High Energy Steam-Powered Pixies! An interview with Frenchy and the Punk << Prev Next >>
Correspondent Krista Cagg interviews everyone's favorite Steampunk Faerie duo, Frenchy and the Punk...
By KristaCagg on Apr 16 2013 Category:Media, Music
Music is a staple to those who consider themselves Steampunk. Tastes vary pretty much all over the spectrum from classical/opera to trance punk. A theory I have is that whatever music you tend to prefer almost dictates your Steampunk style, and until you discover what audible muse tickles your fancy your identity cannot blossom forth. You might not even be aware that this is happening. But who hasn’t been piecing together a costume idea, or surfing images on the internet without having music in the background? It’s a subtle magic.
One muse in my Steampunk playlist is the band Frenchy and the Punk. I had discovered them at Dragon*Con some years ago. It was Thursday or Friday night (If you’ve ever been to Dragon*Con then you know how the nights can blend together. If not then take my word for it), and another band I knew was going to be performing. There was a gig before them, and I wanted a good spot near the stage so we showed up near the middle of the set. I hadn’t heard of them, and hadn’t expected to enjoy them, let alone be blown away and sucked in!
They had me with the haunting 'Dark Carnivale.' The wild nature appealed to the pagan in me, but there was more to it. Then I got near the stage and realized hey! There are only TWO people on that stage! Creating all of…that! Amazing! They drew me in entirely. 'Vaudeville Voodoo,' then 'House of Cards.' Not only did they dabble in mystical themes but they also had a preference for a cabaret/vaudeville flavor that was intoxicating and insipid. And the energy this one woman and one man band pours into their performance was staggering. Between their set and the band I had originally come to see I made my first purchase of the con: a copy of their album Happy Madness.
I didn’t get to see them again at the following Dragon*Cons I attended due to scheduling conflicts. It wasn’t until Anachrocon 2013 that I was able to catch up with Frenchy and Punk again. When I discovered that they would be performing, I ensured that nothing would keep me from seeing it. And bonus! I had the opportunity to talk to Samantha Stephenson and Scott Helland. Being a smaller venue than D*C, it was easier for them to interact with their fans. Bliss!
Then came a fantastic opportunity! I was asked to do an interview and I could choose whatever flavor of Steampunk I desired. Well then! Since I had made a connection with Frenchy and the Punk on their Facebook page, I felt that this might be the perfect opportunity to not just learn more about the inner workings of Samantha and Scott, but to perhaps pay them back somewhat for the inspiration they had gifted upon me with their music. Guess what? They said yes! Not quite cackling madly, I listed out my questions (edited out a few as decidedly too ridiculous or otherwise inappropriate), narrowed them down to the ones I felt were more important and with glee shot them off to Scott and Samantha.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, the opportunity I had fell apart, and the interview was lingering out there. Gleep! However, I offered it to the fine folks at Steampunk Chronicle and they gladly accepted! So behold, dear reader: A peek into the splendiferousness that is Samantha and Scott, otherwise known as Frenchy and the Punk!
Your name, Frenchy and the Punk, once was Gypsy Nomads. Was there a particular reason for the change?
Samantha: We originally called ourselves that because the very first song I joined Scott on stage for was his guitar instrumental "The Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads" from his 2004 'Brocade' CD. It was a play on the fact that we sounded like more than two people because of Scott's live looping technique. After a while though, we realized that the name sounded like a 12 piece band and our nickname, Frenchy and the Punk, was a better reflection of who we were, it was way more playful and less traditional sounding.
Scott: Frenchy and the Punk describes us so much better. It's a bit like a classic vaudeville act name. Samantha was born in France and I used to play punk rock in the 80s, so it fits our history and past perfectly.
You perform at a lot of venues from fairy/renaissance festivals to science fiction conventions. Do you have a favorite and why?
Scott: They're all pretty different so they're all fun in their own way. I love how Steampunk and Sci-Fi events are like wild takeovers of corporate hotels and faerie festivals are usually outdoors and have more of a connection with nature but both are like an explosion of creativity. We have a very theatrical and fiery performance which makes people get up and dance and that happens at any event no matter what venue or event.
Samantha: They definitely each have their own vibe, although there's a lot of crossover as far audience. I can't say I have a favorite, but I do love that we play so many different types of venues. It keeps things interesting. I like the conventions and festivals because it feels like a big family. We see fellow bands, artists, crafters, authors and other attendees that we see at other shows. It's like being in the circus or some kind of traveling carnival. We're all freaks in our own way traveling from place to place sharing our art and wares!
What bands/music are on your playlist(s)?
Scott: So many to mention, as I glance at the CD collection or scroll through the ipod I see Adam and the Ants, Arch Enemy, Beats Antique, Black Flag, Caravan Palace, Corvus Corax, Dinosaur Jr, Django Reinhardt, Freedy Johnson, Firewater, Gogol Bordello, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Skrillex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Teddybears, Tegan and Sara, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, Type O Negative, Venom, Victor Sierra, Yeah Yeah Yeahs,...yes I have a mixed musical palette.
Samantha: Lately, I've been listening to podcasts like WTF with Marc Maron. I don't know if it's because life is so crazy and hectic these past few years but musically I find myself gravitating to my Native American Chant playlist like Joanne Shenandoah or listening to the eternal OM. I guess it's all about balance. I have a strong need for meditative contemplation. When that's over I throw on some metal… like I said, it's all about balance!
Did you as a band discover the Steampunk genre, or did it discover you? In other words, did you adapt your style to the genre or did you find that you blended right in?
