Kool Kat of the Week: Hooting, Hollyfesterin’ and Cockle-Doodle-Doom with Phil Stair of Grim Rooster

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

Phil Stair, lead vocalist/guitarist of Grim Rooster. Photo courtesy of Phil Stair.

Every year around the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, the Right Reverend Andy Hawley gathers some of Atlanta’s best rockabilly and neo-honkytonk talent at the Star Bar for a righteous revival called Hollyfest! This year the fifth annual tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper is on Sat. Feb. 2, so mark your calendars for  a Groundhog Day you’ll want to relive with a 14-band line-up conjuring up rock n roll deja vu that includes many groups whose members have been previous Kool Kats from Cletis Reid to Andrew & The DisapyramidsThe Stumblers to Rod Hamdallah.

Also on the playlist is Grim Rooster. While the group has only been around for a couple of years, its members include Phil Stair (lead vocals, guitar), Dylan Ross (bass) and Nate Elliscu (mandolin) and Tigerbeat Tony (drums) who have been active in the scene here for many a corn season. Boasting a diverse barnyard of influences that range from Johnny Cash to Rancid, they’ve already got more than 30 original songs under their belt and the fireball audacity to promise this about their musical menu on Facebook: “just try not to drip any tobacco juice on the floor the first time you feast your ears on this blue-plate dee-light of mother-cluckin’ foot-stompin’ fun and your jaw drops wide open!”

ATLRetro caught up with Phil to find out how Grim Rooster got hatched, what Hollyfest is all about and just what the hell is honky punk anyway?

So how and when did Grim Rooster get hatched?

Grim Rooster came about in the spring of 2011. My band Rocket 350 was on its last legs, and I was fairly bummed about it. My bass player had moved to Nashville so I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. Also our crowd had finally faded, and it  just wasn’t worth the effort of getting everyone together. At that point, my buddy Dylan asked if I had any interest in starting some sort of side project. I knew that I wanted to start either a straight punk band or do something very stripped down and roosty. Dylan wanted to play stand-up bass so it was settled. We asked one of neighbors to come play drums, and then I wrote about 20 songs for the project. I really got wrapped up in the music and was very excited to be doing something new. It had been about 15 years since I started a new band.

What’s in the name?

Grim Rooster came from a goofy brainstorming session. We wanted to use something with the word “rooster” in it, and that’s when we started coming up with ridiculous names. Obviously it’s a play on Grim Reaper, and it was meant to be funny at first, but it had a pretty good ring to it. We started coming up with crazy logos and realized we had a winner.

What the hell is honky punk?

We play honky tonk and bluegrass. We have an acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass and drums. The ferocity that we play our honk tonk is where the punk comes in. Although we have a real roosty sound, the punk rock still seems to slip in there. This is great when we play places like the Star Bar, but when we play to the bluegrass crowd, a lot of times they get a bit lost. We used to do a cover of Operation Ivy‘s song “Knowledge,” but it never seemed to go over too well even though we really honky-tonked it up.

What’s so great about three dead Retro rockers and was it really the day the music died? In other words, what do Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper mean to you personally?

The day the music died will always remind me of the terrible Ritchie Valens movie that they did in the 80s. “Not my Ritchie!!” But seriously I think out of the three, Buddy Holly was the biggest loss. He was a great songwriter, and he did a lot to help shape rock ‘n’ roll at its very beginning. I will have to say though, that I’m very happy Waylon Jennings did not get on that plane. I can only imagine how terrible this event was when it happened and what a blow to rock ‘n’ roll it was. It seems like we always lose the great ones, yet guys like Justin Bieber seem to stick around forever. As far as what they mean to me personally, I’m more of an Elvis man myself, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The Grim Roosters at Twain's. Photo courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Have you played past Hollyfests? For the uninitiated, what happens at Hollyfest and makes it special? With all the Star Bar regular bands and Andy organizing, it sounds like it’s a big rockabilly/honkytonk homecoming. 

