Revue Noir - in the spirit of Marlene Dietrich
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Sam Rosenthal known and recognized for being the main force behind Black Tape For A Blue Girl and label owner of Projekt has just achieved and launched the debut full-length of Revue Noir. This project is a collaboration with cabaret performer Nicki Jaine. The sound of this project is totally surprising, leading us back in time to the terrible period of the 30s during the Weimar Republic. Their album “Anthology Archive” sounds like the revival of cabaret music or a new interpretation of cabaret music or at least a kind of progressive cabaret style! (By Stéphane Froidcoeur)
SL. How did you guys met and finally come to set up this Revue Noir project?
Sam. I met Nicki at a holiday party put on by the Middle Pillar label in 2003. I was talking with friends, and noticed a stunningly beautiful woman rush in from the cold. She took the stage and performed a few songs and I was immediately impressed. We started emailing, became friends, and when I was putting together the 2004 tour for Blacktape's “Halo Star”-album, I asked her to be in the band (she played guitar, piano and sang on that tour). The next year after the tour, I was going through a divorce and Nicki and I grew closer, she's a really great and trusted friend. I started talking with her about doing music together, and that evolved into Revue Noir. We worked together for about a year, and out of that came the songs that appear on the “Anthology Archive”-album. She is a striking performer, and it was really fun to work on something different for a while, during that rough time.
SL. I read that Nicki Jaine is a cabaret singer, but what does it really mean to be a cabaret singer and what kind of cabaret is it all about?
Sam. I don't think we're really specific about it, in so far as we are not trying to emulate anything else in particular. Nicki just does what comes naturally to her, and people say "Oh! That sounds like Cabaret Music."
Nicki. Some years ago, people would come up to me after shows and tell me that there was something about what I did that made them think of Marlène Dietrich or Lotte Lenya. They’d say that there was something in my style that was very Germanic. I didn’t know who these women were at the time and I didn’t know anything about the German language. After getting this feedback consistently for a long time I became very curious about why people kept saying the same things to me. I started to listen to the music of Dietrich & Lenya & of other music from their era and I absolutely loved it. I felt such a connection to it and I finally realized why all of these strangers were telling me what they were telling me. That’s how it happened.
SL. You seemed to be influenced by the Weimar-Republic so can you please tell us your fascination for this dramatic period and the influence in your music?
Sam. I think that the decadence and decline of the Weimar-era is very intriguing. In a way, it reflects where America is at right now - which is why the Dark Cabaret genre is so relevant. Things are falling apart, the government is corrupt, inflation is increasing. What else is there to keep yourself distracted, but decadence and debauchery?
SL. Where does the name Revue Noir come from and was there a particular reason you write it a wrong way (Revue Noir instead of Revue Noire)?
Sam. For quite some time, Nicki & I were going around and around, trying to come up with a name. We had different ideas about it, and I am pretty sure Nicki had the idea to include something sort of ‘visual’ like ‘Theatre of......’ or ‘Cabaret.....’ and I think that one day, in all the different emails, she put together those two words and we said "Yeah, that's it! Revue Noir!"
Nicki. Yeah. We just threw a lot of words out there and found two that had a nice ring when put together.
SL. You released a Mcd in 2005 so why does it take that long to achieve this debut-album?
Sam. “Anthology Archive” is what the name implies, it's a summation of what Revue Noir was about and could have been about. In late 2007, after not working together for a year or more, I mentioned to Nicki that I wanted to put together a Revue Noir album - to wrap up that period of time, and what we had created together. We were out of the Mcd, and it didn't make sense to repress a 3-song release. All together, we only had 5 ‘finished’ tracks - the ones that make up the “Anthology”-portion of the cd. So I started digging through the archives, and found a lot of things that were rehearsal tracks, or demos, or guides that Nicki had sent me. So I set about finishing those up. We brought in some live material as well, and that became the “Archive”-portion..
Nicki. Sam did a really beautiful job of putting this album together. He had this vision of creating an album from what we’d recorded, both live and in the studio, in this unique “Anthology Archive” format. It wouldn’t exist without him.
SL. Musical wise the link has been often made with the Dresden Dolls, but a few other artists like Nina Hagen and our Belgian An Pierl?ome into mind. Tell us a bit more about influences and what's the kind of cabaret music you especially like?
Sam. Nicki Jaine is the only cabaret music I listen to, actually.
