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Thursday is the day of the week when McElrath Cabaret features some of our favorite cabaret blogs, websites or performers. Today we’re presenting an interview with a Seattle band called Bakelite 78. They are a group of talented performers who bring together an eclectic, entertaining and thought-provoking musical style that includes cabaret, and they offer a high-energy, vintage stage show that showcases many of their original works throughout the Seattle area.
Bakelite 78 is made up of:
- Robert J. Rial: Lead vocals, tenor guitar, tenor banjo and six-string guitars
- Erin Jordan: Vocals, piano, accordion, guitar
- Steve Baz: Drums, back-up vocals
- Austin Quist: Upright bass, sousaphone, back-up vocals
- Erik Reed: Trumpet, flugelhorn, back-up vocals
- Sabrina Pope: Clarinet
Erin Jordan and Robert J. Rial recently took some time out of their busy performance schedule to answer a few questions we had about Bakelite 78, so here goes–enjoy!
McElrath Cabaret: Where did the name Bakelite 78 come from?
Robert J. Rial: I collect 78 r.p.m. records and snagged these cool, one-sided “Hit Of The Week” 78′s while browsing Ebay. They are made of thick paper with a tin-type of the artist printed on one side and a thin brown plastic record pressed onto the other side. I mistook the brown plastic for Bakelite (it is actually called Durium). I was struck by how odd it was to have a 78 made of plastic, which I thought of as a more modern invention. I thought it made a cool metaphor for my sound, contemporary like plastic but a 78 r.p.m. sound.
MC: How would you describe the band’s musical style?
Erin Jordan: Our short answer is Gothic Vaudevillian Americana – but what that really means is that we play all genres of early 20th century Americana, which includes cabaret, jazz, blues, country, and folk music borrowed from many cultures.
MC: How did the band come into being?
Robert: I began singing at open mic nights throughout Chicago in 2001. I eventually found my way to The Inner Town Pub, near Wicker Park, where I met both my future wife, Erin, and a duo who went by the moniker “400 Pounds Of Fuck”. They played awesome celtic music and pirate shanties. One of them, Mr. Gregg Coffey, recommended I play my music with his flat-mate, Bob Kessler, who was an accomplished harmonica player and clarinetist. I met Bob at the ITP a few weeks later, and Bakelite 78 was born in 2003 with myself, Bob Kessler, and my flat-mate Jason Grey on accordion and washboard.
MC: How does cabaret fit into your musical stylings? How did you discover cabaret?
Erin: I like music that tells a story, is theatrical, and has an element of showmanship….these are all qualities that I like to bring to the songs I write for Bakelite 78. I would say I first discovered cabaret from being in musicals as a child and teenager, but I got really into cabaret after I’d been listening to mainly rock for some time and started seeking out new music to listen to that really showcased the voice.
Robert: I have to mention here the influence upon me by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, whom I studied fervently while in college at Ohio University.
MC: . What are some of the differences that you’ve found in performing in Chicago and now in your new home of Seattle?
Robert: Chicago is more competitive and at times more cliquish, and obviously way bigger, which made it harder to get anywhere, though we did surprisingly well during that period. Seattle is smaller, and has a much larger burlesque and vaudeville scene, so we found a home within a community of performers almost immediately, and we got a better response in Seattle generally.
MC: Who are your instrumental and vocal influences now, and have they changed since moving from Chicago to Seattle?
Robert: Tough question. Let me start at the beginning. First, Warner Bros. cartoons made an indelible imprint upon my budding theatrical spirit, so I have to include Mel Blanc’s Bugs Bunny as an underlying psychological influence. Then my older sister introduced me to rock and heavy metal, so I have to include Jim Morrison, Ozzy Osbourne, and Layne Staley. Later, as I got more into big band and hot jazz music, my vocal influences grew to include Al Bowlly, Rudy Vallee, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Emmett Miller. Instrumentally I would include Eddie Condon, and Jimbo Mathus/Catherine Whalen. ( I was a big Squirrel Nut Zippers fan in the 1990′s.) I do not think there have been any additions since I moved to Seattle.
