s a thing that happens to creative people; perhaps other types to but I can’t speak to that specifically. When we get in the room with other people in our field that are at a higher level—talent-wise, experience-wise, etc—we tend to step up to the plate and push ourselves to be better. It’s a fight or flight mentality that a lot of us have. So moving to Nashville for me was more than a experiment, it was a necessity.

It’s so easy to get comfortable creatively, I knew I had to get around musicians who would help inspire, encourage, and push me to a level of potential I was not able to get to alone. It’s Indiana Jones walking out over the invisible bridge in The Last Crusade. Even though your brain tells you otherwise, you have to trust it’s there and walk out anyway. So moving to Nashville and seeking out and surrounding myself with the amazing artists that live and work here was a bold move. Because, what if I didn’t have it in me? What if it takes more work to get to that level than I’m willing to put it? But that’s a risk we have to take sometimes.

The community in Nashville is incredibly nurturing and supportive. One that WANTS you to do well and to be great. When one of us does well, we all do well. It feels like a family in a way a lot of “industry towns” don’t have, I think.

You have blended wit into your songwriting. How has your sense of humor developed over time?

Comedy has always been a love of mine. I had early aspirations of being a stand up comedian or performing on SNL. When I started getting into music I always gravitated towards the off-beat songwriters that weren’t afraid to be witty or tongue-in-cheek on one song, then flip it on it’s head and be earnest and wear their hearts on their sleeves in the next. Guys like Ben Folds, Fountains Of Wayne, and Randy Newman showed me this was possible and I was hooked. I love the idea of being an Entertainer—capital E. To give people a show that’s shaded with all different parts of the human experience. So comedy or laughter is a big one for me.

When I was a kid, nothing made me laugh harder than Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, or Chris Farley. Over time, seeing comedy take many different forms, as in the seemingly mundane (Christopher Guest films, The Office) or the downright unfortunate or sad (the films of Woody Allen, The Coen Bros, or Wes Anderson) was fascinating to me. So using that in my music was a challenge I was up for. So writing a song that has a potentially sad premise, like my song “Temp Job” which is from the POV of a guy that who’d rather wait for the things he wants in life to find him, instead of risking pain and embarrassment to pursue them. So the song about the resident “lazy, sad guy” around town could easily be a ballad that is as depressing as the life that guy leads. But I decided to make it up tempo and fill it to the brim with wit. If you talk to those types of guys you’ll find the way they “spin” the truth is always impressive and towards the positive. It’s almost as if you’re trying to convince yourself of the lie as much as the person you’re telling. The comedy is there, for sure.

How does gender affect the songs that you make?

My gender? Well I’m a dude and we go thru things differently than, say, “non-dudes.” There’s a struggle I’m trying to wrestle with in my music (and my everyday life) which is if the stereotypical male role in society is valid anymore. It feels like men are allowed more than ever in any point in history to have and emote feeling; to not always be the strong, silent type who’s carrying the weight of a job and a family on his shoulders. These are the ideals that were passed down by the previous generation, and definitely the one before that. Gender roles are fascinating to me, mainly because I’m not sure we should be assigned roles by our gender, but by our specific personality types and talents. The idea that we can be summed up as a person by any broad generalization is an offensive and archaic idea. I love writing songs from the person’s point of view instead of assigning gender roles to it. Not to mention, you eliminate half your audience when you do that!

Is your music feminist, and if so, how so?

I’ve never thought about it in those terms, but my gut response is to say “sure!” Most of my songs deal with a male POV because, well, I’m male. But I often write with the female perspective in mind. I’m in awe of women. Some of the strongest, most interesting, and creative people I’ve ever met are women. Women often aren’t afraid to be earnest and heartfelt at the drop of a hat which is one of the most courageous things we can do as people. Be who we are and express that in the purest forms. I often resonate stronger with female artists than male.

Have any female artists inspired you? If so, who?

Absolutely. I grew up in a household where Ella Fitzgerald was played on the regular. Honestly a lot of the artists I tend to go to for inspiration when writing are women. Feist, Jenny Lewis, Kathleen Edwards, Regina Spektor, Brooke Waggoner, Allie Farris, Stacy Lantz, to name a few.

You have listed Ben Folds Elvis Costello, Josh Ritter, and Fountains of Wayne among others as artists similar to you. Who and what have been other creative influences?

