Saturday, January 22, 2011

Viva archived INTERVIEW!

Ben Danger, Viva, Mary "Freakin" Feaster
Last night I held an unofficial music staff drink beers-listen to music "meeting" at my place. I got to catch up with my new assistant music director, Molly Young, and got to say "oh brother, you're the worst" to my old assistant, Ben Danger, who has moved up in the radio world to WECB's programming department. I got that nasally nostalgia feeling when I thought about the time Ben and I traveled to Jamaica Plain last semester to see Brooklyn rocker-babe Viva. We met a man named surly dave, ate some pizza, and got to interview Viva in her van after the show. Mr. Danger wrote an awesome review, and transposed our interview. We never posted it but nows the time. Trust me, Viva is a wildly fantastic character and this is the interview to prove it. -margaret

Ben:You’ve got a very interesting singing style, it kind of reminds me of Joni Mitchell meets the B-52s meets like a million other people, so, how did you develop it?/What are your main singing influences?

Viva: Well, you know I was touring a lot with Beat the Donkey  and I used to lose my voice, so I kinda came out of an idea like, you know, I’m not really gonna study singing but I actually found that that didn’t work for me very well and I had a friend who was a really great singer, I was in a band with her for a minute. She’s now, like, singing with the Scissor Sisters, but she’s an awesome singer, and so she’s like “you should go to my voice teacher,” who’s this crazy little Greek lady in the East Village, who like became my guru and really helped so that now I can go on the road and like sing night after night. It’s really nice. I recommend people, if they’re gonna be singers, to get some training because, you know, if you’re gonna sing every night in rock clubs and stuff. You belt it and if you wanna deliver that every night… you can. You can if you take care of it…it’s really pretty cool cause for a lot of people, you know it’s hard for them, I know, like a lot of my favorite singers, I don’t want to mention any names but they get in trouble, you know, and I mean, I lost my voice so I had to go take some. But I copy everyone, I loooove obviously David Bowie, but we’re doing a tribute at Joe’s Pub in like a week for Barbara Streisand. But I mean, even like Bowie was a mime, you know, before he did it. One of the things I think made him so great was the theatrical element. I like Freddie Mercury obviously, in rock, it’s probably Freddie Mercury you know. Yeah we were at the website, and there’s that Freddie Mercury comparison, and the “she plays guitar like a flaming sword” part… That’s the Duke Ellington song “Flaming Sword” if I ever got a tattoo, I would get one…it’s really beautiful, it’s kind of mellow but I just love the idea of a flaming sword, and it’s like, you know, a pretty classic tattoo, I’d get one right on my forehead.

Ben: What’s your writing process like? Do you sit down and say you’re gonna write a song or does it just come out?

Sometimes it develops out of playing live, sometimes I copy songs…I wrote a new song after being inspired by seeing Patti Smith sing “you light up my life” on youtube which I recommend going to check out. So I just sat down and wrote a song called music in my life (sings a few bars) “When there’s music in your life/you can handle almost anything/or maybe/it’s true/you can handle anything” So it’s kind of like Pattie Smith is just such an icon of punk and music and doing this kind of arguably cheesy song, but you know, there’s no cheesy songs, only cheesy musicians, but you could say like, in other words, you know, like a really straightforward song, it’s a good song…sometimes I write, I copy stuff, you know Rock and Roll Lover is kinda, you know, I did Rock and Roll Suicide (David Bowie) and when I first heard that song I just cried and cried and cried and cried. I just couldn’t, it was so beautiful, that song, so Rock and Roll Lover is kind of dedicated to all the people that are just Rock and Roll lovers, its like about sex and a sexual lover you have but its also about people who love rock and roll. And it’s a place, and I think, you know Bowie’s certainly one of my heroes, but it’s not like, I don’t think the song Rock and Roll Lover sounds 50s-y, but it doesn’t end up sounding like, you know? No, it’s timeless in a way. Even if I try to copy, I think, its hard for me sometimes, like, I like cover bands. I joined a Guns N’ Roses cover band and I’m playing it tomorrow night, that’s why I have to go back. It’s totally awesome, but even, no matter, and I have a lot of respect for people in cover music. I like that. The Great American Songbook, all the way to Guns N’ Roses. But no matter what I do, it sounds like me so its not like a lot of Jersey bands are hiring me to come and play the exact solo that so-and-so played, but it can be good when you’re going to write a song, cause then you’re just like, I could even copy writing someone’s song exactly and it still wouldn’t sound it. It’s this collaboration of influences and it becomes something new every time, and it should be something new every time. Ideally, you know, like that’s, where you get, like real inspiration from someone else. Like I don’t mind if someone copies my song, or ever plays my song, or “steals” my song, it doesn’t bother me. Even though, I believe that people should own their songs and be paid for them. I also don’t mind if someone, you know cause it means they like it so much they wanna like yeah, and if they make it better or if they make it personal, like Somebody Else, that actually groove was from Beat the Donkey, it was a samba in 6/8 but it ended up sounding Afrobeat, but I wrote that particular groove to go with the groove we did in Beat the Donkey, but then I just loved that groove so I kept it and then it took me a long time to find the words. You have to be fearless to be an artist, I think to live, to be alive, to do this, I mean, you know there’s Mary fuckin Feaster from the Bronx. It’s hard

Margaret: What are you thinking?

