Archive for category Women/ feminism

STEELE INTERVIEWS: singer/songwriter Kathryn Claire

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The songs on the latest album, Bones Will Last, from Portland singer/songwriter Kathryn Claire exude gorgeous melancholia through violin and strings-based arrangements. Lovely, bold chamber/folk music. The opening track reminded me of the heartbreaking violin melodies played by a character on the television show Treme.  Meaningful, profound lyrics delve into existentialism and our place in the world. Just the type of songs to which I most connect. Claire’s deep vocals combine with exquisite layered orchestrations. These dark, provocative, thoughtful songs engage the listener and elicit deep emotions. Claire collaborated with Portland musicians Zak Borden (mandolin), Allen Hunter (upright bass), and Don Henson (piano) on this album.

I spoke with Kathryn Claire by phone last week.

Amy Steele: What do you like about the Portland music community?

Kathryn Claire: So many people are playing music. A lot of people are based out of here and touring extensively. It’s great when I am home because it’s such a thriving scene. It’s a great place to write, perform and record. and be inspired. I love it when I’m out in the world because people are aware of Portland and in the last ten years it has become a popular well-known city. It’s cool to be from Portland. I’m proud of the scene we have here.

Amy Steele: When did you develop an interest in playing music and in songwriting?  I think you had some classical training when you were younger

Kathryn Claire: I’ve always been drawn to music and have been very musical from a young age. There was a lot of music in my family growing up. I’m the first person in my family to be a professional musician. My mom was a public school music teacher. My father was a gypsy jazz violinist as a hobby so that is what got me into that instrument. I started studying violin at the age of seven and singing in choirs. I taught myself guitar as a teenager and I started writing. I’ve always been a journal writer and a creative writer. I can’t remember my life without music in it. It is always a vital part of my life. It developed into something that I now do as a career.

Amy Steele: Have you always been a solo artist?

Kathryn Claire: I’ve always enjoyed collaborating. My career has been interesting. Part of what has allowed me to do this full time, to make a living, is that I’ve worked as a side person a lot. The violin is a versatile instrument in that way. I read music. I also have a really strong background in harmony singing. I’ve been hired by a lot of groups and to sing with other singer/songwriters. I like playing solo but I love having a few different instruments and sounds to work with and the energy for collaborating has always been inspiring to me.

Amy Steele: How did the (music) experience you had, working on other people’s projects, help with your own?

Kathryn Claire: I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve put out solo albums but this album has been huge for me. It really is my own. I’m totally fronting it. I wrote everything on it. It was my vision. I made all the decisions. I didn’t even work with a producer. I had this vision that evolved. It was my own and my own voice. I feel that the way I arrived at such a clear place was from working as a side-person for so long because I really have developed an ear in how to accompany other people. I have developed my own clear voice as far as being a side-person and I’ve developed a good ear for listening. I took a lot from other people and I’ve been influenced by my classical upbringing. I’ve played a ton of Celtic music. I’ve played with amazing songwriters. I’ve played in a rock band. I think that gave me an eclectic base and I synthesized that into this album. I feel like it’s a unique sound, totally my own, but inspired by all this work I’ve done with other people.

Amy Steele: What do you think makes a good song?

Kathryn Claire: Lyrically I tend to like it when you have a personal connection to the imagery and poetry of the connection. You’re writing from something that’s touched your heart but you’re not overly explicit so it allows the listener to make their own connection to the words and images that’s completely their own. I tried to be specific and close to me but letting there be openness to it so there can be some universality.

I think over time I’ve learned how to edit. Not trying to cram in so many words. Editing down so there’s a bit more simplicity in it. I’ve come to value that in a song.

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Amy Steele: It seems that a lot of the songs are sad and a bit darker. Is it an outlet or your general mood and temperament? I listen to a lot of dark music but I think I’m very dark and gravitate towards that music. I was wondering what draws you to make that type of music.

Kathryn Claire: I definitely do have a darkness or a pensive side to me but as a performer I have a lot of energy and joy on stage and I really do feel that in my own life. I have a more positive and joyful energy. This music has been a way for me to express sadness and melancholy. The world is really beautiful and really sad. I tend to be compelled especially on this album in tapping into that darker nature in myself and in the world. I put the violin at the center of the album in the sound –it’s a violin/strings-centric album—and the violin has a deep sad melancholy to it as well. I tend toward darker music. I like minor keys. I like haunting melodies. I can get behind a major up-tempo song but my heart is really with the darker music.

Amy Steele: The song “Bones Will Last” you wrote about thinking about death and dying. How did you write that?

