Interview: Marina Rice Bader!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing writer/director Marina Rice Bader. Please read more about Marina (adapted from a press release) and her latest film, Anatomy of a Love Seen, before proceeding to the interview.

Marina (Executive Producer of Elena UndoneA Perfect Ending) is releasing her feature length directorial debut Anatomy of a Love Seen as a $5 digital rental on Vimeo via the film’s website http://www.anatomyofaloveseen.com  Marina has given the film its worldwide release as a streaming rental, breaking outside of and bypassing the traditional Hollywood distribution channels. Anatomy of a Love Seen  is easily and available and affordable for fans to view around the world on any Internet-capable device. Additionally, subtitled versions for a number of languages will also be made available including Spanish, Portuguese, French and German.

In the age of YouTube and viral marketing campaigns, it is becoming less uncommon for a feature to be completely digitally released; however, it is quite unusual for a movie to be made available online immediately after a festival premiere, as this film has following the recent 32nd Annual Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival. Yet in keeping with the “do-it-her-way-ethos”, Marina was intent on the idea of exploring alternative distribution options in order to engage and connect directly with her fans, and get the film out to as many people as possible.

Following in the footsteps of filmmakers such as Louis CK and Joss Whedon who have taken on distribution themselves, Marina isn’t the first filmmaker to the direct-distribution game; but she is one of the first ever out filmmakers to offer LGBTQ+ audiences around the world and cinephiles alike a lesbian themed feature film as a low-cost digital release immediately after its first festival premiere.

As the driving force behind Soul Kiss Films, her independent film company, Marina’s artistic direction is focused on one goal:  to create evocative, entertaining, and compelling movies by women, for women, and about women.  Indeed, she is successfully planting the seeds to do just that with Anatomy of a Love Seen, the forthcoming Raven’s Touch, and a new film set to shoot in December.

Anatomy of a Love Seen stars Hollywood newcomers Sharon Hinnendael, Jill Evyn and Constance Brenneman.  This film within a film explores love in all its painful and messy glory.  Six months ago, Zoe and Mal fell for each other while filming a love scene, which led to an intense, whirlwind affair, followed by a devastating breakup. Soon after their split, things get complicated when the two have to meet on set once more to re-shoot that fateful sequence.

Filmed in five days, this improvised movie based on Marina’s story, characters and outline fulfilled her desire to create a very organic and visceral experience.  Anatomy of a Love Seen was made on a micro-budget, but that hasn’t stopped a huge online buzz. For a preview of the film, you can view the trailer (for mature audiences), which has already had 780,000 views, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWqQregDD_A

ANATOMY OF A LOVE SEEN IS NOW STREAMING WORLDWIDE AT:  http://anatomyofaloveseen.com/

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What was the moment in which you realized you wanted to work in film?

It was a long series of moments in my life that led me to where I am now and my decision to work in film. It probably goes back to elementary school in one way or another, though it never had a name. I lived my life as a movie, always coming up with new scenarios to play out in my head. This stayed with me my whole life, and I still do it. It wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I found the confidence to actually jump in and pursue my dream, corny as that sounds. I’m a big believer in “it’s never too late.”

Who and what have been the most significant creative influences?

Movies! I adore leaving the theater or my living room to enter the world created for me. My favorite films have a way of taking me somewhere I’ve never been before. The Princess Bride to a land of swordplay, giants and true love. Lord of the Rings to a world of elves, middle earth and the epic battle between good and evil. Connie & Carla to the stage of song, dance, drag and just plain fun. Aliens to the outer reaches of space and the most badass hero of all, Ellen Ripley.

From your perspective, has there been progress, regression, or both regarding depiction of LGBTQ+ individuals in the media?

I think there’s been a steady rate of progress, and certainly there are many wonderful characters now living on prime time and cable. We could use more films with well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters, and I hope in some way I’m helping to address that issue.

You are debuting as a director with “Anatomy of a Love Seen.” What have been some rewarding and challenging moments of being in the director’s seat?