Mary “Freakin” Feaster: What am I thinking?

Margaret: Yeah, cause you were rockin that bass crazy girl

M: well its just you know its always fun to play with Viva its sweet. I really enjoy her songwriting, I enjoy the energy in the band. And umm, you know, just to get out there. Yeah, you really get each other. Yeah we, kind of me through mutual friends who were you know musician friends who I played with and she played with and we started playing together and it was just one of those things that, you know, you can play with, you know, musicians of, you know, amazing caliber, but sometimes, you know, there’s just some people that just you have chemistry with I think that’s just kind of like anything in life and we just happened to have a really good chemistry. It’s been a really nice thing to find. Because you don’t always do and, and good music to boot.

V: That was kind of exciting about Joe. You never know, like he popped up there and then we just had all this chemistry and it was just like, you know, cause we went and checked him out online and were like “oh he’s good, we should ask him to come sit in with us” but it just seemed like, you know, too much to ask but then, you know, we, once he was there he seemed so nice and everything so we just grabbed him and then it just seemed like “wow this is, we got really lucky.” I think being open and just trusting your vibrations and you’re umm, you’re intuition cause music is all vibration and same with singing, it’s like you’re head is the resonator, that’s whats interesting about singing s youre basically sending a big thing of air through your skull. So your skull resonates and that’s what makes the sound, like a string, or the body of a guitar, or the bell of a horn. So your skull is like the bell of a horn, and that’s whats sort of fun about singing for me.

Ben: You seem very involved in the burlesque scene. Can you tell us how you got involved and what its like to be a member of the burlesque community?

It’s fantastic, I got involved as friends with this woman who plays in a saxophone quartet called The Tiptons and I went to see them one night and her girlfriend Ms. Saturn was, is a hoolahoop artist, and she actually, like, is not so much in burlesque now, but she just got up and she did hoolahooping to the music, with like, she does tricks, with like 50 hoops or 5 hoops all over the thing and I was like, soooo mesmerized by the way the hoops looked and I said anytime you wanna hoop, I want my band to play while you hoop. And she said “well I don’t do that much anymore” cause she does a lot of parties and she teaches hoolahooping. So, so she said “but I used to work at this place called The Slipper Room, and I could probably call them up and maybe get us a gig there.” I was like “ok” so we called them up and they were like “man, we got a cancellation next week, can you come in?” and it was just like, this was in May 2009 and so they had a cancellation the next week, we had the band together already, Darlinda, like that song Go-Go Boots, so she recommended Darlinda just Darlinda Clam’s Casino and uh Darlinda’s like “I’ll do Go-Go Boots” so then she did this whole go-go boots where she starts off really depressed, she’s like smoking a cigarette and it’s like, and then someone hand’s her go-go boots and she gets all happy and then in the end she goes in the crowd, takes of all her clothes, and then hugs people. And so it was just, and then, oh, I was in this David Bowie cover band, its like all tribute bands, kind of like in Flight of the Concords, Parsley and Sage, so I was already doing Moonage Daydream and she already, Saturn already had an act to Moonage Daydream and so she did that and at the end she did the hoolahoops with like a glow-in-the-dark hoolahoop and the lights were all out cause she’s Ms. Saturn so its like all cosmic so we already had like practically half the show was practically well set to Moonage and then Darlinda and the song Rock and Roll Lover I had already written and it was pratically perfect for a burlesque show, it wasn’t written for a burlesque show but it fit perfectly so and it was great because The Slipper Room so then I met Juliette les-Muse who was on the back cover of the record so we had this, that version of Natural Woman that I do sort of like Jimi Hendrix does the National Anthem to kind of like deconstruct it well we were doing that one and Jule was like “ooo, I have this wolf head” it was like a big plastic wolf head mask “I’ll come out in that” and so she comes out and does some improvised, you know, dance wearing a wolf mask and so we just had a way of, we did one show and we basically got a monthly gig there and it was awesome because in New York its hard to find steady work. Especially for a large band and a weird project and original music and all of a sudden we just had it and it was really…

Ben:What’s it like not having brass section with you? How does that affect your performance?

