Chateau Notes: In Conversation with Agent Ribbons -- Their Shophomore Release, Chatueau Crone, Drops Today!

Posted by Kells, October 12, 2010 01:33pm | Post a Comment

Agent Ribbons
is, plainly put, one of the most bewitching band of ladies I've ever encountered in a live setting. Their raw feminine energy and rosy demeanor create an infectious dynamic tension when they perform their songs, almost as if they dare the shadowy figures sulking (most likely) at the bar to rise on invisible strings and sway like moths enchanted by the shine of the widow's web. Yes, lawd, these salty sirens have the ability to spellbind when their signature sibylline sound mingles with such fetching aesthetic fury --- it's a lusty mix heady enough to have you hooked in an instant.

A little while back I had a chance to chat with the missus Ribbons after they played a brief but burning hot set at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. Here guitarist/vocalist Natalie Gordon, drums/accordion/vocalist Lauren Hess and violinist/cellist/vocalist Naomi Cherie dish about their newest release, Chateau Crone, on Antenna Farm records, which hits the shelves at Amoeba today, their move from California to Texas, upcoming projects and other sundry subjects!

First of all, fabulous show! I think I can speak for everyone when I say I only wished it had been longer (it was a short set, but people were fist-pumping!). Are there plans in place for a proper Chateau Crone tour?

Natalie: Ha ha, I don't know if any tour we ever do is a 'proper' anything tour, but we definitely intend to do a great deal of touring in the next year.  We'll be in Europe for the winter, on the west coast for late January and early February (you can bet your money on a longer set this time around!), and we're planning a New Zealand tour in the spring with Uni and her Ukulele. We hope to tour the U.S. one more time before taking the summer of 2011 off so that we can write new material.
Lauren: Hopefully during that west coast jaunt in January or February we'll be able to hit up some spots we weren't able to on this tour, namely Sacramento, Modesto, Nevada City and Portland.
So, the last time I saw Agent Ribbons in San Francisco was at the Fillmore Auditorium (which was super exciting!); please talk about what that was like. Natalie, you were barefoot right?
Natalie: Yes, of course I was barefoot! Shoes -- at least, the attractive kind that I prefer --tend to be fairly unpractical for unruly stage behavior. I feel like I'm running around in my backyard if I remove my footwear, but I do keep the shoes on for some occasions...usually if I'm concerned about the electricity being well-grounded. Going barefoot on a stage full of electrically-powered gear is a big gamble, but I like risky business.
Lauren: The Fillmore show was the absolute best show of the Camera Obscura tour. It was basically a homecoming show, so many of our friends and family were there. My family was treated with VIP status and had a little section of their own to watch the show. I was really touched that my Grandma, who is a big supporter of us, was able to see us on such a legendary stage.

Naomi: Playing at the Fillmore was such honor especially since I've studied a lot of music history. My favorite part was walking through the halls and looking at the walls, which were lined with hundreds of show posters from decades past. It was also neat because there are all these little traditions like the barrel of apples when you walk in and the fancy dinner all the bands get to sit down to upstairs before the show.

The Fillmore show was the first time I saw (and heard) Naomi with the band; is the vibe onstage any different playing as a trio?
Natalie: Adding Naomi to the band was a big change for the band in many ways, but I see it as a much-needed challenge that came at the perfect time. Not only do we have more at our disposal dynamically, but there's another world of nuance, dissonance, harmony, etc. that wasn't available to us before. When the band was just drums, guitar and vocals, it almost didn't even matter if my guitar was in tune or not! Now, that is quite a priority for obvious reasons, but it's so great because the added dimension has opened a floodgate of ideas for us and I think we are running with all our new freedoms. Lauren has begun to do quite a bit of vocal harmonies now and after adding a new instrument, and feeling secure about it, we feel as though we can try whatever we want without fearing change. I think it was weird at first to have another presence onstage that was standing up and moving around next to me since I'm used to having run of the place! But it's really wonderful and I enjoy working off of her energy so much...we're finally finding our balance and it makes performing so much more fun!

