Interview: Frenchy and the Punk
They’re the Bohemian Cabaret duo beloved by punks and steampunk, Sepiachord is very happy to present our chat with…
FRENCHY (Samantha) and the PUNK (Scott)~
Sepiachord: What prompted the name change from “The Gypsy Nomads” to Frenchy and the Punk?
Samantha: It’s something we had been thinking about for a long time. We originally called ourselves The Gypsy Nomads because Scott’s song “Travelin’ Band of Gypsy Nomads” was the first song I joined him on stage for. After a while we realized that the name didn’t fit us as it sounded like we had a 12-piece band and played traditional gypsy music. Frenchy and the Punk was our nickname and it just simply fit us better.
Scott: It’s literally more descriptive of who we are, Samantha was born in France and I played punk rock throughout the 80’s. I love that it’s like an old vaudeville duo name. We had actually been thinking about changing it for a few years and when our first European tour came up in 2011 it didn’t make sense to go with a band name we were thinking of changing. While gypsy jazz guitar is an influence we are not a traditional gypsy band, we have a much more eclectic sound.
SC: How long have each of you been making music and how did you get together on this project?
Samantha: I started playing piano at 7 yrs old when I lived in England as part of the Royal School of Music program and continued when my family moved to the U.S. I sang in the chorus in the UK but dance was my real passion. I started dance at 4 years old as part of the Royal School of Dance program in England and did everything from ballet and modern and later on in the US; jazz, a bit of tap and hip hop. I did gymnastics too for many years so from very early on I was used to performing in front of people. I went into the visual arts in College and delved into sculpture and later painting. It was when I jumped on stage to play percussion on that song with Scott in 2005 that I was lured back into performing!
Scott: I started playing bass guitar in punk bands in 1982. My first band was Deep Wound with J Mascis and Lou Barlow who went on to form Dinosaur Jr, then I played in the Outpatients for 13 years till 1995. We toured in the US, Canada and South America and shared the stage with a lot of the classic hardcore bands like Black Flag, GBH, Husker Du, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, MDC, D.O.A, SS Decontrol and 7 Seconds to name a few. In 1996 I switched to acoustic guitar and started experimenting with different styles, mostly celtic and gypsy type melodies. I released 7 solo CDs and performed hundreds of shows before that fateful night in 2005 in Connecticut when Samantha jumped on stage and played percussion. I knew right away we had to form a duo and we started working on tunes together. I loved her voice and her lyrical ideas. We have a chemistry together for writing songs and for performing onstage that you dream of having when you form a band or when your project is developing. It’s been an amazing journey ever since.
SC: Your early work had more of a minimalist ren faire feel, why did you move towards your modern cabaret sound?
Scott: I wrote all the early material, so naturally it was based on my guitar instrumentals with Samantha accompanying on percussion. When she started writing melodies and lyrics my guitar parts had to work cohesively with vocals and the sound that came out was more cabaret, it was just a natural progression. I’ve always loved that european style of melodies. Samantha brings a lot of that french cabaret feel as that is what she grew up listening to early on and it’s just in her blood. The first vocal and guitar tune we wrote is called “Le Train” and it appeared on our Eternal Summer all-french CD in 2006.
SC: Bats and frogs seemed to be prominent in the art work for your last album, Hey Hey Cabaret, and now your new album is Elephant Uproar… what’s with you two and animals?
Samantha: We spend so much time on the road that we can’t have plants or pets so we manifest them in other ways! We both feel a strong connection to both animals and nature. Life can be so hectic, bringing that energy in can be calming and grounding. I have an affinity for bats and Scott for frogs so he combined the two and drew a Batfrog, it’s become our logo! We have it on our t-shirts and other merch. I love their symbolism of rebirth and transformation which is key to what I have experienced in my life and my many incarnations. I have been sewing bat finger-puppets for the past 7 years which I sell at shows. Scott’s pen and ink artwork is very nature-based too. We also have a mascot which is a little polar bear that sits on our dashboard and guides us on our many travels. He even came to Europe when we toured there the last few years. One of the things we love to do when on tour is visit amazing places like the rockies of Colorado, the deserts of the southwest, the forests of Oregon and on and on.
SC: Elephant Uproar is just hitting the streets, how does it differ from your last recording? Is this a good time to jump on the Frenchy and the Punk band wagon?
Samantha: It’s always a good time to jump on our wagon or should I say caravan?! Elephant Uproar highlights our rabid drumming instrumentals a la Taiko meets Rio, like “Orient Express”, “Carnival”, “Blacksmith”, “Rock Paper Scissors”, “Elephant Uproar” etc. as well as the euphoric guitar instrumentals like “Isis Rising”, “Nevermore the Matador”, “Dust and Sand in the Caravan” etc. It’s different than our cabaret CDs, Happy Madness (2010) and Hey Hey Cabaret (2012) in that it is 99% instrumental, no lyrics.
Scott: Elephant Uproar is quite different than a lot of the CDs out there, especially in the steampunk and cabaret scenes. I don’t know if we’re a ‘band wagon’ type band, we’ve been at this a while already. We do what we love and our process is very organic and we know our fans appreciate and connect with the down to earth and spirited energy we bring to our music. Every year gets better and better and our audience grows… there’s always room on this wagon!
SC: For those folks who’d like to check you out, how do you describe your sound?
Samantha: We’ve been called the ‘World’s Greatest Steampunk Cabaret Band’ and we’ve also been called the “White Stripes of the Fae music scene.” We’ve been told that we are indescribable and that you just have to hear us and that’s all fine with us. At every show someone invariably tells me I remind them of Siouxsie Sioux. We are a mix of gypsy punk, folk and cabaret with some songs like Dark Carnivale and Lunar Frenzy bringing in a slightly gothic sound. Our music is visceral, even the ballads.
Scott: It’s cabaret without the accordion and violin, it’s folk but with punk energy, it’s punk but with acoustic guitars, it’s steampunk with caravans instead of airships! We recently heard “Frenchy and the Punk are like the Steampunk cabaret love child of the White Stripes and Sonny and Cher” which was pretty awesome. We are very upbeat and positive, no sad songs or drama and heartache here. We want people to feel alive! Life is too short to mope around, life is hard so we want to celebrate the fun parts and at least have the audience forget any troubles while they’re with us so they can recharge their batteries, so to speak!
SC: What current musicians do you consider “contemporaries”, who out there right now is influencing you?
Samantha: We share the stage at conventions and festivals with bands like Steam Powered Giraffe, Abney Park, Faun, Albannach which shows the diversity of the events we do. As far as influences – Gogol Bordello influenced me in the sheer ‘letting it all out-ness’ and the energy. I admire Amanda Palmer for her creativity and cleverness and Brian Viglione’s amazing talent on drums. I like the wit in Firewater’s lyrics. I loved the anthemic feeling of “Victorious” by Muse, I’m quite drawn to that too. When we played Steamcon back in 2010 I saw Curtis Eller play for the first time and I think he had quite an affect on me. His show was smart, wild and truly creative. Rupa and the April Fishes have a cool sound. I tend to gravitate to and be influenced by musicians who take chances and are very creative.
Scott: The guitar pyrotechnics of Rodrigo y Gabriela are truly inspiring. I like how the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s seem to bridge the 80’s and now and Firewater is a band we’d love to tour with. As far as current bands I’m into, I really like Ford Theater Reunion. The last time we played with them, they had this primal energy and raw power that was freaking awesome. The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing have this great almost 70’s punk feel to a lot of their songs. There are so many great bands coming out these days. I like more upbeat, driving music and bands that are not traditional. I get bored when a band is just doing a traditional style, like a bluegrass band just playing banjos and picking up a storm, for me it has to have something different that I can connect with. I like groups like Motorhead and the Ramones that created their own sound and world and stuck to it no matter what and that’s been an influence on me since I started music when I was 13.
