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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

a venue breathes a thousand words

I just came back from a show in L.A where I performed with a nineteen piece big band. The band, put together and conducted by Tim Davies (who is my drummer in my rock band), comprises of a 12 piece horn section, bass, drums (Tim), percussion, keyboards and guitar. I sung three of my original songs with the band (Tiny Diamonds from the "Woman" CD, Naked and Temperamental Angel from the "temperamental angel" CD) plus a Peggy Lee cover, "Don't Smoke in Bed". It was an utterly amazing experience and one that is so unique, describing it here in writing just doesn't do it justice.
As an entertainer, I have traveled the world performing for twenty years, but there are only a few performances that I can say are memorable, unique and inspiring. This is one of them. I performed with Tim's band last year for the first time, and going back for the second time tonight, was equally satisfying. Tim orchestrates my rock songs to fit the full big band, and charts all the instruments. It's so impressive. Gordie Germaine, my guitarist, joined me also, and he got a kick out of it too. I mean, there I am singing "treat me like an angel, a temperamental angel..." and all of a sudden six horns go off to my left with a snappy jazz routine that blows my mind.
Memorable gigs keep us artists alive. It's important to treasure the gems because on average the venues we are subjected to have the heart cut right out of it before we enter the door. We fantasize that being a "rock star" means living the life of luxury when it comes to performing, but most of the time you are dealing with bitter club owners, jaded musicians, no money (or little), smoky smelly bars, limited time to perform, late night slots, no parking, and skeptical audiences. Doing this for ten years and you can certainly say you've "paid your dues." So when those magical gem nights come along, cling on to them and fill yourself up with passion again, reminding yourself why you are an artist in the first place.
I remember opening for Simple Minds at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix a few years ago. I got the call the day before to go. They needed a solo act who would open for them for $100. I said ok. For me, I saw the bigger picture. A huge band, a huge stage, a huge theater. I performed to 2000 people, on a revolving stage, with phenomenal acoustics. I could hear a pin drop. By the end of my set I had people wrapped around the building waiting for me to sign CDs that they already had bought. They were just waiting for me. I was stoked.
Last year I performed at Australia House in London to 100 of the top Australian media and businesses. The room had a 20 feet high ceiling with Baroque style architecture and a cathedral feeling. I played a Steinway grand piano, and was handed flowers and wine when I finished by the consul general.
My music business successes are based on my personal memories of what made me feel fantastic.
I found an old diary entry about the L.A club scene. This will be entertaining:
18th July 01 - ok. Just so you don't think, by reading all this diary stuff, that gilli moon's world is all bubblegum and balloons, let me air a little of my frustrations about living and working in Los Angeles as an artist. Last night was a typical example of the Hollywood bull---t I deal with on a regular basis... well everyone deals with. It just makes me want to GET OUT OF THIS TOWN! So, we arrive at the club for a promised 7pm load in, for a 7.30pm sound check, only to be waiting in the wings till quarter to 8 before we even get a glimpse of the stage because the other band who's after us feels the need to rehearse every line of their set! We finally get on stage and we are sound checking and I ask politely to the girl behind the bar, who seems as cold as a fridge, if we could "please have our drink tickets" to which she replies with a tongue like ice, "you have to get them from the manager in the back room." She's oblivious to the fact i'm sound checking nor gives me any nice sentiment what so ever. I realize, on another note, that my name is not on the bill outside even though I booked the club months and months in advance to be featured (I've played this club many times before). Uggh! Then I'm called into the ticket booth to be once again harassed by the guy at the door who looks at my 20 industry door list and says, "you can only have 10 free entry." I sigh in exasperation... I mean! we're playing for free, we give it up for free, we work our butts off, and this is the kind of treatment we get in return? So I go back stage where the bouncer at the back door is a bull dog and he literally picks up my roadie by the shirt and throws him back inside not letting him exit via the back door. Nice neighborhood! He yells at me for not indicating who's in my band. Like he NEEDS his power trip today. I then try and find some quiet minutes on my own backstage but need to pass the front to go to the bathroom, trying to avoid the audience (it gives me the jitters if I see anyone before a show) and the blondie at the bar yells at me to come over. She NEEDS to talk to me she says. I ask if it can wait till after. I don't want to be seen. "No", she yells, so everyone hears her , "I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!" I reluctantly show my face and she then says, "so, who's in your band to get free drinks or is it anyone who says 'Gilli' that gets free drinks." I say, "no just the band thanks." (I wasn't going to give up my credit card for everyone who knows my name). She says, "well how will I know who's in the band?" I'm thinking, surely they have a system to work this out by now. How many bands do they have every night? But I reply, "anyone with blue paint on their cheeks." (My