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Interview with Amanda Tannen Bassist for stellastarr*

PJ Gach Freelance Writer pjgachjournalist@gmail.com

From The July 2003 issue of BETTY MAGAZINE

Stellastarr* bassist Amanda Tannen
Jersey Girl to Rocker Girl
by PJ Gach

If you walk by Amanda Tannen on the street, you'll notice a pretty New Yorker. Her ash blond hair swings when she walks, she's got a ready smile and high cheekbones. What you don't see is a strong musician. When she takes the stage as the bassist in stellastarr*, you see a kickass bass player who has a strong stage presence and a great voice.

Amanda was born in Fairfax, Virginia and spent some time in Wheaton, Maryland. At the age of 7 she and her family (including older brother Marty, younger one Ben) moved to suburban New Jersey. Amanda said that she's proud of being a "Jersey Girl." "I was brought up really well. I love the town (South Orange) that I grew up in." She used to come into the city every weekend, but still felt very much like a suburban kid.

She was always into music, even as a little kid. The first group she ever got into was the Beatles - she was ten. Her parents were hippies. Amanda doesn't remember much of her first concert. It was Willie Nelson. She was two and naked. Her parents were Bluegrass fans and as a kid the whole family would go to Bluegrass jams. Before getting into her parents music collection, Amanda used to listen to Madonna and Tiffany. "But the first real music that I started listening to was the Beatles and Bob Dylan. I had never fit in Middle School. All the kids were listening to Z100, really poppy stuff and I didn't enjoy it at all. I just liked rock. The only radio that I knew of was top forty radio. I wasn't introduced to outside music until I got into High School." One of the first bands that she started listening to was Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon is one of her idols. "She's always been somewhat of an idol. 'Cause she has been able to be well rounded. She's an artist, she's a song writer and sings."

Well, how did she get into rock music? It all started with the cello. She picked it up at ten. In high school, Amanda took up the upright Bass, "because in the (school) orchestra all the bassists graduated, and they needed a new bassist. They needed at least one. So, I volunteered and picked it up. Over the summer I took some classes that were funded by the school, because they really wanted a bassist, and I was like 'okay this would a great instrument to learn."

"When I graduated I had to give up the upright bass, so I bought an electric bass when I was in college. My first bass was a piece of shit. I didn't know how anything about frets at all! All I knew how to pick out an instrument was by classically made is to have a straight neck so it will sound really full. I didn't know how to pick out an electronic instrument. I bought a bass; I don't even remember the name of it. A no name bass. It had these long frets on the fretboard. It was just like...anyway...I can't believe someone sold it to me. I still have it. I bought it because it I thought it was pretty. It's a really dark purple with a tortoise shell pickguard on it. It's really pretty but it sucks." Amanda had wanted to have a bass in college because they're much smaller than a cello or upright bass and she could keep on practicing and keep up on her sight-reading. She played classical music on an electric bass in her dorm room.

College was Pratt Institute's College of Art and Design. Amanda majored in Art Direction. Her parents wanted her to go to a liberal arts college. They did the college tour thing, and her parents were very impressed by the fact that Pratt not only focused on fine arts, but the technical aspects as well. The college taught students that they could make money in their chosen field. Amanda loved school and fell into her first band freshman year at school. The band was called Ghistor. A couple of guys in the dorms put together a band to jam and create silly songs. They'd have people over in their room and play songs. They approached Amanda to join the band because she had a bass.

After saying no for awhile, she gave up and joined them. Shawn Christensen was one of the persistent guys. They played out a few times, but no one took it seriously. And like many bands, Ghistor broke up. Amanda, Shawn Christensen (singer/guitarist), and Arthur Kremer (drums) decided to create their own band. On the way to their first rehearsal as stellastarr*, they stopped at Arthur's old apartment. H was borrowing some equipment from a former roommate. When they walked into the apartment, they met the new roomie. Michael Jurin. Jurin had just moved to New York City from Philadelphia. They started talking. Michael was invited to the band's first rehearsal...the band has stuck together ever since.

What is stellastarr*? They're a band that combines the influences of the Pixies, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Talking Heads and spins it on its ear. They're a post modern power pop band with dark exciting edges. Their hometown shows are sold out. There have been venues, like the Luna Lounge in the Lower East Side, Filter 14 in the Meat Packing District and other clubs in the city, where the crowd overflows the space. People stand on furniture, or whatever that can hold onto to see them.