I’m very influenced by all kinds of art-makers. Filmmakers, probably the most. I love a great screenwriter/director combo as much as I love singer/songwriters. Guys like Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, PT Anderson, etc. I’m a fan of story and characters, and these guys are some of the best out there, in my opinion. A lot of the themes covered in their films, I resonate with and will often write songs based around them, whether I know it or not.

Your style has been described as “alterna-pop” and “singer-songwriter.” What does these designations mean to you?

Descriptors are hard when it comes to creative stuff. I don’t feel like any artist can be summed up by a couple words. I like saying alterna-pop singer/songwriter because that at least puts people who haven’t heard my music in the right ball park. My music is pop accessible but has the quirks and turns in it that wouldn’t exactly place it on Top 40 radio.

How did making your solo debut, “Great Escape” compare to the making of your later albums?

Great Escape was my 3rd time in a studio but really felt like my first attempt at something substantial. It feels like a first album to me. It’s a gathering of the previous years of songs I’d written and toured behind. I had played the songs hundreds of times on stage and worked out every beat and kink, leaving almost NO room in the studio for tinkering. Which can be good, but the latter albums Hello Stranger and The Reintroduction Of Nick Flora were basically put together in the studio. I came in with the songs about 60-80% finished and my producer, Andrew Osenga and I, took them the rest of the way. That’s a fun way to do it since the ideas are so new that you don’t have time to be precious about the material. If a verse needs to be cut, or a different drum beat needs to be added to change the feel, then you’re more game for changes which allows songs to reach full potential growth.

Your live performances have been generally reviewed positively. How does performing compare to recording?

Live performance and studio recording are like choosing between children for me. Haha. I love both equally for different reasons. Studio is where you get to build something special for a finite amount of time that will theoretically live forever and reach corners of the planet that you may never reach in your lifetime. It’s capturing magic in a box. Live performance takes that magic and adds a special ingredient that can’t be contained and shares it with an audience. No matter how big the crowd, each live show is something that can only be experienced in that point in time. Even if you play the same song over and over, night after night, the performance shifts and changes. It’s truly special because it will never happen again in that exact way. It’s incredibly addicting.

How has playing house concerts differed from performing in public venues?

First off house, concerts tend to be much more personal. There’s no sound guy telling you to wrap up, or band waiting side-stage to set up their gear. It’s just you, your instrument, and the audience. That environment lends itself to stories, spontaneous moments, and getting to know the crowd better. It might be my favorite way to perform music—in it’s purest form. Something powerful happens when you remove the stage and share your songs in an intimate setting, like a living room. It’s almost impossible not to feel like you’ve been a part of something special.

What is the meaning of the title of your latest album, “The Reintroduction of Nick Flora?”

It sort of started as a joke. I mean, every new album is a “reintroduction” of sorts to that particular artist. Then when I started writing the songs I realized I was writing a lot about the things I’ve learned about myself and the world around me. Things, thoughts, and beliefs I’ve had on lock down for a decade or more that might not necessarily hold up anymore. So in a big way, this album is a snapshot of the ideas I’ve been “reintroduced” to. A different way to see the world, relationships, community, love, and the lives we’re all living.

You so deftly tell stories through songs. What is the story behind “Part 1: Hometown Kids” on this album?

That song is based on a family story involving my Great Uncle and his divorce from his high school sweetheart after they got pregnant. The love they had was just too young and idealistic to handle the massive undertaking of marriage and parenthood, so he took off for California. It’s a sad song in some ways, but also shows there are two sides to every story. He had three marriages that ended almost cinematically like this.

How does this song relate to the “Part 2” and “Park 3” tracks?

Parts 2 and 3 are the other two marriages ending. My Great Uncle was a bit of an eccentric fellow and had a knack for marrying wild women. It’s these types of family stories that are so unbelievable that I felt the duty to turn into song just so they could live on.

I have enjoyed your cover songs from films as well, especially “You’re the one that I want.” Which have been your favorite to make and how did you decide which songs to cover? What inspired the cover album series overall?

Thanks! That was a fun project. I knew I wanted to record some cover songs, and when I made a list I noticed that most of them were from film soundtracks I love. So I made the whole project (all three EPs) film based. So the songs are from movies I love. You’re the One That I Want (from Grease) is actually a song I normally don’t care for, and especially despise the movie. (No offense to Grease lovers.) That was a fun experiment, to see if I could make this shrill song (in my opinion) listenable. I’m proud of the end result. Especially Stacy Lantz’s involvement in that song.

I have liked your collaborations with Stacy Lantz. How has it been working together?

Stacy is the best. I love working with her. Not only is she one of the best female vocalists in Nashville (maybe the country) but she is a GREAT writer and really knows her stuff. So collaborating with her is so helpful because she can lend a writer’s ear to songs or melodies. Her album “Ready This Time” just proves how versatile and effortless her talent flows. Truly gorgeous work.

Your song, “One (Better Off as Two”) written for Leigh Ann Kopans’s book “ONE” was moving. What inspired that track?

That was fun to do. I’ve never been asked to write a song for a book before. I took the themes and some of the character quirks from the book and formed the song around that. It was really fun and came out rather quick. Sometimes it’s fun to have parameters to work in, to make something work in the small space you’re given. A challenge like that can really open up your writing chops.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

I get asked this a lot actually from upcoming musicians, and I could tell them a million little nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned. But the most important thing is to write a lot, get on stage as much as possible, and find a community of artists who will push and encourage you to be the best you can be. Find out what you have to say, what makes your point of view different and special and write the fire out of that. Especially the stuff that you feel no one will relate to. That’s often the material that resonates the most.

Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke

Underneath This had the soulful experience of interviewing Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke. Before proceeding to the interview, please read more about Lewis & Clarke from the biography at http://lewisandclarkemusic.com/about.htm :

Lewis & Clarke is the musical alias of Pennsylvania-based artist Lou Rogai, the voice and vision resonating through lush and brooding long form art-pop / avant-folk compositions that have become a signature sound. For close to a decade, Lewis & Clarke (also comprised of mainstays Ian and Shane O’Hara, and Anthony Lavdanski) has steadily and quietly built a devout following by releasing several acclaimed recordings while skirting mainstream currents. Rogai’s slow-burning process is as much of a mission statement as an authentic stance in a corporate age. He makes music as an antidote, an unaffected experience. The moniker itself references the fellowship and correspondence between C. S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke rather than the 19th century explorers.

In the same way, Lewis & Clarke songs tend to shift depth of field and mood as unexpected layers of sound and lyrics unfold. Rogai has a strong history of collaborating with different artists and credited as producer / arranger / multi-instrumentalist on Leave Ruin the debut LP by Strand of Oaks, as well as having contributed to the Two Suns album by Bat For Lashes. Most recently, Rogai scored The Wreck, the short which premiered at Cannes 2014. Triumvirate is the highly anticipated new Lewis & Clarke album, a double LP consisting of 75 minutes of music. It is being released in September 2014 by La Société Expéditionnaire, the record label founded by Rogai to help expose a wild and diverse scope of music.

Photo Credit: Dan Papa

Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

I grew up hearing interesting music from my parents. Classical music like Cyril Scott and Gershwin from my Mom and everything from Sandy Bull, Mahavishnu Orchestra,and Kraftwerk from my Dad. When we moved from Brooklyn to the Upper Delaware,that’s where Northeastern PA borders Upstate NY, I was pretty isolated and kept myself occupied with instruments and nature, which was a new thing to me.

How did Lewis & Clarke form?

I was in several dysfunctional bands in the late nineties and realized I was better off without the drama and moving parts. I started writing and recording quieter songs on a Tascam 4 track. I realized that I could make all of these layers of sound come to life on my own terms and it grew from there.

Your music has been compared to that of Nick Drake and Brightblack Morning Light. Have these artists inspired you? Who and what else have been your most significant creative influences?

Nick Drake, yes…his style and craft. I was floored when I first heard a recording of him. His “thing” seemed very private, his music was very exposing of his interior, and difficult for him to present in the marketplace. There are influences along the path of any artist that act as mile-markers, he’s one of them. The “greats” I would include are Nick Cave, Scott Walker, Judee Sill, Terrence Malick, Frank Stella, Ram-Dass. On a realistic and direct level, it’s working with my smart friends that directly influence me.

How do your social identities inform your work?

I have a lot of different interests and try to avoid labels. I have my own ideas, but I try to be open-minded and I’d like for my music to speak emotionally and connect with people.

In what ways is your music feminist?

Personal beliefs are inevitably reflected in subconscious tones. I think you’ll hear and feel it in the music.

The cover art of most of your albums beautifully depicts nature as do some of your songs. How does the natural world influence the music that you make?

I am an admirer and friend of Erika Somogyi, she has provided cover art for the past three records. Her paintings really speak what I try to convey with music. I love wild and interesting landscapes, and our relationships to these places. I look to the visual metaphors around me and relate it to the work I’m making, urban or rural. I live in the heart of a National Park, with the Delaware River as the conduit.

Your style has been characterized in some many different ways, as post-folk, baroque folk, chamber pop, and avant pop to name several. What do you mean of these descriptors?

It’s become kind of a running joke to try and hyphenate different styles that might be appropriate.

One of my favorite songs by you is Doc Holliday was a Phony off your “Bright Light” EP. What is the meaning of this track?

I had a dream about him, probably because I was reading about him. In my dream he was confiding in me about his life choices. Although he was a legendary gentleman gunfighter, he was saying that he should have stuck with being a dentist. He said that sometimes he felt like a phony and he was playing his own myth like a chess match and that he understood what Holden Caulfield meant. Basically, a legendary historical figure vented to me in a dream, so I wrote about it.

Your 2007 album, Blasts of Holy Birth, was a concept album about creation. The concepts behind your latest work, “Triumvirate” have been personal. Please say more about that.

Blasts of Holy Birth has a certain naiveté and innocence to it, as I was expecting my son’s birth and all was lilting and wonderful. Light Time was about the immediate dissolution of my family in a nuclear sense, and Triumvirate has heavier arrangements and is about the long-term effects of a destructive or traumatic event. Ultimately coming to terms with our own hubris and rebuilding as a stronger person.

About 5 years have elapsed between this album and the previous. What were those years like? How have they been inspirational?

I was faced with some interesting obstacles that challenged my sanity. I can only say that my son needed me more than the world needed me to be on tour, so it was an obvious choice for me to stay home and provide him with a strong foundation and rebuild our family. That’s what I did, personally and musically. I’m content with my choices. I wrote about the entire process, found the metaphors and that became Triumvirate. Looking back, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have my ass handed to me. I recommend it, it’s a reality check.

For the new album, you have been able to both use newer (i.e., Kickstarter) and more traditional (i.e., vinyl, a companion book) technology. What has this blending been like?

It’s a good example of new doors opening as others close. Our label distributor folded and we no longer had an LP pressing budget. The recording was finished and we went with Kickstarter as a way to gauge interest and act as pre-order. It worked out well, we exceeded our goal. Some folks don’t have turntables and still want a physical and tactile artifact of some sort so we are hand-pressing a short run of lyric books that come with downloads. The cool thing is that the whole thing has attracted the attention of a new distributor who are excited about the project and the entire label. It’s great to have freedom, but scary to be out there on your own without the backing of a larger entity. Crowd-sourcing this LP proved to me that there are true fans who want to be a part of this and we truly do live in an age of artist empowerment.

Was the decision for Triumvirate to be a double album made from the start or did that evolve as the songs were being created?

It definitely evolved. There were a lot of ideas forming simultaneously and it all works together to form one piece of music. I didn’t want to separate the songs and send them off on their own. They belong together.

“Map of a Maze,” the short film about the making of Triumvirate chronicles many types of geographic places. How were they inspiring of the music?

That’s the environment where I live, work and play. It also gets pretty weird around here in the winter.

The first track of your new album dreamily begins the journey of the album. What inspired “Eve’s Wing?”

Eve’s Wing is named after the broken arm of my dear friend and musical teammate, Eve Miller (most notably of Rachel’s). I witnessed her challenges. Imagine you are a touring career cellist and you break your arm at a rest area in the middle of nowhere. She now has a most appropriate and beautiful tattoo of a Phoenix on that arm.

“Black Cloud” is haunting. What is the story behind that song?

Maybe you’ve felt like you haven’t been able to achieve something that you know you’re capable of, but forces beyond your control are holding you back. Maybe that includes self-sabotage. Other forces are getting off seeing you become frustrated, perhaps out of jealousy or spite. These things can cause cancer of the soul. Instead of ending angrily, the last line in the song just asks a simple question.

