Smokin’ Hot with Torchy Taboo! The “Godfather of Atlanta Burlesque” is at it Again, Snagging Awards and Shakin’ a Flamin’ Tail Feather!

Posted on: Aug 26th, 2014 By:
2009 Burlesque Hall of Fame, Photo by Ed Barnes

2009 Burlesque Hall of Fame, Photo by Ed Barnes

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/Contributing Writer

Eva, “Torchy Taboo” Warren, a.k.a. the “Godfather of Atlanta Burlesque” and Atlanta’s Neo-Burlesque Revival, is back again with a va-va-voom vengeance! What began with a Bettie Page Lookalike Contest at DragonCon in the mid-1990s has come full circle, and has earned this hot mama a coveted Lifetime Achievement Award, or “Sassie Lassy” at the 2014 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in Las Vegas in June 2014! With this award in tow, Eva is ready to set the stage aflame again during Nayeli Belly Dance Troupe’s presentation of A GROWN AND SEXY AFFAIR: SOME LIKE IT HOT! burlesque a-go-go shindig at TheGoat Farm Arts Center, this Saturday, August 30! [March 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Torchy Taboo, here]

ATLRetro caught up with Eva for a short interview about her Phoenix-like revival, her newly acquired Sassie Lassy and her admiration for Atlanta’s burlesque community and family.

ATLRetro: Can you tell us about the award and what it means to you?

Eva: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekdender is the Olympics of Burlesque. I was the first-runner up in 2005 and this award, the Sassie Lassy is an award given to veterans and icons of the international burlesque scene. The award is given out for different things, but I received it as a lifetime achievement award. I got it for pioneering the burlesque revival in the mid-90s and the award means the motherfucking world to me! I was actually dumbfounded! Having been a stripper for 30 years and performing burlesque for 19, it redeemed my dream that stripping can be an art form. It was such an honor to be on that stage. It’s a thrill every time!

June 2014 Sassie Lassy being presented by Elvez

June 2014 Sassie Lassy being presented by Elvez

What is your take on the current Neo-Burlesque scene in Atlanta? How do you feel to be back home?

As I have recently re-entered the scene, after taking a personal hiatus, I am so honored, humbled and inspired to be a part of it again. I’ve been drawn and sucked back in wholeheartedly! They have “lit a fire under my rear” so to speak, and as I have returned to Atlanta, my heart was overwhelmed with love after receiving the award and I wanted to bring that back to my girls here.

Who would you say is your burlesque heroine?

Miami 2008 - photo by Art Basil

Miami 2008 – photo by Art Basil

I’ll say that my heroine is Ursula Undress. [September 2013; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Ursula, here] Not only does she run the Atlanta School of Burlesque, but she’s always taken good care of me, has gone far out of her way for me. She’s definitely been an inspiration!

Any advice for gals (or guys) who want to tease it up in the land of burlesque?

My advice is that it’s an art form. You owe your audience to be entertaining. You owe your muse to be original. Sex, humor, shock and awe! That’s what it’s about. You have to dig deep and pull it out. That’s the secret! You’ve got to bring your heart and soul to the stage. Be playful and enjoy it!

What’s new for Torchy Taboo?

Big things are in the works! I will be producing again on the hot and heavy! It’ll be like the Fourth of July! It’ll be a “raising of the bar”. I just want to remind everyone that, Torchy Taboo is back!

All photographs are courtesy of Eva Warren and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Born to Tease: Retro Fatale Katherine Lashe Puts the Sizzle into Southern Fried Burlesque

Posted on: Jun 10th, 2013 By:

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

Atlanta’s burlesque scene right now is hot, hot, hot, and one lady is right at the sizzling heart of it – Kool Kat Katherine Neslund, aka Katherine Lashe. This week alone, Syrens of the South, her production company, is giving Atlanta a new monthly burlesque showcase with Tease Tuesdays at The Shelter on June 11 (specific Tuesdays will vary per month). She’s also a key player in the city’s first Debut-Tease Ball, featuring Katherine and a mix of experienced and new talent either teaching or taking classes at Studio Burlesque, Atlanta’s own burlesque school which launched just last winter.

Perhaps most of all, Katherine is the driving force behind the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, which celebrated its third anniversary this year. Finally Atlanta has an annual event that brings together local, regional, national and even international burlesque revival stars and legends. Tease Tuesdays are fundraisers for SFBF. And that’s not even beginning to talk about Katherine’s own talents as a performer who has graced nationwide stages including the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

ATLRetro caught up with Katherine recently to find out more about this week’s events; her own path to burlesque via theater; what else she has coming up, including a significant partnership between Syrens and 7 Stages theater in Little Five Points; and much more.

ATLRetro: What’s the one thing that happened to you during childhood that made it your destiny to be a burlesque performance artist?

Katherine Neslund/Lashe: When I was younger my Mom made costumes and clothing for drag queens in Knoxville, TN.  I ended up wanting to be a drag queen when I grew up because they had the best clothes! Later it was explained to me that, being a girl, I couldn’t technically be a drag queen. I was pretty disappointed  with this childhood realization. I’ve obviously since realized my passion and have been doing theater in some capacity my entire adult life. I’ve always felt pretty at home on the stage. Burlesque seemed to unite the whole drag queen dream with my theater experience.

I understand you kicked off your burlesque career in Atlanta by opening for Dita Von Teese. That’s a pretty exciting beginning. How did that happen and can you share something about that experience? Did Dita impart any words of wisdom that have stayed with you.

I used to be the head performer at The Chamber, and one day Howie, the manager, told us we were opening for Dita von Teese in two weeks and we should do something burlesquey.  I had no idea what that meant since I had very limited experience with burlesque having only seen The Doll Squad and Torchy Taboo perform a few times at that point.  We ended up putting together a Fosse-style group number that incorporated burlesque, dancing and a little bit of that Chamber touch.  It’s kind of funny that out of that group came myself, Renea’le Roux and Gia Nova as professional burlesque performers.

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

The Syrens of the South is a production company, not a troupe. A lot of people don’t know the difference, so can you clarify what this means in the burlesque world?

A troupe is traditionally a group of people that works together on a regular basis; going through routines and rehearsals, every member focused on a common vision of what the group should embody as a whole, and then also on what every member will perform exclusively.  Syrens of the South treats all of our performers as independent contractors, and I have always encouraged everyone to have their own identity – to perform whenever and with whomever they want.  Each performer creates their own personal vision of what they want to be, and they own and control their personal performance.  Syrens is like a playground on which these amazing folks can show their talent. Thanks to this freedom, performers can feel free to include everything from classic, to comedy, to just plain weird stuff.  I also try to make sure that we have a good variety of acts, including, of course, vaudeville type acts to break up the boobies, making it an interesting evening for everyone!

It’s been long overdue for Atlanta to have an annual burlesque festival, and Southern Fried really seems to be putting the city on the map. SFBF has made it to its third year and seems to be really hitting its stride. What did you personally enjoy the most at year’s festival and can you give us a little preliminary tease about your goals are for next year?

My favorite part each year is the Legends.  I have a passion for burlesque history, hence why I teach a very in-depth class on it, and have been collecting burlesque legend interviews for a very long time now.  My goal is to gather as much information as possible before the information is no longer available.  I was lucky enough to interview Tura Satana before she passed away, and I am so very grateful I was able to do so.

This particular year I was really excited with how many people from the local Atlanta burlesque community became involved.  In between volunteers, performers and even those that just showed up in the audience to come and see us, plus so many regular Syrens of the South performers, members of Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret, The Imperial OPA Circus, Minette Magnifique and Musee du Coeur showed up both on stage and off.  The hope is that Southern Fried can help show Atlanta a taste of what goes on in the rest of the world, as well as showing the rest of the world the amazing talent we have here in Atlanta and the Southeast.  Many performers don’t travel, so this is a great way to show off all that we have to offer here!

Funding a festival must be challenging. Where does Tease Tuesday fit in?

The goal of Tease Tuesday is to help raise money so we can continue putting on this amazing festival.  It costs around $20,000 to put on each year, and we make less than half of that from ticket sales each year.  The rest of the money comes from our vendors, sponsors, application fees, Syrens of the South shows and out of my pocket.  We need approximately $2,500 to pay off the remaining bills from last year before we can start moving on to next year.  Tease Tuesday events, at 10 acts for only $10, gives us  a nice inexpensive monthly show to help us get the remaining bills paid off and then hopefully help us get the deposit for the hotel next year so we can continue going forward with the festival.

Another thing we love about Tease Tuesday is that it’s going to be monthly. In New York there are multiple monthly and even weekly burlesque events, but Atlanta audiences have had to wait several months between shows by the same troupe or producer. Can you tease our readers about the Syrens first Tease Tuesday and how you plan to keep a monthly show fresh and exciting? Will shows be themed and will you just feature local performers or regional and national performers as well?

