Kool Kat of the Week: Atlanta Author Michael Wehunt Dishes on the Grotesquery That is Humanness and Ventures Out into The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, Saturday March 25

Posted on: Mar 21st, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Catch up with our Kool Kat of the Week, Michael Wehunt, and a plethora of other Weird and speculative fiction writers at the inaugural The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, crash-landing at Decatur CoWorks on Saturday, March 25, and proudly sponsored by ATLRetro. And eat, drink and exchange oddities with the writers during The Outer Dark Symposium Pre-Party at My Parents’ Basement, Friday, March 24, 8-11 pm, where you also can gather ‘round for readings by Michael Wehunt, our own publisher and bloggeress in charge Anya Martin (“The Un-Bride or No Gods & Marxists,” Eternal Frankenstein) and Selena Chambers (World Fantasy Award nominee for “The Neurastheniac,” Cassilda’s Song).

The Outer Dark Symposium is brought to you by The Outer Dark podcast and its host This Is Horror! and features eight hours of panels, readings and signings centered around Weird and speculative fiction. Admission will be limited to 50 attendees, but all programming will be featured on The Outer Dark. Other confirmed guests include Daniel Braum (Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales), Gerald Coleman (When Night Falls: Book One of The Three Gifts), Milton Davis (From Here to Timbuktu), Kristi DeMeester (read her ATLRetro feature here where she discusses her upcoming novel Beneath), John C. Foster (Mister White), Craig L. Gidney (Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories), Orrin Grey (Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts), Valjeanne Jeffers (Immortal), Nicole Givens Kurtz (The Cybil Lewis Series), Edward Austin Hall (co-editor of Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond), Scott Nicolay (World Fantasy Award winner for “Do You Like To Look At Monsters?”), Kool Kat Balogun Ojetade (The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman: Freedonia), Eric Schaller (Meet Me in the Middle of the Air), Grafton Tanner (Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts), and Damien Angelica Walters (Sing Me Your Scars).

Wehunt, a transplant from North Georgia (just a stone’s throw from the Appalachians), has set up roots in the lovely urban weirdness that is Atlanta. His short fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, The Dark, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu: New Lovecraftian Fiction, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction, among others. His debut fiction collection, Greener Pastures, was published in 2016, and he’s currently working on his first novel, which is sure to please the maniacal masses. ATLRetro caught up with Wehunt for a quick rundown on what inspires him to put pen to paper, his admiration for the truly bizarre and why you should always follow your dreams, no matter how weird.

(l-r) Gerald Coleman, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Anya Martin, Michael Wehunt

ATLRETRO: It’s the usual state of things for a writer, or any artist to be honest, to be pigeonholed into clear-cut tried-and-true genres. Your work has been described as horror, weird horror, sci-fi, all wrapped up in a bizarre Southern Gothic blanket filled with the strange and bizarre. What are the pros and cons of being classified in such a way? And do you feel it’s better to not quite fit in any specific genre?

Michael Wehunt: I definitely prefer not fitting into any one tidy box. It really depends on an author’s ultimate goal, however. Sometimes the best way to make a name for oneself and become commercially successful—often a pipe dream, but what else are dreams for?— is to willingly climb into that single genre box. Your brand, so to speak, can be conveniently labeled. In my opinion, the label on the box is for the readers, not the author. But mixing genres is wonderful, too, and can have its own rewards. I likely won’t ever be a chameleon type of writer, using a wholly different form each time out. Instead, I’m more focused on that section of the Venn diagram where all these different areas overlap and exploring what’s there. The convergence could be subtle here or it could be stark there. Ultimately, these elements all serve the same purpose.

We see that you’ve had a long (and hopefully torrid!) love affair with Flannery O’Connor, the mother of grotesque discomfort. What is it about her tales and her writing that inspires you the most?

Flannery O’Connor was my third literary love. I discovered Stephen King when I was 8 years old, then Poe shortly after. It wasn’t until early in high school that I was introduced to O’Connor—and later still to Southern Gothic in general— and all these years later I’ve yet to read an author who could find that seam between ugliness and transcendence so perfectly. There are other authors who write beautifully in a Southern voice—Carson McCullers!— but none like she did. She mined the deep-running spiritual power of the South and smelted it with the grotesquery of petty humanness, and horror, black humor, and great beauty emerged in her work. Much later—only a handful of years ago, in fact—I would immerse myself in weird fiction and discover another love of my life. Robert Aickman and Algernon Blackwood, alongside contemporary authors such as Lynda E. Rucker and Laird Barron, showed me that O’Connor had been frequently writing a sort of weird fiction, though she was never credited with such. The only difference was that the spirituality in her work was the sort that America embraces, and it was all the more powerful to show what was under its rock while still remaining devout. The same cosmic strangeness is often right there in her books—why would we think our minds can fathom God with a capital G, after all—and this only deepened my love for her…and, yes, made it more torrid.

Stereotypically, the south, or “southerners” to be exact, is known the world over for its ability to bury deep dark secrets while flaunting its ignorance with a discomforting ease. How important would you say is the written word when it comes to exposing societal atrocities and do you think it is a writer’s duty to bring about change through their published works?

The South has a large closet filled with skeletons, to be sure, and the metaphor is uglier than it would be in most other cases. Not only have slavery and the foul mistreatment of Native Americans been largely papered over in our history books—not ignored, of course, but spruced up to look less unattractive—but poverty and the machine that perpetuates poverty bring out the worst in people sometimes, and a fierce sense of piety and Southern pride can sweep these things under the rug with a defiant pride. The word “demure” comes to mind. That rug has been peeled back even more in recent years. Not just in the rural South but in other analogous areas of the country. And things are squirming in the light. Fiction can be escapism, pure and simple. It can be socio-political in a direct way or in an indirect way. It can focus on philosophy and ideas. It can examine what it means to be human, with all a human’s transcendence and trappings. It can be one of these things or it can be all of these things at the same time. The best of it makes you think about the world without really letting you know it’s doing so, and in that way, change can come simply by engaging the reader with the self and then with the world around them. I know that much of my worldview (and self-view) came from reading dark fiction, and it’s no coincidence that compassion and kindness are the things I seek out in a political candidate or organization or friend.

Your debut collection, GREENER PASTURES, was published in 2016. Can you tell our readers a little about the collection and what inspired you to put together these particular tales in one grouping?

Greener Pastures contains 11 of my favorite short stories as of late 2015; those I felt worked the best together to carry a general theme while also providing just enough variety in subject matter and tone. When they were all together, I realized how prominently trees figure into my work, something I’d never truly noticed before. They’re everywhere, either in the foreground or background, but this was mostly accidental. Less accidental was the theme of loss. There are a lot of stories here that deal with various shades and types of loss, and how people cope with it. Write what you fear, they say, and that’s exactly what I fear. But I wanted a variety of moods and voices to bear these losses and keep things interesting for the reader. And, of course, a variety of darkness, including some good old-fashioned terror. In the end, I would say most of these stories speak from and of the human heart. There’s nothing suppler and earthier than humanity. I plan to dig in that dirt as long as people will let me. I’ll do my best to scare and unsettle them while I’m at it.

We’re also excited to see that your story, “October Film Haunt: Under the House” is featured in THE YEAR’S BEST DARK FANTASY & HORROR 2017 collection. Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write this story and what it means to you to be a part of this collection?

Thank you! This will be my second time in Paula Guran’s yearly best-of-the-dark-stuff anthology, and I feel very grateful and fortunate for that. “October Film Haunt: Under the House” is an interesting and special story for me. It has two origins: The first is that I wanted to write a love letter of sorts to horror and weird fiction fandom. Four guys from different walks of life who met at a fan convention and found a common passion for horror films take a road trip once a year to the setting of a famous scary movie, documenting their findings and sensations. Since I’m a sucker for the found-footage genre of horror (à la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), I wanted to try my hand at translating this medium into the written word, only switching into video camera mode when the story earned it. But I also wrote it specifically as a reaction to the majority of my work dealing with, as alluded to above, emotion, grief, and the joys and pains of being a regular person. I wanted no complex back-story, no real character development…just pure, unadulterated terror and craziness. It was a lot of fun to write, and I think it really did turn out to be a love letter.

You’ve made it very clear that “flesh and blood” characters are of utmost importance in your writing. What do you mean when say you write these types of characters and why are they important to you and your writing?

It’s crucial to have relatable characters that the reader—and the author—can easily imagine off the page. Even in the story I just discussed, “October Film Haunt,” in which I consciously stayed away from the importance of character arcs, the reader still has to care about the characters, what they do, and what they gain or lose. Antagonists, antiheroes and even the henchmen who die in the second scene should feel like real people…except, since this is horror we’re talking about, when they’re not actually people at all. When a story focuses on character and seeks a “depth,” that flesh and blood is all the more important. There’s no point in hanging curtains if there’s no window.

Short fiction and short fiction collections seem to be taking the stage and leading the charge, especially within the realm of Weird fiction. What do you think is it about the short story or novella that draws the Weird writing crowd?

Since Weird fiction relies primarily on the unknown intruding upon the known world—to simplify things—it can be difficult to sustain that sense of uncanny dread across the length of, say, a 90,000-word novel. Ambiguity is often the bread and butter of the Weird; that sense of awe and uncertainty is important to carry the fiction’s effect beyond reading. This isn’t to say there are no Weird fiction novels. It’s just that the ratio is skewed more toward its effectiveness as a short form. Horror typically works better than Weird fiction in novel form because its monsters are most often explained. There’s a clear path and intent: figure out the monster so that you can survive it. In Weird fiction, the “monster” is sometimes so inscrutable and vast (the universe itself or something so alien that the human mind can’t truly process it) that over the course of a novel, it becomes difficult to get away with that inscrutability. I also feel that short fiction is making a comeback in its own right, which is a wonderful thing. The novel is important, but there’s absolutely no reason for it to claim such a vast majority of the reading public. Short fiction can paint moods and tones and use forms and structures the novel simply cannot.

Speaking of the Weird writing crowd, you are scheduled to be a guest at the inaugural The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird this weekend (March 25). Anything special planned for this event?

