Interview: The Gin Rebellion

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the trio of musicians collectively known as The Gin Rebellion can often be found performing at Dragon Con and different Steampunk conventions around the United States. The band is made up of H.M. and Ophelia Baptista on vocal and guitar duties and Renfield on banjo, accordion and mandolin.

To attend a Gin Rebellion performance is like stepping back in time to a dustier, more devilish era of American lore and the stories they sing are filled with a mixture of intrigue, darkness and romance. Getting caught up in a Gin Rebellion performance is akin to sitting in an old-west saloon or theater, being regaled with tales told by traveling musicians working their way from town to town.

Last year the band recorded and released their first full length album entitled, The Uprising of The Gin Rebellion. The album can be purchased on Bandcamp and is filled with well produced renditions of the band’s original songs. Target Audience Magazine caught up with The Gin Rebellion in Decatur, Georgia to talk about the band, their history and The Uprising.

 

The Gin Rebellion (Renfield, Ophelia and H.M.)

The Gin Rebellion is: Renfield, Ophelia Baptista and H.M.

 

How did Gin Rebellion come together as a band?

Renfield: I guess H.M. and I had been playing for two years together before the band really became the band it is today.

H.M.: We started as a two-man band with Renfield and myself and we performed a few years at Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey. We met Ophelia through a mutual friend and we all ended up having similar musical sensibilities.

Ophelia: It really was a happy little accident. I was playing a song for a friend of mine and wanted to demonstrate how I was working with lyrics and music. His roommates [H.M. and Renfield] ran upstairs, brought down an accordion and a guitar and I thought: “Okay, I guess I’m in a band now!”

 

What is your normal writing process?

H.M.: We write in our own mental spaces and when we feel comfortable enough, we will bring it to the rest of the band and present what we have. If we’re having trouble trying to figure out another verse, we will work together to find an idea. Or, sometime we have everything figured out lyrically and the tune is there, but we need to figure out what chords go with it.

Ophelia: I’ve found that we all add a little bit of something to everything we write. One song is not entirely one person’s or the others. The song that I had been playing the night we met went through many changes with my band-mates before it actually came to the “Freak Show” that you hear today… literally and figuratively.

Or, if there is a song that is great but we don’t feel there is enough dynamic change to it, we try and determine what can we do to add those dynamics. While old-time music is fun, classic and familiar, it is still very traditional and can be the same from verse to verse unless you add little changes to make it more interesting throughout.

 

How long (individually) had you been doing music before you came together?

Renfield: I’d been playing music in some form or another since my junior year of high school. I started off playing in punk and grindcore bands and slowly started to get into bluegrass and more of the origins of what we think of today as popular music. That kind of drew me into the Steampunk scene, with the old-time music mixed with an edge of punk music.

I started out with a two-instrument set for $100.00, a mandolin and a guitar. It was an acoustic guitar that I could play with anything and then get an electric when I got better. But I had this mandolin as well, and so I began incorporating that into these punk bands. We did “Dropkick Murphys” inspired stuff, like Celtic Punk. I wanted to do more of a Bluegrass Punk since we were all Americans… that American folk edge with punk music. The accordion I picked up really recently, like four years ago.

Ophelia: When I was about six, my mom started noticing that I was able to recognize pitches, so she started me in music instruction pretty early. I want to say I was about 8 years old when I joined my next door neighbor’s children’s chorus and the vocal training really began. It wasn’t just bringing a bunch of cute kids together to have them sing a song… no, we were learning full on vocal technique.

Singing was easy, but then I realized that I needed to learn other things to get your songs written. It wasn’t until I started to go to renaissance festivals that I wanted to really bring this music together, and Celtic style music really clicked with me. It gave me a reason to pick up an instrument and learn to play, so I ended up teaching myself how to play the guitar.

H.M.: I started singing, as a lot of people do, in a church choir and doing children’s productions at the church. I started in band at middle school and it was there that I really learned how to read and understand sheet music. I tried doing chorus in 9th grade, but I didn’t feel it fit my expressions of 14-15 year old angsty teenager, so I shifted over to art where I had a greater passion at the time. I first really started to play guitar a few years ago when I was in a theatrical production of “Evita,” playing Agustín Magaldi. Playing him was the cheesiest cheese ball that I ever cheesed, and the hammiest ham that I have ever hammed. It really was a ham and cheese situation.