Our first Tease Tuesday show was in May as a straight up fundraiser and test show.  We were lucky enough to have the current Southern Fried Queen, Lola le Soleiland two time SFBF winner Bourgeois Betty, Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra founder Rob Thompson doing an acoustic set, as well as Talloolah Love, Nipsy Tussle from Knoxville’s Salome Cabaret, Tora Torrid, Persephone Phoenix, Edie Akimbo, Tru Bliss, and my Wednesday night Beginning Burlesque class from Studio Burlesque.  Fritzengreuben was our Master of Ceremonies with Tupelo Honey as our stage kitten.

Our show on Tuesday, June 11, will have some amazing burlesque – Florida’s Tokyo Bell incorporates fire into her stripping, Atlanta favorite Ursula Undress will be there, Jed Drummond will be singing and playing his ukulele, there will be sexy juggling, some sultry singing and many more burlesque dancers.  Remember -10 acts for $10, so it’s a surprise as to who the other performers will be!  The next one on July 16 is so secret I can’t tell you anything other than it’s gonna be awesome!

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

Studio Burlesque is another milestone for the Atlanta burlesque community. How did that get started and what was your role in its fruition?

I have been teaching burlesque classes for almost six years in borrowed/rented spaces. It was really only a matter of time before someone realized the popularity of burlesque was on the rise and that there should be a studio dedicated to it.  An investor approached multiple members of the Atlanta burlesque community until he found the right fit which happened to be the valedictorian of the very first Syrens of the South graduating class: Ursula Undress.  She and I had a long talk about it after she was approached, and her mission statement was beautiful and her heart was in the right place, so I decided to move my regular classes to Studio Burlesque.  I’ve given a little advice just because of the six years of previous experience, but with the festival taking off, it’s really nice to get to just show up as a teacher rather than organizing all the classes like I used to.  Many of my former students became teachers in the Syrens of the South class series and now teach at Studio Burlesque.  I am very proud of all of them and love that there’s a home for everyone in Atlanta Burlesque to be able to come to learn and to teach.

Are classes just for aspiring burlesque performers? Could any of them be an alternative to a conventional boring exercise class?

The regular weekly classes are for anyone at any level of dance experience.  My Beginning Burlesque class on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. has people who have never danced before and a few seasoned performers, however, they all work great together in learning the new choreography we do each month.  For those who want to try performing, I’ve been offering a performance spot for that class at each of the Tease Tuesdays.  Students get a little firsthand taste of the performance experience and can then decide if it’s something they want to try.  The performance track classes are for those that are interested in becoming burlesque performers or at least getting a solo opportunity on stage.  It consists of three months of classes; we focus on getting them on stage for a student showcase at the end of the three months.  The next performance track series will be starting in July after July 4th.

Debut-Tease is coming up this Saturday. Some people might be reluctant to come to a beginners’ show. Tell us why they’re wrong.

I love student showcases!  There is that excitement of it being their first time, and you can see the nerves, the joy, the fear and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when they walk off the stage.  It’s like watching someone be born without all the gross parts!  However, even if you’re not a big fan of watching newbies, myself and many of the other teachers will be performing as in this show, so many professional performers will be gracing the stage as well as all the newbies.  Ursula Undress, Talloolah Love, Fonda Lingue and The Chameleon Queen will be performing, just to name a few!

Are any of your students performing? Any star student in particular to watch out for?

Every student that is debuting on the 15th is part of the Studio Burlesque Performance Track Classe Series so I have gotten to teach them all as I teach the History of Burlesque and Tassels and Gloves classes in that series.  Many of them also come to my Wednesday night class so I’ve gotten to know a few of them fairly well.  If I had to pick one to watch I’m going to have to say A to Zee as he is the only boy making his debut that night.  I’ve seen his work in progress, and I think everyone will have fun with it. Being the only guy, I think he’ll succeed in inspiring other gentlemen to come out and learn the art of boylesque!

Finally, burlesque is just one of your talents. You have a background in theater and were heavily involved with 7 Stages‘ hit DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA. Anything you’d like to share about that experience and what’s next for that production? Or anything else you’re up to?

Yes, I was honored to be the stage manager for DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA!  The finished recording of the awesome soundtrack from our show will be finalized and out for sale on CD sometime soon.  We’ll be doing a concert version in February so do keep your eyes peeled for that!  I went to school for musical theater and am now finishing up a degree in technical theater to balance out my onstage and off-stage experience, which is good since I was just the lighting designer for LADY LAY, a great play at 7 Stages Theater that closed out the 2012-13 season.  I’ve also been a stage manager for The Imperial OPA Circus for a few years, and look forward to continuing at 7 Stages in the 2013-14 season.  After Dracula, I really just found my home at 7 Stages as I love everyone who works there and what they are trying to do through art and community building.

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

I’ve recently been made a member of their fundraising committee and am helping to put together a brunch at Our Way Cafe on June 23.  Brunch will include a concert by the awesome local band Till Someone Loses an Eye, and benefits will go to 7 Stages.  Mark your calendars!  Also, our Syrens of the South 6th year anniversary show will be held on the main stage at 7 Stages on Aug 3.  I’m splitting the profits with the theater to help them with their fundraising goals.  As 7 Stages is now going to be our new home for our big shows, for instance our Anniversary, Tits for Toys for Tots (Nov 23) and our Vixen’s Valentease show, we want to make sure to start our new marriage by giving them a decent dowry!

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Flaming Heart: A Tribute to Buster the Human Blowtorch, aka Todd Kelly, as The Chamber Holds a Second Reunion

Posted on: Nov 24th, 2012 By:

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

“Todd was a Fire God on stage blowing his Soul of Fire for the world to see.”– Bry-baby, Chamber regular

 Back by popular demand, Mon Cherie has put together Chamber Reunion II, another gathering of the misfits who frequented one of Atlanta’s most notorious nightclubs, on Sat. Nov. 24 in Hell at The Masquerade. [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Mon Cherie on her Chamber memories and the first reunion here] It just wouldn’t be The Chamber without the presence of its favorite fire-breathing clown. However, due to his previous dinner arrangements with P. T. Barnum, Gypsy Rose Lee and Freddie Mercury, Mr. Todd Kelly will not be on the bill. I thought a tribute was in order.

Todd “Buster the Human Blow Torch” Kelly walked into my world in 2000. He strolled up to me in the Star Bar and introduced himself. His face was familiar; he had been in the front row of most of my Dames Aflame shows wearing a bright yellow motorcycle jacket. It caught my eye. My roommate had been hanging out with him in the witching hours after the “legal hours of operation” of a variety of Atlanta bars…the tales of mischievous behavior (to say the least) had been numerous at that point. Diminutive of stature, yet a flamboyant and verbose one-man cult of personality, not unlike myself, we became immediately lifelong comrades. He spent the evening regaling me with the amazing details of his fiercely colorful life.

Todd worked as fire performer and pyrotechnician for a myriad of bands including My Life With The Trill Kill Kult, Glitterdome and Impotent Sea Snakes (iss) just to name a few. He traveled constantly and spent the better part of 2001 in California where he became engaged to another performer from iss. Alas love’s misfortune brought him back to Georgia by the beginning of 2002. We took up right where we left off. Neither of us the type to waste much time, within days of his return, we began dating. He set the tone for our story by showing up for our first date in a knee-length REAL snake-skin jacket. He took me to The Chamber and promptly changed into his stilts and 7-foot-long silver sequined pants, tailcoat and top hat.

When Todd was not on the road, he worked a regular gig at The Chamber, either on stilts or doing his fire act, which I assisted as “safety” waiting back-stage with his fire-box full of fire-extinguishing paraphernalia in case of mishap. He taught me how to blow fire, and since we were both known for our snake acts as well, we soon began performing together. He was the consummate showman, yet never minded if my skimpy costumes upstaged his signature leather pants. But that’s who he was with everyone.

“The first time I saw Todd perform was at The Chamber. When he strode onto stage to the anthemic, ‘Du Hast,’ the energy in the room elevated immediately and then hung, palpable and frozen, in mid air. The audience, knowingly or not, fed him their every expectation, desire, anxiety, and Todd took it all in and let it go in a wildly cathartic and decadent rush of fire – a fine mist of fuel over an open flame. His act, although straightforward, was a bold, arcane ritual, and Todd was the Magus, sans turban, clad only in tight, red leather pants. In that room, he was more than fire-breather. He harnessed the frenetic energy of the room and focused it outwards into blazing spectacle. He was the transformer.” – Aileen Loy, creative impresario.

