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PERPETUAL CHANGE/The Shondes Interview

| Jun 7, 2010
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Interview with Elijah Oberman of The Shondes

Last month, Perpetual Change featured a review of the new album My Dear One by Brooklyn, New York based The Shondes. This project was just released at the beginning of last month, and the band has been busy on the road in support of the new project. Their first album, The Red Sea, was released in 2008, and since that time the band has gone through some changes.

In spite of their schedule, band member Elijah Oberman (violin, vocals), was gracious enough to make time for this interview. For anyone yet unfamiliar with The Shondes, and if you missed last month’s column, then consider this your introduction to one of the most talented and eclectic bands ever featured here.

Other members include Louisa Solomon, lead vocals and bass; Temim Fruchter, drums and background vocals; and guitarist Fureigh, who also sings background.

TGForum: You were featured in this column back in May 2007 for the first time. Since then, you’ve released The Red Sea, and now the new project, My Dear One. Musically, do the two projects vary?

shondes01Elijah Oberman: Yes and no. I think they both sound very “us”. Louisa’s vocals and our instrumentation and sound are very distinct, so there’s definitely consistency, but I think we’ve grown a lot musically on My Dear One. There’s more nuance. My Dear One is also somewhat of a quieter, sadder album, which isn’t to say that’s how we’ll always sound, but I think it’s where we needed to be for the moment.

TGF: Do the CD titles have any particular meanings?

EO: There’s a biblical story about the exodus when the Israelites come to the Red Sea and, in a miracle, the sea parts for them to let them escape. The story goes that it was only after someone had jumped into the sea and swam as far as he could on his own that the sea parted. I think we really liked the idea of that kind of risk-taking in combination with the miraculous. You have to take the risk of jumping into the unknown sometimes, standing up for what you believe, risking love, whatever it is. Beauty and love and the miraculous are possible and all around us, but these things don’t just happen.

My Dear One is one of the songs on the new album, but it also just really fit with the intimate feeling of this album and seemed perfect for the title, too. It’s a breakup album, so that feeling of what you call the person you love felt really right in terms of how we’re letting listeners into that story.

TGF: How have they been received by fans? Getting any radio air play?

EO: We’ve gotten so much wonderful and heartfelt appreciation for The Red Sea from fans, and some great press coverage and radio play as well. We’re really grateful to have been able to put it out…self-releasing is hard! My Dear One is just getting out there, but already we’ve been hearing such supportive things. It’s just so gratifying. Sharing this with people is such a huge part of why we do what we do, so knowing it moves people, knowing it means something to someone else…you just can’t ask for anything better than that.

TGF: Do you have the same personnel as the last time?

EO: Since we put out The Red Sea, we have a new guitarist, Fureigh. We’ve been growing a lot musically and have been really excited by this new collaboration, and we’re going on tour in this new configuration for the first time.

TGF: In our last interview, you described your music as “…feminist punk with Jewish melodies and elements of classical music…” That description still apply? Overall, how could you say your music/sound has changed/grown/progressed since starting out as a band?

EO: Those things are definitely still present in the music we make, though I’m not sure I’d use that as a primary description. Maybe I’d say we’re a rock band with classical, punk, and Jewish musical influences? People tend to hear and pick up on a lot of different elements of our music depending on what they like to hear. The violin element can definitely call up both classical and Jewish music, and while I don’t think our music actually sounds very punk, I think you can see that influence the most when we perform. We all get really into the music when we play live, and while I love being in the studio, I consider us a live band in a lot of ways. You definitely get the punk energy when you come see us live — which you should do!

TGF: I know you’re touring more. How’s that going for you? Plans for any overseas work?

EO: Our tour officially started April 15th, but we do play regularly up and down the East Coast all the time. We’ll be doing a big national tour this year. No overseas plans yet, but hopefully soon.

TGF: Are you still involved with the organization Jews Against The Occupation? If so, to what extent?

EO: Jewish anti-occupation and anti-Zionist activism is alive and well here. It’s something we all care about a lot and have been involved with for a long time, and we’re also excited that we meet other activists around the country when we’re on tour. Networks are growing all the time and we try to connect both as individuals and as the band.

TGF: Here’s another quote from the last interview: “Art can bring politics home…” Having never seen you live, just how political and/or outspoken do you get during live performances?

EO: How much we talk politics can vary a lot from night to night. It depends how we feel on a particular night, or if the kind of event we’re playing makes us feel like we really need to say something. Regardless, since radical political thinking frames our lives and our experiences of the world, this is very much the framework our music is situated in. You don’t have to know that or think about that when you’re listening to us. Our songs aren’t polemic, but our politics are at the foundation of our lives and what we write about.

My Dear One is a breakup album and talks almost entirely about themes of love and loss and heartbreak, but we’ve talked a lot about this collection of songs as being political too-about how thinking through how we treat the people we love and who are closest to us.

TGF: Ever had any problems or challenges regarding anything you’ve ever said or done on stage?

EO: Not really. Certainly, people disagree with us sometimes, but I think we work pretty hard to show that we’re open to dialogue and that it’s an open space for thinking about new ideas.

TGF: How much attention do you pay to the transgender community, or the greater GLBT community?

shondes02EO: Well, a lot. We’re all in queer communities here in New York. This is where we come from and where so many of our fans come from. It’s just who we are in a lot of ways. And we definitely feel like it’s our responsibility to use whatever public face we have to support the organizing that’s happening in the queer community, try to get the word out about organizations like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project here in NY who work for justice for low income trans people and trans people of color.

