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INTERVIEW: FEMMES OF ROCK – November 2017

While it is always fun to jump on the phone with a rocker I dig, sometimes an old fashioned sit down interview can be a blast… and that was the case when the Femmes Of Rock – Nina DiGregorio, Christina Rose, Chandra Meibalane, and Carissa Werner – took time out of their busy schedule between shows to discuss their show, their influences, and much more.  Getting to know each of them a little made the show much more enjoyable, as I felt at times they were playing just for me based on our chat and back-and-forth discussion regarding music, touring, and Tiffany… yes the “I Think We’re Alone Now” Tiffany.  These women know their classic rock, their instruments, and how to deliver a killer performance, but they are also articulate and fun to be around… Michael too, as he chimes in every once in a while.  And here we go…

Carissa, Chandra, Nina, and Christina just before our sit down

Toddstar: We are here in Lexington MI, at the Lexington Village Theater. We’ve got the Femmes of Rock who are taking a well-deserved break after the show – a twin bill today. Welcome to Lexington.

Group: Thank you.

Toddstar: Femmes of Rock, as we’ve discussed there’s been some transition with everything in the group. What does Femmes of Rock mean to you individually? What does that connotation bring up in your mind or in your heart?

Chandra: I think the obvious, Femmes… women, but we’re letting the world know we are women and we’re not afraid to rock out, rock the faces off, and show the world that women can do this too.

Toddstar: Is that what everybody goes with or is there something else that drives it for you, personally?

Nina: For me, it’s a labor of love and a constant “Cha-Ching”, writing another check “Cha-Ching”, writing another check. Just trying to get it off the ground, it’s our first year touring but it is moving quickly so we’re happy with the progress.

Toddstar: You mentioned the first year touring and getting this off the ground – doing what you’re doing and I can’t wait to experience this show live, I’ve seen enough YouTube and what-have not but, what is it about this music that you felt was good for what you guys do and crossing it over with the classical edge?

Nina: For me, it started when I was young, I was always a fan of classic rock and specifically guitar players Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Terry Kath from Chicago, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck some of my favorites and I started transcribing their guitar solos at a really young age. And then when I finally got an electric violin about 13 years old, I’d plug it into my dad’s amplifier and started messing with the sounds and realized I could actually make it sound like a guitar and over the years it just evolved. And then I met all these other girls and most of us had the same background in classical music but now we all do it.

Toddstar: If it wasn’t for this, do you think you’d have been driven to go into something else musically and want to do this? Is there something inside you that said, “I want to be a stage performer?” Or do you just enjoy the music side of it?

Nina: I think we’re probably going to have different answers for that.

Carissa: I’m used to, when I first started playing sitting in an orchestra, being part of sharing a stage with an entire group with no real focus on any individual person. And so getting to do this and just being out in front, there’s no singers there’s no other instrumental, it’s us on stage and it’s such a thrill and I didn’t think it was, I didn’t think I’d ever be lucky enough to do it. It’s great.

Chandra: It’s been great being a front woman of the show and just jamming out. I don’t think I would have leaned towards rock music if it wasn’t for Nina, and I’m just so glad that I am in a rock group now. I appreciate the music so much more. It’s difficult. It’s challenging. And, it’s really great to play and use our classical techniques to play some really cool guitar solos.

Nina: I think if I wasn’t doing this I would be doing something completely different. I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I studied premed in college. I have a degree in English, then I thought, well maybe, I don’t know either doctor or sports journalism. And then, I kind of became a musician by accident by being offered a job by Wayne Newton’s music director. I moved to Las Vegas planning to stay for a couple years. 13 years later, I’m still there. It’s like the Godfather. Whenever you try to get out, they just pull you back in. It was like, something good would keep happening so that I couldn’t quit and go back to New York and go to Columbia, where I wanted to go. It was like something kept happening that was good and it just led us to here.

Nina DiGregorio – Nov 4 2017 (ToddStar Photo)

Toddstar: Christina, did you have anything you wanted to throw in?

Christina: Not really sure where it would have ended up. I’m so glad I ended up as a performer on the stage. I’ve been playing with this group since I was 16, so, it’s been 12 years now. And, I’m very thankful that it’s lead me here because, for me, my favorite part is bringing happiness to people and making people get out of their daily lives, feel good, and just enjoy some music. Get out of the moment. I’m glad it ended up the way it did.