Kathryn Claire: It’s a really personal song that I initially wrote reflecting upon a loved one. The chorus got written a little bit later. I was just thinking of that image –“we’ll be gone but our bones will last.” The passing of timed. The ephemeral nature of life. That was central to what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been thinking about death a lot and trying to be present while I’m here. I’ve had a lot of people pass away. Not just grandmas and grandpas but people my own age. You never know when it’s our time. In holding that and looking at that I think what are those things that last? That we leave behind? What are the bones of who we are? It became the theme of the album overall.

Amy Steele: What about the song “Sweet Chariot?” What inspired that song?

Kathryn Claire: One of the famous cemeteries in Paris where Jim Morrison was buried [Père Lachaise Cemetery]. I was in Paris in the fall of 2013 walking through that cemetery just reflecting on all these people that have gone before us. In the end that’s where we all go. The first verse of “Sweet Chariot came”—when I was imagining Jim Morrison. What would it look like to see his skeleton? Just ruminating on our bones. I wrote that first verse there and worked on that song for over a couple of years. I got to be in India doing some work [artist-in-residence at the American School of Chennai in 2015] there and I finished some more there. I wrote it in my journal and I’d sit with it and find a melody for it. I’m also grateful for our iPhones because I can collect these little pieces. That first verse felt like it came though me. It’s an interesting song and people have responded to it on such a deep level.

Amy Steele: What about the song “Never Be?”

Kathryn Claire: That is such a heartbreaking song. That was a breakup song. That one I wrote super fast. I was looking at this person I’d gone through a difficult breakup with. I’d seen some stuff on social media. You see images you don’t want to see. Unfortunately these are aspects of our time. Breaking up is even harder because you have all this access to people’s lives. I wrote the whole thing in a sitting.

I started playing around with my violin and a little loop pedal and that’s where I came up with the actual orchestration of that song. It starts with the pizzicato. It’s so strings-central. That was built on this loop pedal. Everything on that track is me. I’m playing the guitar and the violin and there’s no other person on that track. In the end I love that song so much.

Amy Steele: Over the years how has your music evolved?

Kathryn Claire: As a writer I have become a better editor. I went to Boston University for my freshman year and that’s when I got into writing and going to Club Passim and hearing singer/songwriters. I wrote a lot that year in Boston but I never edited. The songs were like journal entries. I’m now able to write a lot more universally. My voice is deeper and relaxed. My voice sounds like is has dropped into itself. It’s settled. The orchestration of the violin has evolved and grown and changed. I’ve just gotten to be such a better musician by playing with other people.

Amy Steele: Aren’t there fewer music programs in schools now? I played the violin and then I played flute. I didn’t continue it because in my high school it was required that you play in the marching band and I rode horses and it conflicted and also I just didn’t want to play in the marching band. Music and arts are so important in public schools.

Kathryn Claire: I will continue to do work in that direction throughout the course of my career. I believe in music education. We had such a killer music program in Eugene, Oregon. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. In that era you could join orchestra in fourth grade and by the time you’re in high school you’re playing symphonies with your friends. That was normal.

It becomes this elitist thing. Portland is cool to have these alternative programs. I’m grateful to have done that basic classical training.

Amy Steele: What type of challenges have you faced as being a woman in the music industry? I listen to a lot of female artists. I try to support women in music and all arts. women are still not the majority.

Kathryn Claire: It is challenging. The thing is like any work environment is still very male-centered. I get to collaborate with women but when I started out I played in a band and didn’t know how to set up a PA. It has been so important to me to work a PA, to know how to speak the lingo when you go into Guitar Center and there are all these dudes and they make you feel stupid because you don’t know what an XLR cord is. I went through the time to learn all the technological jargon to function. It was important to me to know it. I was talking to a female musician friend and I asked her if she knew of any well-known female music producers. In the studio I’ve never worked with a female engineer. These things make you realize that the music industry is really still male-dominated.

Amy Steele: I’m curious how many women study the business side of music/ the production side of music at Berklee or other schools. [note: Fader piece: Why Aren’t More Women Becoming Music Producers?]

Kathryn Claire: I’m in my late 30s. There probably is a lot of movement forward. I’m basing this on my experience as coming up in this 15 or 16 yrs ago. In that time it is changing but it is also women being able to shred and own it and front-women and to speak the language of music. I know for me in high school so many guys were in bands.

It can be intimidating and that’s where Girls Rock Bandcamp and other programs can get girls past that. I would have loved to have played in a rock band but I was intimidated. Where does that come from?

Amy Steele: our patriarchal society and assumed gender roles.

Bones Will Last is available now.