I tried writing songs before, inspired by my interest of Japanese Rock at the time. Before Renfield and I met, I thought that there really was no good American music anymore. When he and I started going over our musical interests and I listened to what he was listening to, I realized that “oh, there’s actual people making music that you don’t hear on the radio ever, and it’s really good!” So that is when I shifted where I was with music from this rock style to more into the storytelling style that we prefer.

 

Music Video for 'The Vagabond'

 

“Steampunk” is such a nebulous term, open to interpretation. If you were forced to label your music, what would you call it?

Ophelia: The shortest description that I could possibly give is “Retro Folk Fusion.”

H.M.: Without staying “Steampunk Music,” that’s a fairly good summarization.

Ophelia: Part of the thing with Steampunk style music is that it blends influences from all around the world during a specific era. Going from the 1880’s – 1940’s or so, that music is so good.

 

Are there any specific musical influences that you as artists have?

H.M.: I sort of realize that while I like a few musicians, one of the few people that I look forward to and want to write like is Rufus Wainwright. He is dynamic in his music, passionate in his sound and diverse in his story.

Ophelia: I have a few influences, but one of my favorites would have to be Unwoman, because we kind of come from a similar vein of songwriting. I also really love the songwriting of Robin Jackson from Vagabond Opera. His lyrics are so complex in meaning and wording. The sounds of his words match and click against each other and become instruments in themselves. That’s sort of what I try to aim for with the wording of my poetry. I try to write like him, without writing too much like him.

Renfield: I’d say that my current favorites are probably The Dirt Daubers or the Legendary Shack Shakers. Both are based around the same core group. They are kind of rockabilly or bluegrass, depending how they feel. They really inspire me with the wide range of music they do.

 

How did the actual recording of your album come together?

H.M.: We had the assistance of Dimitri of The Extraordinary Contraptions. We recorded in his recording space and he was our sound engineer and contributed bass tracks to it.

Ophelia: We also had our friend Nathaniel Johnstone of the Nathaniel Johnstone Band and previously of Abney Park record violin tracks for the album. A close friend of mine, Andrew McKee of The Brobdingnagian Bards did all the mixing and mastering for us. He did a fantastic job and was very patient through the process. Renfield designed the CD cover art and did all the layout for that.

As far as the songs, we put together all of the ones that were original and we believed were performance and recording ready. From there, we did our normal stage setup with the core instruments from the shows, but recording added a whole new level of creativity.

H.M.: Being able to play more than one instrument on a track was wonderful. On “Freak Show,” Renfield was playing both the mandolin and accordion.

Renfield: We played “Freak Show” live at The Steampunk World’s Fair a couple years back and one of my friends, Painless Parker, was in the audience. He had his mandolin and I had him join us on the song. I gave him the chords, he played along and it sounded fantastic. So, on the album I really wanted to bring the mandolin into it. Just for fun, there’s this little breakdown towards the end and right when it kicks back in I thought I would do an 80’s metal pick slide on the mandolin.

Ophelia: That really confused our music mix master. I remember during “Vagabond” when he was mixing, he said “It’s really weird… the banjo actually sounds a bit like a steel drum. Is it supposed to be like that?” We had to tell him “yes, Renfield is playing like that on purpose.”

Renfield: I can be a bit percussive.

 

As an independent, self published band, what valuable lessons have you learned for the next time you head into the studio?

H.M.: Figuring out and writing down all of the tempos that you are going to use beforehand so that you solidly know how fast or slow you want the song to be performed. That recording is going to be around a long time.

Ophelia: Test with the mics first and make sure that you have the right equipment available. I remember we had to re-record vocals at one point because the headphones I was using actually bled out sound on to the track. Also, make sure everyone is on the same level as far as compatibility, especially software. We ran into some conversion issues as well.

H.M.: Where maybe our best takes didn’t make it, but our sound engineer was able to blend it into a cohesive and clean sound.

Renfield: Make sure to practice playing the songs on all the instruments that you are considering using during the recording. As I mentioned before, with the recording of “Freak Show,” that was the first time I had played it on mandolin. Next time I am going to make sure to play through all of the songs on all of my instruments in order to be a bit more prepared. I am hoping to add few newer and smaller instruments to my repertoire for next time as well.

