Imagine sunflowers, daisies, camellias and gardenias trailing behind a horse driven wagon. Yes indeed, it can mean that summer is around and the smell of it is unmistakable as Nomad’s music remind us of the carefree nature of our youth, the storybook colors of days gone by when carnivals were the attraction to people (way before chart music, movies and television stole the show).
I got to hear the whole album called Happy Madness from this New York based duo of Samantha Stephenson( Vocals, Percussion Galore, Drums ) and Scott Helland (Godin Guitars, Vocals, Loops, Wah and various effects, Percussion, Drums, Anvils). Dark Carnavale is the opening track with its foot stumping, hip spanking beat . Anyone can notice the voice that sound like a combination of Edith Piaf and Siouxsie Sioux.
Now if you are a Cure fan, the intro of Extra Extra will hit a familiar chord. Then there’s that violin line that makes you realize this is a band grounded on folk music’s sense of using authentic instruments. Another hip shakin’ and feet stumpin’ track .
I am sorry I don’t know the clear distinction between a Spanish guitar and flamenco guitar but the intro of Happy Madness, the title track sounds like either of the two. There are also bell and other sounds. Such a short track though but sets the mood for what the album’s all about.
House of Cards drives suspense and mayhem to you sang in a narrative way that makes you come closer to the campfire to know the conclusion. The jangly sound of acoustic guitars come to mind early Bauhaus and The Banshees. It’s OK is a tribute to escapism when all else fail and we leave everything to the higher power to make everything right.
Magician and Dancer is another narrative song. The spellbinding quality of the telling approached bardic excellence.
Adult humor is clearly evident in Make Out which is a tongue in cheek song about you know what. The racehorse speed, French phrases and Western Movie (Silver, away!) approach to the arrangement are what kept the balance in this ribald good-hearted song. Listen to the track here: Make Out mp3
Marionette is a poetic song about neglect. Sombrero Cabaret calls to mind old-time duels seen in Western Movies. A female soprano vocalise give an ethereal( and somehow bordering on the creepy) to this instrumental track performed in a fast galloping way.
Vaudeville Voodoo tells a plot of a girl seeking revenge for a guy who wronged her through the method of Voodoo. Pins and needles and voodoo doll, pins and needles, and sticks and stones, chants the chorus amidst the happy melody and rhythm of this one.
Vitame Vas is a retelling of children fairy tale.Yes, I am French closes this album with a positive point of view.
‘When I came to America what a land to behold, all was sodifferent, sobig and so bold.’
…and of course it takes us into the narrator’s personal journey of growing up a stranger to this strange land…This is one track that speaks of alienation , a vaguely autobiographical song laced in clever poetry and interesting music.
CMF: What do you expect to achieve in this album. In terms of how people are going to perceive your music?
This is the fourth CD we have released since The Gypsy Nomads were formed. Each CD has it’s own personality. In 2008 we released At The Carnival Eclectique and Eternal Summer. The former highlighted the drumming instrumentals as well as celtic and middle-eastern flavored tunes and a couple of vocal songs including Oh Gypsy. Eternal Summer focused on the French songs with a gypsy cabaret feel. The new release, Happy Madness, is almost entirely in English and has the upbeat cheeky songs that we have been playing live since last summer, like Make Out and It’s OK, as well as some brand new tunes like Yes! I’m French and Dark Carnivale. A common thread throughout the CDs is the fun, lively and free spirited energy. We want our music to be a release, a respite from the mundane.
What’s the process in creating each album?
We are perpetually in writing mode. We don’t necessarily sit down and say, ok, let’s write a song! Scott plays guitar everyday and riffs are always presenting themselves. When I hear a riff that seemingly has lyrics attached to it, we start working on the song at that moment. It can be sitting in a hotel room or on a bench at a rest stop, in the living room of someone’s house we’re staying at or in a park or wherever we happen to be. Some songs come out very quickly and we just have to craft the arrangements and tweak the lyrics. Other songs get their start but don’t move into a finished mode until much later, weeks, maybe months later. When we have about 15 to 18 songs written that we think are recording worthy we start doing preliminary recordings at home to get an idea of added instrumentation. We often have been performing the songs for a while on tour so we work out a lot of those details during live shows. Doing them live first allows us to feel out what works and what doesn’t, it also tends to bring about more creative ideas. As we are on the road most of the year it can be challenging to schedule the recording sessions but we do seem to record sporadically in the fall and in the winter. After we have done the preproduction recordings at home (invariably some songs get dropped), we go to the studio to lay down the tracks.
