Sunday, June 15, 2008

Miss Derringer - Interview and Live Show Review

Miss Derringer are a band I've recently rediscovered, and not a moment too soon. The attitude and vibe they give off are not unlike "outlaws on a musical jailbreak." Stirring up the sounds of the dust bowl, with winds that carry across genres. Combining elements of rockabilly and country twang to the teen angst of the Shangri-Las. Consisting of lead vocalist and visual focal point Liz McGrath, principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist Morgan Slade, bassist Sylvain de Muizon, lead guitarist Lightin Bill Woodcock and drummer Cody Jones. And like the very best outlaw stories, the music of Miss Derringer includes songs about "off-duty waitresses, beautiful losers, car crashes, some guy striding out of a Western, whiskey, tragedramcomedy, gallows, public hangings, tequila in adobe bars with dirt floors." They bring to life "the most conniving and revered musical deviants of our time."

After making initial contact with the band via interweb messaging, it was then a simple matter of direct messaging with their manager WC to coordinate the meet up and best time for an interview.

As each member of the band arrived outside the venue a few at a time, it became a relatively simple thing to do the "hello's" and move it to a quieter and more private location (the better to avoid interruptions).

I first turned my attention to the two members who have played together the longest - principal songwriter and lead guitarist Morgan Slade, and Bassist Sylvain de Muizon.

Lead vocalist Liz McGrath and her husband, principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist Morgan Slade

Dave Cromwell: "Before Miss Derringer, did you all play in other bands?"

Sylvain de Muizon: "We had a band in high school called OJ's Bronco"


Syl: "It was a punk band, and we recorded two little tapes. Each a 6 song EP. But they were good. The quality was good - the music, I thought. That's how we learned to work together. The music was a lot different (than what they play now). "That's how it started. And then I came to LA"

DC: "You're not originally from LA?"

Syl: "We're both from the Bay Area. Then Morgan started dating Liz (they are now married) and then I moved down and that's when we recorded the first album.

DC: "You are currently on a tour supporting the legendary band Blondie. How is that going?"

Morgan: "It's been really great."

DC: "Have you done shows with them before?"

Morgan: "We did one show with them in LA, a couple of years ago. And then Clem Burke, their drummer, played on our last record. So we know him really well."

[Turning my attention to drummer Cody James]

DC: "Now you don't feel intimidated having Clem Burke around?"

Cody: "Of course I do!"


Me with Syl and Cody

Cody: "But he's such a sweetheart that its not so bad"

DC: "Sure. You figure as long as Blondie is together, you're OK."

[more laughter all around]

DC: "Is this your first show in New York?"

Morgan: "No, we played one prior show in Manhattan last year at club Midway."

DC: "And then what - you played the boroughs? Brooklyn?

Liz: "We came out for North By North East" (a predominantly Canadian festival that is currently going on and the band is also playing again)

Morgan: "We actually did Canada and through the Midwest - Ohio and places like that - then Jersey, came here and then to Boston."

DC: "Where do you go from here?"

Morgan: "We go to Toronto to play the NXNE Festival with Redd Kross. Then we come back down and do a few shows and then continue our tour with Blondie."

DC: "It seems that your sound has evolved quite a bit from when I first heard your music. A few years ago with your debut "King James, Crown Royal & a Colt 45" it was much more of a drawling, twangy western feel. Closer to the style that The Cowboy Junkies once did. Now there is a decided "poppier" sound that gives a not to that band your currently touring with - Blondie. Was this a conscious decision to change your sound that way or did it just evolve unintentionally?"

Liz: "I think it evolved when we got these two guys" (Liz gesturing to lead guitarist Lightnin' Bill Woodcock and drummer Cody James). They definitely were an influence in the change of our sound."

Morgan: "We didn't have a band back in the beginning. "

DC: "You were just doing Demo's?"

Morgan: "Well, we had people coming in to do the record, but it wasn't like a permanent lineup. Once we got the whole band together, we then could work on songs and get them how we really wanted them."

DC: "How do you write your songs? Do you all write as a band in the rehearsal room? Or does one person come in with a nearly complete song ?"

Lightnin Bill: "Morgan comes in with the song where he's got the lyrics and the chord progression. Then we take it from there.

With Lightnin Bill Woodcock and Liz

Morgan: "They change it a lot from that, and then Liz gets a hold of it and does her thing."

Bill: "Morgan and Sylvain have a way of micromanaging all the parts. Putting it together step-by-step"

DC: "Bill, I notice you have a great "twangy" guitar sound. On your solo on "Black Tears" its reminiscent of what The Ravonettes do."