Scott: We were definitely embraced by the steampunk scene. I've been playing music live on stage since the 80s when I was the bass player in the punk bands, Deep Wound and Outpatients. In the 90s I started a solo project on acoustic guitar that had a more neo-classical/gypsy/celtic style. When Samantha and I started collaborating she brought in a cabaret and European flair to the guitar instrumentals I was writing and added vocals. We had been performing for a few years together when we first heard of steampunk when we played at the Wicked Faire in New Jersey in 2008 and the organizer told us we would fit really well into the genre. We've now played so many steampunk events all across the US and also in England, Germany and France that not only are we being found through the genre but, because we also do other types of events, people are finding steampunk through us!
Samantha: We are just in the flow, we are doing what comes naturally to us and at the same time we are informed by our past, and our present surroundings. A song like "House of Cards" off our Happy Madness CD was inspired by my love for the Murder Mystery series on PBS and Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie characters like Hercule Poirot and artists like Edward Gorey. I grew up in England and France so the faerie and steampunk lore and imagery is very familiar to me. They both are inspired by the Victorian age. Songs like "Birthday Fanfare" and "Silent Movie" off our Hey Hey Cabaret CD have a more dieselpunk vibe with a flapper feel and punky gypsy jazz rhythm. A song like "Steampunk Pixie" is a tipping of the hat to the communities who have embraced us, a wink, a smile and a nod of acknowledgment and gratitude.
Your performances are always very high energy, very positive. There is so much that two people do on one stage, yet you not only manage it, but you make it look easy. And fun. What do you do to prepare?
Scott: We might make it look easy but after almost 1,000 shows, I can say it's been a lot of work! Before a show, I usually warm up by doing some scales on the guitar and we always do vocal exercises in the van on the way to the show or in the hotel room. I used to listen to raging metal in my headphones before I played but these days we like to have a favorite song by a random classic band play over the PA before we hit the stage like Siouxsie, or Iggy. We are positive and that's because we love what we do and we don't take it for granted that we are really blessed to be playing music for a living.
Samantha: We put out a lot of energy on stage. We've both been performers for most of our lives. I started dance when I was 4 years old in the UK and studied dance well into my 20s. Performing is really exhilarating. I remember in ballet or modern dance class that feeling that I could conquer the world, that anything and everything was possible, that my energy extended way beyond my physical body and out into the universe. I have been addicted to that for all my life. Performing can be such a natural high. It's intense. Art in general makes you vulnerable, we are exposing ourselves, our spirit, our core every time we walk up onto the stage. Sometimes it can be pure magic.
Your music has been described as mystical, gypsy punk, cabaret, vaudeville. What is your muse/inspiration/drive?
Scott: Listening to music is my main muse, inspiration and drive. I've loved music since I was a kid and I've been playing music live since the age of 13. It's in my blood, there's nothing else I want to do, it's such a huge part of my life, nothing else makes sense... that and being creative artistically.
Samantha: I am definitely more of a visual person than auditory. Although I love to listen to music and it does inspire me, I am moved by art, whether it be Bill Viola or Frieda or a film like Into The Wild and of course nature. People inspire me. I love documentaries on artists, authors, filmmakers, inventors and anyone who struggles and succeeds through the creative process. I have a very strong spiritual center although I have never been religious I have always been drawn to the mystical, the magickal, and the mysterious. What keeps me going is the curiosity of where this will take me and the love of what I am doing. Life is never dull when you choose the creative path. I have never wanted anything but to lead a creative life. The creative process is like a drug, once you have it you can't live without it and that drives me. I wouldn't trade this in for anything. I feel like I am really living.
This will be in two parts, one for each of you.
Samantha – You have been compared to Siouxsie Sioux, and the band’s website says you draw inspiration from art, dance and travel. Is there one thing/person in particular that keeps you motivated, striving to be at your best?
I'm motivated to feed my addiction of being engaged in the creative process.
Scott – Watching you perform it seems as if you are screaming at the top of your lungs yet your voice remains perfectly subtle, a fantastic foil to Samantha’s. Is there a singing method that works particularly well for you?
Scott: I'm the beast to Samantha's beauty. It looks like I'm screaming at the top of my lungs because most of the time I am but I do pull back from the mic a bit so I don't over power the main vocal. I have had singing lessons and I do vocal exercises so it's not all beastly!
What do you do for fun?
Scott: Play music, write music and travel to play music! On the road we like to stop randomly at antique malls and look at the vintage clothes and all the quirky stuff from the past. If we're on the coast, we'll go to the beach. If we're in Colorado we'll go into the mountains. If we're in the southwest, we might go to a ghost town. In France, we might visit a medieval castle. And, whenever possible, we'll go to a classic metal show!
Samantha: I love to paint in oils, draw, cook, dig in the dirt, meditate, bike riding… wait, this is starting to sound like a personal ad! Sitting around a table with friends eating good food and drinking good wine! Jumping around on stage!
What’s next? Where is Frenchy and the Punk going from here?
Our Elephant Uproar drumming CD just came out and we'll be releasing a new music video for it in the coming months. We'll be playing lots of shows including Steampunk Symposium in Cinci, Divine Decadence in NJ, Steampunk World's Fair in NJ, Spoutwood Faerie Festival in PA as well as the NY, NH and MD Faerie Festivals, Watch City Steampunk in MA, the grand Steamstock Train Tour across the U.S. to CA, Musikfest in PA, a possible return to Europe in the Fall and lots more in between. We have a tour dates page on our website and updates on our Facebook page. See you there!
Krista Cagg currently lives in Savannah, GA with a husband, a roommate and various furry four legs, desperately trying to write The William's Hunt, her series of steampunk anti-corporate time pirates.