Toddstar: You guys travel together, you’re doing this day in and day out with each other. You hear about brotherhood, sisterhood, things like that on the road. What’s it like for you guys, day in and day out? I mean, there’s a reason bands don’t have longevity. Is there that real sisterhood with you guys?

Carissa: This is our second family, for sure. We spend so much time together. Traveling together, we see the best of each other and we see the worst of each other and we’re still a tight team.

Nina: I feel like we’re a team. This particular group has really good chemistry together. You know, we have over 30 girls that perform on our roster nationwide and everyone’s got different personalities, and some really gel together and others, you know, don’t. But, this particular group has been the best incarnation that you’re gonna get.

Michael: By far.

Toddstar: When he speaks, he speaks volumes.

Michael: (finishing his dinner) I’ll go back to chewing.

Toddstar: Earlier you guys mentioned “Highway Star” and I can’t wait to see the classics and hear the classics that are going to be in the set list. Looking over the set list, what’s the one or two songs that you guys have wanted to make work so bad, you just want it to work and it just doesn’t?

Michael: That’s so easy.

Group: The Rush Medley.

Nina: We always bust out our Rush Medley, and we never know if the crowd wants to dance or not. So, a lot of times, we get a theater crowd and they want to sit and they want to see the whole experience. Sometimes, we get a dance crowd and they just want to dance. Whenever we put Rush in the set list, it’s for the people who decide they want to dance and they’re up there trying to dance… it’s the most awkward thing you’ve ever seen in your life. I’m sure it works great for certain crowds, but we always pick the wrong crowd.

Toddstar: So, do you guys change up the set list quite a bit?

Nina: Yeah, we have probably two or three shows full of music. We pick and choose different things depending on where we are geographically, and the demographic of the people that might be at the show. Sometimes we’ll change things on the fly, which angers our sound man. But, I’ll be like ‘oh, you know what? We have to cut Rush, everyone has white hair out there. So, you know, put Pink Floyd in.’

Toddstar: What are the songs that you’ve maybe wanted to bring to the set that you guys haven’t done or haven’t perfected yet?

Carissa: That is easy for me. I love Ozzy Osbourne, and I would love to do some kind of an Ozzy/Black Sabbath Medley.

Carissa Werner – Nov 4 2017 (ToddStar Photo)

Group: “Paranoid”, “War Pigs”, “No More Tears”

Toddstar: With the medleys you guys put together, and the different things that you guys bring to this, has there been any thought to putting your own twist and maybe tossing in originals?

Nina: Yeah, well actually, our first single is kind of an original twist on a classic song. You’ll see it in the show tonight. “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, but it doesn’t quite sound anything like “Eleanor Rigby”, so we do that sometimes. I’ve written originals in the past, for different events that we’ve done. Actually, sometimes we play one of my originals I the show, but we’re not going to tonight because it’s a shorter show. But, I think you have to establish yourself, especially when you don’t have a vocalist. You have to establish yourself with stuff people recognize. Could you imagine if people came here and they heard 75 minutes of instrumental music that they’ve never heard before? We would go over like the jazz club. Which, means we’d be broke. We want to hook, line, and sinker them with stuff that they know, and then slowly start peppering in our own creative twists and things. Which, is kind of what we’re starting to do.

Toddstar: Looking out from the stage, especially here at the Lexington Village Theater, as much as I love the place and a lot of people love it, and I think you guys got a good first feed off of it in the first show, what’s it like for you guys to maybe step on a stage like this, where you’re not gonna be inundated with a large crowd versus other shows you’ve done where you’ve gotten a lot more eyes on you, so to speak?

Chandra: For me, it’s not really the crowd size. It’s how the crowd reacts. So, if we have a nice, rowdy crowd, that gets me excited, gets my adrenaline pumping, and I play a lot … I feel like I play better, I sound better, and I just move a lot more. For me, it’s the crowd interaction with us.

Nina: For me, it’s the shape of the theater. Sometimes I don’t like the shape of the theater. I’m like, I’m gonna have trouble performing in here. It’s just not a good set up for my mojo. But, this is good for my mojo, this theater. I like it here.

Toddstar: So, in other words, we can expect you guys back?

Nina: Hopefully.

Toddstar: Great. With everything going on, with all the music that’s out there now, is there ever that urge to grab some of the newer metal? Or do you guys prefer the classic vibe?