I sense both hope and longing in:

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Can you say more about the emotions conveyed in that song?

There’s a sweep to the whole record and each song is a different point along the arc of a pendulum. That pendulum is the process itself. I really can’t elaborate more on those emotions, that’s why I put them into music.

The following lyrics of “Children of the Sun”, “When the thunder spoke smiles in its praise/Oh, the words were cold, flattering and fake,” are among the most poetic I have heard in a song. What inspired those?

That was something I wrote down and found later. I was thinking about how we seek validation from outside sources, and what it’s like to receive a surface compliment that has no real substance behind it.

The child reading on “Two Trees” provides the album an even more soulful feel. How did you decide to include this?

This is a cool coincidence. That’s my son Julian, who was in the first grade at the time. He came home from school with a reader called “The Oak Tree and the Fir Tree”. It was weird because this idea had been on my mind a lot. Trees must be pliable and bend in order to weather a storm. Even if a tree has the appearance of being stout, if it’s brittle on the inside it will snap. I was thinking about this a lot and it was coming up a lot in I-Ching readings, and there are several lyrical references to this on the record. So anyway, I recorded him with my phone while he was reading to me. Having just learned to read full paragraphs, his hesitations are beautiful and he has good expressive punctuation. It was a moment.

The record is due in September. On what other projects are you working?

I’m releasing an EP-length soundtrack that I scored for The Wreck, a short film by Kevin Haus who directed A Map of A Maze. It just premiered at Cannes and received “Best Art Short” at Manhattan Film Festival. It’s a compact bit of music that I’m really proud of. We also just had an incredible experience recording a song with Brian McTear for Weathervane Music’s Shaking Through series. His level of knowledge and positivity was above and beyond, along with the entire crew. “The Silver Sea” is the name of the track and will release shortly after Triumvirate drops.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Be real, don’t give up, and do it yourself. Be mindful of staying positive and true.

Sem: Thanks so much!

Thank you Sem, it’s been a pleasure and I’m honored to be asked about my music in such thoughtful detail.

Interview: Jessy Spino of Girl Fry!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Jessy Spino of the talented band Girl Fry. Please read a brief bio about Jessy written by Jeremy Porter.

Jessica Spino (born Jessica Espinoza) is an American and Brazilian musician and songwriter. She co-founded the band Maria Sweet at the dawn of her musical career and later went on to found the melodic punk band Girl Fry. Her musical stylings are influenced by the wide variety of culture she was exposed to growing up in southern California, Brazil, and Ecuador. Spino has shared stages with a wide array of artists including Killola, Tsar, Anus Kings, Evertheory, The Walking Toxins and Sangre, and has achieved recognition for completing Maria Sweets first tour solo when the rest of the band had to cancel. She is also known for often including traditional folk instruments in her compositions and performances. As of July 2014, she has three official releases including an EP and Album with Maria Sweet, and an EP for Girl Fry – with a new album slated to be released in Q3 2014.

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Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

Well, Alex was born into a musical family and had access to every kind of instrument you can imagine. I (Jess) would sing in church. I played piano as a youngin’, and started guitar at age 14. I sorta realized that this was what I wanted to do once I left high school. It took YEARS to convince Alex to start a band with me. But she couldn’t until after Art School. And so Girl Fry started a little while after she graduated.

From your perspective, how are female-bodied people treated and viewed within punk and pop circles these days?

I was actually talking about this tonight with a friend. About how I didn’t expect to be asked such substantial questions in our first band interview. I joked, “I should be showing some skin, not doing an thoughtful Q&A’s!” and that sort of answers the question itself. When outside of radical spaces that try to create a safe environment, I see some transphobia and objectification, yes. However, my biggest pet peeve in the industry is that FAAB’s (female assigned at birth) are often pitted against one one another. Even amongst the band members themselves. It’s the There Can Only Be One attitude.

Jessy Spino Show Serious

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

The highlights of this past year for Girl Fry have been getting to perform more unplugged, acoustic sets. This really challenged our performance skills, and has made us into better musicians. We all have become so much more aware of each other’s cue’s and styles.

How do the three of you collaborate to make music?