SL. Being inspired by the Weimar-Republic I would have expect a few songs in German and eventually a cover of Marlène Dietrich. What do you think about this eventuality?
Nicki. I perform quite a few songs in German, some of which were performed by Dietrich. One of my favorite ones is "Johnny". It's a really powerful song and it's so much fun to perform; I almost always include it in my sets. I also really love the song "In Den Kasernen" (In the Barracks). It's a song about the endlessness and senselessness of war. "Lola" from "The Blue Angel" is always a fun one to perform too.
SL. Nicki, I found on your homepage that you did a kind of homage to Marlene Dietrich. What does she mean to you and how is it singing a legend and myth like Dietrich?
Nicki. I coordinated a 106th Birthday Celebration Show in honor of Marlene Dietrich last year. I performed a set of Dietrich songs along with accordionist Ray Ashley & cellist Tim Warneck and my friend, Mary Bichner, of the band Box Five, even made an appearance as Edith Piaf, which was so wonderful. (How can you have a proper party for Marlene Dietrich without Edith Piaf?) Anyway, the whole evening was great. It turned out being even better than I'd imagined! Regarding my feelings for Dietrich, I admire her not only for her captivating abilities as a performer, but for her support of the Allied troops during WWII. The support that she showed to them was truly honorable.
SL. You made some cover versions, but from artists like David Bowie and Velvet Underground? How did you come to transpose these original versions into cabaret style?
Sam. Here is the story of our cover version of "All Tomorrow's Parties" by the Velvet Underground & Nico. It was recorded in 2004 on Black tape for a blue girl's “Halo Star”-tour; this was the first performance of what would evolve into Revue Noir. That's why the rest of the band on this particular track are blacktape members. Well actually, they are Audra members! Bret, Bart and J. of Audra were performing as part of Black Tape For A Blue Girl for that tour. In our hotel room in Portland, OR, I was searching for a song for Nicki to sing in Blacktape. This Velvet's classic came to mind and we worked it out. The version on “Anthology Archive” was recorded a few nights later in Salt Lake City
Nicki. I really enjoyed performing “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. I’m glad that we decided to add that to the Salt Lake City set.
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SL. Another cover version is the one of Brecht/Weill ("Alabama Song"), which is a quite popular one. What inspired you in this song and what does it say about your fascination for B. Brecht?
Nicki. I wish that I had a really fascinating answer for this question, but the truth of the matter is it's simply a great song so I really enjoy singing it. It's also just so much fun to perform this song live because audiences are really enthusiastic about it. Usually, when I perform "Alabama Song" at least one person tells me how much they loved "that Doors cover."
Sam. I personally despise the Doors, because I think Morrisson is one of the most over-rated lyricists. So it makes me cringe when I hear that people thought we were performing a Doors song! However, the audience always whooped when we did that song, you can hear it on the recording.
Nicki. I really like The Doors quite a bit, it’s just that they frequently get incorrect credit for writing “Alabama Song”.
SL. From Brecht to Georges Bataille, who seems to be another source of inspiration. I didn't know he was that known in the USA, but what do you like from his work and, which way did you eventually transpose it into music?
Sam. I read some Bataille, as a debauched young man in my 20s, and it stuck with me. You are probably referring to the quote that we have on our MySpace page.... I think my idea for Revue Noir was that it could bring out the beauty / decadence that Bataille speaks of. My idea for the lyrics that I never wrote would have had that element to them.
SL. How did you work together for the writing of the music?
Nicki. For the most part, Sam & I wrote music independently & then collaborated on the decisions that determined how a song would ultimately sound when it was recorded. We worked together on deciding what instrumentation to add to songs, how certain things would fall into the mix & other things of that nature.
SL. Sam, what does Revue Noir means to you as musician and especially aside of your main project Black Tape For A Blue Girl?
Sam. It was really fun working with Nicki, as I have never been in a band that was a collaboration. In Blacktape For A Blue Girl I always write the songs and the words, and then have people sing it my way. So it was interesting to be Nicki's producer to help her realize her ideas merged with my ideas. Also, I think I became a better musician -- we performed everything live, without backing tracks.
Nicki. It was a lot of fun working with Sam on the collaboration. We had a lot of great conversations and ate a lot of really good Japanese & Ethiopian food in the process of the collaboration, which we probably wouldn’t have had the time to do together otherwise.
SL. I cant imagine another and better label than Projekt for this album although its definitely something different! What’s your opinion about Revue Noir as label owner?