SC: You’ve played a goodly number of steampunk events. How did you get connected to that scene?
Samantha: It was really through doing Wicked Faire in NJ, we played the first one in 2006 although it was so early in the year that Scott was still performing solo. We were doing our thing and evolving in our sound bringing the celtic, gypsy sounding guitar instrumentals that Scott was doing and marrying them with my european cabaret influence and we were told we’d be great for steampunk events. Like most people, we were like “what’s steampunk” and lo and behold realized that we like a lot of the elements that steampunk captured. We were doing a lot of faerie festivals then and somehow our sound and energy works for both scenes, hence the song “Steampunk Pixie”!
SC: Any interesting upcoming gigs?
Samantha: Always! We do this crazy music thing full-time and we travel around the country and in Europe all year so there’s always something fun and exciting happening or just around the corner. We are having a busy year already with already 7 conventions and 2 festival and other events in between. We are at the incomparable Steampunk World’s Faire in NJ this coming weekend where we will be very present in live performances, a hang out session, a panel, and general mayhem and the such! The last weekend of May we are playing the Steampunk Ball at Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas sharing the stage with Professor Elemental, Abney Park and Marquis of Vaudeville,. Then June is packed with more steampunk and faerie events and July sees us boarding the Steamstock train with This Way To The Egress and The Cog Is Dead to go out to San Francisco for Steamstock itself with shows on the way and way back in places like Philly, Chicago, New Orleans and Denver, it will be unprecedented! (Although I hear the Grateful Dead did a train tour with Janis Joplin in Canada back in the 60s) We’re also super excited to be performing at the amazing Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA which is reputed to the largest free public access music festival in the U.S. and there will be an exciting announcement in about a month!… for all the details check our website for show listings.
SC: With only the two of you what’s the song writing process like?
Samantha: I am the lyricist and I co-write the drum tunes with Scott. He comes up with the riffs and guitar parts and we bounce around ideas for the arrangements. Sometimes I have a melody that pops into my head which is what happened with “Yes! I’m French” and “Caravan”. It’s all a very mysterious process as far as the ideas. It truly is the muse! Ideas come and if we don’t commit them to writing or recording, even if it’s on our cell phone, they will disappear. They are gifts and we never take them for granted or are arrogant to think we can retain those inspirations without recording them somehow.
Scott: I always have a guitar close by, if not on me, and I have a travel guitar for the road so song writing and riff ideas flow in the van too. Since we’re only 2 people creating such a big wall of sound, what we do is very specific. To get that sound I do on the spot live looping, so I tend to write guitar lines and arrangements with our live performance in mind. It’s really interesting to write with those constraints and limitations and I feel it makes us push the boundaries and be so much more creative and all of that gives us a distinctive sound.
SC: Scott, you’ve (somehow) found time in your busy schedule to record solo albums, how do they differ from your work with Frenchy (assuming Scott is the punk ;))? Why perform solo instead of turning those tunes into songs for the band?
Scott: Well, all the solo albums I have out were recorded before we started Frenchy and the Punk in `05. I put out my first solo CD in 1996 and the last one in 2005. I have a lot of tunes ready to record but FnP does really take most of my time. There are a lot of riff ideas and song arrangements I have that just aren’t the right vibe for Frenchy and the Punk. We have this mystical sense of what is a FnP song and what is not and we just follow that instinct. My solo music runs the gamut of quirky movie soundtrack, to neoclassical celtic, to medieval gypsy to folk to industrial acoustic, to ambient music. The Hellbox Mood Rings CD I did in `96 was music put to phone messages, in `98 I put out a folk/singer-songwriter record. In `99 I did a concept CD called Motion Sickness that followed the path of a relationship going through twists and turns. It had a lot of movie dialogue put to music. In 2000, I did a CD called, Space Age Tranceology that I called ambient instrumental space folk. After that, the next 3 CDs, Earthbound, Brocade and Catapult had a celtic, medieval, renaissance flavor to them. Earthbound was in the New Age charts and a song was used in an Opera Winfrey show.
