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: 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.

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KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Mark Sultan Grills Up Some Rock n Roll BBQ at The Earl

Posted on: Aug 17th, 2016 By:

popup_bbq_recordBy Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

If the best garage bands of any era and the snarl of punk were distilled into one person, for my money, that person would be Mark Sultan, who rocks The Earl this Thursday August 18 with openers Rod Hamdallah and Paralyzer. His bands (Spaceshits, Les Sexareenos, Mind Controls, et al) provide the perfect YouTube rabbit hole for the uninitiated and fans alike. This is pure, old fashioned rock music, unadorned, except with good-natured menace.

Mark began billing himself BBQ and playing as one-man band in 2000. If you’re a fan, you may know him best from The King Khan & BBQ Show, which he formed a few years later with former Spaceshits band mate Khan.

The quintessential Kool Kat of the Week, Sultan took a break from his solo North American tour over the weekend to answer a few questions.

ATLRetro: Hey, Mark! Thanks for taking a few minutes from the road to chat withus. You’re in Texas right now, right? How’s the tour going so far?

Mark Sultan: Good, but for some whiny folks who just don’t “get it.”

According to your tour schedule, you play in Brooklyn the night after this week’s Earl show, and in Montreal (your hometown) the night after that. Will each of these shows be completely different? How about the crowds?

Each show is different in that I play each show from my heart. Sometimes things just change, for good or bad. I’m an honest person. It’s my show, but I play for the moment.

You’ve been in tons of bands but also toured extensively as a solo artist (here he is in a Russian bookstore), often (usually? always?) as a “one-man band.” Is this the format of your current tour?

I mean, I have had many ‘band’ bands, but ya, being a one-man band certainly allows for more travel. Yes, this is how I am touring.

sultanThe spectacle is undeniably badass (check this out). You clearly don’t NEED a drummer on stage, or anyone else for that matter, but is that the only reason you don’t have one?

For this particular thing, I feel the limitations of the set-up dictate the style. And I like the style. It’s just extreme rock n roll. With frills, come problems.

Do you record this way?

Depends what I am recording. If I wanna record this ‘band’, ya, I record live off the floor. But I also do full band recordings, where I am playing traditionally. I’ve done many things.

Are you currently working on any new music? Anything we can hear soon?

I am just solidifying my studio/record label Chompazoid back in the Berlin area. I will be self-releasing lots of stuff. Recording a bunch of stuff. Always do.

Are you performing career-spanning set lists on this tour?

Not really. I may slide a few old tunes in here and there, but it’s not a major concern.

24d7b1b5eec4d1515b472243ef82fdc2Do you still perform as “BBQ?”

That’s me. That’s my one-man band. But some clubs bill me as “Mark Sultan.”

How did you hook up with Atlanta kindred spirits Black Lips? Are you guys close? Any plans to collaborate in the future?

My other band, The King Khan & BBQ Show, are big pals, toured with them in 2006 [?]. When none of us were “known,” we recorded together and toured as The Almighty Defenders. We’re brothers. I may record them at Chompazoid later this year.

Say someone reading this is unfamiliar with your music, what song would you suggest they hear first?

No idea. What I have learned is that my idea of rock n roll is completely different than most folks who like shit like Black Keys, so I don’t really care if you listen or not. Especially in this age of Internet big-mouths.

Name three bands about which you could confidently say, “If you like them, you should check me out.” Better yet, “If you like them, you’ll HATE me!”

I only own three T-shirts in life: one International Artists, one Link Wray, one Heartbreakers. Add a Falcons album, and that’s a decent cross section. I hate Dion, Blueshammer. I hate the plastic version of real shit.

a0446381847_16Your Wikipedia page calls your music “Canadian Garage Punk.” Is that accurate? Is that any different from the American strain?

No. That’s just stupid?

Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Anything else you want to mention?

Sorry about the rushed answers. I’m on my way out the door to the next town!

Check out Mark and openers Rod Hamdallah and Paralyzer this Thursday August 18, 9pm at The Earl. Tickets are $10.

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Kool Kat of the Week: When the Tickling Gets Weird: New Zealand Director David Farrier Investigates One of the Internet’s Craziest Fetishes

Posted on: Jul 6th, 2016 By:

tickled By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

TICKLED, now playing in Atlanta movie theaters, is a whodunit at heart. New Zealand journalist David Farrier had hoped to write a short article about some videos he found online depicting something called Competitive Endurance Tickling. He couldn’t have known that the response to his request for an interview would send him on a multi-year journey to uncover a dark underbelly to this seemingly good-natured sport and, perhaps, a real-life monster.

ATLRetro talked with Farrier about the making of this insane little film, improvisational journalism, fetish culture, and how it felt when he first realized what he was getting into.

Note: the reception on our phone call was patchy, but we worked around it for the most part.

You can read my review of TICKLED here.

ATLRetro: First of all, I really loved the film. I’ve never been so on the edge of my seat watching a conversation outside a coffee shop.

David Farrier: [laughs] I know, I know. And like the world’s [unintelligible] car chase.

Right. I think I even said out loud in my chair when it happened, “we are having a car chase right now.”

DF: [laughs]

It was just very surprising. So, obviously it’s difficult to ask directly about the fallout over the film without spoiling it. For instance, the event that happened at the LA premiere.

Yeah, yeah. On that I’d just say that, you know, it’s been a pretty interesting time. People from, I mean the movie is about Jane O’Brien Media, and it doesn’t paint them in a particularly great light, and at one of our premieres we had some key players from the film turn up. And at the end of this film, during the Q&A, [unintelligible] with more legal action. That’s been going on through the whole process.

Tickled VideosWhen I was done watching the film, I didn’t get the feeling that the story was finished. It felt like some things are just beginning. What’s it been like promoting a finished film when it’s still unfolding day to day?

It’s difficult mainly because that people we want people to see the documentary without knowing too much, and when people see this documentary, when they’re coming out to a screening, that’s out there now, so we have to talk about it. [unintelligible] people to not watch the trailer, not read a review, watch the movie, and get into all that afterwards. The story is very active, as you say, you know. We showed everything in the film that we wanted to show at the time, but since the company is still active, of course, they’re going to push back after the film’s out, so we just have to keep on going.

When you sent that first email off at the very beginning of the film, things quickly went off the rail. I’m curious to know what kind of story you thought you were going to make before that first response. Where were you headed?

Yeah, I mean, I was just looking to generate a one-and-a-half minute story about, you know, here’s this crazy sport about competitive endurance tickling. And I wanted to talk to a competitor and I wanted to talk to the organizer. And get some shots of the event and maybe an interview with the organizer and an interview with the New Zealand competitor. But, you know, that first response that was very aggressive about telling me not to do the story, you know, that changed all that. I didn’t have my nice one-and-a-half minute story, it turned into something completely different.

