bill bodkin interviews one of the Jersey Shore’s most-talked about women in rock ..
Tara Elliott & The Red Velvets are the type of gritty, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll that harkens back to the sweaty days of CBGBs in the 1970s. However, this red rocker is just more than garage rock and proto-punk anthems. Elliott’s vocals are steeped in sultry blues, making her a dual threat of songstress and sonic siren.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin caught up with Elliot hot off of her performance opening for New York Dolls lead singer David Johansen (Buster Poindexter, to those unfamiliar with the legendary rocker) and spoke with her about her music, how Iggy Pop changed her life and the Jersey Shore original music scene.
Tara Elliott & The Red Velvets Are:
Tara Elliott: leader, songwriter, guitar, siren.
Lou Vito: guitar, organ. (New member — three months)
Joe Rowley: bass. (New member — four months)
Lisa Lewis: drums. (New members — one year)
We Formed In: I created Tara Elliott & The Red Velvets. My first Red Velvet gig took place on May 24, 2008 at The Lamp Post in Jersey City.
We’re Based Out Of: I’m from the Long Branch/Asbury Park areas. My current band members are from the North Jersey area.
Tara Elliott’s songs can be listened to and purchased on: Facebook (www.facebook.com/theredvelvets), iTunes, ReverbNation (www.reverbnation.com/taraelliottandtheredvelvets), Amazon, CD Baby, Myspace (www.myspace.com/taraelliottblues)
Any New Music Coming Out Soon?: Yes! I’ve recently grown my lineup from a raw power trio to a four piece. Arranging new parts for an organ and a second guitar is very exciting and limitless. This winter, I’ll be focused on writing more than live performance to experiment with new sounds and ideas.
All of my work is based on my personal, honest, real life experiences. I don’t edit out the pain or the negatives. The good times and the bad times are all exposed when you listen. My muse is my daily life, my mirror reflection. It’s never been a question of creativity, it’s more about making time for myself to sit alone, take a deep breath and look inside even when I don’t want to. New music will always be flowing out of me and be as truthful as a bare soul.
Hopefully by spring, I’ll get back in the studio with my new lineup, and perhaps feature another special musical guest.
My Sound Has Been Likened To: “The Bastard Child of Janis Joplin and The Stooges” –Thomaxe, New York Waste Newspaper
This clever quote explains in short word, the exact formula I invented sitting on my bed, singing, writing tunes with an acoustic guitar, notepad & pen some three years ago: the electric, wild energy of 1960s proto-punk icon Iggy Pop juxtaposed with Janis Joplin-esque raw, intense emotional singing — exploring the darker side of a blues woman’s struggles, my life.
Famous/Awesome Bands I’ve Played With: I’ve shared the stage with national and international acts: Bon Jovi’s David Bryan; Dennis Dunaway of Alice Cooper; Bebe Buell; The New York Dolls’ David Johansen, Steve Conte, Kenny Aaronson and Brian Delaney; Nicole Atkins; Christine Martucci; The Ramones’ producer Daniel Rey; Hamell On Trial; Jonny Barber & The Living Deads; and more.
Pop-Break: Talk about how you got involved with the M.A.D. Wednesday night at The Downtown in Red Bank?
Tara Elliott: A friend of mine, Angie from The Obvious asked me to rock a show with them last summer. I had a good time and wanted to do it again.
PB: I read that when you first came onto the original music scene that you were originally a blues-based artist and that it was listening to Iggy Pop that changed your style. Can you talk about what it was about Iggy’s sound that made you change your musical path in life?
TE: I was breastfed 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, Motown and doo-wop, although my love affair with the blues began when I was 7 years old. Late in the evening, my godfather excitedly shared a recording of Big Brother & The Holding Company’s rendition of “Ball And Chain” in my living room.
As I sat, Janis’ vocals engraved destiny and obsession into my 7-year-old eardrums, opened my eyes, and shaped my life.
As a teenager at a record store, my fingers stumbled across a cassette of Muddy Waters. Not knowing who he was, I just bought his greatest hits cassette because of his picture on the cover, his big smile — it spoke to me and I couldn’t put it down. When other kids my age were listening to The Smashing Pumpkins, I was listening to Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, Etta James, Ike & Tina Turner, B.B King, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, and countless others.
In my rebellious teen years, I snuck into clubs like Terra Blues on Bleecker Street in New York just to witness seasoned blues musicians in person and engage in underage drinking with my friends.
Once I finally turned 21, I grew tired and depressed of listening to and singing the blues … I lost the high and the “thrill was gone.” I felt as if I’d experienced all of its wonder and yearned for something new, fresh and exciting.
One night, I was watching a flick called Prey F0r Rock & Roll. During a very sexy girl-on-girl scene with Gina Gershon, I heard something I’d never ever heard before. Immediately, I was cast under a spell by Ron Asheton’s guitar and Iggy’s speech … the mood of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” exudes pure seduction. The song’s message is utterly direct — most people don’t know what they want or are too afraid to speak aloud what they truly wish for in general .. even moreso in a primal or sexual sense.
A music that expresses no fear … a free-spirit singing to me about being condemned to living in a puritanical civilization … a courageous yet surrendering soul appeals to me tremendously. I can relate to that conflicted feeling on a very deep level. Iggy’s body-smearing of peanut butter, self-mutilation or drug use exemplified his struggles physically — there’s so much more to the Stooges than the rage on the surface.
With a genre like proto-punk, I have more terrain to stretch out and fly creatively-speaking than the blues alone. Fusing the blues and proto-punk together allows me to express myself completely — my humor, my pain, my passion, my lust, my love, my life and my fear of death.