 

The Gin Rebellion can be seen performing at TeslaCon in Middleton, Wisconsin in November and Anachrocon in Atlanta, Georgia in February.

Visit The Gin Rebellion’s website and Facebook page for more information on the band and their activities.

Interview with Erica Mulkey, the Woman behind Unwoman

unwoman-portrait

Erica Mulkey is Unwoman, an independent, self-published musician, who has released several albums of original songs and covers. Mulkey’s most recent CD is entitled Lemniscate: Uncovered Volume 2 and features her take on The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” Q Lazarus’ “Goodbye Horses,” as well as thirteen other cover songs.

What makes Unwoman unique is her choice of accompanying instrument and the people that she plays for. Mulkey performs live at a variety of Steampunk and fandom conventions all around the US. Unwoman’s instrument of choice is the cello. She has tackled the difficult task of playing her songs live with the use of a looping cello, which allows her to generate an amazing musical accompaniment to her haunting voice.

This year at Dragon Con in Atlanta, Unwoman performed several times throughout the weekend. Mulkey also managed to find some time to talk to Target Audience Magazine about her history and future plans in music, and the approaches she uses with her self-publishing and touring.

Like many songwriters, Mulkey began playing music at a very young age. At the age of 9, she picked up the cello. She explained that it was her choice and not from any particular family pressure. “I was lucky enough to be at a school that had a school orchestra. My dad played the violin just kind of casually, and I picked up the violin first when it was time for school orchestra. But then, the violin sounds like a dying cat if you can’t play it well, so it is a really tough instrument to start on. But, I had friends that played the cello and it sounded so much better, so my parents let me switch. It was definitely my choice. My parents encouraged me to practice, sometimes when I didn’t feel like practicing, but it was a thing that I always wanted to do.”

Playing an instrument and learning music that has already been written is one challenge, but the desire to write her own music was also something that she discovered at an early age. Around the same time she began taking piano lessons so that it would be easier to write her own songs. “I played around with it when I was 9 or 10, but I wrote my first song when I was 13,” she said. “I wrote it on the piano. I actually was not songwriting on the cello until I was in my early 20’s.

After college, Unwoman began trying to establish herself as a solo musician, but was having trouble finding a core audience. Mulkey’s musical influences came from the Goth and Industrial music scenes, but since her chosen instrument was the cello, she found that her style didn’t really fit into that format. But, much to her delight, the culture known as Steampunk soon found her and embraced her.

Explaining the details of how this union came about, Erica said, “Steampunk chose me, but I was very happy to be chosen. I worked with bands like Rasputina and Voltaire, both of whom are kind of tangentially Steampunk affiliated, and Vernian Process who explicitly call themselves Steampunk. Playing with them and also opening as a solo artist, I played at Steamcon in 2009. Up until that point, I had no idea that Steampunk was such a vibrant, actual scene. The [Steamcon attendees] embraced me and the show went so well and it was so much fun that from that point on I started emailing Steampunk conventions and saying ‘here’s who I am,’ and playing all over the place.”

A quick glance at Unwoman’s tour schedule reveals a bit more about her union with the Steampunk culture. Mulkey primarily tours and performs at Steampunk and sci-fi/fantasy conventions throughout the year. “Last year I had this realization that I was putting a lot of effort into playing shows in dive bars in cities that were on my way to conventions, but I didn’t make enough money doing that. I would play for like 10 people, and I would go to the convention and play for like 300 people and everyone would buy my CD. So, I decided it made more sense for me to try and rest on those days than to try and play shows for10 people. Now I don’t try to put together driving tours anymore.”

As an independent, self-published artist, Erica has used Kickstarter to fund five albums, one re-release and one DVD documentary project. With her success using the crowd sourcing website, she does have some general insights into how to approach a Kickstarter campaign.When I did my first Kickstarter, the things that made it successful … First of all, I already had an email mailing list with about 2,000 people on it and about 1,500, 2,000 Twitter followers. So, I already had a social network that I could tap into.”