The band has just finished a European tour supporting the Raveonettes. NME gave them rave reviews, not only for the tour, bit also for their solo show at the Barfly in England. stellastarr* has their EP "Somewhere Across America" on Tiswas records (www.tiswasnyc.com) and can be heard in the listening booth at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square, New York City. They performed on the Carson Daly Show in April. When you step back and think about all the critics who love them, (there are dozens), and their fans (legions) -it becomes doubly astounding to know that they've only been together for a little over two years. Really. They're garnering the type of critical acclaim and major label interest that many bands dream of but never acquire. Yet all of them are grounded. Everyone has their day job. Amanda and Arthur work in the graphic arts, Shawn is an artist, and Michael is a worker bee in an office.

Right now Amanda balances being a rock goddess at night and a graphic designer by day. How does she do it? Amanda says she gets very little sleep. Before the European tour, she'd work during the day and then go to rehearsal. Her boss is very supportive, but she has to make up for the days she missed. There have to be days when she feels like a hamster in a wheel, running in place. Even with sleep deprivation and an overloaded schedule, she's sunny and laughs a lot. Her boyfriend's name is Fisher and he's in the band The Inflatable Men. Amanda feels the fact that they're both in a band works for them. They understand each other's schedules and pressures and help each other deal with them. When the band isn't gearing up for a tour, they practice once or twice a week; otherwise it's every night until they hit the road. The studio is also where they create the songs. Someone (usually Shawn) will bring in lyrics and the rest of the song is a group effort. They've all known each other for so long, that they can discuss and work out music without any acrimony.

When asked what advice Amanda would give to a woman who wanted to get involved in rock music, she said, "You can say you want to do it, but it's definitely a lot of work. But you have to love it. I think it's a great thing to do a great creative outlet. It can span the spectrum. (Music) can go from aggressive to heartbroken. Growing up you need those outlets. My outlets were mostly dance and drawing at that point. I didn't get into music that way...later on in life I did. I never ever thought I'd be singing in a band. It's very weird. It was very hard starting out. I wasn't trained, and I'm very shy. I wasn't trained. So string out I wasn't projecting. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to sing. I didn't feel as open as I could with an instrument, but after awhile I got used to it.

"I do it because I love singing and I think it adds to the song. I think the best way to learn is to dive in. The way I did it was great. Everybody not really knowing what they're doing, so none can make you feel inferior. You have to get along with the people you're playing with. It's a tug of war a lot of the times. To keep the balance, it's all about trust and communication. 

"I know every single member of the band like my brother. I know how they'll react to certain things. I love the fact that I have a second family. No one will ever be that close to me because we sit there and we slave over something that we all care about. We have a product and we're all proud together. Which is kinda like a family; we're all creating something. 

"That's one of the things that I love about being in a group - the fact that I can create something with a group."

Amanda doesn't try to be a "sex vixen" on stage. What she wears depends on her mood, does she want to be pretty or comfortable is her only questions when she deciding on what to wear. There's no pressure for her to put on a persona on stage. "The way I've always dressed is that I feel that you can be sexy and you can be attractive even though you're not showing anything. And I always like to have a sense of strength in the way I dress. Maybe like taking a male element and making it female. Growing up I wore back army boots with miniskirts.

"I'm really interested in getting back to that. Getting back to the way I dressed in high school. I' haven't been able to because I've been in career mode and now I might be able to go back to being creative and making my own clothes. I made all the stellastarr* shirts. I silkscreen in my house and I like to take shirts and cut it weird ways and then sew it back together. I don't really know how to sew. It's more like punky make your own clothes. It has a lot of what I went to school for, y'know design.

"It started when I had all these shirts that I loved that were extra large. I was like, 'I can't wear these, they' were huge and from high school. So, I cut them up and made them smaller."

Although Amanda was born in a very strict gender role type household, her parents have always been and are very supportive of her endeavors and interests. She's always been independent and she's proven to them that she can take care of herself. Amanda said, "The hardest part was actually going to art school and convincing them that I'd be fine. They just wanted me to go to university and the funny thing is, is that I've gotten jobs a lot easier than those people did."

"I wish that I can tell every person that you can make money doing what you want to do, what you love to do...don't listen to your parents (Amanda's laughing as she says this) just go and do what you want to do."

To find out where and when stellastarr* is playing next or to listen to their music, check out their website www.stellastarr.com

PJ Gach Freelance Writer
http://pjgach.tripod.com


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