PB: We first saw you perform at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park after a Nicole Atkins Thanksgiving Eve concert. I’ve heard you mention how much you disliked the band’s performance on that show. Can you talk about how your band has grown and evolved since that show back in 2009?
TE: [laughs] It was a learning experience. First, I must say that I am always grateful for the opportunities I earn and the people that have supported me and continue to along my journey, such as Mr. Kyle Brendle in this particular case. I was ecstatic to be booked for that evening. No regrets here.
Reflecting back, my frustration had a lot to do with timing, performing after midnight. I didn’t realize it until the clock struck midnight. People are often too tired or too drunk in a club by midnight between musicians, club staff and patrons, let’s be honest. I prefer performing earlier in the evening when everyone’s energy is fresh, and then after midnight drink shots of Jager with friends and fans.
Also, my band’s level of experience has dramatically improved because I’ve performed at least 50 live shows since then. Certain sound issues that occurred onstage are quicker to be resolved. Recently, I’ve decided to expand the size and sound of my band by adding a fourth musician who plays both guitar and organ. It is a garage rocker’s romantic idea to have the power trio of her dreams and I had it for three years. All the while, I craved a vintage organ sound … and now I finally have one.
There have been different incarnations of my band, each past member I am grateful for the time and love they gave. Yet, each time I look for a new band member it keeps getting better.
PB: “Atomic Bob” of Monster Magnet worked on your debut record. What did this famed drummer bring to the table ? And how did you guys come to work with him?
TE: I’ve been friends with Bob for over 13 years, before he was in Monster Magnet, when I used to wear my purple boa out to bars and sing blues rock covers. He is a very talented musician as most people already know, and he’s fun to hang with. He has an immense knowledge of music as he is a multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer, songwriter, artist. He has so many bands, I can’t keep up with it all. Bob’s a complete DIY package. I’ve always respected his rockin’ skills as a musician — the man knows what key a drum is tuned to just by hearing it hit for a split second. That’s why I chose to work with him. Plus, over the years he’s always complemented me on my voice as we shared the stage at impromptu jams. It was easy to work with someone I already knew, we share a mutual respect, so I felt comfortable letting him represent my passion.
Most importantly, he listened to me and what I wanted to achieve sonically for my debut EP. He did a great job! I love his drumming on my song, “Teenage Secret” — which wasn’t planned until the day of recording. It’s ironic because when I wrote it several months before, I imagined a Monster Magnet vibe to it somehow… funny how things work out. I’m very happy with what Bob contributed.
PB: The New York Dolls seem to be a big part of your musical career. Steve Conte’s mom was on the cover of your first album, you’re performing with David Johansen at The Downtown. Can you talk about your band’s relationship with The New York Dolls in particular what you’ve learned from them as a band.
TE: It’s just pure synchronicity. About two years ago, Alex Biese (Metromix Producer) advised that I pair up with Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth, being that we share a love for the raw, bluesy punk aesthetic. I invited Steve to rock a show with me in Asbury Park. Minutes after our performance, Steve informed me that his mother, Rosemary Conte, said that I have a beautiful voice but she really wanted to wash my mouth out with soap — because of the language I used. I contacted Rosemary days later to take her up on her offer … Only if she agreed to a photo shoot for my album cover! Rosemary agreed to my wardrobe request of her dressing in a 1950s Leave It To Beaver matronly manner, flowered apron and all. She was quite the comic actress and committed to her role with excellence. She’s a lovely person — we had a blast at the shoot.
As far me wanting to share the stage with David Johansen, he is one of the legendary forefathers of proto-punk. Proto-punk and blues inspired me to create my band so it couldn’t be more genre-appropriate. In addition, the performer and actress in me appreciates David’s theatrical stage persona and image.
PB: If you had to choose one moment in your career so far, which one would be your favorite?
TE: Each time I write new songs at home and decide to bring them to a rehearsal, playing it live for the very first time with my band gives me a rush. It’s the closest to giving childbirth as I ever wish to get! [laughs]
PB: Can you talk about your “Red Hot Burlesque Show” at Otto’s Shrunken Head in New York City?
TE: For the first year of my residency, I featured burlesque dancers. During that time, it was lots of fun. I love burlesque. The sexiness and humor intertwined is brilliant entertainment. However, my core fans eventually complained that the dancers were a distraction. My fans want to hear my music without interruption — they feel that I don’t need dancers. So, it was fun while it lasted but I decided to keep my residency concentrated on my music and my band. My New Yorker fans keep it real, and I love that! Not to say that I wouldn’t feature dancers again — I’m always open to experimenting with how I present my shows.
PB: What’s your opinion of the current state of the Jersey original music scene?
TE: I think the mentality of bands sticking to their own little clicks doesn’t help unite us. It’s quite segregated. The most important music scenes like CBGBs or Woodstock had a togetherness vibe which blended clashing genres and all different types of people. I’ve made a strong attempt at bringing bands together for performances, and it’s a challenge. I’d like to see more of that on a larger scale: creating a scene, accepting everyone. For example, innovators such as Scott Stamper (The Saint) have done this sort of work, such as The Wave Gathering Festival. That was a great idea! I’d love to see that happen again.
PB: And finally, what plans does the band have for the rest of 2011 and next year?
TE: I plan to tour in England in 2012. I’ve been nicknamed a juggernaut when it comes to my passion, and I won’t stop chasing my dreams. I’m seeking management and an agent so I can focus more on musical aspects rather than so much on the business side. Whether I’m the DIY rocker — workin’ a full-time office gig by day and dressing in red velvet howling into the wee hours of the night — or am signed to a major label, either way, it’s just a matter of time until I fulfill my artistic goals … Red Velvet World Domination!