band wears blue paint). She just didn't get it. So I'm trying to deal with her, shouting over the crowd who are agitated waiting for the show to start. I'm trying to avoid the people and have some kind of mystery by being invisible before I go on... and all I want to do is GET BACKSTAGE. Oh no, the door guy wants another word with me, so once again across the room I go... Ouch, I just want to go home! ANYWAY..... the band and I did a huge, great show. We had props, I painted 2 canvases, danced, jumped, felt high as a kite, it was SO much fun. Maybe I need tension before a gig. After I get off stage and of course the bouncer immediately pushes us out the door so the boys' gear is literally sitting on the sidewalk. Not even a minute to repose. These clubs do it every time. NO RESPECT! Can't they think of two simple things? One, supply backline. Wouldn't it be so much easier if all 4 or 5 bands who play on the night can use same drum kit and amps? It would save time and space. 2. Offer a secondary room goddammit! I mean, I played the Whisky a couple of weeks ago and it's brutal. Last song and you are sitting on your amp on the street on Sunset Blvd wondering "how the heck do I get my car here to load the gear, before someone steals it, and then be able to park the car again (parking is the pits) so I can schmooze a little which is why I do this goddammit Sunset Strip gig in the first place. Sh-- I'll just go home!" I had a crazy come up to me and try and squeeze the life out of me in a bear hug that was close to needing a restraining order. Weird people in Hollywood. Then I'm dealing with some 20 year old industry person who thinks he's the answer to everything and gives me his feedback of the show. I'm all keen asking him how he liked my set. I felt I did a great set - lots of power and energy, dancing, painting, vocals tight, band tight. I was ready for the feedback.Twenty years old and this A&R rep from Capitol thinks he knows every answer as to why I won't get signed or how I will. "Hey babe, nice set. Pretty outfit. It's all about the hit song though babe.. Deliver us the hit song and we can talk." I walk away in complete shock. Why do they hire such kids!! I go home and all I think about on my windy Canyon drive back over Beverly Glen is... I gotta get out of this town. I can't tell you how much energy I delivered, how much the band gave it up.I mean we did a great, great show.... AND FOR WHAT????? We sold 2 cds. 2 is better than none I guess. But in the long run, what's it all for? Hollywood children who run the business and have no idea about art? They say, "give us hit songs, that's what we really need." Well that saying is old. We gave 10 hit songs, a magic show with dance, action, energy, visual art and color, an awesome rock band. Those who don't see it, are naive. Record Companies out there - you are hiring the wrong people to scout talent. I'm so tired of the music industry bull----. But I love my artistry. I'm passionate, strongly passionate about that. Goodnight."
A venue breathes a thousand words. Performing in the big cities where it's like fighting tooth and nail, can suck the life out of you. Small towns, for that matter, can do the same. You can be performing in the same little bar with the locals for years, and feel like you're never getting ahead. It's all relative.
For me, it's about finding those gems of performances that are unique, memorable and feed me first and foremost. If I can feel passion for it, others will feel the passion seeing me.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

finding truth through stage personas

Some of the best bands on record (meaning album) are not great live. Some bands get signed because of a great demo, but haven't had enough experience nor begun to explore the dynamics between the musicians. Developing an "act" is more than just putting a good CD together. It's about the way the musicians play (live), the clothes they wear on stage, the way they relate to the audience, how they stand on stage, the patter in between songs,.. the whole "live stage persona".
For most of my performing life I have felt that if you can be a little "over the top" with your performance, then you can grab people's attention quickly. I learned that early, playing in smoky pubs in Australia with people who really didn't care at all about the performer. They just wanted to drink beer and if there was a song they liked, they sung along. But to get any attention, you had to be an over the top entertainer. The stage persona became the most important thing for me.
It took me along time to not take myself so seriously as an artist. I remember the early days in Sydney when I would go into a deep sweat preparing for a show. I had to get the right clothes, have the right makeup, have the right hair do or color. I have had every hair color imaginable! Brown, blonde, red, white, mahogany, purple, even blue, and so many styles, from short punky to long and frizzy. In the early nineties I thought I needed to be a little bohemian, a little hippy, a little punk and a lot of attitude. I always wanted to show off my midriff, wear big loop earrings and fancy shoes. Black was in.
I was still learning the art of performance though. When I first started out performing my original songs live, I was very shy. It's funny because I was also, at the same time, performing in cover bands and I was very dynamic, on the contrary. In cover bands I could play a part, and imagine what the original artist, like Donna Summer, did on stage. I could imitate the original artist.
But with my original material I was shy and very uncomfortable playing the piano and singing at the same time. I found it a really difficult thing, to think about my lyrics, play the chords, sing in tune, and remember there was an audience in front of me that needed attention. I closed my eyes a lot.