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National Women’s Soccer League Game of the Week to be broadcast live on Lifetime on Saturdays beginning April 15

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Lifetime cements its commitment to women and women’s television and entertaining by airing National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) games on Saturdays. Supporting and showcasing women’s sports strengthens Lifetime’s position as a television station focused on women and airing programming by women, about women. I played soccer in my youth and it’s an empowering team sport.  I look forward to watching the games. Honestly I’ve always wanted to watch women’s soccer but it’s often difficult to find the games on cable. Knowing that there will be a NWSL game every Saturday makes it easy to support NWSL.

The NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime will air Saturdays beginning at 3:30pm ET with a 30-minute pregame show leading up to kickoff at 4pm ET. The season opener on Lifetime will be Portland Thorns FC hosting the Orlando Pride, The schedule includes 22 regular-season matches as well as playoff semifinal games and the NWSL Championship.

DATE PREGAME KICKOFF HOME TEAM VISITING TEAM
April 15th 2:30PM 3:00PM Portland Thorns FC Orlando Pride
April 22nd 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Washington Spirit
April 29th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC Chicago Red Stars
May 6th 3:30PM 4:00PM Chicago Red Stars Houston Dash
May 13th 3:30PM 4:00PM Houston Dash Sky Blue FC
May 20th 3:30PM 4:00PM Sky Blue FC Houston Dash
May 27th 3:30PM 4:00PM Houston Dash Seattle Reign FC
June 3rd 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage FC Kansas City
June 17th 3:30PM 4:00PM Chicago Red Stars Washington Spirit
June 24th 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Houston Dash
July 1st 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage Sky Blue FC
July 8th 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage Seattle Reign FC
July 15th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC North Carolina Courage
July 22nd 3:30PM 4:00PM Chicago Red Stars Orlando Pride
August 5th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC Houston Dash
August 12th 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Sky Blue FC
August 19th 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage Washington Spirit
August 26th 3:30PM 4:00PM Seattle Reign FC Portland Thorns FC
September 2nd 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Boston Breakers
September 9th 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Seattle Reign FC
September 23rd 3:30PM 4:00PM Houston Dash Chigaco Red Stars
September 30th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC Chigaco Red Stars

The NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime will be available for live and on-demand streaming via the Lifetime iOS and Android apps and online at MyLifetime.com. Use #NWSLonLIFETIME to discuss on social media.

About NWSL

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is a ten-team Division-I women’s professional soccer league featuring national team players from around the world. The clubs are the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, FC Kansas City, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, and the Washington Spirit. Based in Chicago, the NWSL is supported by the Canadian Soccer Association and the United States Soccer Federation. For more information about the NWSL, log on to the league’s official website at www.NWSLsoccer.com.

About Lifetime

Lifetime is a premier entertainment destination for women dedicated to offering the highest quality original programming spanning scripted series, non-fiction series and movies. The critically acclaimed UnREAL, Project Runway, Dance Moms, Bring It!, The Rap Game and Little Women franchises anchor the network’s programming, in addition to its over 25 original movies annually that continue to define the TV movie genre. In 2015, Lifetime launched Broad Focus, a major global initiative dedicated to supporting and hiring female directors, writers and producers to make its content which totals over 450 original hours. Lifetime’s Fempire positions the network as a curator of feminist content and conversations, as well as a place where women connect, learn and are entertained. Lifetime Television®, LMN®, Lifetime Real Women® and Lifetime Digital™ are part of Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC, a subsidiary of A+E Networks. A+E Networks is a joint venture of the Disney-ABC Television Group and Hearst Corporation.

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new music: Wiscon

“My First Day,” Wiscon

Here’s an edgy song with garage rock fervency and potent vocals from pop-punk Seattle band Wiscon to add to your anti-Trump inauguration day playlist. The band wrote the new single in response to the growing hatred and intolerance in the United States. Proceeds will be donated to Southern Poverty Law Center –an organization focused on fighting hate groups.

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music news: Petty Morals headline ACLU benefit show on Saturday, January 21

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After attending the Boston Women’s March For America during the day, head over to Allston to continue the party that night to support the ACLU!

Petty Morals 11pm
Carissa Johnson 10pm
Stars Like Ours 9pm
Leah Mcfly (DJ LeahV) opening up the night 7-9pm

Doors at 7pm
$10 (More if you’ve got it! All donated to the ACLU!)
21+

 

Band curated playlist will end the night and there will be a raffle for a prize package. (including goodies from do617, Winter Hill BC, Mad Oak Studios, Tres Gatos, and more!) so bring cash!