My plans are essentially the same as with any other convention: go and have fun. We’re having a dinner with readings the night before the Symposium. It’s at 8:00 p.m. at My Parents’ Basement in Decatur, and though there is limited seating, it’s open to the public. And we are looking for weird and creepy things to do on Sunday, too, before everyone ships out. The best part of any convention is meeting and hanging out with people I usually only know on social media. They’re like family.

Any interesting stories on how you discovered Weird fiction and what specifically drew you to this particular group of writers?

It’s interesting to me—and a little embarrassing—how late I came to Weird fiction. I read horror as a kid but for some reason never explored it much beyond Stephen King. I have no idea how different I would have turned out if I’d stuck with it beyond my teenage years. But the darkness never left. I found it in other things. And when I finally, too many years later, decided I couldn’t put off trying to write fiction anymore, I reread some Stephen King stories and bought a copy of Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume Three just based on Amazon browsing. The latter book was a revelation to me. I discovered Laird Barron, John Langan, Tanith Lee, Stephen Graham Jones…it was a door opening, and soon I was an addict. These people thought about fiction the way I did, and I had no idea! I wrote my first story soon thereafter, and ever since I’ve been trying to pretend I knew about this stuff all along, even after admitting in interviews that I didn’t.

Do you have any advice for those writers just starting out?

There’s a post on my blog called “On Turning Five.” I wrote it last year to share my thoughts about what I felt was the first chapter in my career. It goes into more detail than I can here, but I shared six bullet points that I think are important for a beginning writer: talent (you gotta have some of that); time (use what you have and don’t worry if others have more of it); wisdom (rely on your own, seek others’); kindness (support other authors, pay it forward); persistence (keep doing it, keep fueling the fire of your passion to write in any way you can think of); and resiliency (there will be a lot of rejection—it’s as important a part of the reality as success is).

Can you fill us in on what you’re currently working on? And where can our readers get their hands on your published works?

I’m currently in the middle of my first novel. There’s some weird fiction, some horror, some literary sensibilities, and some ore from other mines. I have that Venn diagram taped over my desk with a thumbtack pressed into the center. As for my published works, my novella, “The Tired Sounds, A Wake,” has sold out forever, sadly, as it was a limited-edition pressing, though it will live again down the road in my next collection. Greener Pastures is available through Apex Book Company or Amazon and other online retailers. My blog has links to all my stories that aren’t in the collection as well.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be reading, watching or listening to right now—past or present, well-known or obscure?

Reading: Julian Barnes’ novel The Sense of an Ending. I’m reading it for the third time right now. It’s a very short literary novel that takes an uncomfortable look at memory and its reliability, both intentional and unintentional. Beautiful and unsettling. There’s a film version coming out soon, so now would be a good time to discover the book. Watching: I’m terribly behind on films. These days my partner and I are watching The Golden Girls in its entirety, and I’ve been having fun reliving my childhood—it was the last show my grandmother and I watched regularly together— and coming up with fake occult theories about Sophia and the girls. Listening: Mica Levi’s film scores. I listen to a lot of ambient, drone, and classical, and Levi’s work for recent films is wonderful to write to. UNDER THE SKIN and JACKIE are both great and very different from each other.

And last, but not least, care to share anything weird and bizarre we don’t know about you already?

This isn’t particularly weird, but I used to have a fairly profound fear of public speaking. For some reason, back in 2010 I got it into my head that I wanted to try amateur standup comedy, which is pretty much the opposite of what I do now. I did it three open-mic performances. It was utterly terrifying but fun—I can clearly remember the swelling panic in my chest—and I’m convinced it was the first step toward writing fiction, which was my other big fear. And while I still have that old fear of public performance in me, it did wonders for it, and it made me an advocate for those scared to put themselves out there: Just do it. Follow your dreams no matter what shape they ultimately take. You’ll be glad you did.

ATLRetro is proud to be a sponsor of The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird on Saturday March 25.  Attending memberships to the symposium are $25 and limited to 50. A few are still available at press-time. Contact atlretro@gmail.com. There’s also a pre-party with author readings on Friday March 24 at My Parents’ Basement in Avondale Estates from 8-11 pm.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Extinguishes Bloodlines and Thrills Us Yet Again With His Latest Cinematic Venture, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The last time we caught up with the ever-busy Atlanta filmmaker Bret Wood was before the 2014 Atlanta Film Festival screening of THE UNWANTED, his contemporary take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire novella “Carmilla.”  Bret is at it again with his current independent cinematic endeavor, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (TWD2D), a loose modern-day adaptation of Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger.” Fueled by visions of ‘60s gialli.” TWD2D is a thriller that “subverts the formula of the revenge film,” following its “hero” as he seeks gruesome justice. According to its official description: “Goaded by the cold-hearted spirit of his undead 10-year-old sister Berenice, Jonathan wades into ever-deepening, ethically muddier water—for their plan is to not just punish the guilty, but extinguish their bloodlines entirely.” The film stars Joe Sykes [V/H/S (2012); THE LITTLE DEATH (2010)], Alice Lewis (first starring role) and Rachel Frawley. While Bret has personally funded all of his prior film projects, this ghastly twist of a revenge story is being partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign chock full of enticing perks, including copies of the film upon its release to video (Fall 2018). Be a part of bloody fantastic film history and snatch up a killer perk or two via the crowd-sourcing campaign available through February 25! Check out the full range of rewards here!

A rare and obscure film connoisseur, Bret regularly digs deep into the historic cinematic landscape through his enviable day-job as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber. On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for his PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, he dove right into his next restoration project, PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, promising to expose viewers to lesser known, yet significant female film pioneers.

ATLRetro caught up with Bret for a quick rundown on THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE, his devotion to film history’s weirdest and wackiest; and why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project! While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a sinister peek at the teaser trailer for TWD2D here.

ATLRetro: The last time ATLRETRO caught up with you was with your take on “Carmilla,” THE UNWANTED (2014). And now we see you’re diving head first into Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger” with your newest film adventure, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. Why “The Avenger” and why adaptations of classic literature?

Bret Wood: I’m a voracious reader, and I usually follow some thread of ideas from one book to another rather than just randomly choosing books from a shelf. It’s a great way of discovering writers I wasn’t previously familiar with. At the time I discovered The Avenger, I had been reading a lot of Gothic novels — specifically pseudo-memoirs from a skewed perspective — things like de Quincey’s CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER, Charles Maturin’s MELMOTH THE WANDERER and James Hogg’s THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER. I think it was Joris-Karl Huysmans’s THE DAMNED (LA-BAS) that started me on this whole journey. I like this era of literature because it’s the kind of thing not many other people are reading, and it’s all in the public domain, so if I do find a story that would work well as a film, it’s mine for the taking. There’s nothing worse than discovering a story that would make an incredible film, but knowing it would be impossible to clear the rights (there’s a William Lindsay Gresham [NIGHTMARE ALLEY] story I’m dying to adapt.)

And with pre-1900 books like these, I’m really adapting the spirit of the work, not the plot. As THE UNWANTED bears little physical resemblance to “Carmilla,” THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE does not replicate the plot of The Avenger. But hopefully both of them capture the emotional essence of what makes both of those stories so compelling, and so troubling.

(l-r) Bret Wood, Rachel Frawley

Why a Kickstarter for THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE? What are the advantages of taking the crowd-sourcing route?

Previously I’ve self-funded all my films, but the cost of indie filmmaking in Atlanta has risen considerably since the arrival of Hollywood productions. It’s become more difficult to secure locations, and we have to compete with major studio productions for crew. Just a few years ago, when filmmaking opportunities were limited, there was an abundance of crew who were eager to take on labors of love in order to get experience and make the kind of connections they could build careers on. Now, everyone’s busy on well-paying projects, and it’s not fair for us to ask them to show up on their days off and work 10 to 12-hour days for the love of the art. Over the course of making TWD2D, we’ve assembled a terrific, very dedicated core crew, but I want to treat them fairly and not burn them out on independent production. We want to leave them willing to support the next grassroots project – to insure that this kind of filmmaking can continue in Atlanta.

There are several great things about crowd-funding. One is that it allows anyone to participate. And the size of the donation is less important than the knowledge that someone out there likes the idea of what you’re doing and wants you to see it through to completion. Another attribute of Kickstarter is that when people make a contribution, there are no strings attached. They are supporting the creation of your work without imposing conditions or restrictions upon the donation. As soon as artists accept money from an investor, they can’t help but begin to think of the film as a business and bear the responsibility of shaping the film into something that will become profitable. You can’t help it. That Hollywood mentality starts to creep in.

Joe Sykes as Jonathan

I’m not saying my vision is “pure” or that profitable films are somehow corrupt. But I am trying to make films from the gut – that evolve and find their own form through the process of collaborating with other artists. THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a film that emerges from the process of making a film. Just last week, two of the actors (Joe Sykes and Keith Brooks) helped me re-conceptualize a scene that was problematic, and we shot that sequence over the weekend. Likewise, we try to make sure the set is a place where new ideas are welcome, and we’re not just banging a punch list of predetermined shots.

You’ve put together some great bonuses for investors, ranging from special DVDs and Blu-rays to pass codes to stream your past films to posters and private screenings (Exciting!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they back your film?

I think most people want to get a copy of the finished film, but for those who don’t want to wait the year-and-a-half it will probably take for TWD2D to be completed and then released on video, they can join us for the cast-and-crew screening, get copies of my previous work, two different styles of T-shirt, and I’ve dragged out a few things from my memorabilia closet, including a key prop from THE UNWANTED [Millarca’s severed head] and an original print by David Lynch for any big-money donors out there. Of course the greatest reward of all is the satisfaction of keeping truly independent film alive and well in Atlanta – and you get that even at the $5 pledge level.

Looks like many of your cast and crew are Atlantans or from the surrounding area, including yourself. What can you tell us about your cast/crew and why do you think it’s important to work with local talent?