Nina: What’s the newest thing we do? Metallica?

Group:  (collectively they agree) Nirvana.

Nina: Nirvana or Metallica are probably the newest things we do. Well, the thing is, guitars stopped being popular probably in the mid ‘90’s. We actually were just talking about maybe taking a Lindsey Sterling song and metal-ing it up the way we do it. Because, you know, we’re a little bit of a harder feel. But, it might be fun for some of the younger people, who know that music to hear it redone with guitars and with the sounds that we use. It’s a little depressing when you’re a rock music fan to think that guitars have been out for, like, 20 years.

Toddstar: There’s some truth there. That’s why I really help push the genre. It’s really weird to be the 50 year guy at a Black Veil Brides, an Asking Alexandria, or an Avenged Sevenfold show, where you’re getting those bands that do lean on that guitar sound a lot more than most do. When it comes to your guy’s set, and again, I can’t wait to be surprised tonight with some of this stuff, what’s the one song that’s the constant in the set for you, that when you know it’s coming, you’re chomping at the bit to get there? What’s that one song that sets you on fire?

Nina: I think for me, The Who medley because I know that we’re gonna get a standing ovation. It’s, like, the only one I never get sick of. I’ve played it hundreds of times and I never get sick of the medley.

Toddstar: There’s something about The Who. I’m a huge KISS fan, have been for a long time. Even they play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in the middle of “Lick It Up.” And they have for years now. There is something about a Who song that will get everybody jacked up. That said, not to put a downer on it, but what’s the one song in your set that you think ‘god, do we have to do this again?’

Group: Rush Medley. Yeah. (EVERYBODY LAUGHS)

Toddstar: What is it specifically? Is it because of the crowd or is it just the songs for you, aren’t what you want?

Nina: Well, the problem is, it’s just a really fine line as to whether or not the crowd is gonna fit. Because we’re not doing, like, all there poppy stuff. We’re doing serious Rush. So, it’s just over people’s heads sometimes when we’re doing it. It’s pretty modern and out there with the time signatures and everything.

Carissa: It’s technical. You have to be paying attention.

Nina: If our mix isn’t really good, and we miss a click, it can just goes to shit. Quickly. Not that we’ve had that happen.

Group: No! Never.

Toddstar: The way everybody’s shaking their head, I think that’s a load of shit.

Christina: It’s always that moment, though, right when it starts ‘oh, are they going to like it?’

Christina Rosa – Nov 4 2017 (ToddStar Photo)

Michael: We all kind of look at each other, and we’re like, ‘see you in 11 minutes. GO!’ Hope we all stop at the same time. Right?

Toddstar: What’s the song, in your mind, always seems to go over the best with the crowd?

Group: The Who medley or “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Nina: Yeah. They always get standing ovations, both of those.

Toddstar: So, what’s next for you guys? You have this date here, you’ve got a couple days off and you’re heading back out to the West Coast. Some of us have jury duty in the off time (a side joke based on some earlier banter). What’s next for you guys? I mean, are you looking at possibly putting some of this on vinyl or plastic or CD or cassette tapes or something for your fans to be able to enjoy all the time?

Nina: We recorded our first single, it’s out on iTunes and people can play it on Spotify. Which, is our cover of “Eleanor Rigby.” It’s a heavy rock version, and we plan on having a full album out in early 2018. So, we are working on that. There might be one or two originals on it, along with a bunch of covers of songs that we’ve put our own spin on. We’ve been wrapping up a music video campaign for YouTube. We released our first one, to “Eleanor Rigby” on YouTube a couple months ago, and it has almost a million views. Not super viral, but not super flop either. It’s pretty good for a first effort. We don’t have much presence on YouTube yet. But, we have a live music video for “Comfortably Numb” complete with lasers and smoke and everything else that’s coming out next month. November. Wait, it is November. Well, late November. And then, I think we’re gonna do a surprise music video after that. But, we’re gonna continue our YouTube campaign. Also, the goal is to kinda be like Blue Man Group or Cirque De Sole, where we have multiple casts doing multiple shows in multiple places at the same time. So, it’s already happening to us where we have two shows in the same night. We had one where one was in Vegas and one was in Niagara Falls on the same night. It happened last month.

Michael: But this will remain the A group.