M: each one has its like special thing like when you get to play with a horn section it adds this whole other melodic and harmonic level to the music that really takes it to this other place its really big and full, its sort of like driving a really big exciting car and you know but its like you can’t really go a lot of places, different directions, and then when we go out with the trio, or, as tonight, the duo you have more freedom in your improvising and songs can go all these different places that they might not go otherwise. Each one has its merits and its really good things about it you know I don’t know if I would say I like one over the other

V: No, I always get torn. I mean, for touring its like impossible to go with that large of a band so it’s a no-brainer. You can’t take seven people on the road. You know, but umm, definitely it can be fun artistically to have a smaller group and have it be more, what were you saying? It’s like a big car. In a seven piece band you got like this huge bus and its like you can stand up in it, move around, and its lush and you know the trio’s  more like a sports car, youre like I wanna change lanes, boom, all of a sudden you’re in the other lane you know.

M: go offroading

V: yeah. You don’t have to stop and go to the bathroom as much also, when theres only a few people.

Ben:What’s the gender ratio of shows generally?

We need more data in terms of attendance, but the Slipper Room was always interesting because it was very mixed. And that was nice

M: One of the interesting things was it was a very interesting destination of bachlorette parties. For some reason they would go to the Slipper Room, so we often had a lot of young ladies in the audience and how they reacted to the burlesque thing was always really fun.

V: I think about, maybe, I mean I like things that are on the cusp, and I like transitional things so I mean its always like I get torn cause I just think the guitar is a great instrument and its like I love all the great guitarists and just people that aren’t even famous or anything. I love Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen, etc, blah blah blah, and I love the one guy I play with in this other band and you know what I mean, I just think the guitar is a cool instrument.

M: and its usually such a male dominated thing but you rock the shit outta that guitar

V: I mean, I would still play the guitar if I was a dude but I do like playing guitar as a female because I think that music, that’s why I put the Line in there that’s like “I need electrified strings to play the hook dude, and make your molecules sing” there’s an old latin musician Bobby Sanabria when  I went to see Santana was talking about how music will change your molecular structure and I think all music, it changes you and that’s that transformation and me personally, I am interested in that and changing people’s perception of what a musician is in terms of gender and all I have to do is just play guitar I don’t have to sing about it specifically because I know a lot of really great female guitarists and of course there’s Bonnie Raitt, and Nancy Wilson, just phenomenal female guitarists that are really, you know Carol Kay on the bass and Joni Mitchell. The guitar itself is like a hermaphroditic intstrument because its like a penis on the body of a woman and it’s a very interesting intstrument its interesting that its perceived as male because its so female I think and I just think the whole thing’s exciting, its almost like I don’t need to think about it hugely specifically its just sexually exciting and I think that people find the guitar sexy and that’s always exciting. A lot of my favorite artists, and a lot of the greatest artists just, so I was listening to this Axl Rose singing “You’re Crazy” and I got chills all over my body cause I was like “oh my god, he sounds just like Janis Joplin” and he really does in a way that’s not copying. In a way that’s just like he felt the same spirit that she did and even the words of that song are like about.  And I think that’s interesting there is a thing where gender is becoming more fluid and music is a place for that to happen.

Ben: I love your lyrics on universal radio about band geeks and glockenspiel. Did you have any interesting high school band stories you wanted to tell us?

Heres the thing, so I went to this weird experimental Montessori School and I played, we had a band and we played songs we played at the county fair and all that stuff then I got to like a public grade school and they had a jazz band and I kinda tried to play guitar and I was still kinda hangin on and you see my Montessori teacher got arrested for tax evasion so the school got shut down we got put in public school and it was all there it was like very status and clique-y and stuff and our school had been very small we all just kind of  got along, we played band and we played football we used to play tag football and so it was really culturally shocking but I hung on with music and I played in the band with guitar and then it was really specifically that and then when I got to high school there was only marching band and I stopped playing music and I wished that I’d picked up the glockenspiel or the drums cause you know, you could have a marching guitar band but you know.

M: well its interesting cause I think there’s like been a whole resurgence of like all of these great street marching bands in New York there’s this one band called the Hungry March Band that a lot of friends of ours are in and its just it can be as little as 10 people or as big as 50 people its kind of this crazy thing and they have sort of like people that dance with them and they’ll go and do all sorts of street events and parties and stuff.
V: The Mermaid Parade

M: Oh yeah! The Mermaid Parade. There’s just like one band and a whole range of them and theres like something that happens up here, The Honk Festival that’s like all these marching street bands.Its kind of like all these people that like loved to be in high school band its like they found a way to take it to this other level.

V: Anyway, I wish that I’d, I wish I hadn’t gave up music then, so anyway its also kind of like, I think its great that there are high school bands I love it when there’s support for music and like I volunteer for the Willy May Rock Camp, and I think, even though I think rock is an outsider music, I think you have to be strong and fierce and decide to do it on your own, but I think its good that the culture would support music and education whether its rock or big band and I, they didn’t have band and I stopped playing music and didn’t start again til college so…

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