For so long it had just been Alex and I (Jess), much of our collaboration is with rhythm and the vocal interpretation of each song. Sometimes Alex contributes to writing and guitar. Most of the time, I write a song on guitar/Charango, put it to lyrics, and take it to Ally (drummer) and Alex (bassist/rhythm guitarist) for further development.

What is one quality that makes you distinct from other artists who may be sonically similar?

I tend to write verbose songs, and try to make lyrics melodic whenever I can, even if that means sacrificing rhyme or meter. As for Alex, you might notice in our upcoming album, she has laid down some very busy bass patterns.

Who and what have been your most significant creative influences?

My best buddy, from whom I have written dozens of songs. My dog, for whom I wrote many songs in my previous project, Maria Sweet. I take a lot out of my favorite sci-fi books and television shows: Star Trek, BSG, The Sphere.

Whom do you most admire musically?

When I was younger: Metric, Tegan and Sara, Dresden Dolls, Evanescence. More recently, Against Me!, The Stranglers, The Lunachicks, Los Hermanos, even bands like Avatasia, Dream Theater, Minds Eye, Kamelot, the list goes on. Alex is more on the rockabilly, roots hardcore, and electronica side, but she isn’t here so I’ll just mention Henry Rollins, Vandals, The Heavy, The Circle Jerks, Above and Beyond and that list is longer than mine.

I love your song, “Just Wondrin’” off The Pottymouth EP. You have so well blended melody with a punk spirit! How did you do it? 🙂

I love punk, and I love a good melody. I’ve always found the two to fit together nicely. A favorite example of this is Subway by the Lunachicks.

Your song, “Memo” off the same album seems quite confessional (e.g., “Unload the weapon before calling/And my parachute works before falling) What is the story behind that song?

It’s about descending into madness. Trying to have all your ducks lines up, but everything falls apart at ignition.

“Surivalov” sounds somewhat different stylistically. What is the meaning of this song?

My goal was to use the Charango more traditionally. The first song I had ever heard Charango being used is this classic titled Ojos Azules. Some of these classic renditions from the Andean region can have a super upbeat energetic sound, many of them change tempo, this one in particular has a sadder theme. I was trying to follow those themes to the best of my ability, but it turned into something different. Maybe I was missing some flute? I love that song, even though playing it makes me sad.

Which songs have you or would you like to cover?

A friend once told me that the best songs to cover are songs outside one’s genre. I would love to cover Abba. In the past, I have covered Black Sheep by Metric, Have to Drive by Amanda Palmer, Bullet by the Misfits for live performances. Most of them were at an open mic somewhere, so there aren’t any vids of it, thank goodness.

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What has been the most surprising reaction to your music so far?

At the Viper Room, I performed a cryptic, naughty song that someone totally picked up on. They laughed and pointed directly at me.

On what projects are you working on next?

We have a 10 date tour on the west coast to promote our upcoming album. You can see our tour dates here: http://www.girlfry.com/shows. The album should be coming out soon after the tour.. We are recording at ATM Studios in Burbank with our producers Victor Flores and Joe Calderon: http://www.atmstudios.com.

Lastly, In our spare time Alex and I have been working on a the studio’s Electronica side project called Dark World. You can hear our progress at https://soundcloud.com/art-thru-dark-records/bruja.

It’s been a busy year!

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

You are an asset, and your time is valuable. And to Women, Feminine-Identified Persons, Queers: Keep being awesome. The music industry needs more of you.

-Sem

Interview: Orenda Fink!

Underneath This just had the soulful experience of interviewing talented the talented singer-songwriter, Orenda Fink. Please read more about Orenda (from bighassle.com) before proceeding to the interview.

Throughout her time with Azure Ray and over the course of her solo career, Orenda Fink has never shied from exploring the darker edges of spirituality and the human condition. On her debut solo album Invisible Ones, Orenda explored traditional Haitian ritual and mysticism. She then followed that up with an examination of the Southern Gothic subconscious on Ask the Night. Needless to say, death has been visible in much of her music. On her latest album, Blue Dream, she looks deeply at the subject, reflecting upon a year-long meditation on death that started with a dog named Wilson and the words of Laurie Anderson.