I think my biggest reward so far has been actually getting through the many challenges of creating a film from start to finish. I take on a bit of the producer role as well, in that I love putting all the pieces together. I had my hands on every part of the film, which was fantastic. Working with my amazing cast and crew was incredibly rewarding – every day they blew me away with their dedication and passion. Then there’s sitting with an audience, watching your film on the big screen…that’s pretty cool.

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This film has been released internationally streaming online. How did you make this decision?

I wanted to try something different this time – to see if I could make the film accessible to the entire world at the same time – to include everyone. As of this moment Anatomy of a Love Seen has been viewed in 70 countries – how mind blowing is that? Everywhere from Canada to Costa Rica, Norway to New Zealand, and the film is available in five languages with more coming. Now it’s a matter of getting the word out there! We are streaming everywhere right now: http://anatomyofaloveseen.com/

How do you see technology continuing to influence film-making?

Technology is not my area, but I do see it continuing to move in the same direction, which levels the playing field a bit by allowing filmmakers to create and release content more easily.

In some ways, the film seems meta, in the sense of showing a movie within a movie. How were you able to capture this on screen?

Now that was interesting! Our working crew played the movie crew, the actors were in character at all times, and everything was fair game. This was a two-camera shoot, so you never knew if B camera was rolling on behind-the-scenes (some of which ended up in the film.) I think Kieran, my first AD, had it the hardest. He was my right hand on the set and the one responsible for keeping us on schedule, making sure we got all of our shots, but was also playing a real character in the film, with dialogue! He rocked it though…and he’s absolutely adorable in the film.

How do you choose the music that is included in the films?

We had a wonderful composer from The UK named Thom Robson who created our original score – he’s one to watch out for. Then we were lucky enough to find Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah Smith to provide two songs, which rounded us out. Can’t wait for the US to discover her – we created a music video with Sarah for our film, which has gotten rave reviews – you can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t34zwvEekeA

Which projects are you working on next?

“Raven’s touch”, starring Dreya Weber and Traci Dinwiddie, is going through the final edit and should be ready to go this fall. I’m also in the beginning stages of a project that will shoot at the end of this year – the details are under wraps right now. Then in the fall of 2015 I’m shooting one of my favorite stories called “Red Sky Theater” in Arizona. This one’s been in my heart for a long time and I can’t wait to get started!

What insights do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Well there are a thousand possible answers to this question, but the best tangible piece of advice I can think of is this: do something that really scares you, and I mean something that makes you want to cry just thinking about it. Terrified of snakes – go hold one at a pet store. Afraid of the dark – go spelunking in a deep dank cave. Terrified of heights – go ziplining. Once you conquer that fear, then make a movie, because to survive in this world you must be fearless!

-Sem

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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.

Interview: Laura Erickson-Schroth about “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves!”

Underneath This had the informative and enjoyable experience of interviewing Laura Erickson-Schroth, psychiatrist and editor of the groundbreaking, “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a compendium featuring an introduction by Jennifer Finney Boylan contributors from trans* and cisgender activists, theorists, authors, educators, artists, and health professionals.

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What were some experiences that inspired the idea for “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves?”

I grew up with the book Our Bodies, Ourselves on our shelf at home. It was something that answered a lot of the questions I had about bodies and sexuality. It was put together by women in Boston in the late 60’s, at a time when most physicians were male, and the women were turning to one another for information they needed. As I got older and met more and more trans people, I realized that in some ways they were in a similar position to those women – they were coming into contact with providers who weren’t as educated as they should be about trans health. I thought it would be great to create something like Our Bodies, Ourselves, written by trans people, for trans people.

What was the editing process like?

It was multi-layered. For each chapter, there were on average 10-15 advisers who read through and provided comments to help the authors shape the chapter. We also held an “editing weekend” where about 20 of us worked in small groups to make sure that the book was heading in the right direction. It was a lot of fun to get so many people together around a common goal.

How were the contributors and reviewers selected?