All bands are featured on the We Are Not Trump Compilation and this will be an official #want live event. #fightforfreedom #wewontgoback

$10 donation, Saturday, January 21, 7 p.m., O’Brien’s Pub, 3 Harvard Ave, Allston, obrienspubboston.com.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Nikki Glaser

“I think the most aggravating part is people who write off women immediately for being not funny or that all they talk about is their vaginas. We have vaginas so we’re going to talk about them. I don’t want those people to enjoy me anyway because they’re just dumb.” –Nikki Glaser

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I first noticed comedian Nikki Glaser when I saw the documentary I Am Road Comic in 2014. I then started following her on twitter and quickly became a fan. Last year’s show Not Safe with Nikki Glaser turned into must-see television as she explored sex and dating in a fascinating and fun manner while also powerfully elucidating rape culture.

Glaser approaches comedy in a fresh, engaging manner. She’s genuine, passionate and if I had a girl squad I’d want her in it. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and earned a degree in English literature from University of Kansas. I spoke with Nikki over the weekend about feminism, dating and the presidential election.

Amy Steele: You got into comedy at 18?

Nikki Glaser: That’s the first time I did it. It was my freshman year of college and my friends really pushed me to do it because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and they kept saying, ‘you should be a comedian.’ I gave it a shot at a talent showcase on my campus and it went really well and I thought this is what I’ll do forever. So it is.

Amy Steele: What do you like about it?

Nikki Glaser: I always stick with things I’m good at naturally and I had a knack for it. I was good at writing jokes from the beginning. not great but I had potential. so that was a good reason to keep doing it.

One of my favorite things about doing stand-up is the people you get to know and meet and be in the same industry as. It’s a relatively small industry and I’ve met great friends and  the funniest, smartest people through it. I’m in the company of all these people that I think are so great.

The stage is a nice place to let out your anger and it’s my only creative space to do that. I can’t paint about a break-up or write a song so it’s nice. You get to say whatever you want and no one stops you. I love the honesty of it.

Amy Steele: What are the greatest challenges with being a woman in comedy? You’re also really active on twitter about politics and feminism.

Nikki Glaser: I think the most aggravating part is people who write off women immediately for being not funny or that all they talk about is their vaginas. We have vaginas so we’re going to talk about them. I don’t want those people to enjoy me anyway because they’re just dumb.

I don’t see any hard parts about being a woman. I know that there’s discrimination and we don’t get enough opportunities but I love being a woman in stand-up being able to speak for a group of people who don’t often get to speak up about stuff. This new wave of feminism is really exciting and I like riding that wave.

Amy Steele: I list that I’m a feminist on my website and social media profiles and get ‘what type of feminist are you?’ when I’m trying to date.

Nikki Glaser: I read Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object and I love what she said in it about angry feminists: Wouldn’t you be angry?

Why shouldn’t we be angry? If you’re going to write a woman off because of that you’re a fucking idiot. I don’t shy away from being any kind of adjective feminist. Of course I’m angry. If you look at the injustice and how this election went you have to be angry. I’m a furious feminist. That sounds better because of the alliteration.

Amy Steele: Furious feminist. I like that. If you’re not angry and upset and affected by things then nothing’s going to change.

Nikki Glaser: It’s just a way for them to diminish us. When I’m in a relationship, I’m so afraid of being called a nag. We’re so scared of being stereotyped that way and being labeled those things when women misbehave.

Amy Steele: There are guys who might question it but then they agree with the basic definition of feminism. Then he’s an ally or a feminist. I wouldn’t date someone who was not. He might not walk around saying he’s a feminist.

Nikki Glaser: My ex-boyfriend– when we got into arguments with his family about women’s reproductive rights I remember him saying to his brother: ‘you don’t have any right to speak on this because you’re not a woman.’ I told him it was the hottest thing he’s ever said. I love feminist men. I think a lot of us should put our foot down about that.

Amy Steele: That’s why someone like Cory Booker is amazing. Right now with the Planned Parenthood de-funding …

Nikki Glaser: It’s just ignorance and religion. A mixture of those things. I love Cecile Richards. I’m so inspired by her. It just seems so daunting. All these fucking men are so angry. It all comes down to them not wanting women in charge of anything: not their bodies; not the government; nothing. It’s so maddening. I’ve been reading celebrity news right now because I can’t take the news. I’m back to being the way I was at 17. I can’t walk around in a perpetual state of anger.

Amy Steele: NPR is okay and I feel somewhat soothed by the things I hear on NPR. I usually watch Maddow or listen to the podcast and I can’t right now.

