Kool Kat of the Week: Freaks, Geeks and Playing with Teeth: Aileen Loy Is Ready to Sing the Music of the Devil…Well, Till Someone Loses An Eye

Posted on: Mar 6th, 2013 By:

Aileen Loy, performing with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the Star Bar on Jan. 10, 2013. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons.

ATLRetro has had our eye on Atlanta visual and performance artist Aileen Loy for a long time, and now seems like the perfect time to catch up since her band Till Someone Loses An Eye will be playing Sunday March 10 in a three-month second Sunday series at the Corner Tavern in Little Five Points. The unique nine-person ensemble also will be opening for self-described “rockabilly-porno-metal with a country twist” Fiend Without a Face  and Ricer on Wed. March 6 at the Star Bar. Other band members include  Sam McPherson and Michael A. Robinson (L5P Rock Star Orchestra/DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA); Meredith Greer (The Chameleon Queen); Steve McPeeks (Art of Destruction)Frank Anzalone (Walk From the Gallows)Brigitte Warren (Wicked Geisha Ritual Theatre); and Dee Dee Chmielewski (DRACULA).

To call Aileen an eclectic talent would be an understatement for her passions definitely are eclectic and her talent unquestionable. Her singing voice is unexpectedly deep for a woman and has often been compared to Tom Waits. her costumes are always the very spirit of Bohemian and often feature bones, whether she is in full Mexican skull-face Day of the Dead regalia or  a skintight black pants fronted by a human pelvis and skeletal legs. Still to call her a goth would be selling her short. She certainly displays a passion for the macabre, but she also equally embraces the playful, including the recent Renaissance of carnival/circus culture and even a gypsy steampunk edge. Till Someone Loses An Eye lists its influences as Waits, Nick Cave and Gogol Bordello and its interests as “rusted metal, old time circus culture, cheese sandwiches, small rocks, freaks, geeks and miscreants.”

When she is not making music, Aileen crafts cool, creepy jewelry using prosthetic eyeballs and teeth, and she has experimented in film and just about every type of artistic media. If that’s not multi-talented, we don’t know what is. But enough talking about Aileen, let’s get talking to her.

ATLRetro: Seeing your artwork and listening to your music, we can imagine you being closer to Wednesday Addams than Cindy Brady as a little girl. How old were you when you started down the path to the darker side of creativity, and what pulled the trigger?

Aileen Loy: That’s a fair cop – I was a pretty serious and awkward little girl. I’m not sure how to answer the rest of that question but there was probably a library card involved.

Aileen Loy plays a mean harmonica with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the L5P Halloween Festival 2012. Photo credit: Stephen Priest.

Who/what were some of your early inspirations musically and visually that still influence your work today?

Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, a lot of classical music. My parents had a weird assortment of albums when I was growing up, so I’d go from listening to SONGS OF THE GUIANA JUNGLE, Lord Kitchener, those odd Reader’s Digest collected works of *insert western classical composer or awesome polka guy, here*, lots of Bollywood, Johnny Mathis and a good dose of Kitty Wells, Dolly, Willie Nelson. Rock and roll was kind of special because I got to discover that on my own. Those were the albums we played when the folks were at work or at my friend’s house. Dad went on a “Rock and roll is the music of the devil; we must burn all rock albums and rid the world of it’s horrible influence” phase, so most of my albums stayed in my room hidden safely behind the Mozart and Ravi Shankar. It was an odd time.

Why do you think circus and carnivale culture has made such a comeback and is seemingly in a renaissance in the independent arts scene from burlesque to steampunk to modern-day proud-to-be-freaks shows?

Good question and I don’t really know. I’ve always been drawn to it because it seemed like a magical amorphous place, where one can, not only be exactly what one is, but is encouraged and expected to be fully that – to gain power and reflect competence and heart through what others might view as “freakish.” It’s a place where no one expects tidy and convenient truths. Fantastic stuff. I think I definitely would have felt safer in there as a kid.

Your vocals have often been compared to Tom Waits, which is unusual for a woman. Did you work to create your unique singing voice or did it just come natural?

I’ve always had a little froggy voice, and the vocalists that I really loved had such huge resonance. You could feel them in your chest! So, yeah of course I wanted to sound like them. That would be me, age 5, trying my damnedest to sing Johnny Cash, and eventually I could. I had a voice therapist tell me that I have the physiology for it . My vocal cords are similar to a male’s. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to train that low.

Aileen Loy fronts Till Someone Loses An Eye at 7 Stages during Day of the Cupcake, Oct. 8, 2012. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons

Tell us about Till Someone Loses an Eye, your latest band. Why the name? And what makes this band special and unique musically?

I thought the name was funny. It could be a threat, an eventuality, or an aspiration. The band is personally interesting to me because everyone has such a widely different back story and vibe from one another, and it informs the music in a pretty cool way.

At an Artifice Club performance in fall 2012. Photo credit: James Curtis Barger.