Chapter authors and reviewers were chosen based on their experience and expertise in the area. We’re really proud to have found great trans health providers, academics, lawyers, activists, and so many others to make the book what it is.

What was the process of choosing the 6 sections to focus on in the text?

The 6 sections really came together organically. We started deciding what topics were broad enough to warrant full chapters, and saw that they seemed to fall into sections.

How has your own professional work informed the content of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves?”

Part of the reason I decided to start this project was that I was doing rotations in medical school on trans health and there seemed to be this incredible divide between trans people and providers. There was a lot of history of gatekeeping, and a lot of ignorance about trans people and trans health. I thought that a byproduct of trans people teaching each other about these issues could be that providers would read what they wrote, and learn more about trans communities.

If you wanted a reader to take one overall message away from reading this unique text, what would that be?

I think the most important take-away is that trans communities are extremely diverse. They’re made up of people from every background you can think of.

So far, have there been any surprising reactions to “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” from the press, family, and/or friends?

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People are most surprised by how big it is! It’s 650 pages long, and 3.5 pounds. Which means it represents that voices of many, many people.

What has been the response from trans* communities?

We’ve had great responses from both trans communities and friends, family, and providers. There were something like 500 people somehow involved in the project, and everyone is really excited to see their stories and ideas in print.

Which projects are you working on next?

I just started a fellowship at Columbia University Medical Center. Part of the fellowship is learning about public psychiatry, which includes the recovery model of mental illness, and systems like Medicaid, housing, and supported employment. The other part of the fellowship is through the LGBT Initiative at Columbia, which has goals of improving research, clinical work, education, and policy around LGBT issues.

What insights do you have for aspiring writers/editors?

If you have the luxury, do things that are meaningful to you. It makes late nights, copyediting, and deadlines worthwhile.

-Sem

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

Interview: Rachael Sage!

Underneath This had the pleasant experience of interviewing the talented and soulful Rachael Sage. According to the biography in her press kit, Rachael is a vocalist and innovative multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer. She has also become one of the busiest touring artists in independent music, performing over 100 dates a year (!) with her band The Sequins throughout the US, UK, Europe and Asia. She has earned a loyal following for her dynamic piano playing, delicate guitar work, soulful vocals. and improvisational audience interaction.

Sage has shared stages with Sarah McLachlan, A Great Big World, Judy Collins, Colin Hay, Shawn Colvin, Marc Cohn, The Animals and Ani DiFranco. She has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and received numerous songwriting awards including The John Lennon Songwriting Contest (Grand Prize) and several Independent Music Awards. Her songs have appeared on MTV, HBO, the “Fame” soundtrack, and in the current season of Lifetime’s #1 reality series,”Dance Moms.”

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Before proceeding to the interview, check out some of Rachael’s music videos.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming a musician.

I have been playing piano since I was two and a half, apparently! I can’t really remember a time where I didn’t have some kind of relationship to the piano. I would hear songs in synagogue, or at school or in ballet class or just in my house from my parent’s doo-wop and Broadway collections, and sound out the melodies by ear. By the time I was four I was writing lyrics and by five I already had dozens of little pop songs influenced mostly by what was playing on Top 40 Radio at the time. I’d use the phrase “making love” in all my songs and I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it sounded like what people sang on the radio! After that I just became know in school and at camp as “that girl who writes songs”, and constantly presented them to friends, teachers, at talent shows or wherever…basically, for anyone who’d listen. Upon an uncle’s suggestion who worked in TV News, my relatives pooled together and gave me a four-track tape recorder for my Bat Mitzvah gift, which set me on my path as both a producer and recording artist.

You started your own record label when this was less common. What was that like?

I started my own record label as a very practical decision, really. I’d been making pop music demos since I was in junior high school, programming drum machines and synthesizers, and literally recording hundreds of songs to play for publishers, managers – anyone who’d listen to a little kid with stars in her eyes. I got pretty “far” with it too; in high school I was offered a major publishing deal with Famous Music that my parents (lamentably) wouldn’t let me sign because they felt I was too young, and I also was represented by Debbie Gibson’s manager, which let’s just say, was “an adventure!”