Right, I get the impression that if you had gotten an answer that was just “no, we’re not interested,” then all of this that has come to light wouldn’t have come to light.

Oh, totally. [unintelligible] I would have forgotten about it and moved on. I was in a quick turnaround situation, so each day I had to turn in a story. So I didn’t have time to investigate, I had to move on to the next thing. Had it been a more measured response, there wouldn’t have been a documentary.

What was the first moment where this started to get too real? Was there ever a moment where you were scared?

There were lots of moments, I mean I was apprehensive when I went to the airport, you know, they sent representatives and I was going to have a meeting. And there was the time I spent in America, approaching people on the street. So approaching them I found nerve-wracking, but [co-director] Dylan and I, we were in this together from the start, you know. We came across this crazy thing. We both got warned early on by this company that we expect legal action to happen, so we were united in that, I suppose. So if we hadn’t had each other, I probably would have run away from the whole thing.

Tickled filmYeah, you guys seem to have a good working relationship. It seemed that there were moments where each of you had a choice of whether to continue or stop.

There were lots of discussions. It was like that the whole way through. If one of us was coming under threats or attacks, you know, we’d talk to the other person and share what we’re going through. We’d share everything in the process, right? In a practical sense, it was really great having someone else in this with me.

You’ve mentioned in interviews that you don’t have a background necessarily in investigative journalism.

No, no.

When you were doing this investigation, did you sit down and come up with a step by step plan, or were you kind of improvising as you went along?

I mean, the story happened really quickly. We did the Kickstarter campaign so we could start shooting it really quickly, and we did that initial shoot, and then we came back realizing the story was of a scope, was like, bigger. And we had a lot of time to prep and prepare for the second shoot, and I write entertainment, I was in the newsroom among all the hard current affairs reporters, and I always kind of admired what they were doing. [call completely breaks up at this point]

I think you actually broke up a little bit right there.

In the news room, I did, like entertainment, but I was sitting next to some really hardened current affairs reporters, so I absorbed a lot of what their techniques were. But really, it was just a lot of research, a lot of planning, and just being super aware of what could happen, what could not happen in any kind of situation, so I could react accordingly. So really just lots, and lots, and lots of preparation.

I’ve seen the film and I think you do a very good job of avoiding one of the concerns you might have going in, that this was going to turn into “fetish shaming.” I’m curious when you’re developing your approach on the film, was that something you were aware of, did you have to take pains to make sure that didn’t happen?

Oh, yeah, right from the beginning. Right from the beginning, we were super aware that we didn’t want to paint the fetish community with the same brush. It was the idea that, yes, there’s some bad stuff going on, but it’s less about the fetish and more about the harassment going on around it. One of the first people who reached out to us and supported our Kickstarter was Richard Ivey, who was filming in the fetish [community] and his whole career was built around it. And he came on board with the same concerns, like “I hope you’re not going to make a film that paints us,” you know, “in a negative light.” Yeah, it was right from the beginning that we wanted to make it super clear, and make it clear in the movie, you can be into tickling, there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, that’s great, it should be celebrated, but, you know, the dark world that we stumbled onto was somehow almost separate to the tickling.

Tickled PosterRight, in the video of the LA premiere, there was a debate going back and forth between you and one of the people involved about whether the tickling videos are pornographic.

Yeah, that was one of the rather obscure arguments. [laughs]

The idea that they’re just pornography with clothes. I’m just curious about that distinction. Why does that distinction need to get made by them that they aren’t?

That’s a whole other side of it…but that’s not what the film is actually about, and what the problem is. He claims that he doesn’t make fetish content. Now I would argue that Jane O’Brien Media is making, [are] not necessarily pornographic, but certainly, what’s the word? Erotic, and it’s really in the debate about what is erotica versus what is pornography. But, you know, anything can be erotica. If that happens to be young, good-looking, athletic men in sports gear tickling each other, that’s not all that surprising.

I have a question about the decision, and this was probably a conversation in the editing room, but the decision to show the tickling videos unblurred, showing all the faces of the people participating in them unblurred.

Yeah, the understanding was that we [had] many tickling videos, [but] we wanted to not focus on the tickling videos to an excessive degree. Because some of the people in the tickling videos, you know, we had to talk them about it. But all the videos were already online en masse, like they’re already out there. And our film explains why they’re in it. So while they’re online, hour-long tickling videos, the film provides context for why they’re there and how the people got there. I mean, I don’t want to give spoilers, but it kind of contextualized what was going on. The videos that were no longer online and no longer out there, we blurred those ones. Some of these videos were over a decade old and we didn’t want to bring those back for people, and also we didn’t know who was in them, so we thought about that a lot in the editing room.

To me, I find it an interesting dichotomy between the tickling videos as kind of a metaphor for everything else that’s going on. Somebody sitting on top of somebody else, and dominating them. Whether that’s physically happening in a video, or metaphorically happening in everything else.

Completely, oh yeah, definitely.

So the videos themselves are harmless and the [surrounding] behavior is bad, or are these videos themselves exploitative?

No, the videos… the people who were in those videos, if they knew who was behind it and why it was being created, if they knew all of that and kept doing them, that would be fine. What makes it exploitative is that they don’t know—the people that I’ve spoken to—they don’t know what those videos are for. And I think that’s wrong. In a nutshell, there’s nothing wrong with making tickling videos as long as you know who they’re for and where they’re going and what they’re going to be used for, etc. It becomes problematic when you don’t know the answers to those questions.

TICKLED is now playing at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. Click here for showtimes.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Kool Kat of the Week: We’re Off To See The Wizard Mark A. Harmon: There’s No Place Like the Fabulous Fox This Week!

Posted on: Jun 23rd, 2016 By:
Mark A. Harmon

Mark A. Harmon plays Professor Marvel, aka the Wizard of Oz in the new musical adaptation this week at the Fox Theatre.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

There is little in American pop culture as universally, cross-generationally and continuously beloved as the 1939 film adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Everyone knows the characters, the songs, and why wicked witches don’t shower. The national tour of stage musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, running June 21-26 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, takes audiences arm-in-arm back down the Yellow Brick Road.

