This week we are talking with Samantha Stephenson, Frenchy in the music duo, Frenchy and the Punk.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Samantha, thanks for joining us!
Samantha Stephenson: Thanks, it’s nice to be here!
AA: You are the singer, lyricist, and percussionist in the group. How did you come to start this adventure?
SS: I met Scott [Helland] in 1998 and almost immediately collaborated with him on his music project in a visual arts capacity. It wasn’t until 2005 that I joined him onstage to perform.
AA: What led up to that opportunity? Were you in other groups?
SS: We met in an office environment. We were both fueling our art-life with temp jobs in NYC. I was taken on at the company at which he was working, a clandestine office affair shortly ensued! We were collaborating with music and art for a few years and in 2001 we left NYC to do this crazy artist life full-time. I booked and promoted his solo shows (he had already left the punk band scene) and traveled with him to the shows selling his merch and my crafts. (As an aside, I had had extensive dance performance experience since a very early age when growing up in England. So my past experience was dance and playing piano. I had not been involved in a band before)
At one of his shows and after a glass of wine or two, I grabbed a tambourine and started to play along to my favorite of his songs called ‘The Traveling Band Of Gypsy Nomads’ from his Brocade CD. He liked the percussive accents it lent to the song. That started it all. At first I was just doing percussion to his acoustic guitar instrumentals but as I started to write lyrics, both in French and English, our sound evolved to more cabaret.
AA: That’s a pretty wonderful start to both forms of partnership! For the aspiring musician, what lessons did you learn along the way, especially about input and feedback from others?
SS: Listen to your intuition. It’s in your body, not your mind.
AA: Also for the aspiring musician, what would you recommend to them to develop their skills and learn what they might want to pursue as an area or medium of focus?
SS: Experiment. If you don’t like the process, you’re in the wrong field. The more you write and play, the faster you will find your own voice/style. Again, follow your intuition. Think of it as a stepping stone, it takes the pressure off.
AA: What are the ways that you expand your techniques today? Formal classes, observation, peer groups?
SS: I’m pretty solitary and work on stuff myself these days. I did do the class route early on but mostly in art and dance. For Art I took classes at the Arts Students League and the Academy of Design in NYC and collaborated in projects when I lived in NYC at an artist collective. My music sense is an offshoot of my study of dance, piano and voice.
AA: Is there a particular style you like to work with? Any that you’d like more opportunity to develop?
SS: We are such an amalgamation of styles that there is not really a particular style I feel like I want to go to. It’s not quite that cerebral. We are filters. We intake from everywhere and it gets filtered inside of us. What comes out is our own particular and peculiar style. There are songs that Scott and I have written that don’t fit into the FnP style that we may develop someday.
AA: That’s a good thing, I think, to already have projects waiting and ready. You and Scott have produced several cds of work since 2010, including Happy Madness, Hey Hey Cabaret, and more recently, Bonjour Batfrog. Was there a theme or running storyline with each one?
SS: And also Cartwheels and Elephant Uproar. There are certain themes that permeate my lyrics. They tend to have life affirming, ‘get up and go’ types of themes. Also female empowerment and sometimes they have a metaphysical bent. The CDs themselves don’t have a theme, rather the songs do.
AA: People I talk with often share how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their work. How did this play into your music?
SS: I would say that everything I write has these elements in it. ‘Fe Fi Fo Fum’ is a song about apathy and the call to get off our asses and fight the monster, whatever that monster is for you. The song implies environmental concerns but can be applicable to much more.
‘Don’t Fear The Rabbit’ is likening a rabbit to our vulnerability. I believe that our vulnerability is where our shared humanity lies. Closing that off to protect ourselves only emboldens our fears which in turn creates a cold and cruel world.
‘Why Should I’ is a song about overcoming the depths of despair and darkness to find the sliver of hope.
‘La Vie de Boheme’ is based on my promise to myself to commit to a life of art.
‘Yes I’m French’ is a tongue-in-cheek song about my coming to America as a French-born Brit.
‘House of Cards’ is inspired by my love of the PBS Murder Mystery series ‘Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’.
‘Extra Extra’ is a sarcastic rebuke of the fear mongering of pharmaceutical-driven greed. I could go on and on!
And she will, but for now, we’ll pause here in talking with Samantha.
Join us for part 2 where she talks about the creation process and gives more insight on some songs.
Keep up to date with French and the Punk’s latest news on their website.