Nikki Glaser: It’s a bad time right now. My boyfriend and I broke up the night before the election. I thought ‘Hillary is going to win and this is a seminal election and I’m becoming an independent woman tomorrow. This’ll be the first day I’m single and I’m taking back my life.’ Then that night I thought everybody was going through a break-up with me. It was like September 12.

Amy Steele: I volunteered at Hillary’s campaign in New Hampshire and then in Massachusetts, not as interesting as a swing state. It was devastating to sit in the campaign office with everyone that night crying. I was dating a guy at the time and he didn’t even call me. My therapist couldn’t believe it. From then on I thought ‘red flag. This is not cool.’

Nikki Glaser: What the fuck. That’s unacceptable. He should have a stamp on him. Scarlet letter. He’s an asshole. It was devastating for so many of us and I can only imagine being at the campaign.

Amy Steele: You have a new album?

Nikki Glaser: My album came out in April but I have a whole new hour of material. I’m going to tape something for Netflix coming up in February. I don’t really do anything from the album so people won’t hear a repeat.

Amy Steele: So, a mix of sex and politics…

Nikki Glaser: and my dog. Sex, relationships, pretty much what’s going on in my life. I feel like every time I talk about my material I feel that it’s about being at an age and feeling I’m younger than that age, the responsibilities of my age. I always feel stunted. This special I have is dogs that I’m going to talk about. But in a fresh way. Yeah, I’m going to talk about dogs in a fresh way. I’m excited about it.

If you’re in the Boston area– Nikki Glaser performs Saturday, January 14, 2017, The Wilbur. 246 Tremont Street, Boston, Mass., thewilbur.com.

 

 

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music review: Full Circle Commonwealth Women Up Front

commonwealth women up front.full circle

Full Circle Commonwealth Women Up Front
Static Motor Recordings

–review by Amy Steele

Do you feel that you aren’t that familiar with new bands and artists around Boston? I know that I’ve lost touch with the local music scene. Not that I was ever “in” the scene but I knew lots of bands in the 90s. So oldster that I am now, this GenXer gets excited to discover local artists like Petty Morals, Will Dailey, Telectrix and Freezepop. This 10-track compilation Full Circle Commonwealth Women Up Front developed through a SoundCloud group for indie music in Boston. There’s another site I don’t spend enough time on. Everyone’s on Facebook and I just don’t spend enough time there. Yes, I listen to links that publicists send me but I don’t spend the time browsing the site as I should. Spotify is my go-to and I’ve discovered lots of cool music there.

If you read my website you know that I support women in music and women in the arts and women all around. Women to the front! These days I mostly listen to female solo artists and female-fronted bands. This compilation features Massachusetts women– an eclectic mix of solo artists and female-fronted bands. If, like me, you want to support women in music and women in the arts then check out this collection. Discover some new artists. All these singers and bands excel in writing cool, gorgeous songs. They showcase vocal range and musical prowess. Impossible not to listen to it from start to finish again and again and again. Every song impresses with its songwriting, composition and ability to move, soothe or groove.

Here’s the track listing with my thoughts:

1. Imani Sherley – “I Will Go In Waves”
–gentle. emotive folk from this Smith College student

2. Marriage Material – “Fresh Air”
–60s-inspired electro-pop, extremely catchy and high-energy. female-fronted band composed of: Chelsey Reynolds [vocals]; Beck Goguen [vocals]; John Lieneck [keyboard/synth]; Matt McCarthy [drums];
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3. Electric Wave Inspection Bureau (feat. Kate O’Connor) – “Packets”
–serious EDM. deep beat, quirky and spirited. reminds me of Stereolab.

4. Rachel Thomasin – “Laurels”
–achingly, heartbreakingly gorgeous. lovely vocal range. this singer/songwrier uses a variety of sampling and instrumentation in her mesmerizing arrangements.

5. Aüva – “Into Place”
–shimmery retro-dream pop with sweet female-male vox harmonizing.
members: Miette Hope [keys/vocals]; Jack Markwordt [guitar/vocals]; Jake Levine [guitar/vocals]; Michael Piccoli [drums]; Andy Metzger [bass]; Austin Birdy [percussion]

6. Satellite Sound – “Sunday”
— grungy guitar rock, muffled sounds, strong vocals. reminiscent of 90s bands That Dog or Velocity Girl. members: Danielle Mishkin [vocals/keys]; Michael Miller [guitar]; Jamie Martini [bass]; Levi Ali [drums]

7. Pleasure Garden – “In Death”
–dark, ethereal, dreampop. in the vein of Chelsea Wolfe or Bats for Lashes. duo of Anne Bennett and Ryan Lord.