She added, “I only asked for two or three thousand dollars, and I had already produced three albums at that point, so I could say, ‘hey, I’ve already done this.’ What Kickstarter tells everyone is to have rewards at a lot of different levels. That’s very important, because most of my funding came in on like $300 pledges for that one. So those things were really key and once you’ve done your first Kickstarter, you can ask for a little bit more and a little bit more, because you have a sense of what you can reasonably ask for.”

General information about Kickstarter aside, she had some very specific advice for Kickstarter newbies as well. “Make a Kickstarter video and put it on YouTube, but don’t upload as a Kickstarter video. Leave that as just a picture, because the way that Facebook interacts with Kickstarter is when you put a Kickstarter link on your Facebook, it plays the video instead of going to Kickstarter. That leads to more clicks before people can actually see your project, so it’s bad.”

Continuing her analysis of working with Kickstarter, Mulkey believes that once you’ve become familiar with using Kickstarter and have had a successfully funded project, it does get easier to do. Mulkey did admit that she was a bit lucky with her first exposure to the crowd source funding program. “I did my first Kickstarter back in the days when they didn’t approve anyone. Absolutely everything was ‘you’ve gotta know someone.’ I got Kickstarter codes from my friends, Stripmall Architecture, because they had done a Kickstarter project. So, I got to do one without having to go through their approval process back at the end of 2009 when basically no one got approved. So I was lucky I got in. I think it’s a lot more accessible now in terms of strangers who haven’t done it before being approved. That can definitely be done at this point, but it is tricky. I actually have a new Kickstarter that is going up that I submitted and it was approved about 24 hours later. It’s just a really quick little project. I just need money to master this bonus EP for Lemniscate, my last cover album. But, Kickstarter was very quick in approving that.”

When you are a self-published artist, sometimes it becomes a challenge to ask for money for your work. Unwoman gives some recommended reading material. She refers artists to an essay written by Amanda Palmer called “Why I am not Afraid to take Your Money.

Explaining a bit about the importance of that essay, she said, “My biggest piece of advice would be to read that article and really internalize getting over the stigma of asking for money for your art. That was a huge, huge problem for me. Especially while I had enough money, telling myself ‘well, I have enough money. I don’t have to ask for money for music. I can just do it as a hobby.’ And, I look back on those times and I say ‘but I didn’t have to.’ I could have been doing music this whole time if I had been unafraid. Don’t be afraid to ask for money and don’t be afraid to promote yourself because you don’t gain points for being quiet. If you’re doing something [for] food, people want to hear what you’re doing. They want to hear your self-promotion.”

While she writes and performs her own, original music, Mulkey has also released a few cover CDs filled with a variety of interesting choices. One of those covers is a mash-up of Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill” and Ciara’s “Like a Boy.” It is a very approachable take on Kate Bush, which is not a task that is easily pulled off. “The funniest thing about ‘Running Up that Hill Like a Boy’ is that I feel like the fact that I am mashing up Ciara with Kate Bush skirts around the ‘Kate Bush is Holy’ factor. Because, I’m instantly saying ‘I’m so sorry. Forgive me. I’m doing something terrible to Kate Bush.’ So, it makes it okay because she’s amazing and I think she’s kind of untouchable. Honestly, I like any version of ‘Running up That Hill.’ It is just such a great song.”

Regarding another Unwoman Uncovered volume, she began gleefully talking about one of her theme ideas. “I have so many different theme ideas for Volume 3. It’s really tough. I loved Lemniscate so much and the just cello and voice looping covers, and I’ve learned a ton more looping covers that I’m doing live so I kind of want to record those. But, my other idea is that I really want to do the cheesiest 80s songs and do them with love and sincerity. Like Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time,’ Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart,’ Richard Marx’s ‘Right Here Waiting’ … there’s so many beautiful cheesy songs. I loved them when they were on the radio, and I feel like I can bring the sincerity to an audience that’s used to irony. You hate to love them, but they get ya. So, that’s one of the themes, but I have to focus on my next original album first.”

Unwoman is not one to rest on her laurels. She is already hard at work on her next album of original material, due out in Spring 2014. While she doesn’t have a name for the CD yet, she is excited about what is to come. “I have eight songs totally written, and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the production work I did on Lemniscate. So far all of them are cello and voice looping based songs.”