Buddy Woodward, Boo Reiners, Elena Skye

Interview with Elena Skye
by Indy

Elena, most of the songs are co-written with your long time companion Caren Belle , with her you shared a part of your life in two bands. Why is she not a member of the band?

Caren is a fabulous guitar player and songwriter and our partnership was very fruitful, but she just couldn't follow me into the country arena. Country and bluegrass were my first real passions but when I met Caren we were both in our Ramones/Dictators/Patti Smith phase, that was where our passions intersected. When I felt the tug back to country and bluegrass she couldn't follow me completely. I wish she could, she's a heck of a great guitar player!

How is the songwriting going on? What are your influences?

I'm writing on my own now and with a few other partners, including Buddy Woodward of Nitro Express. Right now my influences are folks like Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Harlan Howard, but also great old traditional tunes that are covered every which way by numerous different authors. But I think I'm influenced a lot by a certain sound or mood, more than by a certain artist. A smokey bar, a lonely night alone in my kitchen, a walk by the river filling me with longing, a willow tree in the middle of NYC...

What is/was the Alphabet City Opry, which is/was celebrated by famous Greg Garing, who was the producer of your first album, and he made you a part of that Opry show?

The Alphabet City Opry started as a informal weekly gathering of local musicians, originally attending Greg Garings night at this little club 9C, on the corner of 9th St and Ave C on the Lower East Side. Greg started asking us up to do a few numbers and pretty soon this whole gang of musicians were coming by and playing, inspiring each other, mixing it up musically in a really productive way. The night became a weekly sold out event, and Greg named it the Alphabet City Opry. The night got tons of amazing press and become a stop for lots of local or visiting luminaries who wanted to get a taste of straight-from-the jug undiluted old time country; David Byrne, Moby, and Beck were just a few of the folks who stopped by, and throughout the run of The Alphabet City Opry guests like Steve Earle, Rosie Flores, The Blue Rags, Jim Lauderdale, etc., helped make the night a must see for local country fans. Besides performing at it I also deejayed and MC-ed the night for a while, spinning 78's and helping keep the mood purely old country from the second you walked through the door to the second you left. It was great, great fun. 9C is still a great spot. We just played there with our bluegrass band, Blackwater Shoals, and the bass player from Phish was in the audience and Mike Bubb, Del McCoury's bass player attended and even got up and played bass with us!

The new album was produced by Eric "Roscoe" Ambel. What was different to Garings work?

Eric definitely brought out the more rockin' side of us. Greg's approach was much more of a 40's 50's country sound. The first record, with Greg, has just snare drum and upright bass on the entire record. We were trying to make it rock, or twang, with those simple ingredients. With Eric we're using an electric bass and a full drum kick, great fun! Although Eric did produce two tracks, Dress Of Roses & Like A Prayer, with upright and snare and kick drum.

You recorded Madonnas "Like a prayer" as an Country-Twang version and it sounded like the band had written the song as a countrysong. Did you get any reaction by Madonna?

Madonna's longitme publicist/spokesperson Liz Rosenberg loves the song and even put it as the out going message on her answering machine and gave us a great quote in a recent article in Billboard about it. As for Madonna herself, I'm not sure, but have you noticed she's started sporting a country look ;-) 

Why did you recorded that song. Was it the result of a Jam-Session Fun, or did you see it as a chance for  getting more interesting by radio, agents, media....?

My little girl Rosamund suggested it. She loves Madonna, and I was trying to humor her and while working it out on guitar I found that the song actually fit nicely over a bluegrass beat. And it does have a spiritual quality to it, like a good ol' gospel tune. The first time we did it live we thought of it as being a one time funny thing, but people loved it, so we recorded it and I can't seem to stop the reaction we get to it. It has a life of it's own now. Which I'm happy about, but the bulk of our best work I still think is our original material? Hopefully people will move on from "Like A Prayer" to songs like "Career Of Loving You," and "Gone So Long."

It is said, that Demolition String Band was born as an Bluegrass Duo with you and Rainer, playing shows in your Indie-Bookstore in Hoboken. Tell me something about the beginning...?

Yes, Boo and I started out jamming in my bookstore, Blackwater Books. Blackwater Books was a great Hoboken hang out, it was called by some "the cultural crossroads of Hoboken." We had such good times there. After picking there a little we were joined by other bluegrass pickers who heard about our little sessions, and soon we couldn't accommodate the crowds in our little store and so started a weekly jam at a cafe up the street. Out of that The Demolition String Band was born, first as a bluegrass band and then growing into the more honky tonk country band it is today.

Is the bookstore existing right now?

Sadly, no. We closed a few years ago. Barnes and Noble came into town, and kind of squashed us.

What is your musical background?

I started out loving folk music, my father used to organized folk events at the University of Chicago so I grew up around acoustic music that was full of passion. I loved the rock and roll records of my older brothers, but was completely derailed by a bluegrass show I saw at The University Of Chicago; J.D. Crowe & the New South, with Ricky Skaggs on Mandolin, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Tony Rice on guitar. I had never heard anything like it and was effected for life by it!

New York is not well known as a territory for Country music, but I've heard that there exist a small but creative scene there in the big apple. What's the difference to (Alt.)Country scences, maybe in Austin, Nashville or California.....?

Actually New York City has a long history of country music, Jimmy Rodgers, the first country music star did a lot of recording in NYC, but it's true, lots of people think of country music in NYC as something very exotic. The country music scene in NYC is really alive and kickin' these days. It differs from Nashville in that it nutures a more alternative type of country as opposed to that slicker "radio friendly" sound that comes out of Nashville. Still we were just in Nashville nad there is a cool little scene going on there as well.

You grow up with Punkroots in your teens. So you have a lot in common with other alternative Country/Americana artists like Ryan Adams, Hank Williams III, Wilco.... I think that Punk attitude, (it's hard to describe it, what it is, but it is in the air...) helps Countrymusic to find new and younger and cooler fans, so it will be not longer a music for people in the thirteens and older (like in germany) What do you think?

That's an interesting point. I think that country music and punk/hardcore share a certain intensity, a certain rebellious attitude, and there's a directness to both kinds of music, a certain fringey-ness that gives it freedom from the restrictions of the music industry. Eventually people react to the contrived feeling of the music being fed to them on the radio and look around for something more heartfelt, even if it's a little more ragged around the edges. The ragged edges become part of the feeling. 

What do you like in playing Country-music....?

I love the sincerity of it, the heartfelt quality of it. I love the sound of the fiddle and the lapsteel, the lyrics that break your heart and make you feel not so alone.

What are your favourite Bands now, and what bands had an influence of your songwriting? 

Hmmm, I love Joe Val and The NewENgland BLuegrass Band, Del McCoury, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Lucinda WIllimas, Kasey Chambers, Hazel Dickens. I think Buck is a big influence on our band, although we're not a real Bakersfield kind of band, still Boo and I have a partnership that in some ways mirrors Buck and Don Williams relationship. he sings the harmonies with me and plays that killer b-bender guitar and we like to push country towards the rockin' edge.


Updated March 28, 2002
by Hans Settler