You list some of your collaborators as “heads of mischief.” What do you mean by that?

I was being glib when I wrote that, just trying to fill a page and get it up. But now it’s very apparent to me that it’s absolutely true on its face, no explanation needed. Lovely troublemakers, all of them.

You’re playing twice this week. Wed. March 6 at Star Bar and then Sunday march 10 at Corner Pub, which is going to be a once-monthly event on second Sundays. Do you have any special plans for either show? Why should folks come out?

Wednesday’s show we’re playing with Fiend Without a Face and Ricer, two reasons right there to come. Second Sundays, we have the whole night to do whatever we want. We could play two full sets just us, or have another band open, or musicians sit in for a song or two. This Sunday, the band, Tulsa, is coming through from SXSW and will be doing an early opener set at 8:30.

A vintage stag pocketwatch sporting a prosthetic eye designed by Aileen Loy.

What are you up to in the visual arts right now? Last time I checked you were making beautiful jewelry involving teeth.

Still plugging away, trying to up the scope of the teeth jewelry a bit and take it to a logical conclusion, not sure what that is. I’ve got a few new projects brewing, but it’s still to foggy to talk about them with any kind of intelligence.

What artistic or musical accomplishment are you most proud of so far, and why?

I’m just happy I’m doing it. Neither was particularly supported when I was growing up, so I kind of always found my own way around. Definitely, a late bloomer.

Finally we had to ask. What’s your favorite whiskey and why?

Is there ever a bad whiskey?

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

Kool Kat of the Week/Retro Review: Sex, Blood and Rock n Roll: Jesus Christ Superstar meets Grand Guignol in Not-To-Be-Missed Dracula The Rock Opera

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2012 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

In this Week’s Kool Kat, we break the rules and give it to more than one person – those crazy kids in the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra.  Don’t miss DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA before it closes this Sunday, October 14 at 7 Stages. 

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel. Not to be missed, this DRACULA brings the rock opera genre into the 21st century with the energy, musical, acting and staging quality of an off-Broadway find. Seeing it is like discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973. But hey, wait a second, this is Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theatre, not New York, not London, not even LA or Chicago. And it’s not Rob Zombie, but Rob Thompson. How the HELL did that happen?

The short answer is years of hard work by the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra, a motley crew of badass tattoo-covered Atlanta musicians, stage professionals and grassroots performance artists whom you haven’t heard of most likely unless you live here. If you don’t live in Atlanta, you probably won’t believe this gang of music misfits, most with ultra-light theater experience, has produced a libretto, lyrics, acting and staging that set DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA tooth and claw above community theater.Maybe you’ll be more convinced when I point out that they did have the benefit of Del Hamilton, a seasoned internationally acclaimed director, to guide them. DRACULA will be the last of 80 shows which he has directed before he steps down as artistic director of 7 Stages, building with Faye Allen, a reputation for this company as one of Atlanta’s most edgy. It’s a testament to Hamilton’s vision that he was willing to take on a venture in the pop culture/horror arena as his swan song (though he will continue to stay active in 7 Stages). Clearly Hamilton drove the cast and production crew to their highest potential, ably assisted by longtime Atlanta actor Justin Wellborn, who returned from Los Angeles to work on DRACULA.

Harker (Chris Love) receives a dire warning from a gypsy woman (Naomi Lavender).

In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and so likewise is the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction as Rob Thompson emerges on stage, dressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and tight black leather pants. At first he is bending his fingers and arching his back, creating a shadow image creepily reminiscent of Max Schreck in the iconic silent NOSFERATU (1922). But soon recharged by the promise of a new feeding ground in England, he is re-uniformed in a blood-red cape, red and black boot chaps and a sword. With his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy as Thompson emotes on the power of blood to a heavy beat right out of Black Sabbath.  This Count is no romantic sparkly vampire, but a black metal superstar of evil whose immortality is dependent on the death of humanity.

When ATLRetro reviewed the first act, then titled HAUS VON DRACUL, during a trial run last year, we called that review “Dracula Superstar but Love is the Answer.” That tagline still holds true in that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is unique among Dracula dramatizations for having a strong/non-wimpy rendition of Jonathan Harker in the transcendent voice and passionate mannerisms of African-American actor/musician Chris Love. With a lion’s mane of long black hair, Love is already a daring visual choice for a role too often played close-cropped and straight-laced. Now Thompson has caught up with Love, but Love, as Harker, continues to embody the everyman (us by proxy) as he arrives on stages and declares in a moving opening solo that “a good man is a true man”  and later a stranger in a strange land, “all alone away from Mina.” Bram Stoker’s novel is written in the epistolary form with characters expressing their ebbing terror through diary entries and letters, and this rock opera masterfully embraces that format, often taking lines directly from the book and making the audience a confidante. In Love’s hands, Harker’s predicament gets progressively lonelier, reminds us that the vampire is evil and not to be embraced, progressively raising the stakes and easing the first act towards a sense of doom with no hope and escape.

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston, center) and Lucy's three suitors, Quincey (Shane Morton), Seward (Chaz Pofahl) and Arthur (Jed Drummond) make a "vein" attempt to save Lucy's (Jessika Cutts) life with blood transfusions.

Beyond Dracula’s tight leather pants, the “sex” side of rock n roll comes center stage early in Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three wives, played to a perfect sirenic pitch by Muleskinner MacQueen Trio chanteuse Naomi Lavender (who also plays a gypsy woman and Mina), Madeline Brumby (known in the neo-exploitation movie world for her breakout role in also-Atlanta-produced DEAR GOD! NO!) and Jessika Cutts (who also plays Lucy). Their breasts show through white diaphanous robes, a clear homage to the sexy female vampires of Universal, Hammer and the lesbian vampire B-movie genre, and this production ups their otherworldly quality by adding exotic Eastern European headpieces and dance moves reminiscent of a Kali ritual. The actresses achieve a chemistry in their ethereal voices and interplay that only heightens the erotic tension and also their profound loneliness, trapped in the castle with the Count.

The first act showcases how to effectively use minimalist sets, lighting and an ensemble cast. No coach is needed with just Harker sitting vulnerably on steps while a mad driver thrashes a long whip, a small herd of humans outfitted in haphazard fur pelts furiously keeping pace to a metal beat. Less is more is also well-executed in the similarly soundtracked (the beat always gets heavy when Dracula is at his most bloodthirsty) ship scene conveying the hopelessness of the captain (Rick Atkinson) trying in vain (vein?) to keep his ship afloat in a stormy sea while the Count devours his crew in one of the play’s bloodiest scenes (watch out, front row!).

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston), Vampire Slayer!

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA has to introduce a lot of new characters rapidly in the second act, and this task is mostly achieved well, including characters who appear in the book but often excluded from screen and stage. In a poppy update of Cole Porter’s “Tom, Dick and Harry” from KISS ME KATE, Lucy (Jessika Cutts) enthusiastically emotes to her best friend Mina (Naomi Lavendar) about her three suitors, earnest, bowler-hat-wearing Arthur (musician Jed Drummond in his stage debut); Dr. Seward (Charlotte, NC-based actor Chaz Pofahl), who runs the asylum (how romantic!); and Quincey, an American cowboy played with appropriate “home-on-the-range” swagger and just the right nod of humor by Atlanta horror Renaissance man-about-town Shane Morton (Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, DEAR GOD! NO!, Gargantua, etc.) against type – in other words, more country than rock (Note: because of Shane also being the mastermind of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Arnie Lowder is now playing this role Thurs-Sat for the last few weeks of the run).

We already have a sense of Mina from Harker’s songs about her. Like in so many Dracula dramatizations, she could be just a romantic foil and vampire victim but fortunately Lavender’s unique voice – Kate Bush meets Janis Joplin, with a twist of Jane Wiedlin?! – and sheer dynamic energy forestall that possibility, ultimately ensuring she will be an equal to the otherwise male vampire-hunting team. Renfield’s crazed obsessiveness with Dracula is portrayed with a manic frenzy and an appropriately metalhead of frizzy curly hair in a breakout performance by Rick Atkinson, who has been with the L5P Rockstar Orchestra since its first production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in the mid 2000s.

Meanwhile, Dracula in London is more of an omnipresent villain, now re-energized by a city full of fresh blood into full throttle rock star and re-attired in a black leather jacket (think actual suit jacket – Steve Tyler, not Sid Vicious). Fortunately Thompson and company recognize that he needs a similarly rocked-out foil not a dawdling elderly professor. Not your mama’s Van Helsing, this vampire hunter in purple is Doctor Strange meets Freddie Mercury. Jeff Langston, of hard-rocking Atlanta-based bands Ledfoot Messiah and AM Gold,  is just the hard-edged leader to unite Lucy’s triad of suitors to try and save first her life (no, they don’t succeed despite a steampunky transfusion gizmo) and then Mina’s as the Count makes them his inevitable victims. Ultimately, the intrepid group must travel all the way back to Transylvania to finish the battle, and as for the end, if you’ve read the book, well, you know it. And if you haven’t, you may well be surprised.

Rob Thompson as Count Dracula/Vlad the Impaler.

Ultimately that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is bound and determined to be tightly faithful to Stoker’s novel is both its strength and an occasional weakness, however, because occasionally that fealty causes some dramatic challenges. For example, after act one, it seems impossible when Mina receives a letter from Jonathan Harker that he has somehow escaped Castle Dracula. (Maybe a side performance showing Harker escape in pantomime might clarify?). Another scene that felt like it needed a little more work was a city scene in which Harker spies the Count for the first time in London stalking female victims. But these really are only small complaints in what overall is a fantastic production. Let’s hope for an encore soon and more runs well beyond Atlanta.

All photos courtesy of 7 Stages and DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA and used with permission.

 

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

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