GO's new A&E editor, Chrissy Carney, chatted recently with Kristen Henderson of Antigone Rising, the New York-based, all-female, boot-stompin', alt-country-rock band. They've just released a new EP, Whiskey & Wine, Volume 1, on March 25. It will be followed later this year by Whiskey & Wine, Volume 2, due out October 28. In this exclusive full-length interview, Kristen talks about the band's new EPs, being a crowdfunding pioneer, her hot Time magazine cover, life on the road and much more.
GO: Antigone Rising has two new EPs coming out, Whiskey & Wine Vols. 1 & 2. Tell me about the song creation process for these releases and the new direction you're taking with the music.
Kristen: Stylistically, it’s not too different from where we’ve been. A little more southern country rock. Nini [Camps] and I do all the writing. The biggest difference with these two EPS is we’re going about releasing differently than we ever have before. But, creatively, the biggest difference is we did all the recording in Nini’s home studio. We’d never done that. Nini took the reins from a production standpoint.
To be quite honest, I find being in the studio monotonous. I love to write; I love touring; and I love performing the songs live. I don’t care about Pro Tools. Some musicians love to learn all that crap. I love to get into the technical website stuff, even editing videos. But in the studio, no…there’s a producer for that.
Nini is the opposite. She loves to be behind the computer and in the studio creating the music, which I love. I have ideas—we all have ideas—about production. I just don’t have the patience to be in a studio for super-long amounts of time. Nini does, so it’s working out great. We did all the recording in her home studio, which made life convenient because we all have kids. That made recording a lot less stressful since we weren’t on anyone’s time clock and weren’t paying studio fees. We were at the helm, creatively, especially Nini. And that was exciting.
You funded your upcoming EPs through Pledge Music (and already reached your goal, congrats!) Why did the band decide to go this route? How has the experience been?
You know, it’s funny, we’ve been an indie band our whole career. There were a couple minutes 8 or 9 years ago when we were signed to a record label, Atlantic, and we did a record that came out in conjunction with Starbucks. And that was a really fun time.
Prior to that, we were a grassroots indie touring band and we built up our own way of doing things and were very self-contained. We were crowdfunding through our fans before those kinds of sites ever existed. In fact, we funded one of our first studio albums through a snail-mail campaign, with stamps! It sounds like the 1800s when I say that. Before you could exchange money easily on the internet, before PayPal, we had a website, but it was a weird URL with a tilde in it. We'd posted on the website something like, "if you want to donate and help us make our new record, mail us a check to this P.O. Box…" (this was back in 2000) and we raised $10,000 that way. We all lived together in this little New Jersey town at the time, and we'd walk to the box every day and there were checks: $10, $20, $30—it was totally nuts. So we did this record and it was called Rock Album.
Our next record was the Atlantic record. And after that record, after Nini joined the band, there was crowdfunding. People had caught on. We did a Kickstarter campaign with Nini for the last album. We raised close to $40,000. That was crazy and almost maddening. I mean, like, why the hell would you want to be on a record label when you can be in total control and have this absolutely awesome connection with the fans and this really cool experience?
So that was great and the reason we decided to do the Pledge Music campaign. Basically, we’re asking you to buy the music upfront. If you really love us, then you get to come on this journey with us through the internet. It allows us to do exclusive things for the people who bought in early. They get to watch us make the record. And we’re posting videos: moments from the photo shoot and in the recording studio. It gives people a backdoor look into what we’re doing and in the process they’re helping us make the money to promote, tour and market CDs in a way that we’ve never been able to do before. It’s so cool. I just love not having to worry about some record label. It’s so fun; it’s a great thing.
I’m not one of those artists (although I sound like one right now) who flaks their record label, because we had a great experience on a major label. To have that little bump in the middle of our career really helped and brought us to a different level. We were in every Starbucks and everybody goes into Starbucks. It was an amazing thing. At the time, that never would’ve happened if we weren’t signed to a label. Now we’re back to doing it the way we were before. So I would never say that being signed to a label doesn’t work; it can work to your advantage. But I think now the paradigm is broken. It’s a bit of a mess and I prefer to keep the mess contained. It’s easier when it’s just us running our own mess! We can keep the spill contained.