Ultimately, during college I did a 180 musically and my motivation for wanting to be a songwriter and recording artist shifted quite a bit. I became a lot more eager to get my music out there myself, and to say what I wanted to say without anyone telling me what lyrics needed to be cut or what arrangement to play or even what to wear. I was really inspired by the Bay Area folk scene and also, by a summer I spent in Ireland where a large number of local artists were already self-releasing, so it just seemed like the natural thing to do. I pressed up my first album right after college, pretended to be my own manager by wearing my hair in a bun and putting on glasses, walked into Tower Records and somehow managed to schmooze my way into getting them to take in 10 copies. That same week, the buyer decided to put it in their listening station, which really changed things for me as it became their best-selling indie release.

Shortly thereafter, I landed a slot with Lilith Fair and then sent my album to college radio where it received a lot of airplay and charted high enough to prompt some offers from national distributors. It was a very different music biz back then, and things like college radio and moving units at a local record store had a lot more impact, career-wise. Now it’s more about YouTube, iTunes and social networking, but for me it all started from just wanting to learn how to represent myself as professionally as possible, and to self-develop as an artist.

Uncut Magazine has described your music as “one part Elton John, one part Kate Bush.” Have these artists influenced your style? Who and what else have been influential?

I was not influenced by Kate Bush, no. I probably would’ve been if I’d been exposed to her, but I was not aware of her music until lots of people had compared me to her! Eventually I became curious a picked up a copy of The Sensual World which absolutely blew me away. I definitely heard a kindred spirit in her lyrics, but I feel our voices are quite different. Maybe the fact that we both have dance backgrounds prompted the comparisons, I’m not sure. I’m always flattered by them, though!

I was much more aware of Elton John through his massive radio hits, and would definitely say that he and even more so, Billy Joel, was an influence. I would play his music by ear – anything/everything in the Top 40 really – and in general in junior high school I gravitated toward music from the 70’s like Carole King, Cat Stevens and James Taylor. In high school I discovered Elvis Costello whose music inspired me enormously, and all throughout I was listening to tons of Classical music via my ballet classes. My biggest influence, hands-down, has been The Beatles. When I first really dug into their music around age 11, my brain exploded and the possibilities of what one could do with pop music literally seemed endless. Since then my influences have been too numerous and eclectic to name here, but I’ve been equally inspired by classical, pop, blues, folk and even old-fashioned theatrical music especially from Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly films. Anything with great lyrics and a killer melody, and I’m bound to appreciate it!

How did the Sequins come together?

I met each of the fine players in The Sequins in NYC, in the last few years. My wonderful violinist, Kelly Halloran, was first introduced to me through my label-mate Seth Glier, who grew up with her in Massachusetts. Ward Williams, our cellist/electric guitarist, was in another band prior called Jump Little Children of which I was a huge fan, but I didn’t realize that when I met him or I’d have been pretty starstruck! We first chatted after a mutual friend’s gig – Alex Wong – and I was so impressed by his beautiful playing with Alex that I shamelessly said, “hey, I’d love to play with you…do you have a card?” We’ve been playing together ever since! Drummer Andy Mac is the most recent member of our band, and I met him a long time ago but only as a fellow singer-songwriter. I have Facebook to thank for introducing me to his amazing drumming skills via a handful of videos posted on his page, and after I realized what a kick-ass drummer he was, I invited him to play with us and I can easily say he’s the most dynamically sensitive player I’ve ever worked with. They’re all great people I love being around, which makes playing and touring together an absolute pleasure!

Photo Credit: Tom Moore

Photo Credit: Tom Moore

What have been some highlights of performing live?

Many of my favorite live performance experiences have been in Europe. I had the incredible opportunity a while back to tour with the great Eric Burdon & The Animals throughout Germany and Austria, which was just a wild and eye-opening adventure! He has lived through and forged so much rock ‘n roll history, and the opportunity to be around a legend like that, to watch and learn still sticks in my mind as one of my favorite experiences. I’ve also really appreciated the opportunity to play in Japan – which was such an entirely different culture, and a very humbling experience to not have anyone around us speak any English. The cities I played in were all beautiful and fascinating in different ways, and I hope some day to go back!