“Long before joining up with the Impotent Sea Snakes and when I first moved to Atlanta, I met Todd Kelly. We were both fixtures at The Masquerade and part of the core family of friends that hung out and/or worked there. We enjoyed many times together. I adored him. I just did not realize how beloved he was (to others) until I signed up with the band. We traveled the U.S.A. and Canada – this close quarters living bonds people in ways that can never be broken. ” – Mon Cherie, Chamber performer and promoter, and organizer of The Chamber Reunions I and II

“I never had to give Todd much direction. I’d tell him the theme for the event, and he would deliver. He was a natural at sideshow.” – Howie Stepp, manager at The Chamber

“Todd was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I got to know him through working with him at The Star Bar and in the band Greasepaint. He had an incredible gift for being empathetic and understanding while still being objective and non-judgmental. In the few years I had the honor of knowing him, he left a lasting impression. There are not many days that pass that I don’t think of him and miss him. The world would be a far richer place if Todd Kelly was still in it.” – Joel Burkhart, musician and fellow member of Greasepaint, co-founder of the band AM Gold.

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

“Todd had the soul of a rock star and helped me become one, in my own mind at least. He could steal the show and be totally humble in the same breath, blow you out of the water and totally supportive at the same time. I’ll never forget or be able to repay his support of my photography and my singing. If I listed the people he introduced me to or the doors he opened for me, you would think I was name dropping or bragging… or you knew him too.”  – Keith Martin, photographer, musician and singer/guitar for The Stumblers.

“Todd Kelly was a jack of all trades who mastered every trade he tried. He was willing to do anything to help a friend and was so well liked you felt like the ugly girl whenever you were out with him. A rock star who gave up the stage to help a brother, we hosted Yer 15 Fuckin’ Minutes karaoke together three nights a week and worked even longer hours together after our regular schedule. A gentle soul, he even took time out to stilt walk and breathe fire for my son’s 8th birthday. Little known fact, I stole the name ‘Blue Rat’ for a headshop I opened on Cheshire Bridge, the “R-A-T” stands for “Rotknee, Alex and Todd.” I promised him we’d open something we could put our name on. Rest in peace, brother, I finished what we started. Loved that man, still do.” – Rodney Leete, wild-man on the mic, musician and emcee, Atlanta’s Best Amateur Comedy, Yer 15 minutes of Fame Karaoke. 

Torchy Taboo and Todd Kelly.

My favorite story Todd ever told me was about how he’d injured his hands very badly while trying to rescue his 15-foot-python, Junior, from a burning tour bus. When he found that his injuries made it impossible to hold his fire torches a few days later at his next booked show, he duct-taped them to his wrists and went on. Ever a man of his word, the show must go on.

Even after parting ways, we remained fiercely loyal to one another, sharing responsibility for our pets during each of our extensive tour schedules and even working together a few more times. Todd Kelly left us in 2004. He is remembered dearly by everyone who ever knew him.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bernadette Seacrest: From Ballet Dancer to Punk Rock Girl to Torch Song Provocateur

Posted on: Sep 19th, 2012 By:

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

In an ocean of great musical talent in Atlanta, we’ve discovered a shiny pearl perched on a high rock on the shore. ATLRetro’s Torchy Taboo had the opportunity to chat with singer Bernadette Seacrest and was immediately enchanted by her humble nature and artistic approach to giving performances. Bernadette plays the last Tuesday of every month with a revolving list of local favorites accompanying her at various intimate settings. On September 25, you can catch her at Sister Louisa’s CHURCH of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium; the show is upstairs from 8 to 10 p.m. and there’s never a cover. Bernadette opts to play small venues where she feels she is sharing the evening with the audience, the bartenders and wait-staff, everyone in the room. This intimate approach is informed, she explained to me by the deep creative  fulfillment she gets from performing, one that began as she was growing up fully immersed in the world of ballet.
Torchy Taboo: You are originally from Cali; North or South and is that where your performance background began?
Bernadette Seacrest: Yes, I grew up part of the time in California. My mom and dad split up when I was four. My dad stayed in NYC and my mom moved back to San Francisco but went back and forth between San Francisco and Venice Beach. My sister and I figured it out and all-in-all we spent the majority of our youth in Venice. Because we moved around so much I ended up attending ballet schools at the San Francisco Ballet, the Los Angeles Ballet and the American Ballet Theater in NYC.
Bernadette, as with all true ballerinas, grew up obsessed with the dance. It influenced every part of her growing psyche and was all she knew or wanted. Then all that suddenly ended. She suffered a tragic injury in ballet rehearsal which ended a promising dance career after which she ended up in NYC. How did you cope with that abrupt change and loss?
I dropped out of high school when I was injured; had a bit of a break-down when I couldn’t dance, was living in a foster home at 15,  and went to beauty school when I turned 16 (LA and Kansas City). Then I moved to NYC on my own in ’82 [at] 17 years old and lived in the East Village.
Is that where and when you developed your unique individual style? Did the punk undercurrent of the time in NYC give your angst a place to make itself useful?
I worked for a punk rock designer and started dabbling in fashion, and I also did a bunch of stylist work and modeling and junk – all with the crazy underground punk rock fetish peoples. No formal education in the fashion. I ended up moving to LA and creating a clothing line for a company called NANA. I took a few classes in fashion at Santa Monica Community College, but mostly I just figured shit out on my own. The women who influenced me back then, designers that I sold in the store I worked at [Enz’s – still in existence], were Vivienne Westwood, Dianne Brill and the like. Betsey Johnson had her little store just around the corner from one of the stores I managed. These ladies were kind of self-taught, too. It was the “punk rock” way, you know – if you wanted to play music, you played music, you picked up an instrument or whatever. I did have friends in school, but most of the folks I hung out with were doers.
How long have you been singing? And what was your first show?
I’ve been singing for just over 10 years. My first show was with Pat Bova in Albuquerque, NM. I was a wreck! I had had really bad stage fright all my life  – I was also a mess when performing with the ballet or doing any runway modeling. So I hated my first show! But I had always wanted to sing and I made a little promise to myself that I would perform five times, and if at the end of the fifth show I still felt the same way, I would stop. I would stop knowing I had given it my best. Luckily I was completely addicted by maybe the third or fourth show!
How much influence and input do you have in the writing of your songs? You describe them as “heavy”; does the phrase “Torchy'” (hahaha) also apply?
Torchy is most definitely a good description. I feel very fortunate to have found writers that I resonate with; it’s a real gift. They have all been my bandmates and have come to know me well. I am a feeling-based person more than anything. My guys bring me songs, I listen and see how I feel. It’s very simple. I don’t come at them with ideas- I allow them space to do their thing, the same way they allow me space to interpret their material the way I feel it. It’s a beautiful thing.
Your performance style is so personal. How does singing male-written lyrics affect that, if at all?
Actually, I had kind of a major epiphany this year regarding the song-writing. I have struggled with major insecurity about the fact I don’t write my own material, for as long as I’ve been singing. Really down on myself about it, not feeling confident about myself as an “artist” feeling like the cliche – “fraud.”  But this year I met with Pat Bova while I was visiting New Mexico and it hit me like a tidal wave. I’ll try and articulate it, but I am not sure I have the words to convey the depth of what it felt like to realize that my gift is to interpret his brilliant, and to me profound, material. It is equally as important for me to sing his songs as it would be my own. His songs need a voice. They need to reach people, they’re important. I feel they are important. They have such deep meaning for me. He knows me so well, knows my struggles and heartache, etc. He has been struggling the last several years, not performing himself as much, life kind of hitting him hard in some ways, and as I sat there with him, listening to him sing these songs he wrote I was filled with this feeling of “Oh my god! I HAVE to sing his songs, people need to hear this!” A wave of emotion came over me with an understanding like I’d never had before.
Bernadette explained to me the relief of finally finding that same complete fulfillment on stage that she’s experienced in the ballet. The list of accompanist is impressive, including local favorites RL Martin on guitar, Kris Dale on bass and Marlon Patton on drums. One week she found herself in a last-minute need of a drummer and as luck would have it, Kingsized‘s own king of the pipes, Big Mike Geier himself took a seat at the skins. Now that IS a creative approach.
All photographs are courtesy of Bernadette Seacrest.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Nicolette Valdespino Fashions a “Bohemian Playground” at Paris on Ponce

Posted on: Jul 11th, 2012 By:

Nicolette Valdespino

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

A visit to Paris on Ponce always feels like stepping into New Orleans or indeed – Paris – in the middle of Midtown Atlanta. I adore its historical, yet timeless French aesthetic. The unique antique shop will be celebrating that French flavor with their first annual free Bastille Day Festival, Saturday, July 14 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 15 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday evening from 6-9 is the Party Fantastique with Baton Bob, Minette Manifique burlesque, magician Chad Sanborn, All Hands Productions puppetering and film premieres from Escobar Productions.

In the early 21st century I dreamed of having my own event there. However, the owners at that time shied away from getting into the complexities of running and renting a true event space and only did so sporadically. The year 2011 saw a change, however, with new owners, a new manager named Nicolette Valdespino and a fresh new take on sharing the space with the public.