Oz had already appeared on the big screen by the time Judy Garland went over the rainbow, including silent versions in 1910 and 1925, and a 1933 cartoon, as well as several stage versions (including one by author L. Frank Baum himself in 1902). However, it’s the MGM classic that became the definitive version immediately upon its release 77 years ago this summer. It was nominated for Best Picture (but lost to GONE WITH THE WIND) and won Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

The musical, which premiered in London in 2011, is based on the 1939 film, with all your favorite moments reimagined for the stage. That means Munchkins, flying monkeys, and dead witches! And what would Oz be without the vibrant Technicolor hues of the film—ruby slippers on yellow bricks to the Emerald City! Expect the same rainbow palate on stage. In addition to the classic songs, the production features new songs by musical theater legends Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Wizard of Oz himself, Mark A. Harmon, took a few minutes last week to chat with ATLRetro.

ATLRetro: I’d wager you’ve been an enormous fan of the 1939 MGM masterpiece your entire life, but I guess you don’t necessarily have to be. Why did you want to be in this production?

Mark A. Harmon: Of course! I’ve been a huge fan! I remember as a child one of the major television networks would run it once a year I believe around Thanksgiving. It was always a major event that you waited for all year. I have to admit that when I was asked to audition I was a little hesitant at first. I thought “How can you possibly do a live version that could even come close to the beauty of the movie?” Then I saw some clips from the first national tour and was completely blown away! We’re seven months into the tour and I’m still amazed at the production quality of this show.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

What new does this production bring to the story?

The main story remains faithful to the movie and all the original songs are performed. There are new songs added by the brilliant Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. One of them is “Wonders of the World” which is sung by yours truly as Professor Marvel. There have also been some changes to the dialogue. But rest assured, all your favorite lines are still there.

As an actor, is it difficult preparing for such a famous role?

It is a little daunting at first. There’s always the possibility of being compared to such a well known performance. But each actor brings a unique quality to their role. Even though the audience may have a familiar performance in their head, I believe they quickly start accepting you as that character.

In addition to the 1939 film, there have been countless adaptations, interpretations, sequels and prequels to Baum’s original book (1900). What is it about the story that has kept inspiring revisits to Oz for over a century?

I’m sure there are whole books devoted to answering that question. But for me personally, I think it’s one of the classic coming of age stories. What adolescent hasn’t felt misunderstood and wanted to run away?

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

What’s it like on the road? Do you get to spend any time exploring the cities you visit?

It depends entirely on the schedule. This is my third tour and I’m not going to lie, some can be downright grueling. I’ve done tours where we’ve played five or six cities in one week traveling by bus. I think it’s important for people to know that when you go see a touring show, especially one that is only playing one or two nights, that the actors may very well have spent anywhere up to eight hours on a bus that day. This one, however, has been without a doubt the most enjoyable mainly because of the fact that we’ve been playing each city for no less than a week. It’s been such a treat to be able to have the time to do some real exploring!

Thanks again for chatting with ATLRetro. Break a leg!  Anything else you want to mention?

You’re very welcome and thank you.  I’d just like to say that I’m so excited to be returning to the beautiful Fox Theatre and invite everyone, young and old, to come see this spectacular production of THE WIZARD OF OZ!

The Wizard of Oz runs June 21-26 at The Fox Theatre. Show times and ticket information are available  here. All photos are used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Space Is the Place: Balogun Ojetade’s Journey from Sword and Soul to Co-Founding The State of Black Science Fiction Convention Which Lands in Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2016 By:

Official Logo 1The Mothership lands in Atlanta this weekend. No, it’s not a Funkadelic concert, but the first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention (SOSBFC) at the Southwest Arts Center Saturday June 11 and Sunday June 12. For all the talk about accepting the diversity of the alien, science fiction’s early history is peopled by white super-men protagonists, and some today seem to want to keep it that way if recent controversies in fandom  are any indication. But black writers, artists and filmmakers have been emerging to create some of the most dynamic and innovative speculative fiction today, pushing boundaries and re-imaging earth’s future and space as diverse, complex, uncomfortable, beautiful and inspiring.

SOSBFC aims to bring together the most comprehensive celebration of black creators of science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics to date. Just a glance at the programming schedule is sure to cause sensory overload with the mix of panels, speakers, workshops, presentations and kids’ activities to nurture the next generation of creators and fans–something most cons neglect. There’s also a dealers room and art show, cosplay is encouraged, and there’s even going to be onsite food that’s more than pizza or burgers, we hear – something most cons neglect! Whether you’re into Afrofuturism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, or just what the find out what the funk is happening, SOSBFC is the place.

Needless to say, our choice of Kool Kat this week was easy. ATLRetro caught up with Atlanta-based writer Balogun Ojetade, co-founder with writer/editor/publisher Milton Davis, to find out more about how Atlanta’s newest spec-lit convention got launched, what’s planned and what’s next.

OctaviaEButler_KindredATLRetro: To many, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler lit the fuse on an African-American SF perspective, yet W.E.B. DuBois published an SF story back in 1908. Which SF/spec-lit authors were early favorites/inspirations for you?

Balogun Ojetade: My early inspirations were Charles R. Saunders, the Father of Sword and Soul and creator of the Imaro series of novels and the brilliant master storyteller and poet, Henry Dumas, whose short stories “Fon,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Ark of Bones” were the greatest influences on my horror and fantasy writing style as a young man.

Atlanta’s been characterized as a center for Afrofuturism. Can you talk a little about the local community of black writers and publishers? Do you feel like you were part of a movement?

Atlanta is where the now worldwide State of Black Science Fiction author, publisher, artist, filmmaker, game designer and cosplayers collective was founded. As one of the founders of this collective and one of its most active members, I am certainly part of a movement, which is still very much alive. I am also one of the people who founded the Steamfunk Movement, along with author and publisher Milton Davis, who also resides in Atlanta.

Official Flyer 4What’s the specific origin story of SOBSFC?

The origin of the State of Black Science Fiction Convention, or SOBSF Con, began about four years ago. In the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group we had a lively discussion about the need for a convention that would not only showcase comic books by creators of African descent, but would also showcase novels, films, artwork, fashion design, cosplay, African martial arts and much more. We wanted to give con goers a full and enriching experience.

It was originally decided that each region would host a convention – one would be in Atlanta, one in the DC / Maryland / Baltimore area, one in New York City, one in Chicago and so on – on the same days and times. We would call this mega event Diaspora Con. Well, certain things happened that let Milton Davis and I know that Diaspora Con was not to be, so we scrapped the idea, but the desire to give the world a convention that showcased black speculative works continued to burn.

In early 2015, Milton and I decided we would host a con that would draw fans and creators of black speculative fiction, film, fashion and fabrication from around the country. We agreed on the name State of Black Science Fiction Convention and then started making plans. By mid-2015, we made our plans public and received positive feedback from hundreds of people who said they would attend such a con in Atlanta and here we are.

imaro_cush_nightshadeDo you think SOBSFC and a greater push for diversity in SF publishing is especially needed right now in light of the Sad and Rabid Puppies Hugo Awards controversy and Internet outrage about a black lead in the recent Star Wars movie?