What was the experience like of performing at Lilith Fair? What was that era for you like musically?

I was invited to perform at Lilith Fair in 1999 after winning a local NYC talent search contest they hosted, at The Westbeth Theater in the West Village. Of course it was a ridiculously exciting experience, not only to open the show itself (I was the first act on) but also to meet Sarah McLachlan and so many other artists I admired, including Suzanne Vega and Sandra Bernhard, who’ve both inspired me a great deal. Musically, I think I was definitely striving to expose my emotions in a much more hyper-personal way then than I am apt to now; I was so full of angst and, as one is after college, eager to share all the novel ideas I believed I had, spiritually, politically and otherwise. I was very idealistic – so I guess it was the perfect time to be playing my first festival!

From your experience, how has the treatment of heterosexual cisgender women and LGBTQ people in folk and adult alternative music changed since then?

That’s a very interesting question, that honestly, I’m not sure I have an answer to. I’ve always been very openly bisexual, but on the other hand I’ve never been overly focused on sexuality or my sexual preference at all, as a creative artist; I’m a pretty private individual. So generally, it’s rarely come up unless I’ve brought it up myself – for instance volunteering to play an LGBTQ benefit or a Pride event. I have composed plenty of songs informed by my experiences with women, but as a songwriter I’ve always aimed to write songs with which anyone can identify so it hasn’t always been obvious (apparently!). Conversely, there have been songs of mine that have been written about a man who my lesbian listeners have assumed were about a woman and I’ve always just been happy if people found resonance with my work, period, as human beings who love other human beings. Many of my songs aren’t even about me or my life at all, versus based on fiction or a film or a friend’s experience but I think ultimately the “treatment” of artists tends to reflect social bias in general….so I’m sure you could find examples galore of ways in which bias has affected careers adversely; that’s a big part of why I remained indie though admittedly. I wanted to be less reactive and more in control of how I put myself out here (no pun intended). For me, it always just boils down to the music: am I making the best possible records I can make, and am I putting my heart and soul into each live show. I think if you do your job well and respect that everyone in this community of musicians – whether straight or LGBT – has the same goal of self-expression, there are no limits whatsoever anymore in terms of how far you can go as an indie artist. Music is music, and that’s why it’s such an incredible space for all voices to be heard!

In what ways is your music feminist?

I think my music is necessarily feminist because it aims to celebrate the female experience, while also acknowledging our vulnerabilities and that we can derive strength from the entire range of female expression and emotion. I grew up distinctly fearing that certain qualities I had as a woman were weak or inappropriate or just not fit to be emphasized. My work is all about individuality and creativity and striving to find what it is in each of us that is both uniquely ourselves, and worth sharing with and celebrating in each other.

For me, music had been incredibly healing especially because I was badly bullied as a child, by other young girls. The behavior was either completely ignored by teachers or encouraged by parents, and the fact that I was at an all girl school made it hard for me to trust other women until I went to college and realized the girl-culture I experienced was not exactly the norm. Feminism and the concept of supporting and nurturing other women through the arts was something I grew into in my 20’s, and as a member of several female music collectives, I have continued to learn more about how we can support rather than compete with each other are women, in music and the broader entertainment industry.

I love being a part of the organization Women In Music, for instance, and have also been a member of such groups as Indiegrrl and GoGirls Music, as well as an artist salon called UrbanMuse comprised of NY-based female singer-songwriters. All of these groups have helped me get and keep my bearings not only as a female/feminist artist, but as an artist, period. I hope that sense of empathy and compassion in general comes through in my work, even when it’s exploring darker themes.

You and several other musicians collaborated to raise funds for homeless youth. Kudos to you all! How did that endeavor come about?