Le Maison Rouge is the 4,200 square foot event space that is over-the-top Moulin Rouge-themed within the heart of the store….In this last year, we have hosted two public auctions, participated in ‘The Next Cool Event,’ hosted the Atlanta Film Festival, made a film, been named the ‘Best Antique Store in ATL’ by Jezebel Magazine, and now we are kicking off a whole flush of new remodels with the Bastille Day Festival,” bubbled Nicolette. In a way chatting with her is like a conversation with the evolving space itself. Meaning of course, that ATLRetro could not resist making her Kool Kat of the Week.

ATLRetro: My first visit to PoP was to perform at an event in 2002. I walked in the front and was enchanted, but had to ask, “Why are we performing at an antique store?” Tell us how you first came there.

Nicolette: [While] shopping for a couch I walked into Paris on Ponce for the first time. I had my own interior design business [in Portland, OR] for eight years and then decided one day that it was time to try to be a East Coast girl. So I packed up the pug and drove across country in search of design adventures. When I walked into the shop in April 2011, I met Skip [Engelbrecht] and Dennis [Baker] [the new owners] and immediately recognized and respected their vision for the new Paris on Ponce. They had worked for the previous owners, George and Judi, for 11 and eight years respectively and had just bought the business weeks before.

Tell us a story about yourself as a budding designer. Did you rearrange your mother’s furniture and redecorate your bedroom seasonally?

Well, I was always described as a “busy child” and was constantly trying to build/sew/create something. At about four to five years old, my mother began hauling home large boxes from the San Francisco Children’s Hospital where she was a nurse, and I would build go-carts, furniture and once a sink complete with plastic bags of water and turn screws for faucets. Hard lesson there – water + cardboard = Not as much fun as you’d think.

I think the first interior design project that I really did was when I was seven – I wanted a canopy bed. My mother nixed that so I just took down my curtains and rods and staple-gunned them to the ceiling around my bed. Done.

You’re from Portland. What experiences there shaped your creative vision?

Portland is very DIY, very vintage, re-purposed, locally made and handcrafted – which is why I moved there in the first place. There is an easy sense of community that involves musicians, artists and philanthropy. But after 11 years, I had created what I needed to there in the arts/music/design/fund-raising scene.

What is the arts scene like  in Atlanta compared to Portland?

Frankly, the art scene [here] is just like Atlanta [itself]: bigger, bolder and from many more perspectives and mediums. It tends to be a louder and more high-minded scene and gets the attention it deserves.

Nicolette Valdespino with Paris on Ponce co-owner Skip Englebrecht.

What drew you toward Atlanta and were there other cities that you considered moving to?

I was actually plotting my new life in New Orleans when I got sidetracked to Atlanta by a girlfriend who lives here, suggesting that the original California kid might want to put her toe in the water in a large Southern city before I went “deep south” as she called it. The sense of history, craftsmanship and ornamentation that is on the streets, in the air, in the architecture and the culture on the East Coast as opposed to the West eases my soul and inspires me. I don’t know that I’ll have children in this lifetime, and when you start thinking that way, you start wondering who exactly is going to remember you. That leads me to start thinking about all of the hands and stories that created these cities and furnishings that were interesting, emotional and forgotten. By re-purposing, valuing, and preserving these artifacts, I feel more involved with those lives and more a part of humanity in general. Perhaps someday I will be distantly remembered for my interpretations as well.

What historical era of design is your personal favorite?

I should have been born in the 1930s. While I am delighted and really enjoy modern shapes and styles of clothing and furnishings, my personal aesthetic is and always has been a sort of twist on 1940s couture. My father used to refer to pocket money as “hat money” because that is exactly what I would spend my jingle on as a child. I love toppers, circle skirts and pin-up styles. They just feel the most natural to me. Feminine, timeless, and they seem to make people happy. My personal style in decor is greatly influenced by all of the traveling I did as a young person with my French grandmother. If it’s gilded, baroque, velvet, marbleized and slightly decaying, I’ll immediately start to squeal.

How does this inform you as a professional designer?

When I design someone else’s space, it has nothing to do with what I personally like. It is all about the interpretation of that person’s background, personality and resources. Style doesn’t have anything to do with expense as well. Often times, revamping what a client has and custom, locally crafted pieces are much less expensive than just purchasing ready-made items. Plus, you are fostering money within your community and really customizing a space towards the haven that everyone deserves to call home.

In what ways have you influenced the “new PoP”? In other words, when I walk into the venue, where will I see your fingerprint?

Skip, Dennis and I are most certainly a team when it comes to the direction of Paris on Ponce and PoP Marche. I will say though, that I am ridiculously focused on making sure that not only does our new “PoP Marche” have something for everyone, but that the individual booths are very specific to a given lifestyle. I want them to be little complete worlds unto themselves. I want PoP Marche to be startling. From space to space, you are jarred into a whole different vision. Eventually I would like a book store, a toy store, a cafe, a prop studio, an in-house upholstery shop, a gallery for local artists, even a barbershop would be fun. Come, play, experience, purchase, participate and enjoy yourself, and know that the next time you walk in, you will see whole new installations.

What event has been the most fun and exciting for you at PoP?

When we made the giant paper Marie Antoinette for “The Next Cool Event” that was a great crafting project, and the way it was received as compared to other businesses very expensive displays was really satisfying. Our aim was to show that we could make the most ordinary of mediums be extraordinary. Clever beats a dollar bill every time.

Truthfully, though, I’m most excited about the upcoming Bastille Day Festival. I’ve thrown a lot of parties, weddings and charity events before, but never a festival, and never for a guest count that I can’t even imagine. The idea of making it an annual festival is really thrilling, too. Cementing Paris on Ponce in the community as a bohemian playground for artists, writers, performers and dreamers feels like not only is it attainable, but just over the horizon.

If you hadn’t become an Interior Decorator, what might have you done?

I think that it is compulsive for me to create and interpret. Everything. I’ve been sewing and creating my own wardrobe since I was seven. I am no fine artist, but I love to sculpt. Industrial design and furniture design are fascinating to me because you genuinely get to create objects that engage people and serve practical purposes. I have built couches, tables, chairs, and the reinterpretation of leftover furniture pieces through re-upholstery and faux finishes has been a lot of fun lately.

Did you ever expect to be involved in events coordinating and what is your role in the events that take place there?

I throw parties. I love throwing parties. I love them so much I became an officiant so that I get an excuse to participate in other peoples’ parties – kidding – kind of!  Throwing an event is like a shorter, more satisfying version of designing an interior. You come up with a concept and a budget, pull it all together while trying to make it surprising and clever, and everyone has a great time. The one large drawback comparatively is that it’s all temporary. A great party is a great memory, and nothing practical that someone can utilize in the future. But, of course, one’s life is simply a collection of memories, so it is pretty important when you think of it that way. I love the idea especially of doing this Bastille Day Festival here, aligning and showcasing these artists and performers so that they can get paid for being brave and creative. In the future, I would love to make it a fundraising event for the Atlanta arts community.

As far as most of the private events in Le Maison Rouge goes, Dennis is the resident event coordinator, but concerning our previous opening gala, auctions, the upcoming Halloween party, I anticipate that my extra special brand of nonsense will be all over that.

What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

Smiling. Laughing. Building. Learning. Becoming better, brighter and more honest about everything I do. I know that I am extremely lucky to be where I’m at. In this city, in this store, with such great bosses who never red-tape my visions. And I know that I’m here because I work really hard to make this life as full as possible, and that means saying “yes’ when others say “no,” looking for the silver lining, and being creative with difficult situations. There is always a way to make things work if you just breathe, be humble about your perspectives, and take those big leaps. Kind of like when I jumped out of a plane last year on my birthday and the parachute collapsed 30 feet from the ground…Wait-that didn’t work out so well – but I’m still glad I did it.

If I can help to pull off this new vision, this bohemian playground, creating a new corner of culture, I will be a very happy girl and then maybe a whole new endeavor. I’ve been too lucky thus far to plot my future.

Note: All photos are courtesy of Nicolette Valdespino and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Living a Real Life Tom T. Hall Song with Cletis Reid

Posted on: Jun 14th, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Cletis Reid.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

When I first began frequenting the Star Community Bar in L5P in the early ’90s, like so many locals, I couldn’t get enough of the amazing selection of country and rockabilly bands that were being booked there. The excitement was consistent and palpable—we were starved for “it.” Late weekend nights, we clambered for more—even demanded more. Before long it came to my attention that a notable battle-cry had developed. “Alright God-damn-it!” would holler a couple of kids from up front. They clearly had a feel for the real thing ’cause if the show was good they were there and raisin’ a ruckus. “More!!!” Young Cletis Reid knew what he wanted to hear and had no compunctions about making it known.