8. A/J\E (feat. Ada Obieshi) – “Unknown”
–complex arrangements. heartfelt and powerful in its instrumentation and range. Vocals remind me of Valerie Forgione of Mistle Thrush [my forever-favorite Boston band].

9. And Then There Was One – “Dawn”
–pretty, lilting vocals. Melody effectively moves from lulling guitar to churning guitar. solo project of Stevie Caldwell.

10. Six Times Seven – “One of These Days”
–Stevie Caldwell possesses an absolutely gorgeous voice and can shred on guitar. impressive. upbeat pop with this band composed of: Stevie Caldwell [singer/guitar]; Ron Levine [bass] and Dave Zimmerman [drums]
Full Circle Commonwealth Women Up Front is currently available as digital stream or download. Support local music!

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Illeana Douglas

book cover. I blame Dennis Hopper

Do not expect to find gossipy stories in Illeana Douglas’s memoir I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories From a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies . Instead this reads as a genuine love story with film. Infused with passion and enthusiasm, actor/director/producer Illeana Douglas discusses her journey to become an independent voice in cinema. Illeana reveals disappointments and achievements with equal parts humor and honesty. She recounts her early and ongoing love for classic films and the art of film-making itself. She writes: “That’s how movies change us: in ways we cannot even remember. Those images of movies stay in our brain; those fragments become shards in our memories.” She recalls working with directors such as Gus Van Sant, Martin Scorsese and Allison Anders. Illeana has starred in a ton of  films including Grace of My Heart, Picture Perfect, To Die For, Goodfellas, Wedding Bell Blues [check this one out. it’s so much fun], Ghost World, Return to Sender, She’s Funny That Way, Factory Girl, Happy, Texas, and Cape Fear. She directed Illeanarama and Easy to Assemble as well as several short films.

Not only did she study acting but she questioned every moment while on a film set and dissected various films to completely absorb and comprehend the film-making process. She voraciously read books about film. Illeana explains: “To me, a movie is like a roulette wheel with a series of problems where the numbers should be. The wonderful mystery of a movie is that you can never predict those problems, so fixing as many things beforehand as possible, such as answering questions in the script, is a good idea.”

I truly enjoyed this memoir. It provided so much insight and Illeana possesses such a passion for film and a respect for the entire process. She’s a great storyteller and she remembers details about everything. We met briefly when she screened Devil Talk at The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Grace of My Heart is my all-time favorite film so I ask Illeana lots of questions about it.

Illeana took the time to answer some questions by email.

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to write this book now?

Illeana Douglas: We are in a period where-although movies are readily available to see-we have no context with which to talk about them. I was lucky that I had my grandfather Melvyn Douglas talking to me about working with Greta Garbo and Peter Sellers. Now that’s context! I always saw and wrote about movies-but it wasn’t until I started working with Turner Classic Movies that folks became aware of it. Yes, I’m an actress, and I do talk about my own career/life story in the book but the focus is that I am a fan of movies as much as being in them. These are 15 stories about movies or movie stars that changed my life.

Amy Steele: Why the title?

Illeana Douglas: It’s called I Blame Dennis Hopper because I wanted to tell a memoir through the movies because the movies have defined who I am. In 1969 my parents saw Easy Rider. After seeing the movie they rejected their middle class life style and became hippies. The title pays homage to him because it’s how the power of that film– Easy Rider— changed my destiny. I am an actress because of Dennis Hopper—because as a child I was raised on his philosophies—which were based on the film Easy Rider. Later on of course I met and worked with Dennis Hopper—in the movie Search and Destroy— and had my own profound experience which is what I write about in the book.

Amy Steele: You talk about films at the drive-in being a major part of your childhood and teen years. Is that how you developed such an interest in classic film and film-making in general?

Illeana Douglas: I learned about classic film I think because I was spending time with my grandfather and sitting across from Myrna Loy or Robert Anderson or Diane Baker at the dinner table. I knew they were in the movies. I wanted to be able to impress my grandfather so I started reading more about classic film so I would have something to say at the grown ups table! Then when he brought me to the set of Being There I started to get an interest in the behind the scenes making of films. He picked up on my eagerness to learn, and started sending me movie books.

Amy Steele: Your childhood did surprise me. The hippy factor and uncertainties. How did this influence your acting and shape you as a person?

Illeana Douglas: My childhood seemed like a movie. It was all out of my control. I became obsessed with movies—somehow I knew this was my way out. Movies were—when I was growing up—how you could define yourself. You looked to the movies. I wanted to be Liza Minelli, or Ruby Keeler, or Richard Dreyfuss. I looked up to these icons– still do. I knew if I could be in the movies I would be happy and that has been very true!