These controversies and the outrage is nothing new. You have always had and will always have ignorant and fearful people in all walks of life. The science fiction and fantasy community is not exempt from this. There has always been a need for a SOBSF Con and for a constant push for diversity in SFF publishing. The more we push, the more people know we are here. The more people know we are here, the more that know there are alternatives to the racist, sexist rubbish they have had to endure for so long.

SOBSFC is billed as the “most comprehensive presentation of black speculative fiction ever.” There’s a lot going on for just $25 for both days (a bargain compared to DragonCon, most cons).  I know this is a hard question but what 3-5 pieces of programming should con attendees be sure not to miss and why?  

Yes, it is a hard question because the programming is so Blacktastic, but I will share a few that I know people will absolutely be blown away by.

  1. The YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest: Imagine hordes of black cosplayers of all ages and body types presenting mainstream, independent AND original characters from film, comic books, anime, manga, or of their own design. TOO cool!
  2. The Future is Stupid Art Show: Dozens of Afrofuturistic pieces of artwork by Atlanta’s favorite artists will be found all over the exterior and interior of the convention facility.
  3. The Big, Beautiful, Black Roundtable: At this “Town Meeting” we will present, discuss, listen to and put into effect strategies and collaborations to take black speculative fiction/film/fashion/fabrication to the next level!
  4. The Charles R. Saunders Tribute: We will share stories about how this great man has influenced our writing, his history and great contribution to the advancement of speculative fiction and we will read excerpts from his works, all before presenting Charles with a much deserved award.

 Official Flyer 3Can you talk a little about the writer guests and how they reflect the variety and scope of black spec-lit today?

We have some great guests at SOBSF Con and the authors represent the entire spectrum of speculative fiction. Here are a few:

  1. Valjeanne Jeffers: Writes horror, Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
  2. Zig Zag Claybourne: Writes action and adventure, Rococoa and Cyberfunk.
  3. Derrick Ferguson: New pulp icon. Creator of black pulp heroes Dillon and Fortune McCall.
  4. Cerece Rennie Murphy: Writes urban fantasy for adult, young adult and middle grade readers.
  5. Brandon Massey: Master of horror and suspense.
  6. Hannibal Tabu: Comic book writer and critic.

We also have authors of Cyberfunk, Dieselfunk, Dark Universe (Space Opera) Afrofuturistic fusions of hip-hop, jazz, blues, time travel, magic realism and urban fantasy and much more. Black speculative fiction is very broad and very deep. Con-goers are in for a powerful experience.

This is a really exciting time for black filmmakers in SF and horror. Can you talk a little about that and how that will be reflected in SOBSFC’s programming?

As a lifelong fan and creator of science fiction and fantasy with strong horror elements and straight up horror, too, I am very excited. The digital age has allowed filmmakers who would have otherwise been unable to tell their stories – stories in which the Black character doesn’t die within the first 10 minutes or die sacrificing himself or herself so the white hero can live on to save the day – to now tell stories in which Black people are the heroes, sheroes and even mastermind villains.

Saturday 20th June 2009. Old Devils Peak Quarry, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. STILLS FROM WANURI KAHIU'S FILM 'PUMZI'! A 20 min Sci-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III, ‘The Water War’!   A series of stills photographs taken during the production of Wanuri Kahiu's short film, 'Pumzi'. Wanuri Kahiu, an award winning Kenyan Filmmaker, wrote and directed the film that was filmed entirely on location in the Western Cape, South Africa. These stills specifically were taken on various locations in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa during June 2009. The film is a futuristic work based on a devastated world without water and other precious commodities. The film, set in the Kenyan countryside, questions the price of fresh water, fresh air, fresh food and other commodities and revolves mainly around its central character, 'Asha'. The film also focuses on how to harvest moisture, energy and food in all their varied forms in order to supply the human food chain that depends on these life precious things for their ultimate survival. In the film Asha is a curator at a virtual natural history museum in the Maitu Community located in the Eastern African territory. Outside of the community, all nature is extinct. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she decides to plant a seed in it. The seed starts to germinate instantly. Despite repeated instructions from her superior to throw out the soil sample, she appeals to the Council to grant her an exit visa to leave the community and plant the seed. Her visa is denied and she is evacuated from the Museum. Asha decides to break out of the inside community to plant the seed in the ‘dead’ outside. She battles with her own fear and apprehension of the dead and derelict outside world to save the growing plant. Essentially Asha embarks on a personal quest that becomes her journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening that causes h

Many great independent films and web series have been developed, screened and gained massive followings and Hollywood has been paying attention, so now you have the Black Panther stealing the show in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and even getting his own movie. You have Idris Elba playing Roland in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Will Smith and Viola Davis starring in SUICIDE SQUAD as Killer Croc, Deadshot and Amanda Waller, respectively.

And television is even more progressive, giving starring roles to black people in several Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror-themed series and having very diverse casts on these shows.

But again, this all began with black indie filmmakers. To reflect this, SOBSF Con is featuring our Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival, which showcases short and feature films by independent creators. Many of the films creators will also be on hand to share their creative process and answer questions from the audience. Just a few of the films screening at the film festival are: PUMZI (award-winning science fiction short from Africa),  DAYBLACK (horror), BLACK PANTHER: STORMS OF CARNAGE Parts 1 & 2 (superhero / fantasy), REIGN OF DEATH (dieselfunk), DANGER WORD (horror; written and produced by master horror author Tananarive Due and science fiction icon Steven Barnes), RITE OF PASSAGE: INITIATION (steamfunk), and a special screening of the science fiction film RETURNED.

13335708_10204767521866576_1909339829978449592_nWhat about comics at SOBSFC? 

You cannot have a science fiction and fantasy convention without comic books! While comic books are not the focus at SOBSF Con – our focus is on all aspects of black speculative creation – most of the creators and fans at SOBSF Con were heavily influenced and inspired to “do” Science Fiction and Fantasy from our love of comic books, manga, animation and anime. Thus, there will be comic book vendors at SOBSF Con and some giants in the industry are distinguished guests, including Dawud Anyabwile, the co-creator and artist of the iconic blockbuster comic book series BROTHERMAN; Marvel Comics artist Afua Richardson, best known for her work in the award-winning and politically potent Image / Top Cow miniseries GENIUS; Tony Cade, comic book publisher and owner of comic book company, Terminus Media; and TUSKEGEE HEIRS creators Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham, just to name a few. The creators and publishers will share their knowledge and experience with con-goers on the Create Your Own Comic Book and Black Craft and Consciousness in Comic Books panels.