Lauren: Natalie and I had a very strong dynamic as a duo, which was great but also problematic since we basically molded our sound live and knew how to play together exclusively. Having Naomi in the band has forced us to propel forward and get to know our songs and instruments much better. I really love how the live show feels now; there is another person to interact with and play off of which really helps our stage
Has Naomi's coming aboard at all shifted the songwriting/music-making process for Agent Ribbons?
Natalie: Well, I honestly felt my songwriting taking a weird shift right before she joined the band, which is one of the reasons we spontaneously invited her to be a part of Agent Ribbons despite the frowning logistics. It just didn't seem right to only have guitar and drums when we started working with the new material...something was definitely missing and we didn't know what it was. When Naomi started to play with us, it was weird because she fit perfectly into the new songs, but the older material was a bit awkward for her to play on since it had been designed for sparseness. However, we make it work now, and pretty much all the new songs we come up with have a definite place for her, so I guess the short answer to your question is "yes!" The song structures have changed some, and also melodically I'm more attracted to lines that will sound good with harmonies since Lauren is singing now.

Lauren: I also say "yes!" We have an amazing violinist who is not only capable of playing anything but [also] coming up with really beautiful parts as well; we have more room to be more elaborate and experimental.
I love the concept around your new album Chateau Crone, it is really the sort of place I can fathom losing myself in, like, forever. How did that idea for the album come about?
Natalie: There are so many different chapters to this story. A lot of it has to do with my mom because I remember her always telling me that falling in love was a beautiful thing but that it wasn't always forever, and that if I didn't end up finding "the one" that I couldn't let that effect my sense of self-worth. I'm always open to the idea of a life-partner or a true love, but I don't rely on it and definitely don't fear the idea of never finding it. My closest friends are very passionate people and I watch them fall in and out of love all the time -- as I do -- but the real love story is in our friendship and our sincere investment in each other. I love reading about matriarchies or societies where groups of women run communities with the help of men that are not their lovers, such as brothers and sons and grandpas. Men that are romantic interests are sometimes in the picture, sometimes not. Sometimes forever, sometimes not. We want a community where we can grow old together and support each others' dreams whether or not we have husbands or wives or other permanent installations! A place where you don't feel like you need a boob job to look extended family that has plenty of sources of advice and inspiration. The nuclear family is dead, in my opinion, and in an era where aging women are still not considered more valuable to society, I would like to start from the ground up and redesign the template for happiness.
You pointed out that night at the show that you not only cherish the effect the legendary Little Edie Beale has had on your life, but that you also have a "little Edie"-esque aunt who inspires and supports Agent Ribbons. What's her story?
Lauren: My aunt Lisa, who now is our band aunt or "bant," has been a big influence on my life from as long as I can remember. From playing the Cramps, Rubella Ballet and the Cure for me super early on to her free spirit nature, Lisa has always left an impression on me and is continuing to do so with our band and friends. She has gone on a couple tours with us and just has the best outspoken attitude and ends up being everybody's friend. On our last tour with her, she brought a whole slew of costumes and assumed different characters at our shows including a deranged circus clown, a psycho baby and an international spy. She basically blows us outta the water when it comes to theatrics! 

Natalie: Auntie Lisa is a brave and adventurous woman that has believed in us from the start. Since the day we met, I've looked up to her as a role model in many ways and she always makes our travels more interesting! Though she's Lauren's aunt, the band has collectively adopted her.