The band has always made its fans feel like part of the family. Have you had any recent fan interactions, or performances that stand out and have inspired you?
About a week and a half ago, we did a weekend of dates and we used to do this thing where the fans would follow us from state to state. They still do that, actually. It used to be like that, especially in New England, so we just did that area. We did Boston and there was this whole slew of fans following us and it was really fun. It was good to see all those old friends who were coming back to see us and getting involved again. We did have a transition five years ago, so some fans fell off because of that genre change. And the look and the feel of the band is probably different to some people. So it was great to see a lot of the older fans again who were with us from the beginning. That was a recent cool fan experience. But it happens all the time. We have all these wonderful, kooky things that go on—and now with social media, there are always funny things happening.
Are you currently on the road or does that start in April?
It really does pick up in April. We were in Massachusetts this month and this week I’m out in LA with my wife, [Sarah Kate Ellis] the president of GLAAD, and I'm doing press stuff out here. The bulk of the tour starts in April.
What do you like best about playing in front of your hometown crowd in NYC? Any other appearances you're looking forward to?
New York shows are always fun for a million reasons, but being home and playing for the hometown crowd, it’s just so cool. New York City, you can’t beat that.
But I love when we go out on the road and we’re far from home, but I’m so glad and grateful that people are coming out to our shows. And I’m looking forward to this lineup of dates. Hannah Thomas is opening the shows and she’s an amazing singer-songwriter from Atlanta. She’s actually on the road with us and Indigo Girls. I hate to single out certain towns, but Atlanta is a lot of fun for us…Atlanta’s great.
We’re going down to Nashville, too, and seriously that just makes me even gayer when we go to Nashville, it’s so bizarre. It’s such a cool music town, it really is, but when you’re gay in Nashville, they just want you to come over for a barbecue; they don’t actually want to come out to your show. I’m like, I don’t need another invite to somebody’s house for a barbecue; I need you to come out to our show. WTF!
You've done a lot of photo shoots with Antigone Rising, but last year, you appeared on Time kissing your wife for the marriage equality story. Was that photo shoot any different? If yes, how so?
The Time magazine shoot was REALLY different. Mainly because my wife was trying to art direct that entire shoot! (laughs) And she’s not usually at our photo shoots. We didn’t go in knowing that they were looking for a cover. We just were called. They asked us to come in to take some pictures for a piece on married same-sex couples and the DOMA issue. Nobody said anything about kissing or a cover…nothing like that. So we were, like, "sure, Time, we’ll come in and do some photos."
When we got into the shoot they said, "We just want you to stand facing the camera holding hands." Did you see the movie Fame? Remember when Irene Cara is in that photo shoot and the guy has her take her clothes off, you know what I mean? All of sudden, she’s taking her shirt off. It kinda was like that! We were standing there holding hands, and the photographer asked if we'd be comfortable kissing. And I was like, "yeah, we’re married, we’re comfortable kissing; but I do want to confirm we’re at Time magazine. I mean, how far are we going? Is this going to turn into that scene from Fame?" We were shown us this computer with about 10 couples kissing, all with the magazine logo over their heads, like a mockup of the cover. Suddenly, we got our gameface on. We got sort of competitive. Sarah started directing the best angles and everything. Then she and I had a team huddle: "Let's make this the hottest kiss possible." So we did. We went for it. And I don’t want to give Sarah full credit—there were a lot of people there—but she was very involved.
Finally, how are the twins?
OMG, they’re so great, they’re five now. Thomas is just so active. He’s such an active little boy. Katie is totally obsessed with Frozen. They are literally the happiest kids on earth. And they’re smart and fun. I’m missing them so much; I’ve been away for about 3 or 4 days now. They’re awesome. They start kindergarten in September, which is flipping me out. They’re in Pre-K, but you drop them off and before you even have time to get home, you have to pick them up again. It’s like 2 hours, but it’s nice and they like to think they went to school.
By the way, we’re playing Mercury Lounge in NYC on April 11.
I know, I plan on coming!
So cool, we’ll see you at the show, come say hello.