Amy Steele: Your grandfather [Melvyn Douglas] was a well-known and Academy-Award winning actor [Being There, Hud]. What kind of relationship did you have with him and how did he influence your decision to act? Did he know that you wanted to act and what kind of advice did he give you?

Illeana Douglas: He was of course my first mentor and my first fan. He believed in me. He gave me structure. He encouraged me to read and to learn. He said, “When you find someone to learn from don’t let go of that person”. I have tried to honor that. To respect the craft and the history of acting. He also pushed me to write. So writing has been my way of making him happy.

Amy Steele: Then your grandmother was the first democratic woman elected to Congress from California. What did you learn from her?

Illeana Douglas: She was so confident. She believed strongly in her principles-which were very liberal. Politically- it was her opinion or you were on the wrong side. She also had great taste in art, music, and antiques. These are all qualities I admire. She also loved to hear little poems or songs I had written. Pictures I had painted. She created a world that I very much wanted to be a part of.

Amy Steele: How has acting influenced your directing?

Illeana Douglas: I love acting-love it-but my heart lies in directing. Acting made me want to be a director. When I work with actors I obviously know through experience what they are going through. I have a certain empathy. They are not in control. My goal as a director is to tell the stories of emotional triumph.

Amy Steele: As with many industries (journalism for one), film is quite white-male dominated, what has been your greatest challenge as a woman in the industry?

Illeana Douglas: The greatest challenge is that an “actress” will always be treated with gender bias. It’s sad because I love acting and actresses but you will never get respect as an actress if you have opinions. Shirley Maclaine has said she’s played a hooker 8 times in movies. What does that tell you about being an actress in Hollywood?

Amy Steele: Hollywood also has issue with aging actresses. Seems once you’re over 40 you get the mom roles. What do you think could change that?

Illeana Douglas: I don’t think generally it will change. All you can do as a woman is write a great part for an older woman and try like hell to get it made. In the meantime there are other areas in show business you can work in and a lot of actresses—I’m one of them have branched out to writing and directing.

Amy Steele: As Grace of My Heart is my all-time favorite film, I adored that section and found out many things I didn’t know like that you and Allison wanted to make a film about Anne Sexton. Is there no possibility to make that film?

Illeana Douglas: We would love to collaborate on a film. I don’t think it will be Anne Sexton.

Amy Steele: Of you and Allison you said: “Allison and I both felt like female artists who didn’t quite fit in a mold.” I would think that’s a good thing. Can you explain how that shaped the film as well as your relationship with Allison?

Illeana Douglas: I wanted a collaboration with a female director in the way that male actors did with male directors. Allison is so knowledgeable about films. That was the surprise. We just clicked because we both loved movies—especially melodramas. We wanted Grace of My Heart to be a musical melodrama and I think we achieved that. We got that movie made, and I am awfully proud of it. We are friends to this day. I love her. I loved co-hosting with her on TCM and the Trailblazing Women series.

Amy Steele: You’ve worked with mostly male directors. How are things different working with a female director?

Illeana Douglas: I have actually worked with many female directors. Allison Anders, Nancy Savoca, Kathy Bates to name a few. I sought a collaboration with Allison Anders. She was the quintessential female director I wanted to work with because I felt she would bring out the best in me and she did. What I have found is that once you are on set everyone is very supportive– it’s getting to the set.

Getting a female-driven film set up and made that is the challenge. I know when I am directing a project—I get more personally involved in the hiring of women in all departments. There are more women physically on set. I have also worked with two female D.P.s [cinematographer/Director of Photography and I have found no sexism directed towards them once they are on set. Again it’s getting the job that is the problem.

Women directors tend to write their own material. It usually feels, as in the case of Grace of My Heart that the story is very personal and very real. Everything I have written for film and directed—my shorts etc. are all based on real experiences or feelings and I have turned them into a narrative. I’ve said this before and it’s widely quoted but I believe women shoot better sex scenes than male directors. They are just prettier to look at, and certainly more arousing. Some of the male depictions of sex scenes turn my stomach a little—they seem about power—not so much about love.

Amy Steele: As you worked in the Brill Building for one of your first jobs how cool was it to make a film about its history?

Illeana Douglas: I worked in the Brill Building in 1987 and continued to work there throughout the 90’s and became fascinated by its history. I’m a big music buff—so the idea that this was Tin Pan Alley fascinated me. I started to read a lot of books about it as my grandfather’s parents were actually song-writers themselves. There were so many stories of these great song-writing teams at the Brill Building. Of course the Carole King story resonated with me—as it did Allison Anders. She’s an expert on the girl groups. I was merely a fan. We would have loved to film in the actual Brill Building.I did film there with the movie Picture Perfect. The halls are square and have linoleum on them so you could move pianos around. I liked the idea of that much creativity happening in one building. We tried to create what it would have felt like to be a singer/songwriter in that era. One of my favorite scenes is writing a song with Howard (Eric Stoltz). It felt very organic. Of course it helped that Elvis Costello had written the song for us.

Amy Steele: You also stated that the 90s was the “height of independent film-making”—how and what has changed with independent film since then?

Illeana Douglas: We don’t have enough time! The 90s represented the best of that mid-range indie film—3 to 5 million dollars. Now you can either make a big budget movie that will have to have big big stars or make a movie for under a million. It might get into a festival and it will not be released in theaters, it will be VOD. We are making a lot of movies– not as many people are seeing them. Also it was filmed. Everything now is digital. Doesn’t have the warm quality of film.

Amy Steele: Why do you think you’re more of a comedic actress than a dramatic actress?

Illeana Douglas: I enjoy satire and irony. I think funny. Situations in life I find comic. I find life absurd—like a Fellini movie. I really enjoy making people laugh, it makes me happy.

Amy Steele: Illeanarama is so funny and so is Easy to Assemble –where did those ideas come from and what has doing a web series allowed you to do these days?

Illeana Douglas: I had a couple of pilots that I made that didn’t go anywhere and then I was approached by IKEA in 2007 to create some branded interstitials. Easy to Assemble came out of my feeling of wanting to do more comedic writing. I had made a number of shorts but my directing was always put on hold so I could act. Easy to Assemble which came out of Illeanarama was a way to act in projects I had written and to have a voice comedically. I had five years to write/produce/direct because of IKEA. I was able to learn how to produce, handle budgets work with actors and write scripts without the pressure of failing. I knew I would be writing and directing films and this was a fantastic training ground. We were pioneers and I will always be proud of that and thankful to IKEA.

Amy Steele: You stated: “I’m a bit of a rebel. It’s true. I challenge the system and I question authority.” I am the same way and it hasn’t helped me much. People don’t appreciate that. Has this been problematic or beneficial for you?

Illeana Douglas: I do not like unfairness, and when something is wrong I will speak up. Does it rub people the wrong way to be outspoken– yes it does. You also have to question authority because they want to corral everyone into the same thinking. I am for the individual. Women have to rebel and risk not being liked. There is no other option for a woman than to have the attitude of “I got this” but that rubs folks the wrong way.

 

2014 TCM Classic Film Festival - A Conversation With Richard Dreyfus at Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

HOLLYWOOD, CA – APRIL 11: Actors Richard Dreyfuss (L) and Illeana Douglas attend a conversation with Richard Dreyfuss at Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel during the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 11, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/WireImage)

Amy Steele: Richard Dreyfuss seems to be the actor you’ve always admired. What do you like about him?

Illeana Douglas: Everything. He’s one of our finest amd most thoughtful actors. His films in the 70’s shaped a generation. There is no performance like Jaws or The Goodbye Girl. His energy and drive is palpable and yet underneath is strong vulnerability. And he’s DAMN funny. I like what I wrote about Richard Dreyfuss, “Was he cocky… yes… was he right? Always.”

Amy Steele: You developed a special relationship with Roddy McDowall. How much did he mean to you?

Illeana Douglas: Roddy got me into keeping journals and autograph books. He was a student of film history and was one the first people to talk about film preservation. He was gracious and kind and just the epitome of class. Everyone loved him, and he was also a very talented photographer. I never saw him complain or be sad about any blow that life dealt him. His picture is on my desk, and he is always in my thoughts.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about working at TCM?

Illeana Douglas: Working with Turner Classic Movies is a dream. There is not a person who works there who has an agenda other than to celebrate movies, movie makers and to put on a pedestal the giants of the cinema. I have great respect for Robert Osborne who gave the channel a face. They are also in tune with the fans. The fans make TCM a family, and I don’t know a TV channel today that actively thinks about pleasing the fans. I have had the opportunity to interview luminaries like Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry Lewis, Eva Marie Saint.

When I was going to write a book it aligned with what I was doing with TCM—which was shining a light on the importance of films. Our Trailblazing Women series set the agenda for female filmmakers and the contributions of female filmmakers going back to 1896. Many of the films we highlighted are now being recognized –Ida Lupino, Shirley Clarke, Barbara Loden– no one was talking about them– now their films, and the films of many other female filmmakers are being recognized.

Amy Steele: What inspires you?

Illeana Douglas: Amarcord means “to remember” I am the rememberer.

purchase at Amazon: I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies

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