What are the rules you consider before going into a studio?
We don’t think in terms of rules, that sounds like external forces dictating what we should and shouldn’t do. When we enter the studio it is more of a feeling of openness, of the possibilities of what could arise. No matter how much we prepare beforehand, we always come across new ideas during the recording process.
How do critics react to your type of music and style on stage?
For people who are not familiar with our music, they are most amazed by the amount of sound we make for being just two people, the chemistry we have onstage and how high energy and exciting the show is. Scott creates that wall of sound with live looping on his Godin guitar and I provide accents with percussion like tambourines, djembe, cymbals, hi-hat, seed pods, zils, shakers and of course vocals get added into the mix. We are both very fiery people and that fire comes out the most when we perform. Our all-drum instrumentals are also a highlight. We tend to do those at the larger shows like the steampunk conventions and alternative music festivals. We’ve been described as relentless, high octane, powerful, seductive. I’m coming from a dance background having started at the age of four with ballet and later modern, jazz and hip hop and Scott is an ex-punk rocker so we both have a flair for theatrics and are often described as a highly visual performance.
Did you listen to Banshee music while growing up( I ask because of the vocal similarities)?
I get that a lot (at every show!), and it’s really flattering, Siouxsie Sioux is great. I had heard a few songs when I was a kid but didn’t really get to explore her music until later on. Scott was a fan growing up when he was a little punk rocking metal head. The Banshees have such a cool sound and Siouxsie’s voice is very distinct and I definitely connect with her style. I love her recent CD Mantaray. I’ve also always been a fan of Johnette Napolitano and Chrissie Hynde.
What’s this fascination with medieval themes?
I grew up in Europe before coming here to the States, I loved history class in school when I was living in England. I think it’s just a part of who I am. There is a rawness and earthiness that I’m attracted to. The architecture especially and I was always fascinated by the battles and dramas of the various monarchies. My favorite is the Battle of Hastings and the story told by the Bayeux Tapestry. But truth be told, I would not have wanted to be a woman back then! Scott has always been drawn to medieval imagery too. When he stepped away from being in bands and started writing solo his music naturally came out with a renaissance and celtic flavor. His song titles reflect that. When we go to Europe we love visiting the old castles.
You are both photogenic and your album covers are such visual treats. Who decides what goes into the album and what shouldn’t be there in the final part?
Like everything about The Gypsy Nomads, it is definitely a team effort. We are both very visual people. I studied sculpture and drawing in NYC for many years and have gotten more into oil painting in the past 8 years. Scott has been drawing since he was designing those punk flyers as a teenager playing bass in the western Mass hardcore punk scene. Those have evolved into intricate drawings so his aesthetic sense is very strong too. For this particular CD we were lucky enough to have a really fantastic photographer, Frank Siciliano, for a photo shoot in the 1800s tavern brewery in Pennsylvania called Bube’s Brewery (we also shot a live concert DVD there this past Spring which will be released later this year). The CD layout was done by graphic designer Karl Ourand.
I love your gospel about being free spirited. Please tell us more of how we are going to make this world a great place to live in.
Our sense of being free spirited means just that… letting your spirit be free which really is just about tapping into what brings you joy. We are very blessed to be traveling around playing music. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination but it is what we love to do and ultimately we know we affect people in a positive way. We hear amazing reactions from people; it’s very humbling. We get emails all the time from fans telling us that they are addicted to our CD, that it hasn’t left their CD player in months. We are told stories of how our music has inspired them. We are doing what we love and if we can inspire people to strive for the same, it all becomes a snowball affect after that.
Check this making of Make Out video. It is filmed in New York by photographer Frank Siciliano featuring actors Hunter Mullins and Noelle Burk.
More review here: http://www.sepiachord.com/gypsynomads.htm