Sam. The kids love Nicki Jaine! I love Nicki Jaine. She's an irrepressible performer. So being in a band with her, and having it on Projekt is a wonderful thing.....
Nicki. Projekt is awesome. What else can I say?
SL. Speaking for myself I think the live tracks you've added on the album perfectly stand for cabaret music and even reinforce this typical feeling. What have been the main reasons to put these live songs?
Nicki. Thanks so much. I really love live recordings in general. I feel that they embody this kind of spontaneity & honesty that make them so vibrant.
SL. So it also means that you guys have been already played live. What have been the reactions for so far and how did it look like?
Sam. I cannot remember exactly how many shows we did, probably in the range of 8 or 10. All shows had Nicki and I. Some of them had a violinist. I believe Gregor played one show at CBGB's Gallery, and Meredith played two or three shows with us, including our one show out of NYC - in Florida. That was extremely entertaining. It was an outdoor show, in Fort Lauderdale. We were flown in for this event, but when we got there, only about 60 people had come. And it turned out it was a Lesbian-fest. So Jaguar had a booth. And this cardboard funnel that allowed women to pee in the woods had a booth. And then there was this truck that the side folded down to make a stage. While the band before us was performing, it started a typical South Florida rain storm, and the show was cancelled. Rasputina was in a tent somewhere, no doubt totally pissed off - knowing they were hosed and weren't getting paid. They left. Nicki, Meredith & I were sitting on the stage, waiting for the promoter to give us a ride back to the hotel. My family was there, we were hanging out. But then - and this was totally like a shot out of Monty Python - a whole bunch of women approached us, carrying a tent-like thing over their head. So this tent walks up to the stage..... and Nicki gets out her guitar, and Meredith gets out her violin.... and we play some songs without amplification, in the dark. Of course, I couldn't plug my keyboard in, so I'm there playing the cymbal (which we used as percussion, on a few songs, live). And I just imagine all these women saying "Oooooooh! This band is so hot, except for that guy playing the out-of-time cymbal!" It was great fun, though. I think David Lynch & Terry Gilliam wrote that scene in our lives.
Nicki. Somehow, that show in Florida ended up being a lot of fun!
SL. Next to piano, violin and guitar you also used a Theremin. What does this old instrument add to your music?
Sam. The Theremin is one of the most horrible instruments ever invented. The world would be a better place if an alien species arrived in their space ships with a device that - with a push of a button - would destroy every Theremin on Earth and then erase the memory of the instrument from all human minds. You see, the Theremin sends out a horrible screechy sound, that travels faster than the speed of light, and causes irreparable damage to all alien homeworlds (and also to my sense of peace)!
Nicki. I actually think that the Theramin is really cool and I’d prefer it if aliens didn’t come to earth to destroy them. Actually, I’d prefer it if aliens with that sort of power, just steered clear of Earth altogether. We have enough problems as it is.
SL. How do you look back on the writing of this album?
Sam. As I said, when we were working on Revue Noir, I was going through my divorce. For some people, that's an inspirational time, because they have a lot of anger and frustration they want to vent. But for me, it was a complete mental block to the writing process. So I look back and feel a lot of regret that I didn't have it in me. I am writing songs now.... but back then, it was really impossible.
SL. How comes you finally reworked 3 songs originally written for Black Tape For A Blue Girl?
Sam. Well, I think the answer to the previous question helps explain that. Revue Noir was a young band, and Nicki and I each brought in some tracks from our previous projects, to bulk up the repertoire, and give us music to play live. The plan was to weed those songs out over time. For “Anthology Archive” I did leave out some of Nicki's signature solo tracks, like "Pretty Faces" & "Sound Of Girls" because these song are so associated with her solo shows, and didn't sound much different when we played them. However, the reworking of the Blacktape songs have a uniquely Revue Noir feeling to them.
SL. What will bring the future of Revue Noir and eventually some other projects?
Sam. Well, I think “Anthology Archive” is the culmination of Revue Noir. Nicki is back doing her solo stuff, and I'm working on the next Black Tape For A Blue Girl-album, “10 Neurotics”. I am tying to convince Nicki to sing one of the songs on it, but it deals with some odd obsessive subject matter - we'll see if she succumbs to my insistence. She co-wrote the music for that song. Thanks for the interview.
Nicki. It is quite possible that I will succumb to Sam’s insistence. Time will tell! Thanks for talking with us.
Band: www.revuenoir.com / www.myspace.com/revuenoir
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