Bill: "I'd like to say I was influenced by them, but I'm really not. I like them a lot, but in this band I'm more influenced by Dick Dale.

DC: "Of course. You went to the source. The same influences that Sune Rose Wagner referred to."

Liz: "I think we were listening to The Raveonettes and really liked them. And Bill had never heard them."

Morgan: "Actually we hadn't heard about The Raveonettes until halfway through the second record."

Liz: "That's kinda how we met (the band's manager) WC. He started telling us about them."

DC: "So WC's association with you is relatively recent?"

Liz: "Since just before the second record."

DC: "Do you consider yourselves a new purveyor of 50's and 60's style music?"

Bill: "To an extent. More like 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's. We have almost a 70's country and an 80's New Wave sound, in addition to the obvious 50's and 60's thing."

Morgan: "We're influenced a lot by bands from the early 60's like the Shangri-Las and like that, but I don't think when I'm writing I'm consciously trying to make another Shangri-Las song."

DC: "Right. But you can really hear the subliminal influence. For instance, in black tears you make musical reference to the 1960's Phil Spector classic by The Crystals "He's A Rebel"."

[The band all nod their heads collectively]

DC: "Liz, its been well documented that in addition to the music you make with this band, that you are also a successful artist. You make very original and interesting pieces and have had quite popular showings of these works. Have you had any formal training or schooling in this?"

Liz: "I went to a Community College for a semester to learn quilt training, but mostly I learned how to get started at doing things from friends. But actually Morgan went to an art center and that's how I met him."

DC: "Morgan, do you still do your other art? Because I saw in one of the video clips that you had done some painting as well."

Morgan: Yes, I still do. I sometimes have art shows at the galleries that Liz shows her work at."

DC: "So, you're still doing it."

Morgan: "Yeah, but not much. Mostly it's the music now. Plus the band gives me an opportunity to express myself visually as well. Things for a purpose like designing flyers and other things.

Liz: "Yeah, he does all the flyers for us."

DC: "Looking at your artwork, Liz - it appears that you almost have this whole dog theme running through it. I've seen the video where you had a beloved doggie you owned for 20 years who passed away - you had them preserved so that you could keep them around with you forever. Then you now have a new dog that looks a bit similar. Is this also a conscious thing, or does real life simply manifest itself into your art pieces?"

Liz: "They say a lot of times that artists will look like the art that they make. They are either drawing themselves or whatever is around them."

DC: "Because you don't really say what they are in the video. They are structurally complete but unfinished as far as the detailing. You seem vague and unsure as to what exactly they are."

Liz: "Actually Morgan did all the tattoo's on them. I painted them, and he added the details."

DC: "Very creative stuff"

At that point, ever-bustling band manager WC flashed into the room to remind the band they had a phone interview in 5 minutes. It was off I went to cool down and relax before Miss Derringer were to perform later than evening.

Soon enough it was showtime and with the lights dimmed, and the house packed, the excitement level rose as the band took the stage.

Visually Miss Derringer is as dazzling as they come. Liz of course, is the central focus. She has a unique styling that is like none other. One part "pixie", one part "sexy vamp" - she has told me her original clothing is made specifically for her by a clothing designer friend. This is clearly a distinct advantage over other pretty front women.

The band launched into their set and the place was instantly rocking.

Check out this video clip of their opening song "Click Click"

Everyone in the room was loving style, vibe and sound Miss D was delivering.

Crowd pleasers like "Bulletproof Heart" and "Death By Desire" were delivered in a professional way that only a road-tested band could.

As witnessed by this video clip:

Of course, it was true Miss D classics like the sultry duet between Liz and Lightin Bill Woodcock - "Tonight I've Got A Bottle" that was a real crowd pleaser.

Check it here:

After a brilliant rendition of "He Hung On A Sunday" the band really brought the house down with a killer rendition of their latest single "Black Tears"

Check out two clips from that performance here:

With the second clip containing that great Dick Dale style guitar solo from Lightnin Woodcock.

Of particular interest was when Liz introduced their song "Better Run Away From Me" - it got a big hooting response from many of the women in the audience. Apparently this one resonates well with more than a few of these "outlaws".

Another duet between Liz and Lightin Bill Woodcock was performaned and really showed off Liz's vocal range.

The Bottom line is this - Miss Derringer makes great recorded music and are a most entertaining live band as well!

Check this band out asap. They are currently on tour with Blondie and are also slotting in solo shows on open dates as well.

Important links: