An interview with Ménage À Twang


AE: How much of your songs spring from real life experience, and how much are comprised of grand wit? Was there an actual “Secret Conservative Side” wedding? Is the contact-lenses-in-a-shot-glass tip (from “One Night Stand”) an actual trick from experience?

Ha! Almost all of the songs that I write are amalgams of my own experiences and those of my close friends. The contacts in the shot glass is, alas, a technique I used quite frequently in my early twenties. “Secret Conservative Side” is a phrase a friend of mine once used, and that particular song sprang up from many different weddings and wedding stories friends told me. “Pantsuit” came about because my butch partner was wondering what to wear to a black tie event, and I suddenly started wondering about and canvassing friends about situations in which a pantsuit was, in fact, the answer to their wardrobe problems. Like so many of our songs, it began as an ironic lark, but somehow became a song that I earnestly and wholeheartedly believe in.

Jessica: I agree with Em. There’s always some exaggeration, since it is comedy, but there also is a huge grain of truth in all our stuff as well. This “grain of truth” can sometime cause problems for us — we had to do damage-control with all of our friends with babies and assure them that “I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Baby” (on We Don’t Judge) is not about any of them.

Rachel: I never fell in love with Dan Smith (“Dan Smith Will Teach Me Guitar”) but I did go speed dating (“Speed Dating”) and there was a guy there just visiting for the weekend from Belgium.

AE: There’s a gay couple who famously met at one of your shows, and one of the women said she was attending your show as part of “Operation: Find the lesbians.” Do you have a sizable lesbian fan base?

Emily: Yes! Good looking, too! Our other major fan base, besides the lesbians, is actually three-year-olds — they freaking love us! — and very often said lesbians and three-year-olds are part of the same families. One other aspect of our fan base that I love is how mixed it is the only group more excited about the “Pantsuit” lyrics — “Get your dyke on, be an icon, you’ll look super cute / there’s no glass ceiling when you’re dealing with a power suit” — than the lesbians is my mom and her lady friends.

AE: recently published an article that said female musicians have no groupies and get no action when on tour. True or false? What’s Ménage’s groupie situation been like?
This question is amazing. I have to say, back in my single days, I though the band would get me a lot more action than it actually did, though a lady did once seek me out because of it.
Jessica: Well, I met my partner at one of my solo shows (pre-Ménage) 10 years ago, so that was a pretty serious groupie score. Other than that, no action.

Rachel: For a while, I was the only single one in the band. And I have to report there was no action whatsoever. However, we have a large lesbian following, and I am straight, so that may have been not so much in my favor.

AE: Emily, I have it on good authority that back in the day you rocked a T-shirt which said “Femme Not Straight.” Those T-shirts should be available all over the place. Is it still rotation, and would its sentiments ever make their way into a song?
The shirt isn’t in rotation, but it does have a place in my heart (and in my PJ drawer), and I do bust it out at the Dyke March whenever I can. Its sentiments should be in a song, though they aren’t yet connected to one. Give me a few months, though, and I’ll write it for you.

AE: Would you rather that people know you as musicians or comedians, if they had to choose one?

Ooooh. Another good question. I’m not sure I can answer, but I can provide two other ways I’d like for us to be known: sassy off-Broadway success stories a la Avenue Q, and possible creators of a “Free to Be You and Me” meets the 21st century children’s album (“Twang for Tots”?), which is another project slowly forming in my mind.

Jessica: I would say musicians. I personally have never thought of myself as a comedian or a “woman in comedy,” (though we have definitely faced some of the challenges women comedians face), but I have always been a singer/songwriter. We call our style “country camp,” which I like because it gives a sense of our folk/country style, but it also indicates that we are over-the-top and don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Rachel: As you see, we all have different answers for this one, which is what keeps the band fun and not to serious. I would say “singers that pick up funny instruments and try to make you laugh.”

AE: You gals do a smashing Destiny’s Child cover on your first album. Why Destiny’s Child?