I have played many Hollyfests. One with Grim Rooster and a couple with Rocket 350. It is like a big homecoming, or more like the Atlanta rockabilly scene’s annual meeting. It’s always a great time, and its always great to see friends that I’ve hung out with for the past 20 years. It’s funny. I was sneaking into that place when I was 18, and here I am seeing the exact same folks. Something like that is rare, and I’m glad Andy and the Star bar are keeping it alive.

What will Grim Rooster be playing at Hollyfest – Holly classics or your own songs or both? Any special plans?

We are stripping down for Hollyfest because our drummer won’t be able to make it. We will be going string-band style. We are going to bluegrass up “Midnight Shift” and “True Love Ways.” Next we are going to do a slow-dance version of “Rave On.” Then, last but not least, we are going to do a Roosterized version of Weezer’s tune “Buddy Holly.”

How did you start playing guitar, and were your first rock influences the classics or were you more of a punk rock boy or a metal-head?

I started playing guitar in 7th grade but quit when I got a Nintendo for my birthday. I stupidly put it down, but hell, I was 12. I picked it back up when I was 19 because I wanted to be in a band and I realized that no one wanted just a singer. I started by trying to play along to punk rock records. It took a few years to start getting the rockabilly licks down.  When I finally did, I started Rocket 350.

I would say punk rock boy and metal head, or maybe just a lot of classic rock. I love Guns n Roses and the Ramones, what can I say?! I knew about the classics, but I didn’t start seeking out different genres till high school. I originally got into roots music through ska. That scene used to be huge in Atlanta, and there were a ton of shows. That pushed me to seek out rockabilly, and then I was hooked on that for many years. Through all of it though, I would have to say punk rock is by far my favorite music. That is probably my biggest influence. Then there’s a lot of old school country and just plain rock ‘n’ roll thrown in there.

What other bands have you played with?

Rocket 350 has been my main band; that lasted from 1997 to 2011. We went on four US tours and played hundreds of regional shows. We recorded five albums. I have yet to release our last record. Also I did fill in for my buddy’s metal band Grayson Manor once. That was fun as hell, but not exactly a good fit.

Other than Hollyfest, what’s your most memorable, fun, crazy or satisfying Grim Rooster gig? 

We enjoy playing an outdoor venue in Alpharetta called Matilda’s. Everyone calls it the poor man’s Chastain. They have roots music outside every Saturday during the summer. You play on the porch of an old house, and everyone brings their own food and beer. It’s all ages, so all of our families can make it out to the show. Those so far have been my favorite gigs, and they always draw a huge crowd. Just a really great vibe when we play there and a lot of interaction from the crowd. At the end of the day, we do this for fun so when you can get people out and involved, it makes it worth it.

The Grim Roosters shake up Matilda's. Photo Courtesy of the Grim Roosters.

Do you have a day-job?

I do, but I don’t want to ruin the illusion. Ha, yes in real life, I have a wife and two kids and live in the burbs. I work as a financial advisor, so me playing music has become a way for me to release a ton of stress. If it wasn’t for the release of playing music, I would probably be in the looney bin. I was very lucky to have been able to play music for a living and go nuts. In my late 20s, the writing was on the wall. I realized I wanted other things.

What’s next for Grim Rooster?

Just trying to find more gigs. If you know of any, let me know. We do have a big one on Feb. 6 at Smith’s Olde Bar. We are opening up for Corb Lund, and we are super excited about it. We will be playing our usual set of originals with a couple covers thrown in. Should be a great night of honky tonk.

Also, Grim Rooster is on Facebook if anyone wants to check us out. We have a three-song demo up there for everyone to listen to and download.

 

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Kool Kat Of The Week: Shellie Schmals, Minette Magnifique – Atlanta’s Baroness of Burlesque

Posted on: Feb 7th, 2011 By:

Minette Magnifique may be Atlanta’s youngest burlesque troupe, but these voluptuous vixens, true to their motto “the art of delectable dance, sans the pants,” are fast forging their own ravishing reputation. Shellie Schmals, aka Baroness VONSchmalhausen, shares a few secrets about her stage and other personas, as well as a tantalizing peek behind the tassles of the House of Minette’s Valentine’s spectacular, FROM PARIS WITH LOVE, Friday Feb. 11 at Le Fais do-do in west Midtown.