Well, we’ve been releasing charity compilations on my label MPress Records for a number of years. The fourth volume of the compilation series “New Arrivals” benefits National Network For Youth, primarily because as New Yorkers it’s impossible to not be acutely aware of the homelessness problem throughout our city. I also happen to live right next to a homeless shelter, so when the topic came up re: which charity to pick, it just seemed like we should try to do something around homelessness. My tour manager and I visited the offices of NN4Y in Washington, D.C. on tour, really admired what they were doing, and they were eager to have us become involved through our efforts.

With what other activist causes are you involved?

Through my label MPress Records and individually, I have been involved in fundraising for World Hunger Year (founded by Harry Chapin), NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), Habitat For Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, and a handful of local NYC organizations that continue to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy. You can read more about our charity compilation series at http://www.newarrivalscd.com.

I was touched by your writing about the definition of a home (http://www.themortonreport.com/celebrity/causes/celebrity-causes-rachael-sage-for-artists-against-youth-homelessness/). What places feel like home to you these days?

I feel most at home in New York City, my literal home, but I also feel very at ease in Dublin, Ireland, San Francisco, CA, and Boston, MA. I also really like London, where I am currently!

What was it like collaborating with Dar Williams on “Invisible Light” on your 2012 album, “Haunted by You?”

Dar Williams is just such a delightfully down to earth and warm person, you almost forget what an extraordinary artist she is until she opens her mouth to sing! She came over to my home studio very well prepared, and sang the song “Invisible Light” in just a few passes. She was very generous with her ideas, and kept the mood playful and light. Honestly, it felt like we were just hanging out chatting and laughing, and then suddenly the track was done as it was time to go have a coffee together. It’s a day I will certainly never forget!!

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

“New Destination” is your 11th album. Congrats! The record seems to possess a different sonic feel than many of your earlier records. It also seems like there is a different energy. What do you make of the differences and similarities between these songs and your earlier ones?

Thank you! New Destination is actually my first EP of previously unrecorded material, i.e. a short-form recording of only four tracks. (My 11th full album isn’t coming out until Fall 2014). I decided to release these four tunes because once I’d written the title-track, it felt like this group of songs just belonged together and I wanted to share them right away especially as I’d been playing them all already live. New Destination was musically inspired by Carole King’s song I Feel The Earth Move, which I heard on Broadway last year in the musical “Beautiful.” So it has a very positive, uptempo energy and lyrically I wrote it for a good friend who was going through a tough breakup…but it could really be about anyone just trying to shift their perspective and make some kind of a change. It came out in the Spring, and I definitely think it was a good seasonal sentiment! In terms of the other tracks on the EP I think they all explore some aspect of transformation, and hopefully, a feeling that there’s a glimmer of light at the end of even the coldest, darkest tunnel.

What was it like making this album? What was your favorite track to record? The most challenging?

Of course I loved recording all of these tracks, but I think my favorite was Wax, because it’s just a very different kind of groove for me. Doug Yowell played the drums, and he has such a brilliant sense of dynamics. We recorded it as a duo, just me on piano and him playing drums live, and then we built the rest of the tune around that foundation. It’s also the first song I ever played electric guitar on, so that was a blast!

My favorite song on the album is “Misery’s Grace.” What is the story behind that song?

I wrote Misery’s Grace for an old friend of mine who lost his wife to cancer. I first learned of his loss on Facebook, as we’d been out of touch for several years, and the outpouring of love and support was staggering, but also clearly, not much consolation for this man who seemed to have had a Hollywood Movie-esque romance with his true soul mate, who left this earth inexplicably to soon. The song is a tribute to their relationship, and the only way I knew how to reach out to my friend, to show him he was in my thoughts and I understood his enormous loss.

“I’m not Leaving You” was written based on the reactions to the death of Cory Monteith. What was it like recording this song? Have you played it live?