“Just look at yesterday, and what you were doing, and how important it was, and how nonexistent it is now! How dreamlike it is! Same thing with tomorrow. So where are we living? Tibetans have unbelievably fascinating answers to that. This is what I’m studying because my dog died.” -Laurie Anderson

Orenda was sent this quote by her friend Nina Barnes after Wilson, Orenda’s dog of 16 years, died. That year she found herself on a deeply personal search for the meaning of death. Pieces of answers, coded in riddle, came to her in dreams. Her dreams began to tell a story – about life and death and the afterlife, reality, and the fine line between the conscious and subconscious world.

She then spent the next year understanding the experience and filtering it through the musical inspirations of Smog, Violetta Parra, and Kate Bush to craft Blue Dream. The album truly came together at ARC in Omaha, NE with the help of producers Ben Brodin and Todd Fink (The Faint), along with drummer Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Swans, R.E.M., King Crimson).

Lead single “Ace of Cups” starts the album off by using the Tarot symbol of attunement and spirituality to explore the interconnectedness with the world and humanity that even death cannot undo. The haunting “Holy Holy” examines them directly with lines “We come into this world all alone/and we leave with not much more” and “I lay in bed/collect all my dreams/then I pay/someone to read them to me/the simple ones are just as they seem/but open your eyes/and they say so much more.” Whereas “All Hearts Will Beat Again” displays ideas Orenda came to understand upon reflection in lines “It’s a sign in the eyes/something in your smile/it’s a nod and a wave from the darkness/but our hearts will beat again/and the love we gave will come back/but i don’t know where or when.”

Writing the album allowed Orenda to contemplate the experiences that precipitated it and explore new perspectives gained over the past year. This process left her with the belief that we can only be truly healed if we find our “interior God.” How do you find your interior God? There are many ways, but she believes one of them is through dreams. Dreams being the closest way to have a direct experience with the all-knowing past, present, and future.

Credit: Bill Sitzmann

Credit: Bill Sitzmann


Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

When I was young my dream was to become an actress. My father wisely suggested that I audition for the Alabama School of Fine Arts (high school) for theater. I did and got in, but realized that I didn’t really have the chops for acting. However, it was there that I discovered the guitar and songwriting and met Maria Taylor, whom I went on to form many bands with, including Azure Ray. Neither one of us have really stopped writing and performing since we met.

You have songs entitled “Dirty South” and “Alabama.” In what ways has being from this region of the United States influenced the music that you make?

I am definitely influenced creatively by my southern roots. There are things I’ve always loved about the South- the languid pace, the sound of cicadas, the viscous humidity. It’s a habitat for ghosts.

Is your music feminist? If so, how so?

I would say that my music is derived from more of a humanist perspective than anything, but at the same time perhaps it’s inherently feminist because I am a feminist. I think I am drawn to exploring the human condition- the meaning of life and death, how we are affected by love and loss, how we overcome our deep flaws to find some sort of redemption. I see this all as a woman though, and as a woman, I fit into the puzzle of life in a uniquely feminine way so I suppose it’s humanist and feminist.

Your style has been characterized as “adult alternative” and “indie rock.” What do you make of these adjectives?

Those are pretty generic labels. It’s difficult because I’ve never really aligned myself with a “genre.” I’ve been told that Azure Ray started “whispercore” but my solo work isn’t quite like Azure Ray. Death folk seems like it would describe Blue Dream haha, but I know that I don’t fit into that genre. Maybe I should make one up. Grief Wave.

From your vantage point, how are women treated and viewed within these genres?

Women are certainly the minority in this business, and of course sexism does exist in the industry, but I don’t think it is something that should ever prevent a woman from going all in. From my perspective, male or female, you are treated with respect if you are good at what you do, you are professional, and you are courteous. There is always the old sound guy that doesn’t think you’re in the band because you are a girl (even though you walk in with a guitar), but honestly I stopped caring about that a long time ago. Being overly concerned with that antiquated behavior can distract women in music from what they should be doing, which is kicking ass.

One of my favorites by you is “No Evolution” off your 2005 solo album, “Invisible Ones.” What is the story behind that song?

That song is about stopping evolution so the people we love don’t have to die. If we could freeze time, and just be suspended instead of blindly falling into the cycle of life- it’s a protest song against nature.

I absolutely love your song, “The Moon Knows” from the subsequent record. I can also totally imagine Cat Power covering this. Do you ever write songs with other artists in mind?