With Atlanta being overwhelmed with studio production, I think it’s more important than ever that indie film projects ORIGINATE locally. The studios have come here for the tax breaks but quickly discovered what a rich and deep pool of filmmaking talent resides here. I don’t think anyone expected the Georgia film industry to expand the way it has — and you can’t chalk that all up to tax incentives. The problem is that the writers/directors/leading actors of these projects are still almost exclusively brought in from the West Coast. The studios and networks don’t see this as a place where ideas are originated and projects germinated. The most successful content-originators in Atlanta are self-starters — people like Will Packer and Tyler Perry. And we need more filmmakers like that — who are crafting their own unique work, and not asking some corporate entity for permission to make films.

You’re a well-known local film historian, as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber, and have produced Blu-ray releases for the films of legendary directors Mario Bava, Stanley Kubrick, Jess Franco, D.W. Griffith and more! Which project was the most intriguing? In the grand scheme of things, why do you feel it is important to not only preserve film, but to share these works of art with the masses?

Just as I read books from another era, I’ve always loved watching films from the past. Part of it is my distaste for all things contemporary, but mostly it is the thrill of discovering something new. If you love cinema, then there is a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. And you can’t do it from the convenient portal of Netflix. You’ve got to get up off the couch and look for it yourself. And it’s exciting to go on a quest to track down obscure works by obscure filmmakers that only YOU truly understand and appreciate (or so it seems, until you discover there are others who share your passion for the odd and eclectic). And that process opens up social opportunities and enables you to create new friendships (both real and virtual). Go over to Videodrome and strike up a conversation with whoever’s on duty — you’ll see what I mean. That’s really a snapshot of who I am and how I defined myself during my youth.

Alice Lewis

I try to hold on to that sense of discovery in my day job, as I ferret out lesser-known films and give them the best possible presentation so that they’ll be out there for other cineastes to discover. I produce DVDs/Blu-rays of the classics, but I’m also allowed to slip into the release schedule some truly strange and fascinating films that aren’t on most people’s cultural radar; things like the silent-era drug film THE DEVIL’S NEEDLE, the satanic soft-core film THE LAST STEP DOWN, the 3-D film A*P*E, the oddball noir THE CHASE. I’ve got a full plate for 2017 and look forward to introducing some strange new flavors to people’s cinematic palate.

On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for your PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, you’ve jumped right into PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS. Can you tell our readers a little about this project?

PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA succeeded beyond our expectations, and I really felt as though I had helped consolidate and publish a hugely important chapter of American film history. It was unique in that it wasn’t just a “greatest hits” of early black cinema; it explored both the cornerstones of the movement and the virtually unknown work. We included lesser-known films. We included incomplete films. We included films so eroded by nitrate decomposition that they are almost incomprehensible. But these films are important nonetheless. They are the mortar that fills in the cracks of the bricks of black film history. And they would never be released under ordinary economic circumstances. PIONEERS was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and the $50,000+ that we raised afforded me an unprecedented amount of creative freedom — resulting in a collection of films that would otherwise have been impossible, or at least commercially unviable.

Fortunately, I was able to maintain the momentum, launch a second KS campaign, and am now knee-deep in producing PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, which focuses specifically on women directors of the American film industry in the silent era. Our aim is specific because, as with the first PIONEERS, we didn’t want to make this a “greatest hits” collection [Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blaché]. We want to show you the works you’ve never seen, and expose you to the filmmakers you’ve never heard of [Gene Gauntier, Angela Murray Gibson, Julia Crawford Ivers, Ida May Park, Marion E. Wong]. And by focusing on American silents, we’re able to tell a fascinating – and ultimately depressing – story of how women were pushed out of the director’s chair and into support roles within the Hollywood studio system.

Can you tell our readers how you got into film preservation and filmmaking?

After meeting film historian Dennis Doros when he came to speak at a screening at the University of Tennessee (where I was a student), I was offered a job at the film/video distributor Kino International (now Kino Lorber) in 1987. I started out doing telephone sales for near-poverty wages but was just happy to be working for a company with impeccable taste in its library of films. As the years passed, I migrated away from sales – which I was never very good at – into design work, eventually becoming the Art Director. I gradually accumulated a knowledge of post-production, film mastering, digital restoration, editing, and became Kino’s primary producer of archival projects. Today, the company is much larger, and I’m one of several producers, but I’m still the archival classics guy. And while I have more freedom in acquiring films and negotiating with the archives and licensors, I’m still a very hands-on producer, writing liner notes, designing packaging, supervising film restorations, cutting trailers. Every day is something different (today I get to work on the Republic serial DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE and Josef von Sternberg’s ANATAHAN) and that’s what I love about the job.

You seem to be drawn to exploitation films, with your preservation projects, your documentaries [HELL’S HIGHWAY] and your writing projects [“FORBIDDEN FRUIT: THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE EXPLOITATION FILM” and “MARIHUANA, MOTHERHOOD, AND MADNESS”]. What is the magnetizing power of exploitation flicks? And which exploitation film is a definite must-see for our readers?  Yes, we’re forcing you to choose just one.

(l-r) Alice Lewis, Joe Sykes

Funny you should bring these up. I’m just about to close a deal with Something Weird Video for Kino Lorber to revive their “Roadshow Rarities” collection and carry on the tradition that Mike Vraney began with his VHS releases of the early 1990s. We’re going to perform 2K restorations, launch theatrical re-releases of certain titles, and eventually release them on Blu-ray. What I love is that these films, routinely dismissed a kitschy and naive – that was the whole gist of New Line’s marketing of REEFER MADNESS on the midnight movie circuit in the 1970s – are actually much smarter than we give them credit for. They are playful films made by clever filmmakers who figured out a way to game the system, bypassing the censor boards, defying the studio distribution system, and lining their pockets with cash. They pretended to make films to educate the masses on the dangers of drug addiction, venereal diseases, bestiality, polygamy, and other social problems, but were actually making outrageous films that indulged America’s appetites for these forbidden vices. We don’t think of the 1930s and 1940s as a heyday of indie cinema, but it was, and there is still much to be learned from these films.

A favorite? Definitely MANIAC (1934). It is a psychological horror film made by self-taught husband-and-wife filmmakers Dwain Esper and Hildagarde Stadie Esper that plays like a true crime surrealist art film with dashes of Edgar Allan Poe.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching right now—directors or movies, past or present, well-known or obscure.

I don’t want others to rush out and discover them — these are MY current fascinations: 1) the novels of Peter Ackroyd;  2) the music of Jacques Brel; 3) any film by Michael Haneke; 4) Bill Gunn’s 1973 film GANJA AND HESS; and 5) Rouben Mamoulian’s APPLAUSE (1929). If you are determined to watch a recent film, I recommend THE LOBSTER and UNDER THE SKIN.

Getting back to why we’re here chatting you up, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE and the film’s Kickstarter campaign! Without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers about the film and when they can expect to catch it on the big screen?

THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. It follows a war hero [Joe Sykes] who returns to his home town to avenge the death of his family guided and goaded by the spirit of his dead sister, played by Alice Lewis. When he meets a social worker [Rachel Frawley] who treats PTSD and war-related “moral injury,” the character begins to question the purpose of this campaign of gruesome violence, and his whole quest for justice begins to unravel into chaos. We hope to finish photography in late spring, and have a cast-and-crew screening around the end of the year. Festival screenings should begin happening in Spring 2018, with a home video release in Fall 2018.

The Kickstarter campaign ends Saturday February 25, so it’s not too late to score a T-shirt or give us that welcome boost of confidence that comes with ANY donation to the cause! Check it out here!

All photos courtesy of Bret Wood and are used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Louie Louie?! Me Gotta Go! Emily Robb Invites You Out for Some Organic Garage Soul Tuesday Feb. 21 at the Earl!

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2017 By:

Louie Louie, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. Photo credit: Cassie Cummins. Used with permission.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Philadelphia foursome Louie Louie bring their rocking mix of throwback vocal harmonies and glorious post punk weirdness to The Earl on Tuesday Feb. 21.

Not too long ago, Emily Robb recruited two work friends and her sister (all three were first-time musicians) and formed Louie Louie. Their sound owes plenty to classic soul and garage rock bands of the ’60s, but the organ and layered production give the music an otherworldly delicacy that is something different. And those harmonies!

We caught up with Robb just before Louie Louie started the current tour that will bring them to Atlanta on Tuesday. (Click here for ticket info)

ATLRetro: Thanks for taking the time to chat with ATLRetro. It looks like Louie Louie just started a pretty serious East Coast tour. Are you on the road a lot?

Emily Robb: We haven’t done any significant touring for over a year, but we’ll be on the road a little this spring and probably summer.

Where are you originally from? Where’s home now?

My sister Jenna [drummer] and I are both originally from an island in Maine. Leslie [organist] is from Arizona and Emily E (bassist) is from outside of Philadelphia. We currently live within a few blocks of each other in Philly.

How long have you been playing music? What did you do before? Still have a day job?

When I was around 21, I started teaching myself guitar. My first experience being in a band – that wasn’t my grade school band – was in Montreal. Later I played in a band called Lantern for quite a while, as well as Myrrias which I’m currently still in. I wouldn’t call it a day job, but yes, I have to work other jobs still. I try to be very part-time at several different jobs so that it’s not difficult to take time off for touring.

How did Louie Louie come together? What inspired you to start a band?

I always wanted to form my own band, so about three years ago I asked my fellow waitresses and my sister if they wanted to start something with me. Originally I wanted lots of harmonies which is why I was excited to start the band with these women.

I know some folks get testy when asked how they settled upon a band’s name. I hope you are not one of them. I’d assume it comes from The Kingsman song (or maybe the Hot Chocolate song), but what do I know? Only that it is hard to Google you. So, why is your band named “Louie Louie”?

Yeah ,we’ve gotten many complaints about how difficult it is to Google us. I thought Richard Berry‘s song “Louie Louie was the perfect song – incredibly simple, three chords, the progression doesn’t even change between verse and chorus, it’s very open so you can do anything with it, and it’s not at all boring even though it’s repetitive. Also I liked the plurality of the name and the fact that it’s not gender-specific.  