Now Cletis has his own band, Cletis and his City Cousins, and since they just released a new CD, CITY COUSINS MOVIN’ IN, and are playing this Fri June 15, at The Earl, ATLRetro thought it was a great time to make him Kool Kat of the Week. Make sure you get out because the 9 p.m.-starting show is a mere $10 and they’re sharing the stage with three other ATLRetro favorites, Three Bad JacksHot Rod Walt and The Psycho-DeVilles and Whiskey Dick. 

TORCHY TABOO: I know you grew up in M’retta…how’d you end up at the Star Bar yelling for encores from Redneck Underground greats?

CLETIS REID: In 1992, I saw The Blacktop Rockets play with a band called Donkey at The Roxy in Buckhead, and I basically hauled ass down this path of riches and fame. I had been listening to country music my whole life but never saw people only a little older than me play it before.

I remember The Hepburns with you and your brother Ryan—you were just kids. What was it like being a “child prodigy”? 

The Hepburns is kind of a blur simply because it went from an idea on one of those crazy Stein Club Mondays to kaput within a year, yet we recorded an EP, had heavy airplay on Album 88, did Live at WREK, had an article in The Loaf and Stomp and Stammer, and played a sold-out Point opening for Kelly Hogan. It was like being hit by a truck since, yeah, it was my first “normal” band. I thought it would always go that fast. It went out with a keg on Morgan Road in Marietta.

Photo courtesy of Cletis Reid.

So seeing bands like Backtop Rockets and The Vidalias put the country music of the 1960s and ’70s and earlier into a current and personal context for you. Was it easy to find like-minded people to play with before the Redneck Underground?

Always easy. It was easy when I started out because none of us knew what the hell we were trying to do anyway. I didn’t really develop that direction until Redneck Underground was already a term.  I never identified myself with the Redneck Underground name, just kinda got identified with it through association. I never went through the official hazing ritual with the Witches of the Ozarks. By the time the RU came around, I was surrounded by like minded people all the time. Still am.

I know what Hank III thinks of current mainstream “country'” music. I know what I think of it. What do you think of it?

First of all, I would never call it country. When you say you love country music in my circles, people know what you mean. If I say that out in the real world, people think you mean something totally different and will ask you what you think of the new Taylor Swift record. “I haven’t heard the [___], sir.” But to answer your question I think it should be “mainstreamed” up Toby Keith‘s …..[the terminology gets musically “technical” here…we’ll spare the reader.]

Who was your first rockabilly band, and don’t I recall you on stand-up bass?

The first “rockabilly” band I played with was Flathead Mike and the Mercurys, which was kind of a rockabilly turned up to 11. I was just starting out on upright bass. Definitely hard to keep up with those monkeys at that time. Soon after started playing upright with Caroline and the Ramblers which was a new experience. Already established, total professionals, and more traditional in their sound. I played with them for eight years and learned a lot. Caroline has a new CD out, by the way. I’m her agent. Starting now.

Your band The Holy Smokes brought us the timeless and technical favorite “Hubble Space Telescope,” as I recall.

Hard to remember exact years, but around 2000, I started The Holy Smokes with my buddies Bill Quigley and Mark Griffiths, and a revolving door of drummers. I figured I was ready to front a band. We did a few originals and a number of covers of Sun Records-era rockabilly. That song was written for a Monday night songwriter thing at the Star Bar. I think we may have played it once with The Snakehandlers (another band I was in), but that’s about it. I didn’t have it written down and accidentally forgot it. I remember the relevant part. I guess I could always write some new crap around that.

Tell us about your current band, Cletis and his City Cousins?

After everybody moved away on me, after a couple of years I asked my buddy Johnny McGowan to help me out and it turned into Cletis and his City Cousins around 2002. It evolved into more of a ’60s or ’70s trucking vibe, which seemed like the natural order of things.

For the erudition of the general public, why truckin’ songs?

Truckers to me have always been the cool, loner guys. I would go on vacations with my grandparents as a young kid and we would roll into this truckstop diner around foggy sun-up, and I thought all these guys were living a real life Smokey and The Bandit or Tom T. Hall song, and in a way they were. Those old truck-driving songs have a way of painting a picture of that life that I could never do in sentences. Always felt I could relate to them in a sense. Plus, all my Trapper Keepers [Marietta-speak for school notebook] had some rigs with some sweet sleepers on them. Wanted to live in one.  I got a CB for Christmas one year. My handle was “Honkey See, Honkey Do.” I guess it still is if I ever get another one.  [if?!]

The Cousins frame the talents of Johnny McGowan, and the chemistry seems perfect.

Johnny and I were friends from his early days in the Blacktop Rockets when we raised a little hell at Sleazefest ’97. When I needed somebody to play with after the great Exodus of ’02, he was a no-brainer. Even then he had some of the craziest chops in town. We would set up for hours on end in his basement and record stuff until we were plain sick of each other, and eventually it became a natural working relationship. He and I actually plan on releasing some of those early basement recordings some day. He’s the best musical mind I know, and the only guy I know who can play a Jerry Reed-type run exactly the way we need it done. Turned out we wrote well together too. It hasn’t always been sunshine and teacups, but I’ve never had a second thought about calling him up. Throw in Blake and Hammer, and I can’t imagine a more perfect band for me.

It’s been predicted that “The Man Behind the Woman Behind the Man Behind the Wheel” will top the charts as a single. Say something about the new CD to entice the Fans.

First off, it’s very shiny. Secondly, it’s been in the works since the Vietnam era, and finally, $10 is a small price to pay for the most staggering achievement in the annals of human endeavor. CD is called CITY COUSINS MOVIN’ IN. [Buy it or they will. Ed’s note: Watch out for an ATLRetro review coming soon.]

To close, I asked Cletis the ubiquitous question, “where’d  the name ‘Cletis and the City Cousins’ come from?” But it was the top of the Ninth, and an answer nearly as dismissive as “Woman, get me a beer” told me my magic moment with the rising star was done. “I just came up with it off the top of my head as just something to call it and it ended up sticking,” he said. ” need to come up with a more exciting story for my next interview.”

Yes. Well, the truth is Cletis Reid sees himself as that guy all Southern people have in their family so the name is a straightforward description of sorts. That is, if they all had a notorious biting wit for remarks such as, “If there was any justice in this world, URBAN COWBOY would be thought of in the same way people think of CITIZEN KANE.”

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 13: Smokin’ at The Plaza, A Flashback to The Plaza’s Racy Past from Torchy Taboo

Posted on: Jun 5th, 2012 By:
From the 1960s into the 1980s, the Plaza Theatre screened adult entertainment and hosted burlesque shows. The art-deco marquee proudly declared XXX. Torchy Taboo remembers…
I have a dozen or so stories I love to tell that are set at the Plaza Theatre. I think the one that follows is the earliest. And in some ways in my thinking, may very well be where it all began for Torchy Taboo…
        Growing up in DeKalb County  in the 70s, part of any trip to the Atlanta Zoo or Aunt Etheline’s house near the GMHI always included a soda fountain milk-shake from the Plaza Drug Store on the way home at night-fall…”We never close.”  The vintage Plaza sign blipped on my glittery little girl radar right between the fancy 1940s kitchen at my Aunt’s & Willie B.‘s  cage at the Zoo.  “Daddy, Daddy'” tugging on my father’s sleeve, “Can we go to the movies?!” I’d sing, gazing at the glowing word “theater” and envisioning the velvet chaise in the opulent ladies’ lounge at the Fox. “Not here” was the only answer I ever got…
         I was a sheltered child so when the early ’80s brought me the freedom of “adulthood,” I quickly moved as far as my saved-up mall-job dollars and my blossoming sense of adventure dared to go. The call of “We never close” rang from my memories, and I soon found myself in the Virginia-Highlands. Within a month’s time I’d seen the inside of the 688 club, The Cove after-hours leather bar, the Classy Cat strip club and the Plaza Theatre. My position as an Exotic Dancer afforded me a glamorous grown-up lifestyle: all the after-hours acid and cocktails I wanted. The childhood entertainments of Willie B and Aunt Etheline were replaced by a nightly string of uncaged animals at the Classy Cat; 5 a.m. counter-seat Majestic Diner specials took the place of the soda fountain milkshakes. And I could go to the movies when I dang well wanted…wherever I wanted.
        For all my daring proximity to the hell-bound and hedonists, truth was my roots grew in a garden of slow bloomers. I could have worn a white robe down the aisle to collect my high school diploma, and at the tender age of 19, I was still content to witness the visceral as a voyeur. Add my 23-year-old boyfriend’s tenuous grasp on heterosexuality…..shall we say, I was in the Colosseum, but I was sittin’ in the Plebeian seats. Lured by the promise of glory toward the center of the arena and the threat of Daddy’s foreboding words, “Not here,” the mystery of the Plaza Theatre whispered something this burgeoning gladiator needed to know.
        Sexually ambiguous sidekick boyfriend at my heel, we took our place in line for tickets. The marquis overhead read EMMANUELLE (1974) and EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976). The lobby card that caught my attention prominently featured a sensual ’70s  nude woman poised in front of several Siamese buildings – perhaps temples. Her bronzed skin & up-turned face suggestive of a sun worshiper, she sat cross-legged, flowers in hand strategically placed to render her publicly viewable. “Hmm…pretty,” this is what I knew of the film, other than the smirk that crossed the faces of the Classy Cat customers I’d asked about it. For me at the time, naked women and Siamese buildings conjured vague images of B-movies I’d seen with native island girls wildly dancing around a fire or Yul Brynner as the King of Siam…both favorites! Clearly I’d come to the right place.
        In hindsight, having no idea which of the two flicks on the marquis I actually saw seems almost beside the point. I remember very little about the plot, other than the fact that it left me feeling much the way I do when I find myself in a dance class three levels beyond my ability to follow. The only detail I can relate had something to do with a cigarette smoked by a woman on a stage….not with the lips of her face. As I pondered the particulars of her skill, my sexually ambiguous mate who was the pretentious sort that carried his smokes in a 1960s cigarette case and even used a stem holder from time to time, remarked, “I wonder if that’s a menthol or non-menthol?”