Shellie Schmals of Minette Magnifique. Photo credit: Jordan Barclay

ATLRetro: How did you personally become interested in burlesque and when did you start performing?

Shellie Schmals: As a little girl, I saw the iconic image of Bettie Page and was entranced. She looked so sweet, but she was also extremely sexy in a way that wasn’t popular in 1980s mainstream media. I identified with her more than Christy Brinkley or Cindy Crawford. Living with a family of antique collectors, I was surrounded by pinup advertising of the 1940s and 50s – which I adored too. Somehow, I just always knew burlesque was there but never knew how to find it.

It wasn’t until 2008 that I was introduced to the Atlanta burlesque scene by the Syrens of the South. We collaborated on a comedy and burlesque show at Relapse Theatre, and I performed one comedic burlesque [act] under the stage name “Mrs. Velma NoHeart.” After that show, I was still very interested in performing. The right opportunity and role didn’t come along again until January 2010, when my Minette Co-Founder, Kellyn Willey (Madame Willey) was starting up another troupe and we knew we needed to combine our creative forces. Our first Minette show was on May 1, 2010 and we’ve been on fire ever since!

You dance and emcee under the show name, Baroness VONSchmalhausen? Can you share a little bit about her and how she came to join Minette Magnifique?

Photo credit: Offhand Photography

In 2006, I started my event production and marketing company VONschmalhausen, named after my family’s name before it got chopped up at Ellis Island at the turn of the century in the 1900s. My ancestors were from Poland and Hungary and I really wanted to honor my Jewish heritage. VONschmalhausen literally means “of the small house” and my tag line became “small house * BIG IDEAS” – how could it not be??!!

Since then, VONschmalhausen has grown into a brand for all my events, performance and projects. When it was time for me to name my burlesque character, Baroness VONschmalhausen seemed the obvious choice. My Baroness VONschmalhausen persona is still me, but bolder with a lot more sparkles. Although I enjoy raunchy and vulgar humor, it never sounds right when I say it. If I were to pick words that describe Baroness: elegance, innocence, sly humor, dirty innuendos with a smile, double entendres with a wink, and poetry with a little slapstick.

 

For that matter, what’s the origin of Minette Magnifique? Did I hear right that the troupe got started in New Orleans?

In the rich tradition of vaudeville performers, we rewrote our history. Each performer scribed a bio that speaks to who their characters are, and we did the same thing for the troupe itself. Although we might not come from New Orleans, our spirit lives there.

Minette Magnifique, and/or the House of Minette, is a really creative name for a burlesque troupe. Is there a story behind how you selected it?

Naming Minette Magnifique is an example of how beautifully Madame Willey and I collaborate together. Madame Willey was enthralled with the first name “Minette”, as it has multiple identities as an girl’s name (which means “protector”) and as the French slang for a girl who is all dolled up. We didn’t want to give ourselves the traditional moniker of Minette Burlesque, because we felt it was too restrictive. Being the alliteration junkie that I am, “Magnifique” came to me almost from divine intervention.

I started calling us “The House of Minette” as a way to bring all the performers and members of Minette on stage at the end of a show. The phrase is very grand, invoking images that are regal, with a splash of bordello. Just like us!

 

Blast-Off Burlesque has a wacky pop culture edge and Dames Aflame have embraced the showgirl aesthetic. How would you describe Minette Magnifique’s unique niche in the Atlanta burlesque scene?

I would describe Minette as theatrical and comical, sexy and sultry, vintage with a contemporary appeal. We love romance, sparkles, glitter, glamour and paying homage to the golden era of performers who graced the burlesque stage, pinup calendars and golden age of the silver screen.

Minette Magnifique’s Website bills FROM PARIS WITH LOVE as “a romantic, Parisian-inspired evening of musical and magical entertainment.” Can you divulge a little bit about what audiences can expect when it comes both to music and magic?

Our venue Le Fais do-do, is the perfect setting for us. It sets the mood for the Minette routines – each dancer selects their own music, and each girl was inspired from vintage French music. Expect to see a lot of interaction between the dancers. Mimi de Milo and Portia Lynn Dahl are performing a sister act. Vyolet Venom will be singing. Expect BIG SMILES, NEW DANCE MOVES and TWIRLING TASSELS!!