I take it you don’t mind the comparisons to the classic all-female groups of the ’60s, as that is among the best pop music ever recorded. Are there any in particular you consider your favorites?

Of the ’60s groups, I think The Shangri-Las and Martha and the Vandellas might be my favorites. But I enjoy them all. 

Berry Gordy or Phil Spector?

That’s not a fair question! Recording/production-wise, I take a lot from both.

Who are some influences that may be less obvious?

I love Yoko Ono. I love Neil Young. Some of those cool Kinks songs like “Fancy and “Everybody Felt the Rain.” I love the Byrds. I’ve definitely taken a lot from all these bands even if it’s not obvious.

Photo credit: Kelly Kurteson. Used with permission.

Do you ever suspect that some of your younger fans may not be familiar with these groups? Does it matter?

I suppose a lot of them wouldn’t be, but in the end I don’t honestly think it matters. I teach music workshops for youths and I’ve introduced them to some of this ’60s soul and they’ve loved it! One of my classes chose to cover “Come See About Me” by Diana Ross and the Supremes after I played it for them.

Have you recorded anything? How can we hear it?

Louie Louie has a single out that was released on Hidden Volume Records and we just released our first full length on Born Losers Records. You can stream them on our bandcamp as well as all the normal streaming sights and you can order the vinyl LP from bornlosersrecords.bigcartel.com

What are you listening to these days?

To be honest, so much Neil Young lately.

I read in your bio that your drummer makes your stage outfits – They are pretty damn sharp, by the way! How important is this to the band’s style?

Yeah! It’s awesome to look sharp and weird and whatever else we look in our outfits! Also the fact that she makes them all by hand and they don’t exist anywhere else in the world makes me so happy.

Anything else I should be sure to mention?

We’ll have our records for sale at the show!

Thanks for your time, and we’ll see you Tuesday at The Earl.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Getting Horny with Adam Lowe: Krampus Is Coming to Town at 7 Stages

Posted on: Dec 8th, 2016 By:

krampus2Forget being nice, it’s Krampus X-Mas time again Dec. 8-17 at 7 Stages. The acclaimed Atlanta theater group brings back its twisted holiday tradition in a brand-new variety show featuring Santa/Satan,Japanese monsters, giant robots, spectacular make-up and costumes, heavy metal music, and Hellish hilarity. After 10 years of Krampus, 7 Stages says it’s the last year for to enjoy them deck the halls with debauchery, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t their unique take on the German anti-Claus. Check out the campy trailer and purchase tickets here.

ATLRetro caught up with the Krampus himself, or rather his human manifestation Adam Lowe, to find out more about this year’s fear-tivities, as well as what else is up with 7 Stages and his own acting career.

ATLRetro: You’re playing the most iconic character of Christmas next to Santa, literally the anti-Santa, at the culmination of a years-long tradition. Does that place a certain pressure on you to get it right?

Adam: Thankfully the most pressure I feel during the production is the weight of the horns, although I’m told we are getting new, lighter ones this year, so that’s a relief. I’ve been fortunate to work with the scriptwriter and the director before, and that relationship has done a lot to mitigate any performance anxiety I might otherwise feel.

How are you preparing to get into character?

Satan and I have been Facebook messaging a lot.

Tell us a bit about this year’s Krampus Christmas. How will it preserve past 7 Stages traditions and is it a challenge to stay fresh?

Krampus Christmas has always been a celebration of heavy metal, PBR, and community, and this year is no different. Many of the same people are involved each year. We really are like a tight-knit—if dysfunctional—family, and that familial energy and enthusiasm carries over to the production. This year is significant because the theme of the show tackles an issue that is hotly debated in Atlanta in recent years: gentrification.

Adam Lowe.

Adam Lowe.

Always been curious how much of Krampus is scripted vs. improv. Can you talk a little about how the production evolved?

Every year is a little different, but I would say generally the cast attempts to stick to the script. Of course, the joy of live performance, especially raucous, irreverent live performance like Krampus, is that anything can happen.

How long does it take for you to get into make-up and costume for the Krampus? And out of it?

About an hour and a half to get in, given our test runs! Maybe 30 minutes to get out of everything.

Without spoilering too much, do you have a favorite part or scene in this year’s production, and why?

There is a fight between Krampus and several demons. The scale of the fight is impressive, and involves a industrial scissor lift.

You played two key and very different roles in THE THREEPENNY OPERA (read our Retro Review here), which congrats, was extended after good reviews and box office. Brecht wrote it in the twilight years of the Weimar Republic. After the results of the presidential election, did you feel anything eerie about performing it this fall? Anything else you’d like to say about doing THREEPENNY?

I wish I could claim a sense of foreboding during THE THREEPENNY OPERA run, but I ended up every bit as flabbergasted by the election results as everyone else. Honestly, THREEPENNY was simply a fantastic show. For me, it was a great escape from the election-related talking heads and other political noise. The cast was incredible, and I met a lot of very talented, kind people.

7 Stages always strikes us for its daring and its quality—like Off Broadway in Atlanta. What’s it like to work with this phenomenal theater company and are you going to be in any more productions in the 2016-2017 season?

I’m always thrilled to get a call from 7 Stages. They dare to do theatre that few others will. I don’t have any specific plans for the upcoming season as of yet, but those guys have my number.

Anything else you’d like to share about Krampus, 7 Stages or what’s next for you?

I’m excited to have recently joined the Humorology Atlanta team as a hospital clown, and will be working with them a lot this upcoming year.  Check us out at the Humorology Atlanta Facebook page here. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year holds!

krampussadie5version

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Kool Kat of the Week: Cult-Film Fanatic and Queen of the TCM Underground Millie De Chirico Bloodies it Up with the Buried Alive Film Festival Family at 7 Stages

Posted on: Nov 14th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crewuse
Managing Editor

Millie De Chirico, co-creator and exclusive Programmer for Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) weekly late-night cult movie showcase, “TCM Underground,” returns to Buried Alive Film Festival’s (BAFF) bloody ranks as a hand-picked and well-sought after  juror for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, a horrorific and spooktacular extra added to this year’s festival! Competitors’ films for the 13-day filmmaking competition will screen Nov. 16 at 7 Stages (7 p.m./ 9 p.m.), kicking off the 11th Annual Buried Alive Film Festival (Thursday, November 17, 7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Friday, November 18, 6:00 p.m. – 2:05 a.m.; Saturday, November 19, 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.; Sunday, November 20, 12:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.;  7 Stages; Tickets $12 per screening block / $120 all access pass [includes film blocks and special events]; Schedule for each screening block here; Tickets here)!

De Chirico, a Georgia State University (GSU) film major and cult-classic connoisseur has been a member of TCM’s Programming Department for over a decade. While TCM Underground is her cult-film love-child, she’s also spearheaded several successful TCM initiatives, including TCM’s Summer of Darkness featuring films of the noir persuasion; Condemned, “A festival of films Condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency”; and the TCM Imports Showcase. De Chirico is no fledgling when it comes to independent film, as she’s sat on juries for Austin’s Fantastic Fest and Buried Alive. Recently, she held a week-long programming residency at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. And in 2016, De Chirico was given an enviable opportunity to be involved with programming content for TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FilmStruck!

ATLRetro caught up with Millie De Chirico for a quick interview about her cult cinema obsession, especially obscure films showcasing girl gangs and basically ladies who kick ass; being a part of the Buried Alive Film BAFF Film Challenge LogoFestival family; and exposing rare and bizarre films to the masses via “TCM Underground”!

ATLRetro: “Queen of the TCM Underground”! What a killer title! Can you tell our readers how you earned such a moniker and how you helped create TCM’s late-night cult movie franchise, “TCM Underground” in 2006, originally hosted by Rob Zombie?

Millie De Chirico: Well, becoming the “Queen” was incredibly easy because I’m the only person who works on it! There was another person involved in the very first year, a guy named Eric Weber who no longer works at TCM. We worked on it together at first. After he moved to another department at Turner, I was the only one left to do it, and that’s how it’s been for the past 10 years.

Stanley Kubrick was sort of your gateway drug into the land of cult film at the tender age of nine, with his 1971 classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Besides Kubrick, who influenced you the most in your love of cult cinema? And why?

Russ Meyer‘s FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!  was probably the biggest influence on me. It totally blew my mind when I first saw it. I can’t tell you how amazed I was to see Tura Satana, a half-Asian woman just like me, being such a dynamic badass. I’d never seen anything like that before. After that I really fell into the rabbit hole. John Waters and Herschell Gordon Lewis movies were also my early cult cinema education. They are canon at this point, but will always be influential to me.FasterPussycatKillKillFeb2014LCS

Your job is a dream come true for cinephiles the world over. As a kid, did you ever imagine you’d get the opportunity to educate the masses on the wonders of the most obscure films? What’s a day in the life of Millie De Chirico like?

As a kid I had no idea you could even have a job doing something like this. When I was a kid, jobs were like firefighters and whatever you learned in elementary school, and women were always secretaries. Every day I go into work and get to talk about and think about movies, so I’m very fortunate. I see what I do less about educating and more just about sharing movies with people. Anyone that gets paid to share what they love with others is a very lucky person.

Do viewers get to request films to be screened for “TCM Underground”? If so, what is the most bizarre request for programming you’ve received?

I love to hear ideas from viewers. I think everyone in the Programming Department at TCM does. I don’t know if I’ve gotten a single bizarre film request; it’s more that the people making the requests are the interesting thing. For example, I learned recently that TCM Underground has a pretty big following among prisoners. They’ve sent a lot of letters and I have to say, the requests are really interesting and a lot of times actually underground, like DEEP stuff. Also, I sat down with John Carpenter once a few years ago and he mentioned he’d seen Underground, and image1then rattled off a bunch of movies he wanted to see. My brain pretty much exploded after that.

How exciting to be a part of TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FILMSTRUCK. Can you tell us a little about the service what it means to you to have opportunity to help with the programming and content?