When I got to the States, I learned to let go. For starters, I was able to be whoever I wanted to be, from scratch; reinvent myself, so to speak. So I decided to be brave, and be a little "out there". It worked.  I wore spandex dresses, four inch wedge heels, silver and glitter somewhere on my body (and especially as glitter cream on my cheeks and shoulders), and even wore wings throughout the temperamental angel album tour (2000-2001). Being "in persona" I was able to take flight as an artist. Always a diamond in the rough, my music, songwriting and voice got stronger, but at least I got attention. When I was signed to Tribe Records I even dressed up as a man for a year on stage. That was fun. We had developed a band called Jessica Christ, which pushed the envelope with gender issues: actually we wanted the audience to remove the gender association with songs, and promote the lyrics, the words, to be the most important elements, so I changed my stage gender for kicks, a direct idea from the Label in order for us to get some media attention (which came). I'd start off in plaid trousers and a jacket buttoned up, short cropped blue hair and a Salvador Dali curly mustache on my face, singing sweet love songs, and full on rock and roll too. Half way through the second song I'd literally strip and reveal a short body hugging dress, always keeping my black high boots on. 
Jessica Christ was a real breakthrough for my stage persona, and for releasing my inhibitions. There is something to be said about going "over the top" on stage. You really confront all your fears and learn to let go. As soon as you let go of any fears or nerves, which can be disguised behind costumes as we become a different persona, the more your inner natural self can exude. I remember doing a gig at The Gig on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood and it was packed: girls and guys upfront, with lighters swaying in the air. Girls looked on with awe and felt the power of a woman doing what I was doing on stage. It gave them strength. Guys were curious about my sexuality, but they felt the sensuousness. They were all in love, and it didn't matter. The crowd started hooting and hollering when I'd change attire, never missing a beat on the song. It was an electrifying feeling. I really let loose and didn't care what people thought. My sexuality is tied into my expressing myself through music. When I perform, sexuality naturally exudes. For me, it was all about entertainment, and through my image development over the years, my musicianship and vocals got tighter.
June 2000 diary entry: "We've (the Jessica Christ band) been playing the traps around L.A to great crowds and not so great crowds (you have to take the good with the band), sometimes rude club managers and sometimes great promoters. Playing live in L.A is somewhat challenging because you never really know who's going to come and see you on any given night. We had all of 15 people at The Mint on Pico, but a couple of weeks earlier the club was packed with 150 at the Gig. I've been battling with the ideas flowing in my head about my music. I have had so many deep and emotional events that have taken place over the past year... the new songs are all very autobiographical.. like you will hear the beginning, middle and end of the relationship in one sitting. The edge is interesting. No more miss nice girl. I'm coming alive!"
Following the Jessica Christ era was my "temperamental" phase, promoting my first U.S release on my own label Warrior Girl Music. The album "temperamental angel" conjured up a lot of imagery and ideas as to how to present myself on stage. For me it was about being a rebel and and an angel, in the way I sung, performed and how I sounded. I wanted to bring out different personalities, as we all are complex individuals with many personalities and masks. I had a song called "Naked" which was very sensuous, and the title track really spoke about my multi-personalities, being the angel and the devil (or at least dealing with those different parts of us).
March 2001 diary entry: "I spent last Sunday trotting down old train tracks downtown l.a in a sticky black plastic dress with dark sunglasses, my 'don't mess with me' boots, and white wings, while a train came by. We were filming the rest of the footage of the "Temperamental Angel" music video.  They then had me wrapped in saran wrap, naked, in the living room. I love getting naked! Just got home from The Gig, Hollywood where Jeff, Gordie, Ric and I played at Mike Galaxy's Industry Showcase. I felt it went really well and we sold quite a few CDs plus accumulated new fans. Both Jeff and I wore our wings and Ric adorned my pink feather bower by the 6th song. I love "doing Hollywood" because you can wear whatever you want on stage and in fact so do the people in the audience. Tonight for me it was simply freaky colored hair and my angel wings. The blue warriors, the honest, hunky and adorable band who funk and groove with or without gilli moon, are knocking the socks off everyone and that makes gilli a proud mother goose. The Whisky a Go Go never saw anything like it last Thursday even though they've had, well, just about everybody there. But we have paint flying - and Gordie our guitarist enjoyed that on is body, dress swaying (that's mine), heads nodding, boots kicking, a voice warbling, and music well, will take you away to the MOON. It's quite funny that where once gilli moon was so sweet and a "piano ballad" gal, she has turned almost heavy metal in her black boots but still so calm and sultry when "Naked" comes on. The Press seem to enjoy the controversy.