I actually wrote the song from what I imagined was his girlfriend’s perspective, earlier in their relationship. I tried to put myself in her (Leah Michelle’s) place emotionally, and to imagine what it must be like to be so young, talented, in love and under so much constant pressure from the media. It’s a song about loyalty, about braving the elements – whatever they may be – together and essentially, loving someone unconditionally in spite of any and all obstacles. I dated someone in my early 20’s who struggled with addiction, and while it’s easy for me to look back now and question my choices or my willingness to stick with that person in spite of my need for sobriety, the fact is I loved him deeply and in many other ways we were beautifully alike. Losing someone to substance abuse it’s just about the most painful experience I can imagine…so the song was my attempt to capture what I imagine must have been a very strong bond between two much-beloved talents, one of whom we lost tragically too soon.

If you could cover any song, what would be?

I can cover any song! Who’s going to stop me? 🙂 I haven’t done many covers because I just tend to write so many originals, but I’ve covered songs by Neil Young, Hall & Oates, Marc Cohn, Sinead O’ Connor and a version of the song “Fame” by Irene Cara, among others. I’ve enjoyed giving those songs my own spin, and I think it would be a positive challenge for me to cover a song by Judy Collins. I only grew up aware of her cover versions of songs like Both Sides Now and Send In The Clowns because she had such big hits with her versions of them; but her own songwriting is really extraordinary, and her piano playing has such a gorgeous flow to it…I think I should definitely attempt to cover some of her music, especially since she’s been such a wonderful supporter of mine!

Photo Credit: Bill Bernstein

Photo Credit: Bill Bernstein

You have also acted and danced. In your experience, how do these art forms compare to making music?

I think acting and dance are both much more about what’s happening physically and emotionally…what you’re able to summon to project onto your own personal canvas to help tell a story or convey a feeling. That canvas is some combination of one’s body, one’s sense of musicality (even with acting), and one’s personal voice i.e. character. You’re using yourself as the vessel to do all of that and it takes years of training and some degree of intuition and ‘talent’ to be a great actor or dancer. I loved the training that acting and dancing required, and I know that the discipline and endurance I learned from both continue to inform my approach to music. But the main difference has been that as a composer I am also my own director. I choose my material, I choose whether or not to improvise or stick to a set list, and of course I get to do all my own ‘casting’. What I miss sometimes about dance is the sheer ability to let go, and not be in one’s head. Dancers are so intelligent – they have to be to govern their bodies so meticulously and to absorb choreography as they do; but there is a feeling of getting lost entirely in the dance itself or even the language of a play written by someone centuries ago that is very different from the adrenaline rush of playing music. I try to include aspects of my dance and theatre backgrounds in my live performances, but it’s true often wish that I could still perform on pointe or go join a Broadway production! I would appreciate being part of an ensemble in a much different way now I think, now that I’ve forced myself to learn all facets of composing, performing and producing. I think it might be somewhat of a relief to immerse myself in a character and be part of someone else’s fantasy world for a while! Never say never…

On what projects are you working next?

I am currently completing my 11th album, “Blue Roses”, and am so excited that it’s almost finished after over a year of working on it!

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

The best advice I never received was to get a regular gig, and shed, shed, shed until you know who you are, what you do best, and how to connect with an audience. I wrote songs nearly all of my life, and I wanted to be an entertainer so badly, but I really didn’t have much experience outside my own living room or school talent shows before I got my first big break, opening for Ani DiFranco. It was a bit of trial-by-fire and looking back, I really wasn’t ready. Much of the time I’d been working so hard to create recorded versions of my music and get them as perfect as possible, I kind of forget about the live performance side, which was when I decided to start touring my tuchus off so I’d get better just by doing it. But I do wish someone had told me the virtues of playing for ten people at a local coffeehouse, every week, early on. There’s so much to learn just by experimenting and making mistakes…which I was always so afraid to do. Embrace your mistakes, and relish the process! And don’t be in such a rush. Music isn’t going anywhere, if it’s truly your passion. But the people and things happening around you are more transient; take the time to be part of your community, to go hear other artists, and to hang out with good people. It will all make you who you are, which is your #1 asset: your point-of-view.

-Sem