I think I’m most glad I get the opportunity to flex a different programming muscle with FilmStruck. A lot of people assume I just like cult movies and that’s it. I’m actually a fan of lots of different types of films. I still program for the network and love classic Hollywood movies. With FilmStruck I get to program foreign, art house, and indie, which are all genres I greatly enjoy. Plus I get to work really closely with the folks at Criterion Collection, a company that I’ve had a crush on since I was in college when they were only making laserdiscs — it’s basically a dream come true.

You’ve been a juror for several film festivals across the country, including Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and Atlanta’s own home-grown horror film festival, Buried Alive Film Fest (BAFF). I’m going to assume it’s nerve-wracking, but what’s it like getting to judge the creative harvest of filmmakers across the world?

It’s pretty thrilling to get to see really new movies, by people who’ve never made one before a lot of the time. You’re kind of there at the creative gun blast, which is very cool! The year I did Fantastic Fest I was on a jury that got to watch IT FOLLOWS and SPRING and a bunch of other movies that were unknown, but ended up being big hits.

What is your favorite American cult film? Foreign cult film? Favorite cult film genre?

You should know better than to ask film people about a single favorite movie! Admittedly I have about fifty and they change daily. But if I must choose, my favorite American cult film would be the aforementioned FASTER Switchblade SistersPUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a very close second); foreign cult film would be THE ROAD WARRIOR. Favorite cult genre would be anything involving girl gangs, like SWITCHBLADE SISTERS or DARKTOWN STRUTTERS. What can I say; I love ladies who kick ass.

Can you tell us how you got involved with Buried Alive Film Festival and the killer Kool Kats running the show?

I went to film school at GSU with Blake, one of the founders, and I’m friends with most of the people who run it. Atlanta’s film community is fairly tight knit and I’m always happy when we get to work together in any way.

As one of the judges for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, how does the competition look? Anything horrific and exciting you can tell us at this time without giving anything important away before the BAFF opening screenings on Nov. 16?

I actually haven’t seen them yet. I have no idea what to expect but I know I’m super excited!

What are you looking forward to most at BAFF 2016? Anything fangtastic we should know about?

I think everyone should see the shorts. They are always a blast and the BAFF folks always put together really great shorts programming. I’m also really looking forward to seeing SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, the documentary about the Process Church of the Final Judgment (I will basically watch any documentary about cults or religion). And they’re doing a screening of CARRIE, an all-time favorite of mine, which I’m sure will be super fun.

image4What exciting and cinematically cultish things do you have planned in the near future?

I’d really love to do screenings in Atlanta. I’m always jealous when I go to cities like L.A. or Austin that have really cool, interesting cult or repertory film scenes, partially due to the fact that they have so many theaters that will do them. I’ve been talking to folks in town about this for a long time, so maybe something will finally happen…

What obscure piece of cult cinematic history can our readers look forward to in upcoming “TCM Underground” programming?

I’m really excited to be playing TERMINAL ISLAND by the great Stephanie Rothman, one of the only women who directed cult films and worked for Roger Corman for many years. I got the chance to meet and hang out with her last year and she is unbelievably nice with amazing stories to tell.

And last but not least, what question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Question: Who my favorite cult actor or actress? My very quick answer is: Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s and 1970s. She made some really bizarre movies during this period and I’m kind of on a quest to get everyone I know to watch them.

Photos courtesy of Millie De Chirico and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Tease, Tempt and Toga: Vivien Laye Pledges at ROXIE ROZ’S BURLY-Q HOUSE

Posted on: Nov 1st, 2016 By:
Vivien Laye Atomic Housewife

Vivien Laye, Atomic Housewife. Used with Permission.

Let us tell you about some crazy friends we know…we think you’ll dig their show. Roxie Roz invites you to pledge to the worst fraternity on campus BURLY-Q HOUSE Friday Nov. 4 at the Star Bar. This sure-to-be-outrageous show (doors 9 p.m., show at 10 p.m.) is themed around National Lampoon’s ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), hosted by the sensational Shellie Schmals, one of our first Kool Kats, features a bevy of Atlanta’s best burlesque performers and live music by Andrew + the Disapyramids. There’s a dance party after, and it’s just a guess, but we predict TOGAS!

So for this week’s Kool Kat, get set for detention with Ms. Vivien Laye, Atlantas’s own Sashaying Saucepot and one of the lovely ladies paying temptatious tribute to Delta House this weekend.

ATLRetro: When did you start performing burlesque and what inspired you?

Vivien Laye: I first started performing burlesque back in 2009. A good friend of mine was starting the troupe Ginger Collins and the Garter Girls and was looking for classically trained dancers. She had no idea I had a dance background and I had no idea she was starting a burlesque troupe until I randomly danced a jig for her one day. I had never considered burlesque until she asked me to join the troupe. It seemed like fun, but I had no idea just how much it would come to mean to me.

Do you have a favorite classic burlesque performer whom you look up to? Why does she in particular inspire you?

She may be one of the most recognizable and oft-mentioned names of classic burlesque, but Gypsy Rose Lee was my introduction to the art form through the various film portrayals of her. I think what I find most inspiring is that in a time when more traditional shimmy & shake or bump & grind were the norm, she made her intelligence, humor and wit the key elements of her performance style. She employed full artistic control and called the shots—not just in terms of what the audience would receive from her, but when and how they received it as well.

RR BQ House SquareYou recently returned to the Atlanta burlesque stage. Where did you go and are you excited about performing again in Atlanta? 

The original troupe I was in was only around for about seven months before disbanding. At that time in my life I was in a relationship that was not very supportive of me taking my clothes off for strangers and there were other artistic pursuits that became priorities for me. I decided to step away from performing, but honestly, I always missed it. Years later, I found myself living in Washington state and in a relationship that was loving and supportive in all ways, and I had the chance to attend some really amazing burlesque shows in Seattle. I decided then to give it another shot if the opportunity presented itself, and when my husband and I relocated to Atlanta in late 2015, I reached out to a friend who runs a local troupe and who had also been involved with Ginger Collins. I’m now an independent performer and this time around is very exciting because I’m making my own decisions—from music selection and choreography, to costume construction and character portrayal. It has opened up a new world of artistic expression and offered me a really fulfilling creative outlet.

ANIMAL HOUSE. Do you have any special memories of ANIMAL HOUSE? Why do you think its popularity has endured for so long?

I honestly had only seen bits and pieces of the film over the years and just recently watched it all the way through, but I think it’s had lasting popularity because the National Lampoon brand of humor has been so hugely influential to American comedy.

Animal House is an unexpected theme for a burlesque show, and yet as a classic movie with a cult following, it’s also potentially an inspired choice. Without giving it all away, can you give a tease as to your performance?

I agree with it being a potentially inspired choice. I think any time a show has a theme with a cult following, there is a built-in opportunity to connect with the audience. I will be portraying the role of Babs Jansen, the conniving Southern Belle with a huge crush on Greg, and I’m looking forward to donning a ridiculous bouffant wig!

Vivien Laye - Lowres - Action Shot

Vivien Laye. Used with permission.

We hear you’ll be performing at The Great Southern Exposure in December. That’s major cool. Anything about that you can share?

I’m very excited that my first time performing out of state will be at GSE! I’ll be rocking my Banana Boat number at the Friday Night Flash. It’s a relatively new, comedic number. Think Carmen Miranda meets Carol Burnett.

What else is new and next for you?

The month of November is busy. I’ll be attending my very first Burlycon in Seattle and performing for the November edition of the Speakeasy Electro Swing [Nov. 18] and Sadie HawkinsCheap Thrills [Nov. 19]. The holidays are going to offer a welcome break and a chance to regroup.

What do you do when you are not performing burlesque?

In muggle life I’m a photographer, and I also run the office for a graphic design studio in town. I stay pretty busy, but these days I really enjoy a little Netflix & Chill with my husband and our fur baby, Ruby.

Vivien Laye_Richard Caywood Photo

Vivien Laye. Photo credit: Richard Caywood. Used with permission.

Finally, what’s your top tip to a gal who’s just getting her start in burlesque?

If she’s in Atlanta, she should definitely check out the new and fabulous Metropolitan Studios, which is run by the ladies of the Candybox Revue and the Atlanta School of Burlesque. There is also a monthly [Burlesque Atlanta Society] meet-up for existing or prospective members of the community on the first Thursday evening of every month at Elliott Street Pub. If she’s not in Atlanta, she should look into any local classes that might be available to her.

What’s the most surprising thing about you that no one would guess?

I’ve been to 46 different countries at last count and I’m double-jointed in my elbows. Sounds simple enough, but it looks like my arm is broken if you’re not prepared for it.

Tickets to Roxy Roz Presents: Burly-Q House are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. VIP tables available. Purchase here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Something Bizarre This Way Comes as TWIN PEAKS Alum, James Marshall, a.k.a. “James Hurley” Joins the Monstrous Mischief at MONSTERAMA 2016

Posted on: Oct 4th, 2016 By:

by Melanie CrewJMarshall
Managing Editor

James Marshall, TWIN PEAKS alum and jack of all artistic trades (actor, writer, musician, artist) will be hangin’ with the monsters at the 3rd Annual MONSTERAMA CONVENTION, founded by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend and ATLRetro contributing writer, Anthony Taylor! MONSTERAMA creeps into town at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center this weekend, Oct. 7-9!

Marshall will be joined by a guest list filled to the blood-curdling brim with old-school horror connoisseurs like Zach Galligan (GREMLINS; WAXWORK); Caroline Munro (AT THE EARTH’S CORE; STARCRASH); Suzanna Leigh (LUST FOR A VAMPIRE); Trina Parks (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER; THE BLUES BROTHERS); Kool Kat and monster artist extraordinaire Mark Maddox; horror novelist and filmmaker John Farris (THE FURY); horror history expert and documentarian, Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures; Kool Kat Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte; glamour ghoul Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and so much more! So, get wicked and haunt on down to MONSTERAMA this weekend and prepare for a ghastly weekend of maniacal proportions!

44197_frontATLRetro caught up with James Marshall for a quick interview about his experience working on TWIN PEAKS; working alongside the granddaddy surrealist, David Lynch; and what he’s up to now, including the much-anticipated continuation of the series that catapulted him into the bizarro world of cult-television fandom, a phenomenon he was not expecting when the series aired, but is ever thankful.