Naomi: Auntie Lisa is our Little Edie. She's helped the band out in a lot of ways like lending us money for instrument repairs, helping us secure a touring vehicle, etc. Her free spirited and kooky ways have been very inspiring and she's probably our band's number one fan. She's kind of like a nutty fairy godmother.
The song "Your Hands, My Hands" is clearly a masturbation jam: was this song intentionally written that way or did it, ahem, come organically?
Natalie: Hmmm. Well, let's just say that it, ahem, came organically and that we intended for it to do so.
For me, the song "I'm Alright" has a very girls of summer/Breeders sound to it, which I absolutely love. How  much does the whole 1990's mainstream "alternative"-to-riot grrrl spectrum of girl rockers influence Agent Ribbons, if at all?
Lauren: I'm the big riot grrl/girl punk fan of the band! I have over 250 all female/female fronted 7" records and am constantly collecting. I listen to a wide variety of music, but grrl bands will always be my favorite. I try to bring that DIY spirit and punk attitude to the band when I can. On tour we listen to Girls in the Garage compilations which were a big influence on that song.
Natalie: The 90's affected all of us simply due to [our] growing up in the 90's, but I'm more so a fan of bands like Guided by Voices and Built to Spill than I am of Riot Grrrl. I missed that boat somehow, so I wouldn't say that what we do is informed by it much. But yeah, The Breeders in particular are a stand-out exception and I've always loved the Deals' vocal ideas. Actually, one of the reasons we recorded much of Chateau Crone with Manny Nieto was because he did a lot of work on The Breeders' Mountain Battles and we were excited about that. He did all of the recording for "I'm Alright."
A friend of mine (who is a Morrissey fanatic) pointed out that "I Was Born To Write Sad Songs" possesses something of a Morrissey vibe, both musically and lyrically; is she far off the mark? What is the story behind this hit?
Natalie: I can totally see what your friend is referring to! I am a Morrissey fan but hadn't thought about any similarity before. It's funny because I actually originally wrote that song for the band Cake shortly after we toured with them. They said they were recording a new album, so I thought it would be cool if I could write a song for them to record. Unfortunately I never got around to finishing it in time to show them, but it was for the best because I think it's more suited to us anyway. We recorded it on the fly with our friend Chazz in Austin and I wrote the bridge that day. He set me up in a tile bathroom for the guitar and vocals, and Lauren wrote her drum part as we went along!
I really love the song "Grey Gardens" --- it's satisfying to hear it on the record after enjoying it live time after time. Natalie, you mentioned before how movies are a major influence to your song-writing. Are there any movies making songs in your head lately?
Natalie: YES! I only discovered Jodorowsky this year, and I'm totally obsessed. When I moved to Austin this year, I finally started catching up on loads of films I've always wanted to see but never could because I didn't have a computer or television! I want our next album to be totally Jodorowsky-inspired, especially Holy Mountain. And I want to take lots of pictures for the artwork in Arizona and Texas with my new Diana camera since it has a kind of color-saturated sensuality that matches that whole aesthetic. In Holy Mountain there is this scene of this couple in a wood-panel room and a four foot toilet, and the woman has green hair...this room is my inspiration for what I want my next bedroom to look like and what I hope the next AR album will sound like!
I gotta know: right now, today, what would be the ideal Agent Ribbons cinematic "sick day" triple feature?
Natalie: OH MAN, this is so hard...You said "right now" so my choices will reflect the present moment and not necessarily my favorite films, so here goes: The Karate Kid, Holy Mountain and Princess Mononoke. I wish I was sick right now!
Lauren: Personal Best, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Naomi: I can't even remember the last time I've been to the movie theatre. How about some old faves: Amelie, Vertigo and...The Little Mermaid!

It's exciting to know that Chateau Crone will be issued on vinyl! Any plans to have your debut album, On Time Travel And Romance, re-issued on vinyl?
Natalie: Unfortunately, I don't think so. We don't even have the masters because the awesome guy who recorded the album -- Jim Sandelius -- passed away recently. He had the only known masters and they're gone forever, I'm pretty sure. Oh well. It's not really an album meant for vinyl anyhow, so I'm not worried about it.

Naomi: I've never thought about that but I think an On Time Travel and Romance vinyl release would actually a really good idea!

It seems like, generally speaking, the songs on Chateau Crone pull from more autobiographical content than the more story-telling inspired vibe of your debut, could this be related to homesickness? Do you miss California?
Natalie: You're right, it's very autobiographical. And yes, I do miss California a great deal. The songs were all written before we moved to Texas, but since we were on the road nine months out of the year even when we were living back west, I was always thinking about home and the people I was far away from. There is probably every single emotion known to mankind on Chateau Crone because our lives were pure chaos and adventure and longing throughout the duration of working on it, seasoned with tragedy and doused with a gravy boat of pure luck.
Please talk about your move to Austin, Texas. Has the relocation affected Agent Ribbons very much?

Naomi: It's great for me because I'm from Austin and have been flying back and forth from Texas to California for tours and recordings for the past year. It's nice not to have to hop on a plane every couple of weeks and it's great to live in the same town and be able to practice and collaborate more often.

Lauren: I absolutely love Austin; it was great move for me on a personal level and an even smarter move for us as a band. Initially I was going to stay in California, but then it became very apparent that the band would lose so much momentum if I was in another state. It's been great for us all to be in the same state, it's given us time to practice and work on band stuff.

What are the biggest differences between Sacramento and Austin? How are the thrift stores, the food, the scene, the audience, etc?