As I said at the start, I carry many stories of the Plaza Theatre with me. Yet in an attempt to effect the level of cynicism I learned that very night to be so necessary a part of my arsenal of worldly weapons, it was my lead story for years to come. I hope to top it with a new story, something much less cynical sometime soon. If I do, you’ll be the first to know, *wink!*

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Kool Kat of the Week: Like a Burlesque Girl Should: Shaking, Rattlin’ and Rockin’ Out with Kitten DeVille on Neoburlesque’s Underground Roots, Lux Interior and Headlining Atlanta’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest

Posted on: Mar 7th, 2012 By:

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Neil Kendall.

Anyone who’s spent any time watching Atlanta’s burlesque scene knows we have some amazing performers and troupes, but Southern Fried Burlesque Fest finally put Atlanta on the map as having its own weekender featuring nationally known stars, legends and local and regional performers. At last year’s premiere event, we had an amazing time watching some of the most creative acts ever to hit local stages and mixing and mingling over cocktails in between. So needless to say, ATLRetro can’t wait for the second annual festival this weekend (March 8-11) at the Courtyard Marriott/Decatur Conference Center.

Look out for a full preview soon, but in the true spirit of tease, we couldn’t wait to titillate you with an exclusive interview with headliner Kitten DeVille, Miss Exotic World 2002 and the Queen of the Quake. Kitten is the shake-rattle-and rock ‘n’ roll 3-D embodiment of the cat’s meow, the quintessential Kool Kat, and one of the key founders of the neo-burlesque revival. So listen up, kids, as she divulges some sexy secrets about the pioneer days of the early ’90s (to find out how Atlanta’s own burlesque revival began, check out Torchy Taboo‘s tale of the city’s first show here.), as well as what she’ll be up to this weekend. Oh, and we  just couldn’t resist asking her what it was like to shoot the “Ultra Twist” video with The CrampsLux Interior, Kitten and we miss you more than you could ever imagine!

ATLRetro: When you got started in burlesque, the art form was mostly dead. Yet around the country in the early-mid ‘90s, it seemed like there was almost a simultaneous energy to bring it back. Can you talk a little bit about the early days of the Burlesque revival and what inspired you to perform?

Kitten DeVille: At the time  I was go go dancing along with Michelle Carr at an underground gay club inLos Angeles called Club Fuck. I was collecting vintage men’s magazines and had always been inspired by the photos of burlesque dancers. Their photos seemed to capture  incredibly, fierce and glamourous women having  fun on their own terms. Their costumes inspired me to make all my go-go costumes in their style . When Michelle and Elvia ( the creators of [Los Angeles burlesque troupe] The Velvet Hammer) started talking about putting together a burlesque supper club I was sold on the idea. The first Velvet Hammer was held on Valentines Day 1995. Lux & [PoisonIvy (of The Cramps) were in the  sold-out audience. I was hooked from the very start – one-upping my costumes, always in search of the next song. Backstage was like a girls night out – champagne, laughter, catching up on the latest stories. (I still feel this way backstage today.)

Kitten DeVille Miss Exotic World 2002 Promo shot. Photo credit: Don Spiro.

Some things that were different in the start that maybe girls do not think about today [include]:

In the 1990s, there was really nowhere to go for  8x10s. There were no modern pin up photographers like there are today. We had to make it up as we went along, designing our shoots, telling them we wanted a certain mood and lighting. Most photographers did not ‘get it right off the bat.

There was no place to buy costumes. The lingerie industry was pretty boring, very plain compared to what is out there now (also pretty burlesque-inspired if you ask me). There are so many things that seem so common now that were really hard-to-find objects in the ’90s, from hair ornaments [to] shoes, clothing. Most things we could only obtain in vintage form; now there is so much off the rack .

At the 2000 Miss Exotic World & Tease-O-Rama in 2001 there were only a handful of neoburlesque girls. It was an exciting world to ourselves. Each year our numbers grew. We returned with new stories and adventures. Our world expanded. We helped each other along; we were inspired by the legends. We witnessed the burlesque explosion. It is pretty amazing to watch a scene grow, to be a part of it from the very beginnings. Because when you are in the midst of it, you do not understand that you are part of this history, that people will one day be inspired by you, that we were creating and forming this thing that has become modern burlesque. It is quite an honor.

What kinds of people came to those early Velvet Hammer shows?

Gays, straights, hipsters. We had an underground mixed crowd right from the start. It was its own scene. People dressed up. It was an event, a real night out on the town affair.

Today’s burlesque performers can learn their craft in classes through schools of burlesque such as yours. How did you develop your stage style and did you have any mentors/early inspirations/role models in the art of burlesque?

In 1994, when I started creating my first burlesque act, there was no YouTube and very little vintage burlesque easily available on video. I took what I saw in vintage burlesque  photos and blended it with what I believed they must have been doing on stage with their bodies and created my own style of burlesque. My main inspirations for my movements are Lilie Christine‘s photos and Lux Interior’s and Iggy Pop‘s no-holds-barred stage presence.

Kitten DeVille & Lux Interior.

What was it like working with the Cramps? 

Working and performing with the Cramps has been amazing and intimidating. I had been a huge fan of Lux and Ivy for years. At first, I felt so meek sitting in the same room with them. But they are such wonderful people, very friendly and funny.  At one point Lux was asking our opinion on which heels he should wear for the shoot and if we would mind doing an extra scene riding in a back of a convertible with them. Lux also liked to take 3D photos, and backstage at the Key Club, he was doing an impromptu photo shoot of Michelle and me when we opened for their show. Now that was a mix of horror and amazement because the event was over-sold so people were packed in standing room only from stage to exit and here we were opening for The Cramps!  Not really a burlesque show audience, people had only one thing on their minds and that was Lux & Poison or so it felt to me. I remember walking onto stage and looking into their faces. It seemed as if  half the audience was super into what I was doing  and half had that look of, “OK, now bring on The Cramps!  But the best thing from that night was what the DJ and some people in the booth overheard Lux saying to Ivy as they watched me perform. Lux had leaned over to Ivy and said  “now how are we going to follow that!”

What about being shot by Bunny Yeager and David LaChapelle?

Bunny Yeager is such a pro, such an eye and very easy to work with. I only wished I would have filmed the shoot so I could remember all the little tricks she was telling me, just an inch here or a hand held there. Her direction and photos came out flawless. I remember she kept wanting me to be naked and in the end I was. Ha ha, she has her ways of getting what she wants, and, well, it’s Bunny and who else should be the first photographer to shoot nude photos of me?!

David LaChapelle is so fun to work with. It is always a crazy party; you never know what to expect out of the day. I had first met him with a mutual friend  in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery watching movies being projected on the wall. He said that he liked the dress I was wearing and asked if he could put my number in his phone. I have done a few photos, videos and commercials with him. He is such an artist and very sweet.

What’s your favorite performance thus far and why? 

I cannot choose only one. Many of my performances have a special place in my heart for different reasons, but the one that shines is “The Casting Couch” that Dixie Evans personally taught to me back at the Ranch.  I love Dixie. She is the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and kindest lady I have ever met in the field of burlesque. She is the glue that binds this whole scene from the beginnings to the modern day. When I was asked to perform a tribute number at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, I instantly chose Dixie.