Would you tantalize us with a sneak preview of your own acts this Friday?

I’m excited to be performing two routines with our guest emcee, Mr. Tonguelinguist, my dear friend and improv co-hort, Jeff Wisard. I’ll be swept off my feet and into the lap of love!!

What about your emcee persona? How do you get into character and do you script it all out in advance or play it more improv?

Getting into character starts a few hours before show time, I’m very much in my head and am pretty quiet. As soon as I hit the stage to greet the audience with my signature phrase “Good evening ladies and lords …,” I’m in there, alive and in the moment. A shot of Jager always helps, too!!

I LOVE writing our shows. Before each dancer performs, I give a little intro that sets the scene for our audience. Since all of our Minette shows are themes, it’s a fun challenge to write something saucy and unique for each dancer, that not only describes their personality but also puts a time and a place on a routine. You can be sexy and just dance, but it’s even sexier to know the inner thoughts of the performer and create the world around them.

My role as Minette emcee is more of a storyteller, so much of it is scripted. Although, I play with the audience and improv as well. Most emcees announce the dancer’s credentials. We decided collectively that we wanted something different and my role has evolved with that. I’m very versatile though, and have emceed for many events without a script or notes – just going off the cuff and enjoying the energy from the audience.

Who are the guest performers for this week’s show?

We are thrilled to have Blair Crimmins, as our musical guest. He’ll be performing with Darcy Lemmonier, as she debuts a new routine. Blair’s music embodies everything that Minette is about: whisking the audience member back to a time where romance prevailed, the music was big and bawdy, and life was, too.

Joining us also will be Chad Sanborn, as our guest magician. Chad’s charisma and creativity provide an added touch that is going to make this show special and different. We’ll also be using Chad throughout the evening to help heighten our storyline.

My guest co-host for our Paris show is Mr. Tonguelinguist, [as noted previously, otherwise known as my improv buddy, Jeff Wisard]. Jeff did a guest spot with us in December as a boy toy and we loved him so much, we asked him back in a larger role! I’m excited to work with Jeff in this new capactiy too. We’ve been improv’ing together for years.

What’s next for you and Minette Magnifique?
As a troupe, Minette feels very strongly about the importance of giving back to others. In 2010, we participated in benefits for The Rainbow Center, PinUp for Pitbulls, Living Walls and Hurricane Katrina. Our next performance will be Friday, February 18 at Carnivale: A Benefit for Actor’s Express. This is a great opportunity to support the creative endeavours of our peers in the entertainment community.

When you’re not performing, what else do you do for work and play?

I can’t gush enough about my job. I work at a fabulous organization, ART PAPERS, as the director of development + public relations. ART PAPERS exists to provide an independent and accessible forum for ideas on contemporary art. I am coming off the heels of our weekend-long Art Auction fundraiser and am still jonesing on an adrenaline rush.

My heart also belongs to Relapse Theatre. I volunteer my time as director of community affairs  [and] I manage all the social media and community service/social projects that happen within our walls and in the Atlanta area. I’m also lucky enough to perform with 2Girls3Eyes, a talented group of improv performers, every Friday night on the Relapse stage.

And I, like, LOVE to shop!!! I’ve been surrounded by antiques my whole life. As a child, I would frequent garage sales, estate sales and flea markets with my parents looking for gold amongst the ruins. I was fortunate enough to amass a collection of vintage jewelry from the 1920s-1970s called VINTAGEsparkles by VONschmalhausen that is available for rental with photo shoots by PinUpGirl! Cosmetics in Grant Park.

More Secrets About Shellie:

Favorite Retro Movie: FREAKS by Tod Browning

Favorite Retro Musicians: The Beatles, The Shangri-Las

Favorite Retro Song to Dance to: “Chantilly Lace” by The Big Bopper

Favorite Retro Book: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS by Jacqueline Susann

Inspirational Burlesque Performers (Vintage Or Present-Day): Gypsy Rose Lee, Mae West, Bettie Page, Indigo Blue

Purchase tickets for FROM PARIS WITH LOVE here.

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