Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Limp Wrist And A Steady Hand: An Interview w/ My Gay Banjo

My Gay Banjo is the exceptionally charming duo of Owen Taylor and Julia Steele Allen. MGB sing homespun gay-themed duets using mainly guitar, banjo, ukulele and, of course, sweet, sweet vocals. Kinda folksy, kinda country, their songs eloquently express everything that is wonderful and horrifying about love, life, and the pursuit of relationships in a world that is more and more accepting of gay culture.

My Gay Banjo just released their third album Country Boys in the City to much acclaim, even garnering a write up in The Huffington Post! This album features a much broader instrumentation than their earlier recordings. Thanks to a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, they were able to include drums, cello, fiddle, pedal steel, and more! The result is a wonderful, lush album that highlights their true songwriting talent. Be sure to check out the track "Like Magic."

Perhaps their most thoughtful and perceptive praise comes from the Country Queers website:
For any country queers out there who find yourselves stuck in a city and aching for the quiet star-filled nights back home, My Gay Banjo's new album, “Country Boys In the City,” is the soundtrack you’ve been waiting for. And for those lucky country queers who have escaped the city and run back home, this upbeat album will remind you of your younger years spent gallivanting around on bikes and looking up past the city skyline at the moon. But this isn’t just an album for queer listeners or even for country folk; there are universal truths in these songs. There are soft love songs, and tales of heartbreak, songs of struggle and queer courage in the face of all that’s against us.
My Gay Banjo has also been doing a bit of touring this Spring. If you live in North Carolina or Tennessee, look for them playing near you at the end of May and early June! Despite all the craziness surrounding promoting a new record and touring, Owen and Julia were kind enough to spend a little time with us!

Q: You guys did a Kickstarter for the new album and got more than double the pledges you asked for. How overwhelming was that experience?
MGB: It was perfect! We set too low an amount for what we needed to complete the album so when we reached our goal so quickly we decided to try and shoot for double and we did! Which meant we could pay for musicians travel, cover mastering fees and duplication and still set off on tour with some money in our pocket.

Q: What is the most embarrassing band you loved as a kid?
Julia: Well my first concert was Crash Test Dummies so that’s pretty embarrassing but my very first record was a 45rpm "Karma Chameleon" single by Culture Club which is not embarrassing at all. I used to just hold the cover and look at his picture. I wish I still had it!
Owen: I just rediscovered my mix tapes from middle school and high school and the only band I was embarrassed by was Phish! There were some real gems by the Violent Femmes, The Breeders, Hole and The Pixies. Love them still!

Q: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on tour?
MGB: Well…this past Valentine’s Day we were kicking off our tour in Philly. We were playing at a yoga
studio (!) and the yoga class that was getting out decided to stick around for the show. Picture this: the space is like a big main room where the stage and audience are and then this like adjoining room off to the side were some of the overflow people could sit or stand. Back behind them: the yoga class. When we started playing, the yoga people (like 20 of them at least) began doing interpretive dance to our songs. This meant a lot of arm swaying, pretending to be the ocean, pretending to be dancing horses, etc. It was amazing! And only the two of us could see them cause the rest of the audience was faced the other way! So we would get distracted watching interpretive dance but the audience had no idea. Pretty funny.

Q: Who has the worst van etiquette?
MGB: Well since there’s just two of us, we roll in a Toyota Camry. We get along pretty good in the car. Owen is an excellent navigator, he has like a photo memory of place. Anywhere we’ve been he can get us back there just by memory! Which is helpful since neither of us have smart phones, no GPS, just some old school maps. Julia’s ukulele is small enough that we can write songs together as we drive which, on our last tour, yielded such gems as “There’s a Whole Wide World of Butch.”

Q: You two seem to have nothing but fun together. Have you ever had a disagreement?
MGB: Um sure. We’re kind of like siblings. We were housemates for five years and being in the band means we go on epic road trips together and sometimes deal with a lot of stress, so we get into spats and get annoyed with each other regularly. But! We’re actually pretty good at getting through it and are just really good friends so we work it out fast. Plus, singing and playing music together is such a mood changer that even if we’re mad or tired, once we start playing our songs its 100% pure friend love.

Q: What’s the worst fight over nothing that you got into with each other after being road weary and exhausted?
MGB: Our most recent fight (and worst yet) was in liberal Vermont when we were in a thrift store and some guys were saying all this homophobic shit about Owen. He was further away in the store and couldn’t hear them, but Julia was standing right next to them, getting angry and trying to figure out what to do. We left the store and got into a huge fight on the street about how we each deal with situations like that. It was the first real experience with homophobia we had on the road, which is pretty amazing since we are an out gay band with “gay” in the title and we play in all sort of environments and towns. We were “road weary and exhausted” for sure, but it was a fight that mattered to us both and we actually grew from working it out together.

Q: Based on your touring and live show experience, how strong is the independent LGBT music scene?
MGB: It is alive and well! We’ve gotten tons of support and love from the independent LGBT/ Queer music scene. In almost every city we’ve played with local queer bands and a bunch of queer folks come out to hear us. Within LGBT music there is so much happening that there’s all these different genres and the Queer Country scene (that we are a part of) is really growing and gaining momentum. In general, queers all over the country are creating amazing, relevant and exciting art and music that embodies our values and aesthetics more than trying to conform to mainstream standards of success.

Q: Who is in heavy rotation on your iPod?
MGB: Many bands that we’ve played with on past tours or hope to! Bell’s Roar, Peghouse, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Valerie June, Mirah, Marques Toliver, Hot Tears, Lovers…but also we are big Stevie Nicks fans and love some Dolly Parton.

Q: Dolly...vs, Reba? Who would win in a fight?
MGB: Dolly. In a fight over good attitude, musicianship and great songwriting, it’s Dolly. Dolly for days.

Be sure to visit My Gay Banjo's Website, Facebook, and Bandcamp!

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