TGF: Talk a bit about the new album. I know you’ve probably been playing some of the new music live. What kind of reaction have you gotten?

EO: I’m just so excited about this. The new album is called My Dear One and…you can get it in lots of record stores around the country and pretty much anywhere online, and it’s even available on vinyl! I know I said a little about it before, but it’s a breakup album. There’s a long tradition of that in music, and so it was both a great honor and a great risk to participate in that tradition. Making a record about heartbreak and loss is subject matter most people can understand, but to make it your own, to make it feel new to people is really important. We made this album simply because it was the only album we could make . Louisa, who is our primary songwriter and lead singer, went through an awful breakup, and writing these songs and playing them together, working through them together was just the only thing we could do.

Sonically, many of the songs are quieter and more nuanced than those on The Red Sea, and this is a good thing! Everyone at shows has been super receptive to the new material, which is the majority of our set these days.

TGF: At this point in your career, what advice would you give to other musicians?

EO: Just keep doing what you love. Keep learning and growing and changing. Be committed to your craft and practice. Know when you need to pay your dues and do it with humility, and know when you’ve earned something and need to stand up for yourself to get it or appreciate that you deserve something good you’ve gotten. I feel committed to making music as a life-long pursuit, and that can be grounding when things are hard in the moment sometimes. I want to be better now. I want this song to be working now. But it’s okay. Stay urgent, stay passionate, but also know that if you’re in it for the long haul, you have your whole life to figure it out and you have to enjoy the process of it or you’ll really miss out.

TGF: Anything you’d like to say to the transgender community as a whole?

EO: Just hang in there and keep living. I don’t want to perpetuate all these messed up images of the tragic trans person out there, as if there aren’t so many trans people just living our lives and being happy. and yet I know that there’s so much struggle and despair out there that’s real. For trans people living with that despair, just hang on. You’re not alone and you can get through . Life can be better, so don’t give up. And for all of us, just keep honoring all of our differences and different ways of identifying and different experiences. Keep connecting our struggle to political work that’s being done about social, racial, and economic justice, be a part of a movement that fights for justice for everyone.

TGF: Any final thoughts?

EO: I just really hope you’ve come see us on tour this spring. We’d love to see you, talk to you, get the chance to play for you-that really is what makes if all so meaningful for me. And I hope you’ll buy My Dear One. We live in a world where sales are pretty much the only way we have to show record companies that we’re worth investing in, and that allows us to keep doing what we’re doing.

For more information on The Shondes, check out their website. They’re also on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter and the albums can be purchased through Amazon.com.

ALSO THIS MONTH

San Francisco area metal band Blood Depot is looking for a lead vocalist. Guitarist and founder D’hana Timerlake says of any interested applicant: “They can be male, female, trans, non-trans, lesbian, gay, bi…let’s see…did I leave anyone out? There is some raw rehearsal video on the band’s MySpace page, where you can also contact D’hana if interested.

AND ALSO, SOME MORE SHORT REVIEWS…
marinaMarina and The Diamonds The Family Jewels.

Marina Diamandis has been mentioned here before, when I received the remix CD of her tunes I Am Not A Robot and Obsessions. Now, however, with The Family Jewels debut CD in my possession, I have to say it wasn’t at all what I’d expected. The overall feel of the entire project is that of 1980s pop. The musicianship and even the dynamics are excellent. Stand out tracks are the aforementioned I’m Not A Robot used as a single; Obsession, and Hollywood.

When I first heard Obsessions, it was reminiscent of the 1968 Beatles inspired Mary Hopkin tune Those Were The Days. Although Marina has a far more theatrical voice, this particular song is really a standout.

The ’80s feel is most noticeable on Girls, which is probably also the most danceable track on the album.

Marian uses several different producers on Family Jewels: Liam Howe, Pascal Gabriel, Richard “Biff” Stannard, and Greg Kurstin. (Check the CD insert for proper credit and also musician listings, which are too numerous to list here.) All of this makes me want to inquire: Just how does she pull this off live? A very remarkable voice, on a very full sounding, well produced project.
Check it out on their website.

Leela James credit Devin Dehaven.jpgAnother review copy that came my way that also caught me completely by surprise was soul diva Leela James My Soul. Now, the second anyone puts the words “soul” and “diva” in the same sentence, who comes to mind but Aretha? I guess that’s only a natural place to go, and it’s also a very high bar for any vocalists to be expected to reach.

Although Leela has a slightly lower range than Aretha, it’s the Honest To God Real Thing. I mean, you’ll have to start digging through the old vinyl album bins to find this type of singing. It’s obvious that Ms. James grew up listening to Aretha and probably plenty of the real gospel found only in Black churches.

No matter where she learned it, she learned it well. While I usually call attention to stand out tracks, that’s a hard task here…the whole album is stand out. The first single off the album is Tell Me You Love Me, which is definitely old school soul. Her most intense vocal is found on Let It Roll, which is a short, horn driven wailer. Party All Night sounds exactly like that, and the other real stand out is Mr. Incredible Ms. Unforgettable with Aaheem DeVaughn. Leela uses eight different producers throughout the course of the project, and it sounds like one monstrous choir is doing back-up most of the time. You’ll have to check the insert for all that information, since we’ve run out of space. Nonetheless, if you love, and miss, real soul music…GET THIS ALBUM! Oh, and her agency assures me her hair is the real thing as well. Website


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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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