Words & Photos by Veronica Slaght
There are a lot of women who rock. Despite that, there aren’t many all-female rock bands.
In the 1970s, The Runaways saw some commercial success before Joan Jett and the other members split off to start solo careers. Then in the ’80s, The Go Go’s and The Bangles tapped into the lighter, fun side of rock ‘n’ roll. They were followed by heavy metal band Vixen and punk groups like The Lunachicks. The early ’90s saw the underground feminist punk of the Riot Grrrl movement on the West Coast, including bands like Sleater-Kinney, and the late ’90s brought us the “electroclash” band Le Tigre. And these days, an L.A.-based art-rock band called Warpaint is making some very cool music (check out their catchy single, “Undertow”).
But the industry is still largely dominated by dudes, evidenced by the fact that most of the drummers, bassists and guitar players in popular rock bands are men. And I don’t know any all-female bands who rock harder than the four ladies of Antigone Rising.
Meet Antigone Rising. Again.
Although the band has been playing since 1993, they have a whole new energy, a new lead singer and a new set list, and their previous classic rock influence has given way to a sweeter, though just as tough, country-influenced rock sound.
So it’s time for a reintroduction.
Antigone Rising formed at Bucknell College and started playing in New York’s Greenwich Village shortly afterwards. The founding members were sisters Kristen and Cathy Henderson, who remain the backbone of the band. Kristen plays bass and Cathy lead guitar. Drummer Dena Tauriello joined the group in 1998, and Nini Camps, vocals and rhythm guitar, came onboard in 2009.
The band is based in New York or New Jersey — depending on who’s asking. The Henderson sisters live on Long Island but were born in the Garden State (and have written a song called “New Jersey” about memories at their grandmother’s house). Dena lives in Morristown, and Nini in Queens.
The group is known for its dynamic live shows and its “relentless” touring (although they’ve cut back a little bit since Kristen and Nini became mothers). Ten years since their last studio album, Antigone Rising is releasing a new full-length record, 23 Red, later this month, and they couldn’t be more excited.
“We’re all kind of in a place where we’re doing what we love — and it shows,” Cathy said backstage during a recent show at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. “It feels like home when we’re on stage together.”
The album’s name originated with a night at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Nini announced, “I’m gonna play my number — 23 red.” Then, Julie (the band’s manager) won on 23 red, which also happened to be Kristen’s soccer uniform number in high school, where the mascot was “Big Red.”
“It’s sort of symbolic,” Cathy said. “A winning combination.”
The band’s name, of course, comes from the Greek myth of Antigone — the strong, defiant daughter of Oedipus. In Sophocles’ version of the story, Antigone (which means “unyielding”) buries her brother, a traitor, despite orders by her uncle, the king, that his body be left outside to rot. She argues that her moral sense of what’s right trumps his laws. At the end of the play, she hangs herself in a prison cell.
My interview with band started on a far less serious note, and with Kristen asking a question of me instead. She wanted to know what Charlie Sheen had been tweeting recently.
It was apparent that the four band members have a lot of fun together.
“All our new stuff is terrible,” Kristen said with a straight face … before everyone cracked up.
The new album was supposed to be only an EP, Cathy said, but fans donated money through a Kickstarter fundraiser, which allowed them to pay for more studio time.
“We’ve always had a really wonderful fan base,” she said. “It’s really humbling.”
Cathy said the new album “kind of evolved,” largely thanks to producer Gary Philips.
The band attributes much of its rebirth to bringing Nini Camps on as lead vocalist.
Camps, a singer-songwriter in her own right, became friends with the band when she and Antigone Rising kept showing up at the same venues and festivals. Their first lead singer, Penelope “Peppy” Kokines, recently departed the band, and they were trying out different people to take her place.
At one point, they called Nini to ask her if she wanted to sing and play bass with them at the Jerry Lewis telethon in Los Angeles. She said yes. Later, they asked Camps to sing with them when they opened for Joan Jett and then The Bangles, and they’ve been together ever since.
“It’s been awesome working with Nini,” drummer Dena Tauriello said.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, and it was starting to feel like a job,” she said. “This put the fun back into it.”
Recently, the band has added book signings to its list of gigs. Kristen and her partner Sarah wrote a memoir for Simon & Schuster called Times Two, which came out last month.
It chronicles their experience getting pregnant on the same day and carrying their babies to term together. A writer who did a piece on them for Real Simple magazine suggested they write a book, and they got the deal in April 2009, after the babies, Thomas and Kate, were born.
Kristen said she’s talked so much about it, soon she’ll only be able to say, “Well, it’s yellow. And I have two babies.”
Does she still have time for the band now that she’s a published writer?
“I only hang out with my author friends now,” the rock ‘n’ roll bass player quipped, raising her pinky as she lifted her beer bottle to take a sip.
(In fact, publicity efforts for the book and the new record have been building on each other in a positive way, she said.)
In Asbury Park that night, the band played to a packed house. Almost all the songs were new, which sometimes leaves the crowd dissatisfied. But their new stuff is so good that fans and newcomers alike were thrilled to be there.
The women’s three-part harmonies shimmered above their alternately rocking and soulful instrumental playing, including some slide guitar from Camps. Stand-out tracks from the new record were many, but included “Remedy,” Everything Changes” and “Everywhere Is Home.”
The band also did killer covers of Lucinda Williams’ “Can’t Let Go” and the Police tune “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”
The following weekend, they went on to play at the Nokia Theater in Times Square, and the Tin Angel in Philadelphia. If you missed them, they’ll be back at The Stone Pony this summer.
Catch these ladies if you can — they’re hitting their stride.