Thank you! That’s a great compliment. I love her work. I don’t write songs with other artists in mind, per se, but sometimes I will hold my work up against someone I really admire and see where I feel it’s deficits are. Sometimes this can help me write a better song.

Which songs have you or would you like to cover?

I’ve done several in my career, Townes Van Zandt, Guided By Voices, Les Savy Fav, Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. I’m about to cover a John Lennon song for the Ace of Cups single. It was one I just heard for the first time this year and I fell in love with it.

Credit: Bill Sitzmann

Credit: Bill Sitzmann

Your most recent album, “Blue Dream” was at least partially inspired by a personal experience of loss. What was it like to make a record that was about such intense emotions?

It was… intense haha. There are several songs on this record that I literally wept while writing. There are actual tear stains on my lyric sheets. That sounds like the beginning of a country song. But really, the recording was also intense in a different way. By the time I recorded, I felt like I had walked through the fire and had come out a healed, if not stronger person. So I had this body of work that I wanted to honor by going back to those painful places. It all seems like a blur to me now, really.

A Laurie Anderson quote was also influential. I can hear her influence in some ways. Who and what else have been your most significant creative influences?

Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and Bill Callahan were pretty big influences on me these last couple of years.

The tracks, “Ace of Cups” and “You Can Be Loved” beautifully open the album in an inspiring manner. What was the impetus for these songs?

Thank you. Both of these songs look at what it means to love and be loved. I think love is eternal life. But it’s not easy- you have to work and sacrifice to love and be loved. But it’s worth it. Love is magic, it’s alchemy, it’s the only thing that truly matters. That’s why people who don’t know how to give or receive love are so profoundly unhappy.

The lyric, “Your broken Jesus is in pieces” from “This is part of something greater”, is so thought and feeling provoking. How has spirituality influenced your work?

Spirituality has always been a great influence on my work. Like the song title, I do think this- this thing we’re all doing- is a part of something greater. I don’t know what that is exactly but it keeps my heart alive. Studying different spiritual practices, religions, writings of the great mystics has always been a passion of mine and does inform my work. I think our attempts to understand the universe, the meaning of life, and the afterlife through religion are much like a dream- they are stories coded in riddle and symbolism. These symbols and archetypes are quite powerful and poetic to me. It becomes a danger though when people take these writings too literally. That is the tragedy with religion. But even that misguided attempt to connect with the divine has its own damaged beauty and that was sort of what I was speaking to with that particular line.

The title track quite vividly paints a picture of sadness. Which other emotions are contained within this song?

Probably sadness mixed with a bittersweet resignation. Like just deciding to let go and let it wash over you….

What is the meaning of “Sweet Disorder?”

Sweet disorder is about embracing chaos, embracing the unconventional, the frowned upon. It’s about giving up on trying to control life and just being.

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The cover art of your new album is quite striking. How does it connect to the themes of the record?

Thank you. The amazing artist Maria Reichstadt painted it. The strings of teeth are from a dream I had where I was pulled up from the bottom of the ocean by them. The narwhal was a friend’s idea. He listened to the record and that was the image that popped into his head. The narwhal spirit in mythology speaks to mystery and the subconscious as relating to universal truths. After he mentioned the narwal we started seeing images of them everywhere. It was so weird. I took it as a sign. Also, it’s the unicorn of the sea!

What has it been like collaborating creatively with your husband?

I love working with Todd. I’m a very lucky lady!

How has it been working with Maria Taylor in Azure Ray and Cedric Lemoyne in O+S?

I also love working with Maria and Cedric. I have known both of them for over half my life. They are like a brother and sister to me. Again, I am very lucky!

From your perspective, how do the Azure Ray and O+S albums compare to your solo work?

Azure Ray and O+S are highly collaborative works, so even though I am writing and singing in both, there is a huge element of Maria and Cedric in the work, respectively. I think with my solo work, I can be a little more self-indulgent which can yield positive and negative results. I think for Blue Dream it was mostly positive though because of the intensely personal nature of the journey I was on while creating it.

On what projects are you working on next?

After touring for Blue Dream I plan on finishing up a new O+S record that Cedric and I have been working on for the last couple of years. It’s getting close!

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Know that your career is going to have ups and downs. Never give up. Support your fellow artists. Build up, don’t tear down. Believe in yourself but practice humility. Work hard, but have fun and follow your heart!

-Sem