Lauren: Austin is a much more active city in general but it still feels like a small town some days. I feel that people are doing so many art and music related things in Austin that encourage each other to create and participate. Sacramento has really creative and interesting people but sometimes the scene is not where it should be and has a tendency to die out for a while before getting great again. We accomplished so much in Sacramento, there is no way we would be able to be nurtured and supported in such a positive way anywhere else. Also, I think Sacramento has way better thrift stores! When I lived with my parents in a suburb of Sacramento before leaving for Austin I had access to an entire thrift store route that I would frequent, including a place where clothes prices started at 40 cents. I scored amazing finds all the time! I miss my Sac thrift stores!

Here's my "Teen Beat" question: do you have names for your instruments?
Natalie: Since my guitar is a Danelectro, I often refer to it as "The Danny" but I also think personifying instruments is a little bit creepy for some reason.
Lauren: Well, not exactly, but I describe my drum set as a mystical tiger eye set. My guitar, which I seldom play in this band, is called "Super Glorious."

Naomi: My old violin had a name but it got stolen out of our van last summer during our tour with Camera Obscura. My new violin doesn't have one yet, but it's an antique from France so it should probably be something French. I'm taking suggestions...
Is there a particular song you most look forward to playing every night?
Natalie: I love playing "Wood, Lead, Rubber" due to the built-in dance moves, but I think that when we are lucky enough to have a great sound system, "Wallpaper of Skin" is us at our best.
Lauren: Probably "Grey Gardens," "Bird in the Mirror" and "I'm Alright."

Naomi: "Wallpaper of Skin" is definitely one of my favorites and one of our most intense songs. "Your Hands, My Hands" is fun too, and of course "Wood, Lead, Rubber" which is usually our grand finale.

Do you think you'll ever write a particularly "maritime inspired" song for nautical nerds like me? (I can't help it: I grew up on a beach in NC famous for pirates and shipwrecks and things.)
Natalie: I'm on it, baby!

Naomi: A nautical song would be really fun...and we could all wear matching sailor outfits?

Are there any particular artists or records you're been listening to lately?
Natalie: I also want to answer this question without naming the usual suspects and actually talk about latelies, so music that I've listened to a lot of in the last couple months would be Robert Charlebois, Gogol Bordello, Broadcast, Pulp, Captain Beefheart and Jonathan Richman. Captain Beefheart is something that has always been around me, but I started listening to him a lot more this summer, and I'm also really feeling the 80s lately, though it seems to have no effect on my songwriting.
Lauren: I'm in a Kate Bush phase again, particularly the album The Dreaming. Also, Crass and Silver Apples and the Mamas and the Papas are some of my favorites right now.

Naomi: I've been checking a couple of fun girl bands like Wet Dog and The Coathangers. We also played with an amazing sister duo in Tucson called Acorn Bcorn. I don't think they have a CD out but you should really check them out if you get a chance.
It was super cool that you could get together with Dame Darcy for your release through Seven Inch Project. Do you have any other artists, visual or otherwise, that you dream about working or touring with?
Natalie: I really wanted to put out a split 7" with the band Paranthetical Girls last year. I wrote to them about it and they came to see us when we toured with Camera Obscura, but we played a dreadful show that night and I'm sure they're not interested anymore! I'm obsessed with this visual artist named Olaf Hajek that is big and famous, so maybe some day we'll have a big enough budget to have him do some artwork for an AR release!

Naomi: There is an embroidery artist in Austin called Jenny Hart who I would really love to get to do a band portrait for an album cover or poster for us.

I know you're concentrating on your touring Chateau Crone (just released today!), but are you working on anything new at the moment? Any future projects for Agent Ribbons in the works?
Natalie: We have a small pile of songs that we're planning on working on a bit during the holidays and then we'll hopefully flesh them out next year. Lots more vocal harmonies happening on this batch. It's hard to say what they'll sound like when we actually figure it all out though, since our material changes a lot as it drifts down the assembly line!

Naomi: We want to release another 7" as soon as we can. We have a lot of ideas in the works but we really need to invest in some pedals and proper equipment before we can pull some of it off. There are also a couple of songs we'd love to do once we replace our broken accordion and toy piano!
Thank you so much for your time, ladies! We're wishing you luck on your current and future tours and looking forward to your new material! Hope to see you again real soon.

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Interview (341), Agent Ribbons (5), Chateau Crone (1), Antenna Farm Records (2)