Atlanta is known for its cosplay community. Are you encouraging costuming and will there be activities for cosplayers?

We highly encourage cosplay and invite all the cosplayers in Atlanta to come out and join us! We are very excited about our YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest I mentioned above, and we also have the Cosplay in Non-Canon Bodies panel, facilitated by popular cosplayers, TaLynn Kel, who will be joined by popular cosplayers, JaBarr Lasley and Dru Phillips.

Balogun Ojetade.

Balogun Ojetade.

What else would you like people to know about SOBSFC?

While SOBSF Con offers all the great things you expect from a great fan convention – awesome panels, cosplayers, genre films, a dealers’ room with all kinds of cool stuff for sale – we also have offerings you probably have never seen at any con before, such as Tiny Yogis, a yoga class for children; 5P1N0K10 (SPINOKIO), an Afrofuturistic, hip-hop puppet show by a master puppeteer named Jeghetto; Traditional Arms, Armor and Martial Arts of Afrika; Afrikan Martial Arts for Youth Workshop; traditional African artifacts and soaps, oils and fabrics sold in the dealers’ room; your questions answered through traditional Afrikan casting of lots by the Amazing Identical Ojetade Twins (one is a 13-year-old boy; the other a 6-year-old girl); gourmet pot pies; and, most importantly, a place where you can be yourself without judgment, without rude comments, but with love and appreciation. This is a fun event for the entire family you do NOT want to miss!

Beneath the Shining Jewel CoverFinally, would you like to take a moment to talk about your own writing? What’s your latest work and what are you up to next? Feel free to add where we can find you at SOBSFC!

I am always happy to talk about my writing. For those who don’t know me, I write fiction, nonfiction and screenplays. I also direct films and choreograph stunts and fights for films. As a fiction writer, I am most known for my Steamfunk novels, MOSES: THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN and THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN: FREEDONIA; my Sword and Soul novel, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA; and for the STEAMFUNK anthology, which I co-edited with author Milton Davis. However, my novels cover the spectrum of black speculative fiction: Dieselfunk, Rococoa, Afrofuturism; urban fantasy; action-adventure and horror.

My latest work is BENEATH THE SHINING JEWEL, a horror novel set in Ki Khanga, a Sword and Soul world created by Milton Davis and me for our upcoming tabletop role-playing game, KI KHANGA. I am finishing up a Dark Universe (space opera) novel and have a horror short film I wrote slated to begin production in the fall. Finally, in August, comic book artist Chris Miller (Chris Crazyhouse) and I begin work on a graphic novel that is going to blow away fans of manga, comic books and black speculative fiction!

Thanks, so much, for this opportunity and I look forward to seeing everyone at the State of Black Science Fiction Convention June 11 and 12!

SOBSFCON FultonCty

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Bluesy Night in Georgia: On the Road and Home Again with Brooks Mason of the Georgia Flood

Posted on: Apr 20th, 2016 By:

georgiaflood-1By Geoff Slade
Contributing Write

By the end of their set opening for Sister Hazel this Fri. April 22 at Variety Playhouse, Atlanta band The Georgia Flood will have a ton of new fans, and Kool Kat of the Week Brooks Mason (lead guitar/vocals) seems to know it. “We’re hitting our stride as a band now and it’s a lot of fun,” he says in the band’s bio.

The Georgia Flood play soulful, bluesy rock, and they play it confidently, though their musical interests are varied. Growing up in McDonough, Brooks and his brother Lane Kelly listened to and performed all kinds of music. They cite Weezer among more obvious influences (Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Jimi Hendrix, The Black Keys…), and a quick YouTube search turned up a raucous Who cover, a sultry version of “It’s a Man’s World,” and this gem.

Their original material and overall sound is archetypal, classic blues-rock, reminiscent of the best of the genre. Check out songs from their two releases and be sure to watch the video for “The Race” on their Website.

ATLRetro and Brooks recently discussed a low moment on the road, why Gregg and Duane (not to mention Jake and Elwood) may have been onto something and, of course, the best blues guitarists.

(Special thanks to Luis Ponce)

ATLRetro: Thanks for doing this!

Brooks Mason: No, thank you! Thank you for having us.

How long have you been playing music?

We have been playing music since I was in 8th grade trying to get in my brother’s high school metal band. They didn’t want me cause I was middle school!

ad-gaflood-robbedWhat are you listening to these days? Who are your favorite bands?

Good question! These days, it all depends on the day. Most of the time if I’m not playing old blues CDs, I’m usually listening to our local alternative radio station to keep current with the music that comes out today.  I’m a big vinyl head so I got all the Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy, Freddy King, classic blues stuff, but today there are some great bands that I love like Dawes, Young The Giant, Lake Street Dive and Houndmouth, just to name a few.

Tell me about The Georgia Flood. Who’s in the band? How old are you guys? How did you guys get together? How long have you been playing in front of people?

The Georgia Flood is a band that consists of me and my brother. I am 19 and Lane is 23. Lane and I have been in and out of various bands since the start of high school – metal bands, folk bands, cover bands you name it.  Somehow we always stick together. I believe it’s just easier to have a brother that is always around and to have your back. We weren’t good at any sports so we had to branch out. We’ve been doing music for roughly five years.

gaflood3I heard you guys recently had all of your gear stolen. What happened?

Yes, that was an interesting day.  We were tracking a new song at Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn, New York for the whole day, and when we went back to the van we knew something was different. We noticed that the side mirror had been broken. We had just thought that maybe a car hit it as it was sitting on the side of the road, but as soon as we opened the back we knew right away we had just been robbed. Everything got stolen. Drumset, guitar amps, bass amps, road cases and even our suitcases!  Luckily, me and my brother brought in our guitars or they would have been stolen as well.  So whoever has our gear, they are ready to start their own band with all the gear they got (laughs).

What’s the one thing you immediately missed most?

To be honest, probably my clothes. Since being on tour, I had brought basically all my good show clothes. Oh and I also lost a coat my grandmother had gotten me. I loved that coat! Oh and my shoes!

Have you been able to replace everything yet?

Fortunately, with the help and support from our fans, friends and family we were able to replace just about all of it. Obviously, some things were sentimental that we probably never see again, but for the most part we are back on our feet touring once again due to the fact of our great fans and supporters who we will always be truly grateful for.

Aside from that, how has the band been received away from home? Any differently than at local shows?

Awesome! Everywhere we have played, we have just received so much love and been able to meet and gain new friends and fans! It’s definitely different being out on the road in a different town, but everyone has been so nice and friendly to us.

You’re playing some dates (including Friday at Variety Playhouse) as an opener for Sister Hazel. How did you hook up with those guys? Are you currently on tour with them?