Although their genre is hip hop, their content is amazingly similar to our own: hyper-specific songs about the particular economic and romantic realities of young, ambitious women. Automobiles, cell phone calls, what it feels like to be a honey makin’ money: these are the concerns we all face!

Jessica: Exactly what Em said. Also, they’re a trio known for their amazing vocal harmonies and fabulous matching outfits — though, alas, we lack the talents of Tina Knowles, costumer extraordinaire. When we countrify their songs, people can really hear their fabulous lyrics. At our Valentine’s Day shows — when we do an entire set of DC covers — audience members always comment on how they didn’t realize funny and great DC’s songs are!

AE: Best show you’ve ever played?

Such a good question. I love the Destiny’s Child Valentine’s shows at Housing Works Bookstore in New York, and I’ve also been surprised by how enjoyable our outdoor shows have been. Once we sang in a Park Slope garden in Brooklyn and a bunch of babies rocked out transcendentally in the front row.

Jessica: Playing at the Pride parade in NYC last summer was a personal dream of mine, so that was pretty fabulous. And we got laminates and a swag bag and got to sit in the tents with all the drag queen MCs!

Rachel: We played Emily’s brothers rehearsal dinner last year. I loved playing for a happy, drunk crowd all there for a great event together.

AE: What’s your songwriting process?
I usually notice something about my current life — for instance, I’m right now starting a song about my own increasing, mid-30s, partnered-up lameness – and then begin to canvas friends for similar stories, examples, and experiences (like the fact that right now I think a great time for a party is a 1-4 pm open house: lame!). That, in turn, suggests some sort of melody, which I then carry around and develop for a few weeks, before taking it to the band, when Jess adds chords and Rachel adds harmonies. Jess has a different (and far more musical!) process.

Jessica: Em is excellent at canvasing. I sometimes get some input — my hipster-dating sister gave me valuable insight for “Listen, Sister Don’t Date a Hipster” — but usually I will have an idea for how I want a song to sound and what I want it to be about and I play around (and record it) until it gets to where I am happy with it. I write music and lyrics simultaneously on my guitar. For example, I knew I wanted “Weekend Service Changes” to sound old school country and to modulate a ridiculous number of times. I knew I wanted “Day Job” to be more ” blue-eyed soul.” I wanted “Baby” to have a kind of blues structure, etc. Then I bring the songs in to rehearsals and Rach comes up with fabulous harmonies.

Rachel: I write songs a lot less frequently then the other two. My process is that I just wait for inspiration to strike (which is perhaps why I’m averaging 1.5 songs a year) and then I just write the whole thing (lyrics and chords and harmonies) in about 45 minutes. It’s a very lazy, haphazard process. But the other too are so prolific, I’m sort of enabled, aren’t I? Seriously, they come in with new material every other week. It’s crazy!

AE: Where do those awesomely tripled outfits come from?
Maybe someday we will have our outfits custom-made by Tina Knowles, but for now I buy them from the many wonderful cheap clothing store in NYC. Rainbow, Strawberry, and Danice are our faves. The matching outfits are part of our campiness — I love to dress up, tease my hair, and wear lots of make-up onstage. Our outfits for our upcoming CD release party are particularly amazing!

AE: Let’s say the Ménage À Twang story gets made into a fabulous film. Who would play you?
The obvious answer is Beyoncé, but since there are three of us and only one of her. Hmm — another way to approach this is to suggest that, should they make a fabulous film about “The Trio,” aka Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Rondstadt, we’d definitely like to be considered.

Jessica: Beyoncé would definitely have to play all three of us. They would have to triple her, like how they doubled LiLo so she could play both twins in the re-make of The Parent Trap.

Emily: Or we could enlist the help of the two fabulous and possibly transgender back up dancers in Beyoncé’s amazing “Single Ladies” video.

Rachel: Lucille Ball. I mean, it’s fantasy, right? So I can go with dead people?

Ménage À Twang will release We Don’t Judge this month.

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