Toddstar: I’m in on the ground floor, right? I want to let you guys have time to do what you want to do, but I just want to go around the room and real quick, with everything seeming to be on that up climb for you guys, you’re hitting your stride, so to speak. You’ve got a single in the can, you’ve got an album in the works, you’ve got videos, you’ve got tours that you’re doing quite well. You’re selling tickets, you’re not standing outside strumming guitars hoping for a quarter in the bin, so to speak. But, if you could look back over your musical career, is there one moment you wish you had a redo on? Something you think might have been a misstep?

Nina: Yeah, I can remember the exact moment, actually, that I wish I had made a different choice on. Because he’s dead now, actually. I was young, and I had just moved to Las Vegas. I was right out of school, I had never improvised a solo in my life, I was classically trained. One of my friends was working the Andre Agassi benefit concert, with David Foster as the music director for it. One of the guest artists was Glen Frey, and someone came in to the room and I was making copies of the music. Helping as an intern for this thing. I’d never seen famous people before and I was scared. They walk into the room and they say ‘Glen Frey just lost his fiddle player, does anyone know a fiddle player that can do this gig, like, really spur of the moment? Come up and play on stage with Glen Frey for this tune.’ I sat there and a couple of people looked at me, and I just kept my head down and kept making copies, because I didn’t want my first time that Glen Frey or David Foster heard me play be a time that I wasn’t ready to play. So, I didn’t say anything and I missed that opportunity. Now that he’s gone, I kind of wish that I had taken the chance. But, on the bright side of that, when I actually get to play with David Foster, probably 5 or 6 years after that, I was ready for it and I had multiple shows with him. It worked out. I don’t think I’ve ever told that story, actually. We’ve seen The Eagles multiple times. Now I regret not playing with Glen Frey.

Carissa: Wow. I think, a regret for me, I stopped playing altogether, well mostly, when I became a mom. I had kids and I was so focused on my kids, which is awesome and I would never take that time back, but I went for 9 years, almost, with barely picking up my instrument and so, I regret missing out on that time and keeping my skills sharp. On, the other hand, I’m so thankful that I found Nina, and was able to start playing again and really getting back in to performing again.

Christina: I’d say just, when I first started playing with this group, now, this was 12 years ago, but I was a bit more shy on stage and maybe not as confident. So, I’d say there were a lot of missed opportunities. Just even in small gigs or corporate gigs where I didn’t take a solo where I could have. Whereas now, even if I’m not really sure what’s gonna come out, I just go for it. Just try it. Which is way better than not even being brave enough to try. So, any one of those missed opportunities would be my answer to you.

Chandra: I started when I was very young, and then continued to college and then in college I double majored in chemistry and violin performance. I kind of just, I had to put all my concentration in to chemistry and study for 10 hours a day, every day. I relied on, a lot, on knowing I started when I was young. Relied on talent, really never practiced in college and still got by. That’s kind of when people started to pass up and really practice. You’re supposed to practice 5 hours a day in college and I didn’t do it because I didn’t have to. Now I’m where I’m at and I’m kind of thinking ‘wow, what kind of player would I be if I had practiced those 5 hours in college?’ Everything happens for a reason, and I wouldn’t be in this group if it wasn’t for the routes I would have taken.

Chandra Meibalane – Nov 4 2017 (ToddStar Photo)

Toddstar: That’s the most common answer I get. Let’s be honest. We all have regrets, we all have missed steps as you guys do. But, they all put you here in a great spot. Last question for everybody, real quick. Last song you listened to that isn’t one you play?

Nina: The last song I listened to that isn’t one I play. That’s easy I think. “American Girl” – Tom Petty.

Carissa:  For me, can I do the whole album? Because it was on the 7 hour trip up here. I listened to Pink Floyd The Wall.

Christina: Oh, well, technically that would be the answer, but other than that I’ve been on a Pat Metheny kick.

Chandra: Oh man, I’d guess I would have to say… I don’t know. I’m a Spotify fan. I think I had some kind of hip hop on. I’m a little bit of a hip hop fan as well.

Toddstar: I’m sorry.

EVERYBODY LAUGHS ONCE AGAIN

Chandra: No one kill me after listening to that.

Toddstar: I thank you so much for taking time out for us. I’m so excited to see the show. I’m excited to be a part of this evening with you guys. Thank you so much for the time and I can’t wait to see you guys tear up the second show.

Group: Thank you!

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INTERVIEW: FEMMES OF ROCK - November 2017

Filed Under: Featured ArticlesInterviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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