I know! We are so pumped to play such a historic venue in our hometown. Luckily, the manager we work with knows and works with Sister Hazel and was able to get us on some dates. We have played with them on some previous dates before and their fans are always so nice and responsive. As for the band, they are super nice as well. There’s a reason why they are so popular.  Before each show they make time to come speak to us and say “hey!” So we are really appreciative for them having us on the road.

gaflood-galleryWas there a particular song or artist or moment in your life that made you want to be a musician?

Definitely! Probably our first gig as a ’50s cover band. We made $120 in tips! I looked at Lane and I said “we may need to pursue this.’’ Back then it might as well been a million.

You can’t miss the blues rock influences in your songs, and you guys cover several genre staples (Here are a few examples). Are you a fan of traditional blues? Do you consider any classic bluesmen direct influences on your band?

I am a blues guy first.  I have been entrenched in the blues since I was 15. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great blues guys out there now, but you just can’t beat the old sound of the greats. It just hits you right in the soul and heart.  A lot of blues music just will make you feel different or make you change your mood! I’m serious! Listen to Lightnin’ Hopkins one night by yourself, and you’ll swear you ran around on your woman, or you’ll feel like drinking a glass of whiskey straight with your head hung low thinking all the wrong you’ve done in your life. In a good way of course… But I would say as a guitar player I am most influenced by the great Freddie King.

Do you have new songs you’re ready to record? Any plans to get in the studio?

Glad you asked!  We are about to hit the studio in the end of May. We will be putting out a seven-song EP hopefully by the end of summer. We can’t wait to put it out.  We have a great feeling with these songs we’ve never had before when coming up with new material.

Give me two songs, one original and one you cover, that best defines The Georgia Flood right now.

We do Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and then go into “Hey Jude” all in one song. It’s so fun, and it’s a great way to get the crowd singing “nah nah nah nah” Everybody knows that part.  And for our original, probably “Not Quite Over You.”  It’s a great pop blues rocker that is so fun to play.

Best living blues guitarist?

Best living blues guitarist… easy. JD Simo.

Best all time?

Everyone asks me this question. And I can’t really pick, but I would say my favorite is Freddy King.  Again the way he plays just knocks me out every time!

All images courtesy of Georgia Flood and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Tiffany Engen Just Wants to Have Fun in Shoe-Stopping Broadway Musical KINKY BOOTS

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2016 By:
Lauren (Tiffany Engen) dances with shoes on her hands in the Broadway tour of KINKY BOOTS. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

Lauren (Tiffany Engen) dances with shoes on her hands in the Broadway tour of KINKY BOOTS. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Broadway hit KINKY BOOTS opens the Atlanta leg of its national tour on Tues. March 29 and runs through Sun. April 3 at the Fox Theatre. Multiple Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (TORCH SONG TRILOGY) wrote the book, and Tony, Grammy, Emmy and my heart winner Cyndi Lauper (mostly this and this) wrote the music and lyrics. Check here for show times and ticket availability.

The musical chronicles a shoe factory in trouble and reborn thanks to a performer’s desire for sturdy stilettos. Inspired by true events and based upon the 2005 film of the same name, KINKY BOOTS premiered in Chicago in 2012 before its Broadway debut in 2013. It was a huge success and earned 13 Tony nominations, winning six, including Best Musical and Best Score for Lauper (the first woman ever to win that award by herself!). It began its US tour in 2014.

Kool Kat of the Week Tiffany Engen (Lauren) is one of many actors among the principal cast with impressive Broadway, Off-Broadway, film and television roles under their belts (including Jim J. Bullock). She previously performed in the Broadway and first national tour productions of LEGALLY BLONDE, the movie HAIRSPRAY (2007) and the TV shows RAISING HOPE and SMASH.

Tiffany took a few minutes before the opening of this week’s Atlanta run to chat with ATLRetro about the musical, her favorite roles and a little bit about life on the road.

Where are you from? How did you become an actor? What was your first production? How old were you?

I am originally from Minnesota. I have loved singing, dancing, acting since I was a kid.  My parents took me to see shows whenever productions would be in town. In second grade I played a chicken in THE GOOSE AND THE GOLDEN EGG. I had one line. I’ve been hooked ever since!

0961_KINKY_BOOTS_TOUR

KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

Which of your past performances are you most proud of?

I feel very lucky to have worked on some incredible shows.  LEGALLY BLONDE, HAIRSPRAY, ROCK OF AGES all have held a special place in my heart. I’m most proud of this role and this show. The role of Lauren is so fun to play. She is tough, bold, vulnerable, funny and sassy. This show is so special and has touched so many people. I’m so proud to be a part of a show that is changing people’s hearts and minds.

If you had to play one role for the rest of your career, what would it be?

This one!!!

Before taking on the role, were you familiar with the KINKY BOOTS movie? The Broadway production?

Yes, I was a fan of both the film and the Broadway production. I actually got to see a run-through of the Broadway production before they moved to the theater. And even in a rehearsal studio with no lights or costumes you could feel that this show was special. 

What should we know about your character?

Lauren is a factory worker at Price and Son. She is not afraid to speak her mind to her new boss, Charlie. I love that she is the one who says the factory needs to find a niche market to cater their product to. She provides the lightbulb moment for Charlie. 

KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

How long will you guys be on the road? Where else are you performing?

I joined the company in November and we have played wonderful cities. The tour has dates booked well into 2017, so I’m so excited that it has been embraced by theaters across the country. After Atlanta we head to Kansas City then LA, Seattle, San Francisco—the list goes on.

What should Atlanta audiences expect?

A joyous, thought-provoking, entertaining night of theatre. This show won six Tony awards including Best Musical. We love it when people say that this is the best show or their favorite show they have ever seen!

How would you describe the music?

Cyndi Lauper has written and incredible musical score that is unlike anything you’ve heard before. She writes ballads that will break your heart and then turns around and writes a foot-stomping finale that radiates joy in every line. 

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Kool Kat of the Week: 21st Century Punk Lives: Noelle Shuck of SHEHEHE & HAMMERHEAD FEST Turn Five This Weekend

Posted on: Mar 10th, 2016 By:
SHEHEHE. Photo credit: Gary Duddleston.

SHEHEHE. Photo credit: Gary Duddleston.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

About a dozen punk and metal bands are performing at the two-day Hammerhead Fest V this weekend at Star Bar. The Goddamn Gallows swing in to headline Fri. March 12 and Ramming Speed will close the festival on Sat. March 12. The first bands hit the stage at 9 pm both nights, and the mostly local line-up includes returning acts The Vaginas, Death of Kings and Bigfoot (Read our interview with Bigfoot’s Jett Bryant here).

Also back this year is Athens based ass-kickers SHEHEHE. Catch em while they’re close because who knows when they’ll be back around. About their Friday night Hammerhead slot, the band posted the following on Facebook: “Last Atlanta show until we’re not sure when! Come out and rage with us!” So we figured we’d better get a move on making guitarist and singer Noelle Shuck our Kool Kat of the Week.

Like Hammerfest, SHEHEHE formed in 2011 and have long been favorites among fans of the current punk rock scene, here and in Athens. They sound like the bands, the best ones, that became popular just as “punk” exploded in the late 70s, when the genre was still loosely defined. Still, Shuck says she and bandmates Nicole Bechill (lead singer), Jason Fusco (drums, vocals) and Derek Wiggs (bass guitar) don’t mind stretching the boundaries of the genre to make room for creativity. They are a punk band after all. So in addition to the genre icons you might expect (Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Stooges), they list as influences The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Kinks, Motorhead, even Tears For Fears and The Bangles.

hammerheadShuck took the time to chat with ATLRetro a few days ago about SHEHEHE’s specific punk pH, what the genre means to her, and the most punk rock thing she’s ever seen at one of their shows.

And why a clarification might be in order if ever asked if you’re an old school punk.

And briefly about dining locally.

How can people check out your music?

We’re on Spofity, Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, all that digital shizzzz. Links to it through our official Facebook page, too.

What’s the Hammerhead Fest?

A two-day festival that features regional rock bands put together by King/Tastemaker Amos motherfuckin Rifkin and Co

How did SHEHEHE come together?

Lots of practice (grins).

shehehe2How would you describe your music to those unfamiliar?

Describing SHEHEHE to people is difficult because we get so many different descriptions from people about what we sound like. But I would describe it as a mixture of early-’70s punk, kinda Ramones-core mixed with some glam. We get Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, L7 and The Donnas as well. If you’re familiar with power pop, that’s something people tend to agree on. Punk ’n’ roll also works.

Who are your influences?

Wu-Tang

Who do you listen to now?

My mom.

shehehe3What is punk? Plenty of aging rock fans say “real” punk ended decades ago. Thoughts?

Part I: Originally, a prison term for a guy who was at the receiving end of anal sex.


Part II: Real punk is relative to each individual. The words “real” and “original” aren’t necessarily the same. Punk to me is a response to mainstream conformist tendencies that tend to stifle creativity and expression. I think punk is just about being genuine.

Musically of course it’s a little narrower than that. We all have ideas of what punk music should or does sound like, but it’s cool to find new ways to stretch that and play with it some. Our band is a weird amalgamation of four people with different influences and backgrounds coming together to make something we all agree is good. But I never would have known this would be the result if you’d asked me what I thought a band with these four individuals would sound like. So for me that’s that idea of being genuine. Musically or otherwise. There’s too much sheepherding and being told what to like these days. Fuck that—like whatever the hell makes you happy.

How are the Atlanta & Athens punk-rock scenes?

They are fantastic. 10/10 would recommend.

What acts do you like locally?

It’s a tie between cunnilingus & Blondie from the Clermont Lounge.

shehehe4What’s the most punk rock thing you’ve ever seen or done at a SHEHEHE show?

I think the punkest thing was early on in the semi-original lineup when we still had a lead guitar player. Well, actually it was right after we lost our lead player. We got a guy to fill in for a show at Caledonia. He practiced with us once and everything seemed well enough. So we get to the show, and he shows up just completely wasted and proceeds to play leads in all the wrong places, something that would’ve been great if we were like Sonic Youth, Then he tries to sing along into Nicole’s mic even though he knows zero of the words. Jason unplugged him, but he kept plugging himself back in. Eventually Jason started throwing shit at him, a drumstick and a roll of duct tape, and told him to get off the stage before he beat his ass.

Some people in the crowd thought it was some sort of schtick up until this point, including our dudes from KarbomB. As soon as they realized it was real, they all helped keep the dude in the crowd so we could finish our set. People said we ripped it. Whether or not that was just in comparison to being an unintentional noise rock band or because we were all kinda pissed and full of adrenaline, I’m not sure.

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KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: From Kitten to Big Foot, Big Time and Roxie Roz: The Scrumptious Ascent of Mary Strawberry

Posted on: Feb 23rd, 2016 By:
Marc01

Mary Strawberry. Photo credit: Marc Turnley.

The ROXIE  ROZ BURLY-Q SHOW transports audiences back to the bump, grind and bawdy humor of the 1950s and ‘60s this Saturday Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. the Star Bar ($10 presale tickets here; $15 at door). The show is hosted and produced by one of our very first Kool Kats, Shellie Schmals, who is now even more of a dynamite power force in Atlanta’s burlesque scene, and it stands out because acts are accompanied by a live band, none other than Andrew and The Disapyramids, featuring Kool Kat Joshua Longino. The line-up of performers at this not-to-be-missed night out equally rocks, featuring such divine artists as Sadie Hawkins, Candi Lecouer, song bird Jen Thrasher and more.

ATLRetro has had our Kool Kat eye on Mary Strawberry, one of the rising stars taking the stage at Roxie Roz, for some time. Not only is  this classy lady cute as a button, but she has a killer sense of humor and multiple talents well-known to the Atlanta theater community.

We caught up with Mary recently to find out more about what drew her to stage and burlesque, the inside scoop on Roxie Roz, her exotic travels, a dynamic documentary, her advice to beginning performers, and much more!   

You’ve got a long background in theatre. What drew you to the stage as a little girl? Did you have a few favorite plays, performers?

Theater is in my blood. I’ve never known a time where I didn’t want to be on or behind the stage; it just feels right and completes me. My family is pretty quiet, and they all have stories of boisterous little me doing all kinds of stunts and performances all the time. Our chiropractor, who I’ve been seeing for over 20 years, even asks what shows I’m working on and reminisces about seeing me in community theater productions in elementary school. I’d definitely always prefer to see a play over a movie—there’s something exciting about the urgency and stakes of something happening right now and only right now, and the performers being right there looking back at you. My favorite plays include DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD and AVENUE Q. As for performers, I grew up admiring folks like Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke and Jim Henson‘s creations. 

Mary-10

Photo credit: Kevin O’Connell.

How did you first discover burlesque?

I don’t really remember the exact moment I discovered burlesque, but I really got into it in college. It was part personal revolution, part loving the difference and history of performance art instead of mainstream art, and part feeling a sense of belonging in the crossroads of my passions for dance, performance art and bodies. My final project for my degree was actually on the “Difference Between Sexuality and Sensuality and the Use of the Body in Art.” 

You started as a stage kitten for a lot of local burlesque shows. Stage kittens are essential to the success of any show. What did you learn from that experience?

Kittening is a great way to get your foot in the door past being a patron and admirer. It got me a lot of connections and friends in the industry and a close-up look at the inner workings, from how dancers prepare and make their costumes to how the shows function. The kittens, or pick-up artists, or stage helpers—they go by so many names— are a crucial part of the show. I particularly enjoy working backstage at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend (BHoF) in Las Vegas every year. I get to meet so many incredible performers and touch all their costumes!

Why the name Mary Strawberry? Is there a story behind it?

My name is definitely personal. It’s a bit familial, a bit cutesy and a lot of recognizable nods. I was named after my great aunt Mary, who served in WWII and was an incredible person. The Strawberry comes from the natural color of my hair, and it’s my favorite fruit and one of my favorite smells. Plus, they rhyme, so it’s easier to remember.

How long have you been performing burlesque and do you have a favorite performance so far?

I think I’ve officially been performing burlesque for just over three years, although I’ve been working behind the scenes as a kitten and stage manager for much longer. I put so much of myself into each of my acts it’s hard to pick a favorite, but half of my enjoyment of a number comes from the audience’s enjoyment and reactions. For instance, my go-go sasquatch number (yep, I dress up like Big Foot and strip!) started out as just a goofy piece for me to express my weird, clownish true self, and it’s morphed into this social justice piece about the natural state of women’s bodies and their right to grow hair. It’s really cool! It definitely makes me feel more connected to the history of the art and parts of the modern neo movement by taking something entertaining and infusing it with politics and satire. I like being able to make people laugh and think at the same time.

jcbarger jen benefit1-16

Photo credit: JC Barger.

You’ve been traveling to some exciting places lately. Has any of that been for burlesque or is it for your other theatrical work or just for fun?

Some from A, some from B. In 2015, I performed in seven states and Canada. I love traveling and performing in new places because it allows me to expand my work and make more contacts while getting to experience how artists create in other places. There have been places I’ve enjoyed more than others, but I’ve also found some really great art in very unexpected places, like Idaho. They have more than just potatoes, there’s also a really amazing burlesque community in Boise! 

I also went to Prague this summer for a set design and performance art festival I’d been dying to get to for eight years. It was a full week of wandering around a beautiful city and experiencing art from around the world. Two of my favorite pieces were from Thailand, and I got to see an awesome traditional clowning group from the Czech Republic. One night, I even stumbled upon a group of Austrians who had literally built a full bar in a closet! So many unforgettable moments. 

Tell us a little bit about the Roxie Roz Burly-Q show. Shellie has become quite a force in the local burlesque community. What’s it like to work with her?

Shellie is a doll. This will be my third show with the Disapyramids in the last year. I had always wanted to dance with a live band because that’s how the ladies from the golden era did it, so working with them is like a dream come true. They’re so relaxed and enjoy what they do just as much as I do. Shellie is so passionate about producing shows that people are excited to see. She has big dreams for Roxie Roz, and I definitely think she’ll achieve them. There’s so much variety squeezed into these shows that everyone can find something they love and you won’t be bored for one second. 

Anything you can tease us with about your act at Roxie Roz?

This month I’ll be doing another classic and funky juxtaposition. I’ll be revamping my number from the pit bulls benefit last spring, and breaking out my sideshow chops! You won’t want to miss this chance to see “both” sides of me…

What’s next for you burlesque-wise?

I have several shows scheduled right now after Roxie Roz, including the Mayhem Femmes one-year anniversary show—the theme is Dark Carnival and it will be at Taverna Plaka on March 19. The week before, we’re starting up a new show called Bettie Bullet Presents: Sex Ed Burlesque. It’s going to be the best sex ed class you’ve ever taken! That one is at Shakespeare Tavern on March 12. I’m booked to “compete” in the Wheel of Tease show in Seattle this August (it’s similar to Last Pasties Standing for all my ATL fans), so I’m hoping to turn that trip into a tour. I’m also working on a documentary called THE BODIES OF BURLESQUE. The director is a friend from college, and when she found out that I’m a burlesque performer she became fascinated with the body positivity the community embraces and asked me to do this project with her. I’m honored to be a part of it, and I hope it helps people find the will to be proud of themselves just as they are. You can find info on all of my upcoming shows at themarystrawberry.com and facebook.com/marystrawberryatl.

marc3

Photo credit: Marc Turnley.

We see body diversity as a defining and empowering aspect of the contemporary burlesque scene. Can you tell us a little more about THE BODIES OF BURLESQUE?

One of the things I love about the current burlesque movement is that it focuses on individuality and diversity. There’s such a huge push for “all bodies are beautiful.” I think that’s a major reason why it’s so popular and attractive, particularly to women. With the huge media presence in our lives telling us that beauty is this or that box, it’s rare and encouraging to find a place where not only can you feel comfortable in your own skin, you’re celebrated for it. I don’t think my body is perfect, but I do think it is beautiful and real and something to be proud of. My body allows me to pursue my dreams of being a dancer, and that’s worth celebrating. I’ve seen and worked with performers of all different shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, and I cheer each one on just as much as the next or last, because in burlesque it doesn’t matter if you look a specific way, it matters that you have passion and confidence. 

You also do a lot of non-burlesque stage work. What local productions might folks have seen your work featured in?

Most recently, I was the seasonal technical director at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, where I worked on THANKSKILLING THE MUSICAL and MERRY F***G CHRISTMAS. It’s a great company to work for—a welcoming community of artists that puts on top notch comedy shows. I’ve also done a lot of designing for schools around the city in the last few years. Currently I’m looking for a more permanent position on a theater’s technical staff, but am also trying to work towards a more sustainable career as a performer. I’m planning to add a bunch of new skills and acts to my tool box this year, so there will definitely be more new and exciting things to see from me soon!

Finally, what one piece of advice do you have for young women entering the burlesque world now?

This is really two-part: first, don’t be afraid to chase after what you love and what makes you feel whole. Finding your niche is so validating and empowering, especially if you have to fight and work your butt off for it. Never give up on your dreams!

Second, please recognize the difference between being a professional and a hobbyist. There’s a lot of talk on the Internet about artists having a difficult time getting people to pay for their art because they don’t see it as a career. I love that people are finding their voices and freedom through this rich style of performance art. It’s a great community that’s very supportive, diverse and unique. But realize that if this is just for fun for you and you take jobs for cheap or free, you might be taking a meal or rent away from a professional artist and devaluing the industry as a whole. There are definitely places where hobbyists fit in, and that’s great! Take classes, do showcases, join open mic nights, I encourage artistic expression and will be in the house cheering for you! Just please be conscious of the reality of the other side of the equation so we can all grow and thrive together.

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