Marshall, well-known as the secret moody biker boyfriend, “James Hurley” of “Laura Palmer” in the infamous and wickedly bizarre ‘90-‘91 television series, TWIN PEAKS, will be resurfacing, along with a long list of original cast members, in the continuation of the original series, which airs in 2017 on Showtime. Although sadly (for us) stifled with a gag order about the new series, Marshall insisted that his preparations for the upcoming series did not actually include him revisiting the original series, even though nearly three decades have zoomed by. We of course do not hold this against him, as forgetting an experience such as TWIN PEAKS would be nearly impossible.

Always interested in acting, it’s no surprise that Marshall’s top three influences when he broke into the industry, and even now, are Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean; fellas who portrayed moody, sensitive bad boys themselves. Brilliantly cast as the brooding lover in TWIN PEAKS, by award-winning Casting Director Johanna Ray (MULHOLLAND DRIVE; WILD AT HEART; INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, etc.), Marshall explained that, “She insisted David see me,” and that was that! On working with David Lynch, Marshall describes experiencing Lynch’s hands-off inspired approach by saying, “David walked up to give me direction. He looked down, didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes, then looked up at me and said, “Go for it,” and walked away.”

GLADIATOR (1992)

GLADIATOR (1992)

Post-TWIN PEAKS, Marshall’s career exploded with the release of Rob Reiner’s military classic, A FEW GOOD MEN (1992) [Marshall’s favorite role outside of James Hurley]; Rowdy Herrington’s boxing flick, GLADIATOR (1992); and back to Lynch with the TWIN PEAKS prequel film, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), which Marshall feels had a similar feel to the original series, but had a different rhythm. His career has spanned nearly three decades and continues to grow. When asked what he’s up to now (besides the TWIN PEAKS continuation) he explained that he’s working on his music and writing at the moment. We are always interested to learn what an actor’s favorite films are, so we couldn’t help but ask. Marshall explained that his top five favorite films, in no particular order, are Terry Gilliam’s THE FISHER KING (1991), Lynch’s ERASERHEAD (1977); Francis Ford Coppola’s RUMBLEFISH (1983); John G. Avildsen’s ROCKY (1976); and Francis Ford Copppola’s THE GODFATHER (1972).

Come on down and get mischievous with James Marshall at MONSTERAMA 2016 with photo-ops on Saturday (Oct. 8) (11:30am – 12pm; 5:30-5:45pm) and Sunday (Oct. 9) from 1-1:30pm, and catch him participating on panels throughout the convention. On Saturday, he’ll also be participating in the “When You See Me Again, It Won’t Be Me,” panel at 4pm, and the “You Can’t Handle the Truth” panel on Sunday discussing his work with Jack Nicholson, David Lynch, Aaron Sorkin and so much more!

MV5BMjI4MzU0NTUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzQ2NDMwMjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1334,1000_AL_

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Kool Kat of the Week: Derek Yaniger, King of Killer Kitsch and the Daddy-O’est of ‘Em All Slings His Ink and Gets to Creepin’ with NETHERWORLD this Season of Haints, Haunts and Horror!

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2016 By:

by Melanie CrewMonsters!
Managing Editor

Perpetual Kool Kat and Daddy-O extraordinaire, Derek Yaniger, now officially official (Finally. He did create our retro-tastic logo after all!) helps dish out the terror this season of haints, haunts and horror with one of our favorite local haunted attractions, NETHERWORLD! Beginning this Friday, Sept. 30, you can feed the maniacal monster inside nightly, through Oct. 31, with a bloody encore weekend, Nov. 4-5! Get out, get scared, and spook it up!

Consistently ranked as the nation’s best Halloween attraction, our very own fangtastic homegrown haunt, NETHERWORLD delivers a terrifying 20th season, which kicked off this killer season on Sept. 23! Founders Billy Messina and Ben Armstrong and a dedicated team of designers, painters, sculptors and other artists, including Yaniger and his classic monster art created specifically for NETHERWORLD, deserve every kudo imaginable for crafting a Gothic wonderland in a Norcross commercial space. Every year it gets bigger and more creative and this year’s MONSTERS theme is no exception. Chock full of nightmare-inducing creatures, horrorific special effects and a sinister atmosphere, NETHERWORLD does not disappoint! NETHERWORLD also always features a second haunt, VAULT13: MELTDOWN that is more slasher/contemporary horror in its bent–read toxic waste, laboratories gone awry and chainsaws.

Yaniger, former artist for Marvel Comics and Cartoon Network has made a groovy name for himself locally and worldwide in the land of all things retro-culture (rockabilly, burlesque, beatnik, etc.) and has been the purveyor of ‘50s/’60s-style art since 2000. Yaniger has slung his brushes and gathered a gaggle of giddy fans at many a retro-culture event: Tiki Oasis (San Diego), Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, Tales of the Cocktail (New Orleans), Spain Wild Weekend, DragonCon and more! And of course our brothers and sisters across the globe dig his work as much as we do, with pieces Gargoylehanging at Italy’s famed MondoPop, Australia’s Outre, Mexico’s Vertigo, the UK’s Castor & Pollux, just to name a few!

ATLRetro gabbed it up with Yaniger and dished about his ‘50s/’60s kitschy art-style, his love of all things retro and spookin’ it up with one of our favorite neighborhood haunts, NETHERWORLD . While you’re eyeballing our little Q&A, why not take a gander and grab a piece or two of Yaniger’s rockin’ art here!

ATLRetro: We are huge fans of your art (obviously) and of Atlanta’s own spooktacular haunt, Netherworld, celebrating 20 ghoulish years this season of haints, haunts and horrors. Tell us about your partnership with Netherworld and what you bring to their terrifying table?

Derek Yaniger: I do dig me some spooktacular haunts! And Netherworld is claws down the best of the best! I am lucky enough to have a nice relationship with Billy Messina and Ben Armstrong (the cats what founded Netherworld ) and they are kind enough to invite me every year to create a few pieces of art for ’em! Just like me, they have been monster fans since their early days so they seem to dig my retro-inspired take on creepy stuff.

Atlanta’s fangtastic classic horror scene seems to grow larger every year, which keeps local haunts, such as our pals over at Netherworld alive (so to speak!) and kicking. In the spirit of Halloween, is there anything in particular about this season, about the idea of getting spooked that keeps you coming back?

DRACULA

The Halloween season has been my favorite time of year ever since I was a crumbsnatchin’ lil’ creepster! Those first autumn days when the steamy summer temperatures begin to drop and the leaves begin to fall instantly transports me back to my trickin’ or treatin’ days! Memories of my old CREEPY and EERIE magazines and my Aurora Monster Models flood my brain bucket and I can’t wait to head to Netherworld to see it all come to life!

Which classic monster would you say is your favorite?

It’s got to be the original Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN! That cat is the ding dong daddy of ‘em all! King of the Monsters! For some reason that film as well as the follow-up, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN really started it all off for me! I used all my lawn-mowin’ money back in my youth to purchase anything and everything Frankenstein…FAMOUS MONSTERS mags, Don Post Franky masks, Frankenstein model kits…Much to the disappointment of my Mom, I would wear that damn Frankenstein mask EVERYWHERE….even tried to wear it to church once!

You create some killer images, with just the right amount of kitsch, which we of course can’t get enough of, and neither can your fans. Can you tell us a little about your style, and how it differs from the work you did with Marvel Comics and Cartoon Network in the ‘90s?

My current style is deeply rooted in the cartoon art of the ‘50s and early ‘60s….all the stuff that flipped my switches as a child! When I worked for Marvel the requirement was to draw the “Marvel Way,” but after 5 years of that I decided I would rather draw the “Derek Way“. I transitioned into working for Cartoon Network which was closer to my natural cartoon style, but still not me dancin’ to the beat of my own bongos. After about 5 years of that I decided I wanted to commit fully to my first love, the mid-century modern cartoon.

Take Me To Your LiterWhat drew you to a life of creating art? Any riotous tales of your artistic journey?

Honestly, art is the ONLY thing I’m good at, and I really believe I was born to doodle! My life-long obsession with visual images, even before I actually started scribbling, made it clear to me at a young age that a life creating art was the only way to fly! I don’t know how “riotous” my journey has been, as it was mostly working for fat cats n’ bigwigs that micro-managed me to the point where I wasn’t really proud of the work I was creating. One example of the drag that was advertising art: I was commissioned by Kroger to create a deli-chicken waitress character. After the committee of ad cats had their say, I was forced to add big red lips to the beak and red fingernails to the feathered hands! It was uglier and creepier than anything I ever created for Netherworld!

Who would you consider to be your top three favorite retro artists? Where did you draw your inspiration from and how did they inspire you?

My all favorite would have to be the great Jim Flora! Such a great mixture of modern art, humor and weirdness! His album cover art for Columbia, RCA and Camden is so damned great it kinda makes my stomach hurt! Second on the list would be Ward Kimball. He was the Disney director/animator responsible for the majority of experimentally fantastic art seen in the early ‘50s Disney shorts. I sometimes watch those on super-slo-mo and have to repeatedly dab the drool from my dropped jaw! Last, but NEVER least would have to be Georgia-born, UGA-educated illustrator extraordinaire…Jack Davis. His work for EC Comics and Mad Magazine was the first real exposure I had to art as a wee one. Although my style doesn’t really borrow too much from Jack’s, he will always be an inspiration!

Which pop-culture artist would you say is the most neglected and what do you think makes him/her worthy of attention?Witchy Poo

If we’re talkin’ present day here, I would say Mitch O’Connell. I dig his work the MOST! He uses heaps of vintage-inspired imagery in his work and as a technician, his skills are insane! AND he’s one of the nicest cats in the kingdom! He was a big inspiration for me when I finally decided to make the big dive into the retro art pool. If we’re talkin’ back in the day, I would have to say Cliff Roberts….kinda hard to find examples of his work. I was lucky enough to snag a copy of THE FIRST BOOK OF JAZZ off EBAY a while back. His B&W illustrations throughout the book swing like a well-greased gate! Who are your favorite local artists? Dave Cook is a local cat who is a very good friend and an even better artist. This Clyde can do it ALL! He’s known for his work on RollerGirls art and his “Cadavitures” (zombie caricatures that he scribbles at DragonCon), but I think he’s mostly known for all the Netherworld tees he’s created over the years. If you own a favorite Netherworld tee, Dave probably scribbled it!