SC: Where’s your favorite place to play?
Samantha: We love playing everywhere that we have people there to enjoy us! We have a special fondness for Colorado. Atlanta seems to be a magnet for us as are certain parts of Pennsylvania. Ohio is also a place that seems to draw us to it. In Europe I’d be hard pressed to think of a place I don’t like to play, its just not possible, it’s so great to play there and we always have an amazing time. It’s so fun to play for the steampunk and faerie communities there, I would love to bring those communities over here to the US or vice a versa!
Scott: I gotta say first, I just love to play music with Frenchy anywhere. Playing music is all I ever wanted to do, it’s been my passion since I was a 14 year playing punk rock in clubs and halls. To date, Frenchy and the Punk has played in 41 states in the US. I do love the places we’ve played in Europe. France was really beautiful and the countryside has such an interesting energy to it. We love to play where the fans want us, and I guess it’s more about the fans than the location.
SC: It looks like were now living in a “post record label” world. What is it like to be a truly independent artist?
Samantha: Empowering, challenging, frustrating, exhilarating, rewarding… how many ‘ings’ can I think of?! I think I’d rather have it this way then trying to be signed to a label 20 years ago. Being independent can be scary and we take lots of risks, you cannot live this way and be afraid of risk, you would probably go insane! I love that we call the shots but it can be a heavy load sometimes. We are DIY to the core and it is definitely a part of our true nature but these days it’s about cooperation, working together and I think that is something that is growing and strengthening.
Scott: It’s amazing and overwhelming. We all have the power to make a certain amount of success happen without a label but of course not without an intense amount of work. The mainstream music scene is still based on record labels though. But as we don’t fall into the mainstream it really is 24, 7, 365 being an independent artist. I’ve been playing underground, alternative music since the early 80’s, but I’ve only been able to survive and have music be my livelihood for the last 10 years or so with Frenchy and the Punk.
SC: What about the state of the world concerns you the most?
Samantha: What frightens me the most is the homogenization of thought. I fear that there is a lack of support and funding for creative, critical and independent thought. When I was in my early teens my dream was to be so successful in whatever it was that I ended up doing that I could build art centers all over the country where kids could go and be creative, learn an artistic pursuit, something that challenged their minds to think outside of the box so that they would not become sheep. There are so many formulas now. I remember years ago I went into a Subway and I wanted a cheese sandwich. The guy behind the counter almost self combusted, he looked like he was malfunctioning right before my eyes because a simple cheese sandwich was not one of the items on the menu and he didn’t know what to do! Forget religion being the opiate, I think the mainstream crap that is fed to people is the new opiate. Instead of making fun of people who are different or exploiting eccentricities, they should be celebrated.
SC: What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
Samantha: I would get up at dawn and walk around naked. In the afternoon I would place little chocolates or a beautiful stone or flower or some kind of treat under the pillows or on the desks or on the dashboards of people who need a little pick-me-up. I would do something that would rekindle the sense of magic in someone who needed to believe again.
Scott: Hang out with bears in the woods.
SC: Any words of advice for young people?
Samantha: Yes! Be positive. The things you are drawn to and love and are passionate about are the things that you are supposed to explore. You are given those interests for a reason, they are gifts, they are guides for your journey on earth, don’t ignore them. Why would you? Why on earth do you think you were given those interests if not to pursue them? Nothing is an endpoint, see what you do always as a stepping stone for you never know where it can lead you and by doing that you will relieve the stress of things having to be perfect and work out. If you follow your deepest desires you will be rewarded like you never thought possible. Listen to your soul, it knows best, don’t let the bastards grind you down, they are just expressing their own frustrations of their own misgivings and failures. Believe in yourself, because when you do, it gives the green light for others to do the same. Be humble and grateful and never take a kind gesture for granted. Soldier on, you are here for a reason, do your best to fulfill that, it will be the most fulfilling for you.
Scott: Damn, Samantha said it all, that inspired me!
Frenchy and the Punk~ http://www.frenchyandthepunk.com/