When I came out with the "Woman" album, I was all about the "warrior girl" - wearing combat attire (before it was popular!), with green army camouflage pants, boots, and a cool, spunky tank top. It gave me room to run around on stage. I also was painting a lot on stage, what I call "SensuArt". I'd erect a large clear piece of Perspex (plastic) on stage and get my brushes and paint out. I'd stand behind the clear canvas painting lots of female nudes and faces, while the band would solo and jam. I have painted my band members many times too. It was a lot of fun.
I've run the gamut of stage personas. It helps develop the artist's story and removes the fear. Every gig should be special. They have all been for me.
My "live image' changed when I started touring. I began seriously touring across the United States in '02, promoting the "temperamental angel" album. To keep it affordable, I went solo, without the band. This meant that that I was responsible for everything: getting to the venue, organizing my music, playing the keyboards (my fingers certainly got a lot stronger), entertaining a strange crowd, selling CDs (although have always had help on this from fans and friends), and packing up. At a certain point it got too tiring to "put on the big show" with the costumes and any theatrics. I started out on my first tour with a small color wheel light that revolved and changed lights as I performed. But I sold it for $50 in Phoenix Arizona into the second week.
I ended up just taking my shoes off, and just singing my songs on the keyboard. This was the beginning of finding my true self on stage.
I no longer wore the outfits, frizzed my hair up, or even put on any over the top makeup. Over a few years of being on the road consistently, traveling every state in the country, I became less and less concerned about my costuming or stage persona. I didn't have time and I was too tired. I became more concerned about my songs, my vocal and music performance, and being authentic.
Authenticy is the ultimate goal as a live performer. If the audience doesn't feel your truth, then they can't relate to you. Being on the road was a huge awakening. I don't have a problem with any band going for the "glam rock" or over the top image. I feel every band has to go through that process, and it has many positives, especially when developing and you want to learn to "let go" on stage. And if you are all about "image" and that's what people relate to, then all the power to you. But I have grown accustomed with the notion that it doesn't matter how you look: it's how you act. It's who you are inside.
I've seen the worst bands all dressed up, with the full stage presence - lights, costumes, props,... the works, and then be left unimpressed with their talent. Then I've seen the most humble of artists get up in jeans and a t-shirt, no makeup or frills, and truly grab my attention.
The more grass roots I've become, more laid back and real, the more positive feedback I've received on my show and my music. Of course, this is a ten year overnight success story here. I'm no spring chicken. I've learned a lot. One has to get their chops up on stage for a long time to make it look natural!
These days, especially after the fourth album, "extraOrdinary life", I've really tuned in to my songs and writing, and I remember the story around them whenever I sing them. I go back in time, every time and live that emotion, and the audience feels that. Being able to touch souls is so magnificent, and it doesn't matter what you wear. But it does matter how you exude your passion. It does matter how you deliver. Eye contact is important. Contact in general, with your audience, is important. Humility is important. Not taking yourself so seriously is VERY IMPORTANT.
I remember seeing Celine Dion in concert in Sydney. Whether you like her music or not, I encourage anyone to see her live or check out her live videos. There must have been 20,000 people at this concert, and she had every one of us eating out of the palm of her hand. We were silent and riveted. She spoke to me like I was the only person in the room, and sung my stories in her songs. She has a fabulous sense of humor (she knows what to say between songs), and never ends a song until she's ready. If you notice, she'll finish the song on a note, maybe an arm outstretched, maybe her eyes closed; and the band will stop, so will she - and everything is silent. We hang in the suspense. When she finally drops her arm (it could be even 5 or 10 seconds after that final note), we then applaud. She decides when the song is over. Until then, we are her audience slaves. It's superb.
 I have loved my stage persona journey. I'm sure there is more to come with how I will express myself live. I have always admired Madonna's finesse in reinventing her image every album she makes. I like that idea because I love making concept albums. Each album tells a story. It has a theme, a plot, a journey to take the audience on. So too should the live performance, matching the essence of the album. Madonna is great at that, and never afraid to push the envelope.
Stage costumes can be a great ice breaker, to bring across your artist story and concept. Developing an image is crucial, of course. But with or without costumes, if you can touch people's hearts, then you're on the right path. There is much controversy about developing an artist's image in the music business. The media love to grab on to a story of some kind, and the business doesn't like to have to guess who you are. They like to see it in your music and how you look. They want to be able to market something. It's the same for independent artists too. Image around your album concept, your website, your live performance persona, even your character in the general public, all tie in to who you are as an artist. I believe that your persona as an artist is crucial to telling your story and creating a buzz.
But in all of that... always remain authentic to your true self. Keep changing, evolving, and tap in to your passionate self. TRUTH and PASSION is everything. This, my friends, will make the difference between you being a quick, fly-by-night fashion trend, versus being an eternal, lifelong, rock star.