Can you tell our readers how you got involved with Tiki Oasis, Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, and our very own DragonCon?

Around the year 2000, When I decided to put all my eggs in the retro art basket, I burned CDs (remember CDs?) of all the retro art I created in my spare hours and sent them to anyone who published a retro-themed magazine (Atomic, Barracuda ) or held retro culture events. (Tiki Oasis, Viva Las Vegas, Hukilau) Otto Von Stroheim, the Grand Poobah of the Tiki Oasis in San Diego was the first to respond, and I’ve scribbled art for that gig every year for the past 15 years! Crazy! Thankfully I am now known as the retro art guy all over the world and have created art for heaps of events celebrating rockabilly, burlesque, cocktail culture, beatnik, etc. The DragonCon connection happened about 8 or so years ago. They were starting the Cat and MousePop Artist’s Alley to give some attention to artists that don’t make with the comic book bit (more underground Lowbrow kinda stuff). At the time, I was growing in popularity in the Lowbrow world so it was a natural fit!

Your art spans the globe, being housed in galleries across the world, including Italy’s MondoPop, Australia’s Outre, Mexico’s Vertigo and the UK’s Castor and Pollux. What’s it like to know that your art inspires people the world over and what do you want your fans to take away from your work?

Yeah, the international response to my work was a coo coo nutty surprise to me! Them cats overseas seem to really dig the whole American kitschy ‘50s art scene. Just last May I had a sold out show at the La Fiambrera Gallery in Madrid! It was amazing how many people attended the opening and how damn nice they were to me! It was a solid gas! It is so rewarding to know that all this silly crap that pours from my coconut can be an inspiration to so many other artists around the globe. I seem to have a nice following among young artists who may just be discovering retro. I just want my art to make cats ‘n’ kittens smile….I love seeing people eyeball my work for the first time and get a nice wide grin goin!

What are you currently working on? Anything exciting in the pipeline?

I have a couple of gallery shows that I need to start slingin’ paint for. I’m working on a design for a Mai Tai decanter set for Tiki Farm, I’m going to be designing some fabric for Pinup Girl Clothing and I’m REALLY excited to be in discussions with a company to create some high-end 3-D collectible figures of my work! These days I’m jumpin’ like a Mexican bean on a trampoline!

How can our readers get their hands on your art?Ghost Collector

Bop on over to https://www.misterretro.com/merchandise and snag somethin’ for your good self!

Anything exciting planned with Netherworld this year?

I created a new piece for Netherworld a couple of months ago. It’s my most favorite yet! Not sure how those cats are planning to use it, but it should show up in the Netherworld gift shop in some creepy form or fashion! Other than that, I’m just planning on falling by the haunts in early October with my good friend Dave Cook. Netherworld always delivers the CREEPS….and I do love it so!

All images provided by Derek Yaniger and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Everybody Loves Red Spoons and Tootsie Rolls: Fred Leblanc Invites You to Join Cowboy Mouth for a Hurricane Party, Friday at The Loft

Posted on: Sep 21st, 2016 By:

Cowboy Mouth Promo 2_ July 2016By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Cowboy Mouth hits The Loft on Fri. Sept. 23. The New Orleans-originated band got its start in the early ‘90s, and their biggest hit was released on a major label a few years later. But Cowboy Mouth ain’t just about turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia, as anyone who has seen them perform will tell you. They are, and have been from the beginning, an incredible and incredibly compelling live band. They have toured constantly, playing thousands of shows in front of millions of fans over the past quarter century.

Lead singer/drummer/wild man Fred LeBlanc says there is an energy from the audience that defines the band as much as the people on stage. Fans traditionally throw red spoons and Tootsie Rolls at the band on lyrical cues in the songs “Everybody Loves Jill” and “Hurricane Party,” respectively.

The current line-up consists of original members LeBlanc and guitarist John Thomas Griffith, and Matt Jones (guitar) and Brian Broussard (bass). ATLRetro grabbed Kool Kat of the Week LeBlanc for a few minutes last week to get the inside scoop on this week’s gig and what’s up with the band.

ATLRetro: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. How’s the tour going so far?

Fred LeBlanc: So far, it been going really well. But we’ve always been fortunate to have a healthy touring life. As any CM fan knows, the live setting is where we really shine. I like to think so anyway. I hope so!

It looks like you’re touring the Southeast throughout the Fall. Every performance is unique, of course, but will fans in Baton Rouge and Orlando see completely different shows than the ones here in Atlanta?

There are some similarities as far as energy flow and also, you have to play the songs that people want to hear. I’d probably be in a lot of trouble if we didn’t play “Jenny Says” or “I Believe.” Fortunately I still really enjoy playing those songs—not just for my own enjoyment but also for what those songs mean to our audiences and what they seem to get out of them. It really is still quite a buzz to see large groups of people howling out their frustrations or fears by singing “let it go, let it go!” But at the same time every show is its own unique experience. It HAS to be! You never really know what’s gonna happen at one of our shows. Hell, I don’t even know what’s gonna happen—and I’m the lead singer! As much as you try to guide the show in a certain direction, it has a life of its own ultimately. I just try to keep the joygasm that is one of our shows chugging along. I’m just as much of a rider on this train as anyone.

Cowboy Mouth Promo_ July 2016You’re from New Orleans. Did that city’s deep musical tradition influence your own work?
It’d be difficult for it not to. The influence of the city permeates every single aspect of this band; always has, always will. That’s not to say that that influence is limited to what the general public perceives New Orleans to be, per se. The character and vibe of the city is ever changing, and that’s not a bad thing at all. There have been many changes to New Orleans since Katrina 10 or so years ago, predominantly I believe for the better. It’s not the same place it once was, which was this awesome little secret that not many people paid attention to.

I saw an article recently that described modern day Nola as “hipster” central. Like I said, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The economic revitalization has been enormous and the older generations are always complaining about the younger and vice-versa, that’s just life. There’s so much to learn from all viewpoints, but I’m going off on a tangent… Simply said, there’s a joy of life that has always been a common thread through the experience of living in New Orleans and hasn’t changed in all the years that I’ve known and loved the city. It’s almost defiant, but in a very celebratory way. The defining musical and cultural aspects might change specifics every few years, but it’s the vibe and the feel that make it what it is. We could’ve never come from anywhere else.

LeBlanc_FredAre you working on anything new? Any plans to?

We’ve just put out a “best of…” collection called THE NAME OF THE BAND IS… that I’m really proud of. The songs you know, plus a few new ones, all in one place. People seem to love it. You can find it online or at the shows. Also, I’ve got a children’s book called  FRED, THE NEW ORLEANS DRUMMER BOY coming out thru River Road Press in October. It’s kind of the attitude of a CM show, but in kids book form. I’m sure we’ll have a link through our social media. 

My friend and local musician Matt Mitchelson is an enormous Cowboy Mouth fan, so I asked if he had any questions I should ask you. “Uh…only 1,000,” he said. Here are a few:
Tell your friend Matt “hello and thanks for the questions.”
 

Cowboy Mouth’s live show sets the standard for me and many of my friends. Who set that kind of standard for you before the band?

I guess my main performing influence came from the black gospel churches I knew of from my youth. Growing up Catholic, and dealing with all the crap from that, I was always attracted to spiritual experiences that were as much cleansing and uplifting as they could be spiritual. When I saw how the Baptist black experience was a lot more of a cleansing celebratory thing, I decided then and there that that was what I wanted to do. Everything else extends from that.

Which artifact of your fans’ rowdy adoration has generated a better story—perhaps when one or more of those artifacts ended up in an inexplicable place—a red plastic spoon, or a tootsie roll?

Every once in a while somebody will show up with a giant oversized red spoon. I’m always hoping that they won’t throw it, but they usually do. And usually at me. In fact, ALWAYS at me!

The lineup has changed a good bit over the years, and I think we’re coming up on 10 years since the split with Paul Sanchez (damn…still so hard to believe!). But you and Griff have been in it together from the beginning. What have your collaborations with other bandmates brought out in you two, and what remains unchanged in the band?
The ENERGY is constant. Always has been, always will be. That’s what the show stems from, and that’s what I think the fans have been responding to most of our entire career.  People leave our show feeling great, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do, both as a person and a performer. You ‘re always responsible for what you put out to the world and how it comes back to you. I just wanted to make sure that whatever I did with my life, my tiny insignificant corner of the world could potentially be a little better off simply because I was here. A lofty goal, but why not?

LeBlancFredIs there one venue that stands out above the rest, where the show has a little extra energy every time (so I can book my ticket now)?

Not a specific venue as much is a vibe; Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are my two favorite times of the year. Being from New Orleans, how could they NOT be? We do a giant New Year’s Eve event every year now in New Orleans as well called “Big Night New Orleans” that is becoming a huge deal every year that passes. Folks should make the road trip, it’s totally worth it. Basically, anytime I get a chance to play New Orleans, I’m happy.

What’s the most pleasantly surprising gig you’ve ever played? Has there been one that you’d thought couldn’t go well but did?

We played over 3000 gigs in the entire history of this band. I always try to make whatever the next gig is a surprise or challenge in some way, just to keep it interesting for myself as well as the band. You don’t want the experience to grow stale from any perspective on any level. It’s never about the last gig, or any past show, it’s always about the next one.  

Which one is a greater challenge: a night when you have to dig deep for enthusiasm and energy in yourself, or when you come up against an unexpectedly flat audience? (trick question: neither has ever happened!)
I can honestly say that no audience we have ever played for has ever been flat. I just can’t remember that, if it did happen. As much as anything, it’s a matter of perspective. I want an audience to give everything it can, but at the same time you can’t expect things from them that they’re just not capable of giving. Appreciation from our perspective leads to enthusiasm from them, and vice versa. That’s one of the many secrets of doing what we do, and doing it hopefully well.