MC: What was the creative inspiration for your latest CD entitled What The Moon Has Done? Tell us a bit about the album. Do you have a favorite cut from the album? If so, which one and why?
Erin: The songs were written by three different people in the band, and the album came together in a pretty organic fashion. We took all the new songs we had written and found that they had some common themes that seemed to revolve around the moon, such as transformation, illumination in the darkness, and being moonstruck. That is why we decided to use What the Moon Has Done as the title track. Without a doubt, my favorite song is Monongah. Aside from the fact that I love historic songs, I found that Monongah came together so well at rehearsals and in the studio. I love the trumpet solo in the middle. It is also a sad and timeless song because the same type of disasters still happen today because of corporate greed. My other favorite track is Tale of a Missouri Girl, because it presents a timeless theme, but is told in a personal way.
MC: Michael Upchurch, in his Seattle Times review of Bakelite 78, describes Mr. Rial as a “song archivist.” I’m curious—how do you decide what songs to include in your sets?
Robert: The songs are chosen because I like them, and want to sing them. They come from all over, from movies, 78′s, music people gave to me as a gift, public domain compilations, etc. I choose them because I can imagine us doing good renditions of them. Sometimes I choose to do them because I have never heard anyone else do them.
MC: If a new audience member comes to see Bakelite 78 in live performance, what are they likely to see? What is the ambience or vibe like?
Robert: A very danceable set of high energy music with a spectrum of vibes ranging from melancholic, to joyful, to downright twisted. A lot of storytelling in our lyrics makes for an interesting time if you are listening.
MC: What is it about vintage music that has kept you capitvated with it over the years?
Erin: I like vintage styles because they really showcase singing. I also like the “unplugged” element or the fact that older styles of music are not afraid of pageantry or corniness.
Robert: Yeah, the primary reason I started playing this kind of music was to highlight my voice. I also dig that we could still keep on going if all the electricity went out. (While we weren’t protecting ourselves against the armageddon. Ha.)
MC: What is the most memorable music performance you’ve ever seen?
Robert: It is a tie between seeing Richard Thompson at The Neptune last year, and seeing Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds at The Chicago Theater in 2002. Both Richard and Nick are big influences on me, even though one may not overtly hear it in my songs.
MC: What’s the best thing about working together in this band?
Erin: I love that everyone is so proficient on their instruments….it really makes bringing creative ideas to fruition an easy process.
Robert: We just rock my socks off.
MC: Please complete the sentences below:
–When I was a child . . .
Erin: I wanted to be a broadway star
–If money were no object, I would . . .
Erin: tour all the time
–If I could change one thing in the world, it would be . . .
Robert: Neoliberal policy and Corporate Greed/Corporate Control of Our Government.
–I’ve learned the biggest lesson from . . .
Robert: losing loved ones to untimely and sometimes violent death.
–I can’t live without . . .
Robert: my loving family and my instruments.
–I’m at my happiest when . ..
Erin: I see my smiling son’s face in the morning. Playing music is second.
MC: What shows and/or projects do you have upcoming for which we can be on the lookout?
Robert: We are performing at Conor Byrne Public House in Seattle on June 19th as part of Innocent When You Dream, A Tribute To The Departed and Injured Of May 30th.
Here is a You Tube of Bakelite 78 performing a song from their album What The Moon Has Done– “Aurora Ave. Motel”:
To Erin and Robert of Bakelite 78–thank you so much! We wish you continued success in all your present and future musical endeavors!
For more information about Bakelite 78 and upcoming performances, please visit their website, or contact Jon Ostrow, Publicity Director, Cyber PR Campaign & Social Media Strategy.
Is there a cabaret blog, website or performer that you would like to see featured on McElrath Cabaret? Leave us a note in the comments below—we always love to hear from our readers!
Till next time,
ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party will continue through tonight–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or website link every week from Monday through Thursday. Link is below.
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time