I spent a couple  days with her teaching me her routine, filming her, taking down notes on what songs she had used. And in the end she was insistent that I finish the routine with something of myself, with my bumps and grinds, because she had said “no one can shake the way you shake and you have to make this your own.” So I added “The Man with the Golden Arm” song to the end and made her routine have a bit of myself mixed into it.  This is the only time I have ever performed someone else’s choreography and such a well-known routine.  Although it went off wonderfully, it was such a challenge of nerves to perform it in front of her and my peers at BHoF that I put the routine away for about five years. I brought it back out again for Viva Las Vegas and spent the next two years touring with it because I loved doing it so much. Funny how things go sometimes .

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Luca Rome.

For us East Coast Southerners, what’s the Rock & Roll StripShow, how did you get the idea and is that still happening?

The Rock & Roll StripShow is a joint effort of Joseph Brooks, Annie Sperling and myself. It came about because of a few different reasons. First, there are no large-venue burlesque shows in Los Angeles. Second I wanted to co-produce something with Joseph Brooks who is hugely responsible for the underground club scene in LA starting in the late 1980s which I loved dancing at. And thirdly I wanted to combine my two favorite worlds – rock  & roll and burlesque – something most people were not doing back in 2005. Rock & Roll StripShow features our own band and guest singers which have included David J of Bauhaus fame, Pearl Harbor, Kitten on the Keys and other wonderful  performers. We handpick a headliner roster of performers, and the night is filled with burlesque performances set to live Rock & Roll in a proper venue with amazing sound and lightin . It is a main event attracting everyone from Dita [Von Teese], David LaChapelle and a who’s who in LA  to attend. Right now we are looking to take StripShow on tour. We also want to attach it to larger burlesque or Rock & Roll festivals .

Kitten DeVille Onstage in New Orleans.

What will you be up to at Southern Fried Burlesque Fest?

I am performing on Friday night [at Free Range Burlesque] and judging the [Southern Fried Burlesque] Pageant on Saturday. I am also teaching two classes. I have a movement class [Sat. 3:15] that is guaranteed to have the students feeling their bodies,  and also a question/answer [Sat. 4:30 p.m.], ask-me-anything sort of a class that should be really fun because I never know what I will be asked and they maybe surprised by my answers.

What else, other than your own performance and classes, are you looking forward to the most at SFBF?

Watching the other performances. I love Perle [Perle Noire, the Black Pearl] and Angel [ Satan’s Angel]. They are both always so inspiring. I am excited to watch and meet all the wonderful  performers. My favorite things about festivals are meeting and making new friends. I have never been to Georgia before so I am also excited to be in a new place, to soak up my surrounding and sample the food.

You’re quite the multitalented Renaissance woman of burlesque. What else are you up to right now in movies, music, modeling?

I have been doing some interesting modeling work with Annie Sperling. I am in talks with a producer about doing  a TV show. I am thinking about doing some writing, and I am working on setting up another European tour for late summer early fall. I am also traveling the states doing festivals. I have Viva Las Vegas and the Texas Burlesque Festival in April and The Windy City Burlesque Festival in July .

What question does no one ever ask you that you wish someone did? And what’s the answer? 

Wow, what a great question! I think I am too much of a Scorpio to give away all my secrets, but now you have my mind spinning for the perfect question. I will have to get back to you on that one.

In addition to Kitten DeVille’s main Website, she invites you to enjoy more pics and clips at http://kittendeville.tumblr.com/.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Let Her Entertain You: Fonda Lingue Teases Us With a Snow-Glamorous Fan Dance and Embarks on a Grand European Tour

Posted on: Nov 28th, 2011 By:

Fonda Lingue. Photo credit: Rah Benton.

Place a wide ostrich feather fan in the hand of Fonda Lingue, and she’ll tease you with an act that captures the classic beauty of vintage  Sally Rand. She’s mastered “Let Me Entertain You,” the signature striptease number of Gypsy Rose Lee, and she’s even developing a tribute to Lili St. Cyr. But as you watch her graceful moves that recapture the glamour of burlesque’s golden era, chances are it may take you a while to realize Fonda’s ultimate tease. While burlesque has its share of boys, Fonda is one of the very few who dances as a woman and not just that, but as the awards and accolades she’s accrued in just a few years of professional performance in the field attest, with all the skill and sex appeal of today’s top female burlesque revival performers.

Atlanta’s burlesque scene has had its share of rising stars, but when we heard that Fonda was heading to Europe to compete against some of the best international performers for the prestigious Milan Burlesque Awardas well as a whirlwind performance tour through England, France and Italy, we knew it was high time to declare her Kool Kat of the Week. This Fri. Dec. 2, she’ll also be one of the Snow Queens of Burlesque in Santa Baby, a special wintry holiday edition of Mon Cherie‘s Va-Va Voom series at The Shelter featuring special guest celebrity emcee Devin Liquor and Stormy KnightBiloxi BrownKatherine LasheScarlett Page and more of Atlanta’s best dancers. Then on Sat. Dec. 17, she’ll be performing in the Syrens of the South-produced Tits for Toys for Tots show at The Five Spot. Headlined by burlesque legend Gabriella Maze, returning after almost 30 years, that holiday-themed spectacular features a glitzy all-star line-up of local performers including Talloolah Love, Katherine Lashe, Ruby Redmayne, Kittie Katrina, Kisa Von Teasa and Lola Lesoleil.

ATLRetro caught up with Fonda to find out what flamed her passion for classic burlesque and to see what we could tease out of her about her December performances and that upcoming European tour!

ATLRetro: Before you became a classic burlesque performer, you were a ballet dancer and female impersonator for 20 years. How did you get started in burlesque and what captivated you to embrace recreating the golden era of burlesque?

Fonda Lingue: I got started in burlesque when Devin Liquor and I had a show at The Stage Door in Tucker called “The Dirty South Dukes and Dolls Show.” It was primarily a drag king show, and I was the only “female” in the show. I never wanted to do traditional drag acts of just standing there and lipsyncing to popular songs so I would create these dance numbers to use all of my talents. I did a number to “Let Me Entertain You” from GYPSY where I did the first part as the young Gypsy, then ran off the stage, quickly changed and became Gypsy in her striptease years and stripped down to pasties and panties. The audience loved it! I began adding those numbers more and more into my act and was asked by The Lady Miss Vagina Jenkins to participate in one of her burlesque shows. That was the start.

Fonda Lingue. Photo credit: Derek Jackson.

As far as the Golden Era of Burlesque, I am a purist, almost to an OCD extent. I figure if I am going to do it, I am going to do it right and do it accurately. I have studied videos, read books—I am reading GILDED LILI [about] the life of Lili St. Cyr right now—and talked to legends, and to me, that time was the height of what burlesque used to be. You were a star back then and you were paid well to do your craft. You were taken care of and respected for what you did as an artist. I love the glamour, and I love the social aspects of the burlesque scene. I also think it is important to keep that part of our history alive. Right now there is a more contemporary approach to burlesque throughout the country, and my goal is to keep classic burlesque alive. There is room for both and many performers do both styles. For me, it is a preference, and I think it suits my movement style and my look.

It strikes me that the burlesque world is very open-minded and embracing, but did you have any challenges as a boylesque performer among your fellow performers or with audiences?

I can’t believe how well I have been received in the burlesque world. Much more than in the drag world. I am one of only a few males that perform as a woman. In fact, I know of no one else who does what I do. That’s not saying there isn’t someone, I just don’t know of anybody. I am different in that my goal is to fool the audience until the final reveal, then they realize I am a man. Really, I am the definition of the word “Burlesque.” I love to challenge people’s sensibilities and prove to them that they can enjoy my performances from an entertainment standpoint and not necessarily a sexual one. I also like the fact that I may challenge their sexual tendencies as well. The only real problem I have is when I apply to a festival or competition, they don’t always know where to put me. They want me, but they just don’t know if I am to be placed with the boys or the girls. In the Great Southern Exposure pageant last year, I won King of Burlesque. Some other competition might place me as a female. If it is not a competition, there is no problem.  I don’t care myself where I go, i just want to be able to perform.

Who are a few of the performers—both classic and from the contemporary burlesque revival—who most inspire you?

Lili St. Cyr is my absolute favorite. I have been compared to her in my performances, and I take that as the highest compliment. I have been inspired the most by Kisa Von Teasa, Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish and Michelle L’Amour. Each of them inspire me in different ways.

You’ve won quite a few honors in just a few years in the profession, including King of Burlesque in the Great Southern Exposure Burlesque Competition. Do you feel that ballet and drag experience gave you a leg up, so to speak?

Drag not so much. I would like to say that it had, but I have to be honest. Other queens told me my make-up was wrong, my numbers weren’t current, and they all tried to “correct” me. Even my partner at the time tried to change my make-up. It was only when I went back to following my own instincts that I got any recognition. Plus, it’s all too political in Atlanta, but that is another interview!

Ballet has definitely helped me with my burlesque career. I would not have the carriage and vocabulary I have if it weren’t for my experience as a ballet dancer. Also my ability to portray different characters can be attributed to my ballet training. In ballet, you have to convey the story to your audience through your movements. Your voice is your body. It’s the same in burlesque. Burlesque is just another form of dance. People argue with me on that, but aren’t we called burlesque DANCERS?

Without giving away too much, what can you tease us with about your performance in this Friday’s winter-themed Va-Va-Voom?

Well, I have been asked to do a fan dance by Mon Cherie herself, so that I will do. It will be set to classical music, it will be very sparkly—of course—and I hope it will be very beautiful!

You’ve done a lot of performances at Mon Cherie’s events, including the Rockabilly Lounge. She’s really gone a long way towards making burlesque a regular activity in Atlanta and nurturing so many performers. Can you talk a bit about Mon Cherie’s impact on the local burlesque scene and why folks should come out to her events?

Well, Mon Cherie has done a lot for me personally as far as my performing here in Atlanta. She has allowed me to perform in front of audiences that I didn’t know if they were going to like me or hate me. Fortunately they have all been favorable experiences, and I have opened some peoples eyes through her. Mon brings in performers from all over the south and also tries to give “Newbies”—that’s a term I have learned through my dealings overseas—a chance to perform as well.

Money is tight these days, and there are not a lot of outlets for burlesque performers right now. I am very lucky I perform as much as I do. She has had a HUGE impact on Atlanta’s burlesque scene in that she makes it possible for us to work consistently. Just about every independent burlesque performer in Atlanta has graced her stages at one time or another. I admire the fact that she tries to keep us employed and often reaps no benefits herself. I know her day will come. You can’t give of yourself like she does and not be rewarded somehow. Her events are professional, she has high standards, and the atmosphere is that of those early years of burlesque when it was just as social as it was performance. I always feel like I have stepped back in time!

We just heard the exciting news that you’re about to set off on a European tour. Where are you going and what acts are you taking on the road?

Right now I am going to London, Rome, Paris, and I am still waiting confirmation on Milan. There are other things in the works but not confirmed. I am taking six acts with me! Am I crazy? Yes! I am performing three nights inParis, and they want two numbers each night! I am taking “Zip Strip” (the act I won Great Southern Exposure with) my “funny fan dance,” “Cry Me A River” (my signature piece), “Moon Indigo” (a new act that is in rehearsals now), “Lili,” my tribute to Lili St. Cyr (in rehearsal now, especially created for this tour) and another new number that I have chosen the music but haven’t started yet.

Is it true that Ruby Redmayne is coming with you?

We are working on that! If she does, she will accompany me on part of my trip only. She is my best friend, and she wants to be there to celebrate with me and to help me backstage. And who wouldn’t want to go to Europe?! We can make a great time out of walking through the grocery store, so I know we will have fun. I hope it works out that she can go because I would love to share this experience with her. She has done so much for me to keep me motivated and help me get things done. I have booked this whole tour on my own—researched my own contacts, pursued producers and corresponded with all of them. It has turned into almost a full-time job, and Ruby has been invaluable in helping me get things accomplished! She needs to reap the benefits of her hard work as well! It’s not easy keeping me motivated!

It’s hard to make a living as a burlesque performer here in the US, but you’ve said that the situation is easier in Europe. I was struck, for example, at the huge burlesque scene in London—there’s so much going on that there’s even a “burlesque map.” Would you ever consider relocating to Europe?

Absolutely! In fact, that is my intention when I go over there. I am not sure where I want to live yet. Most likely it will be the UK or Paris. I want to see if it will be possible to make a living at being a burlesque artist. From what I have been told, there are not many male performers in Paris and none that perform as a woman.  The London burlesque scene has exploded. Europeans treat their Artists like Artists. And they pay them what they are worth. I have worked since I was 12 years old and never stopped. I loved my career as a ballet dancer, don’t get me wrong, but I was never a star. I was, and still am, well-known but I want more. I know it sounds cliche but that is what I want. I feel that I am on a path right now, and this is where it is leading. I have had a rough year. My relationship ended, and the day before I was to move into my new apartment I was in a car accident that has left me with some physical problems.  Everything bad that has happened has happened for a reason and has led to this tour. Far be it from me to stop listening now!

Do you have any other performances scheduled in Atlanta during the holiday season?

Yes, on December 17, I will be doing my “Suzy Snowflake” number at Syrens of the South’s Tits For Toys for Tots at the Five Spot in Little Five Points. I have also been asked to perform again at The Pond in Nashville with Ruby Redmayne for their annual New Year’s Eve Party.

You feel passionately about teaching burlesque as well. Can you talk a little bit about why even accomplished performers can benefit from classes to keep up their craft?

Your body is an instrument and it needs to be maintained. Regular movement classes keep you supple and in shape. They also keep your mind working. You are a dancer, and a dancer needs to take class at least a couple of time a week. I try to do my own class everyday. You owe it to your audience to be in the best shape both mentally and physically. The only way to do that is through constant training. People argue this with me, but the performers that do this are the ones getting the jobs and keeping them. You can always learn something from someone else. That is why I try to take as many classes as I can when someone new comes in to town or I go to a burlesque festival. It is always nice to hear someone else’s perspective on the same thing—especially someone that makes their living doing it! Ninety-nine percent of the time you get something out of it.

Finally, if I recall correctly, you recently purchased an amazing, beautiful headdress from Miss Torchy Taboo. Have you worn it yet in an act or what plans do you have for it?

I have not worn it yet. Rumor has it that I did wear it for a photo shoot, but that is not true. That beautiful piece of art will hopefully make it’s debut if I am accepted into the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival here in Atlanta the week before I go to Europe. If not, you will have to come to Europe to see it! I will be applying to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. Torchy and I both agree it needs to end up there. “Moon Indigo” is the music I have selected for the number. I have designed my costume with a kind of Erte feel to it, and I have matched the fabric to the headpiece. It includes a fur wrap, and it will be made of dupioni silk! My costume is being constructed by Cat Harrison, a big Steampunk costume designer, so my corset will be especially awesome. I am using vintage beads combined with non-vintage Swarovski crystals. Costuming my body is not easy because I have to create body parts and curves that I just don’t have. My hat is off to her and she is doing a great job!

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Extra Kool Kat of the Week: How a Few Too Many Drinks and a Holy Trinity of Johnnies Led to Keith Martin Stumbling Down into The Basement This Friday

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2011 By:

At Bubbapalooza at the Star Bar back in May, Torchy Taboo told me that she was really digging this new rockabilly band called The Stumblers. Now I know Torchy well enough to know she doesn’t mess around with her rockabilly, but when this quartet hit the stage in those ace cowboy shirts and started playing, let’s just say they weren’t stumblin’. Not that would expect anything klutzy coming from a line-up like vocalist/rhythm guitarist Keith Martin (Brandy, Car Thieves, Pickman’s Model), David Stuart (Hallows Eve) on lead guitar, veteran drummer Robbie Whelan and prolific English bassist Paul Diffin (recently The Psycho-DeVilles and Linda Gail Lewis, but also London acts The Big Six, Sugar Ray Ford and The Hotshots, and The Blue Cats).

While Keith and David have punk and metal band roots, sometimes your first love is your greatest one and for them, it was the southern roots music of the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Ask the boys what they play, and they’ll tell you that they are a four-piece traditional country band. Later that night I cornered Keith in the stairwell heading down to The Little Vinyl Lounge to ask when he’d be up for an interview, and he suggested a downstairs gig Friday July 22 with Vermont country-Goddamned-music band JP Harris & the Tough Choices at The Basement underneath Graveyard Tavern.

The Stumblers front man Keith Martin. Photo Credit: Scott Lowden.

Needless to say, it’s two months later and that show is now this week. Lucky for ATLRetro readers, Keith still was more than happy to take a break from honkytonkin’ to divulge the origin story of The Stumblers, give a crash lesson in the history of “hillbilly jump,” talk about their pronounced predilection for dive bars and share some shopping tips on finding cowboy shirts as cool as theirs.

How and when did you fine fellas get together?

Robbie and I have been friends for years but had never played together. We started back in 2007 to work on what would become The Stumblers. The first go at it was great, but soon life began to kickus in the teeth with a series of personnel issues. Our bassist took a job in Florida, our lead player had to quit for personal reasons, and to top it off, Robbie was called up and deployed to Iraq. The night he shipped out, I promised Robbie that I wasn’t giving up, and that by the time he came back I would have the players we needed to keep the band alive.

During this time my other old friend David Stuart decided to come out of semi-retirement and try his formidable hand at country music. I gave him a few reference songs and he took off like a bat out of hell. My friend Mike Bourne of Atlanta Boogie told me I should “Call Paul Diffin; he lives and breathes the stuff you’re doing.” After looking up Paul on the Internet, and realizing that he was the bassist for some of my favorite English bands, I immediately called him. Two minutes into our first get-together with this new line up, I knew we had a magical combination.

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