Anything else we should be sure to mention?

I think we covered it all! If you can think of any other questions, please feel free to ask.

Thanks again for your time. We’ll see you guys Friday at The Loft.

It’s going to be a fucking ball!

Doors at 7, show at 8. Click here for ticket info.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Blast-Off Has Their Cake and…! Dickie Van Dyke Celebrates Kissing, Shaving and a Decade of Burlesque Madness!

Posted on: Sep 7th, 2016 By:
Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.

Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.

Blast-Off Burlesque is back and going UNDER THE COVERS Friday Sept. 9 and Saturday Sept. 10 at Sychronicity Theatre in Midtown. Atlanta’s sci-fi punk vaudeville burlesque goofballs are celebrating their 10th year with this burlesque “performance explosion” inspired by some famous, and some not so famous album covers with emcee extraordinaire Ms. Gayle Thrower Rej and featuring with special guests P-Lo aka Patricia Lopez, Baby Doll and JuWanna Pimpmee!

With such an auspicious anniversary for some of ATLRetro’s favorite performers–all Kool Kats in our world!– we caught up with founding member Tricia Chenard, aka Dickie Van Dyke, to get the inside scoop on the creative cacophony which we know will ensue this weekend, as well as the troupe’s secret scooter origins, her own first album purchases, and an update on her other pastimes, including banjo and harmonica antics with her jugband Uncle Daddy and the Kissin’ Cousins, as well as bringing back traditional barbering at Rutabaga in Decatur.

ATLRetro: What’s the “secret origin” story of Dickie Van Dyke and how did you join the Blast-Off Burlesque? Aren’t you one of the founding members?

Dickie Van Dyke: In the beginning, Blast-Off was just me, Barbalicious, Sadie Hawkins and Ferris Hilton. We met through riding vintage scooters and meeting up for weekly beers with fellow scooter enthusiasts. Barb and Sadie were members of the burlesque troupe The Dollsquad and decided to start something new when The Dollsquad was ending its run. They approached me and said they wanted me to be their drag king. I replied, “But, I’m not a drag king.” They replied, “But you look so good in a suit.” I guess a little flattery went along way. I knew I wanted to use the name Dickie to tip my hat to my beloved, big gay, hair-dressing uncle, Richard. Barb and I started tossing around cheesy variations like Dickie Diamond or Dickie Dean etc… Eventually, Dickie Van Dyke fell out of my mouth and it fit on so many levels. The Van Dyke part was obvious because of, well, my being queer as a pink fuzzy football. I also love Dick Van Dyke. He’s one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived. Truly a classy gentleman.

underthecoversGosh-groovy-wow, it’s hard to believe Blast-Off is celebrating its 10th year. What does that feel like?

It feels shocking and great! We’ve had highs and lows like any long-term relationship. We are people. We’ve evolved; we are evolving. Blast-Off is like a favorite pair of jeans. It’s frayed around the edges, there are weird stains in strange places, and it’s worn thin in the knees, but nothing in the world feels the same. Nothing hangs off the hips in just that perfect way. People can sell overpriced, cheap versions of those distressed jeans, but they aren’t molded to your ass with the sweat and tears of hard work and hard play the way your favorite jeans are. That’s what being together for so long feels like. It’s biscuits, fried chicken and collard greens. It’s falling in love with your sweetheart all over again, despite the urge to strangle them because they are a beautiful, messy pain in the ass and you’ve been through a lot together, but you love that about them so much.

Photo credit: Regean Powell.

Photo credit: Regean Powell.

A new Blast-Off Burlesque show is a much anticipated treat. You zany kids have tackled the Wild West, TV, sci-fi, to name a few themes. How did you guys come up with the idea of bringing album covers to life, and we assume the show title “Under the Covers” is a double entendre?

Oh yeah, it’s most definitely a double entendre. It was one of those moments where we were surprised by our own cleverness. Our brainstorming process is pretty simple. We order a couple pizzas, bust open a bottle of Jameson or other lubricant of choice, and we throw ideas out. We haggle, we plead, we let go, we rationalize, we deconstruct, we get side-tracked, we analyze, we cuddle and we keep sipping whiskey until things we say to each other start sounding like good ideas. That usually doesn’t take too long because we are all nuts.

Blast-Off recently ran a contest that you judged in which people were invited to post a pic of the first album they ever bought to win a pair of free tickets to the show. What’s the first album you ever bought? And the story behind that purchase?

My first actual music-buying experience involved three albums. My family frequented a rinky dink flea market on GA-2 outside of Varnell, Ga. It was the kind of flea market where you could get some army BDUs, a live chicken, some boiled peanuts, the best handmade quilt, a fist full of Weirdo magazines and a tattoo from a biker working out of a repurposed school bus. There was a guy that sold awful bootleg copies of records. Everything was on a tape with the name of the album scribbled on the side. The insert was a one-sided Xerox of the original cover. They were bad, but three for $5. I bought horribly bootlegged copies of Motley Crüe‘s SHOUT AT THE DEVIL, Cyndi Lauper‘s SHE’S SO UNUSUAL and a random Patsy Cline BEST OF. I guess I will forever be a bargain shopper and lover of a wide variety of music.

Without giving away any surprises, can you give us a little tease as to the album cover(s) you’ll be unwrapping in the show?

Oh man, we touch on a wide variety of albums and genres! Icons, essences, obscurities, explorations of everything from The Who to The Boss to The Cramps to Vanity 6. The process of creating this show was interesting in the sense that we all got to express some sort of musical admiration for our personal favorites. It is our ultimate tribute album in some sort of burlesqued, interpretive dance movement, party-time experience.

Photo credit: Marc Turnley

Photo credit: Marc Turnley

What else has Blast-Off been up to lately and any more shows/activities planned for the near future?

In November, we are looking forward to working with Splatter Cinema again. Those guys have always been super awesome. They are letting us desecrate their stage by bringing back a horror version of our Taboo-La-La film night. We are currently working out the details, but it should be fun!

We hear Uncle Daddy and the Kissin Cousins has a super great new line up and a bunch of new songs. What’s up, where can we find you playing and are the rumors true that the band will be hitting the recording studio soon?

The jugband is creating a lot of new songs and sounds. Expanding our minds for sure. We figure after nine years of playing together, we might actually cut a record so we have something to give the folks who keep asking for it. We are going to be playing at 529 in East Atlanta on Sept. 26 with Banjaline and Glen DeMeritt, Oct. 1 for Garage 71’s Hell on Wheels in Canton, Ga. There are a lot of great folks playing and cool stuff going on with that day—classic cars, vintage bikes, sideshow acts, etc. We are also playing Oct. 8 at Ciderfest hosted by Concrete Jungle. Ciderfest is one of our favorite gigs of the year. Super laidback, lots of great people from all different walks of life, and fresh pressed cider!

Your day job is as an old school barber in downtown Decatur at Rutabaga boutique and salon. Can you tell us a bit about that and what types of styles you specialize in for the Retro gentleman? Do you think barbering is becoming a lost art?

I specialize in short cuts, tight fades, razor work, hard parts, classic, as well as modern styles. Anything from an old school pompadour, to a neat and tidy businessman’s coif, to an edgy, razor faded high and tight. As far as the face goes, I offer a classic straight razor shaves with aromatic lather and soothing hot towels, beard and mustache trims, and 15-minute facial massage for when you need a little R&R on the go.

Disco disco dick: Barb HaysAs far as barbering becoming a lost art, I could argue yes and no. At some point, having a barber seemed to have become more trendy than having a stylist. Perhaps it is meterosexual blowback from the ’90s? Perhaps it is the rise of the lumbersexual image? I don’t know. It seems the word “barber” has been simultaneously saved and diluted. There are a lot of folks calling themselves barbers these days. Pick up a pair of clippers and some Pinaud powder, and BOOM, you’re a barber. But to me, there is a difference between a barber who has studied and performs traditional tonsorial arts and a stylist who can perform men’s cuts. I know plenty of excellent stylists that can knock out awesome men’s cuts, and that’s great, but they don’t shave faces or use straight razors; they didn’t study anatomy of the face with all the muscles and arteries, as well as various skin conditions and ways to care for them. I think having that specific training and knowledge is the point of being a true barber. Having a barber pole tattoo doesn’t make you a barber. Knowing how to execute a proper shave and the importance of the 7th cranial nerve does. I’m glad that there has been a revival of barber culture and classic grooming because it is totally ok for dudes to take care of their skin and beards. It’s totally ok for women to opt for shaves as opposed to waxing. Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor did. Now more than ever, anyone can have access to a classic barbershop experience. I’m proud to call myself a traditional barber because of my training and the respect I have for the craft.

Finally, we gotta ask but thinking back over the past 10 years, what’s the craziest caper that you’ve been involved with as a member of Blast-Off and why? And yes, you can define by what we mean by “craziest” and “caper”!

Ya see, there is this little thing we call floor cake. For some reason, we had a grocery store sheet cake after a show. We were imbibing a few celebratory beverages, and before anyone could even get a piece of cake to eat, the entire cake ended up on the floor. Shortly after, everyone ended up in the cake on the floor. My favorite crazy caper happened when we decided to recreate floor cake for a photo shoot with the Burlesque Camera Club. We didn’t tell anyone we were going to drop a cake and writhe around in it for our final shots. At first, nobody knew what to do. These kids bring a cake into a photo shoot and “accidentally” dump it in the floor and start going nuts. Then suddenly everyone just started taking photos like crazy, whipped cream was sprayed all over the studio, sprinkles were sprinkled and jimmies were jammed. It was pure confectionary chaos and everyone loved it. We all had such a great time!

MORE INFO: Limited seating. Blast-Off shows sell out so they highly encourage you to buy tickets in advance to guarantee a seat! VIP front row experience includes four front row seats, drink tickets and very special goodies.Comfy seats for your butt, beer and wine in the lobby, and mixed drinks available at Tavern Pointe, which is right across the lobby. $5 parking will be validated with ticket purchase. Purchase tickets here.

Dick at the earl: Caroline Smith

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