1. I find myself having trouble describing your duo’s sound. The best I come up with is that it’s like a French cabaret, populated with fairy folk, performing on a steampunk air ship. How do you describe your sound?
(Samantha) That sounds good to us! We usually call it Gypsy Cabaret Folk Punk, it sounds cliché but it is such a mix of different influences that it does become difficult to pin point. We basically write what comes naturally to us and the combination of both of our life experiences makes it what it is.
2. Now Samantha, you have a background in art and dance. When did you discover singing? Or perhaps the question is, when did you decide to focus on singing?
(Samantha) I started singing at a very early age. I come from a musical family and singing was a normal part of our lives. I sang in the school choir in England and a little when I came to the States. After that I guess I was a closet singer, a “belt-it-out” at home type, using it as a cathartic thing for those soul searching times. Mostly, my stage performances were dance. It wasn’t until 2005 when I started collaborating with Scott that I got back to singing on stage.
3. The other “must be asked” question is for Scott. Readers may recognize you from your time with the punk bands Deep Wounds and Outpatients, how did you evolve from that scene into the music you’re performing now?
(Scott) In the mid `90’s the Outpatients broke up, so after years of playing in punk and metal bands I wanted to do something different. I switched from bass to acoustic guitar and started writing songs. The music that came out was more earthy and melodic. I liked the idea of creating a full sound but with layers of acoustic guitar. It seemed like a natural progression to me. With the Gypsy Nomads it has all come full circle, we play this earthy eclectic music that has a lot of fire and punk energy and attitude. When Samantha and I started writing together everything gelled and it has become this amazing entity. There is a chemistry we have on stage and when we write that is very special and humbling.
4. What kind of process do you use when writing music? As a duo, who breaks a tie if you guys disagree on an idea?
(Samantha) Usually Scott will be riffing on the guitar and when I hear words attached to those riffs I’ll let him know and he’ll just keep repeating it while I write. Then we play around with the arrangement and brainstorm together. I can’t think of an instance when we have disagreed. It doesn’t really happen that way, it‘s more like a flowing of ideas and some stick and some don’t. We’re not overly attached to whose idea it was.
(Scott) Samantha writes all the lyrics and we work on the music together for the most part. Each song takes us on a little journey, it’s a mysterious path the muse guides you on and you never know when an idea for a song will happen. For example, when we were driving through Pennsylvania, Samantha came up with the melody for ‘Yes! I’m French’. We wrote the songs ‘Kaii’ and ‘Le Train’ off of our Eternal Summer CD in a hotel in Kansas. But I do tend to go off on my own to work on instrumentals. For our new CD, Happy Madness, I went away for 4 days, locked myself in a room and wrote the songs ‘Sombrero Cabaret’ and ‘Happy Madness’.
5. On your website readers can see that you tour extensively, playing all kinds of steampunk and fairy events. What have been some of your favorite events to perform at?
(Samantha)Our favorite ones are where the audience is totally into it. When people are jumping around, dancing, singing and just having a great time, we really feed off of that. Ultimately it’s an exchange between us and the audience. We love the scene we’re in, the mix of steampunk, faerie, pagan, sci-fi, geek, freak, cabaret is a great audience because they are as crazy and expressive as we are.
6. I’ve been given to believe that you’re based out of New York and perform all over the United States. Any chance you could show your home state some love and do a few gigs in Albany, NY? Why yes, I live near Albany, why do you ask?
(Samantha) Ah ha! We would love to. I don’t know what it is, but we just love being on the road! I think they call it wanderlust… I traveled a lot as a kid and Scott moved around quite a bit too I guess it’s in the blood. Albany? sure, book it and we’ll be there!
7. The Gypsy Nomads have an aka of Frenchy and the Punk. Which came first, Frenchy and the Punk or The Gypsy Nomads? Was Frenchy and the Punk a designator that your fans gave you, or you gave yourself?
(Samantha) The Gypsy Nomads existed first. The name came from a song Scott had written for his Brocade CD and which was later put on the compilation CD Thread and Stone called “Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads”. That was one of my favorite songs back then and I spontaneously picked up a tambourine at one of Scott’s shows and danced around to that song. That’s what started the whole thing. So we started calling ourselves “Scott Helland and the Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads,” a play on the fact that Scott was using live guitar looping so it sounded like there were more people on stage. Then it became “The Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads” which still felt too long so we shortened it to “The Gypsy Nomads.” Frenchy and the Punk grew out of that, I was born in France and Scott played in punk bands. I think it was someone at a show that said it and it kind of stuck.
8. When you two aren’t working together as The Gypsy Nomads, do you each have solo artistic endeavors that you can tell my readers about?
(Samantha) Yes. I do oil paintings. I’ve been working on a series of Vintage Gypsies which are based on images of mostly women in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I also am working on a book about the adventures of my magickal character, Pupella. It’s been a long process since we are rarely home but it’s almost done.
(Scott) I do pen and ink drawings on parchment paper and sharpie drawings on Fabric, with primarily earthy themes that mix the female form with trees, vines, medieval and celtic symbols, stonework and guitars. I do some gallery shows but most of my drawings are available at our shows. Our stickers t-shirts and pins have our artwork on them and those are all on the website as well as the CDs.
9. What’s next for The Gypsy Nomads?
(Samantha) We shot a DVD this past Spring that we hope to have out before the end of this year. We’ll be touring again in the Fall and early Winter (we’re playing DragonCon in Atlanta in early September, Earth Wariors Festival in Ohio, StrowlerCon in Boston, FaerieCon in Baltimore and SteamCon in Seattle) and then working on new material during the winter months. We’ve also been contacted by a European agency about touring over in Europe.
(Scott) Yeah, what Samantha said! We have done a lot of touring for the Happy Madness CD, but there’s always more to do. We love playing shows and traveling so we’ll probably do the states again in the not so distant future, unless we get wrapped up in writing another record!
10. Parting Shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question!
What is the most important ingredient for a magical buffet?
About The Gypsy Nomads:
Gypsy Celtic Cabaret with tribal and punk elements and an undercurrent of the mystickal. The Gypsy Nomads, also affectionately known as Frenchy and the Punk, channel the spirit of the gypsy sound, lacing it with a cabaret, Celtic and neo-medieval flavor rooted in punk, folk and the vineyards of southern France.
The duo features French-born Brit. Samantha Stephenson, whose vocals have been likened to a cross between Siouxsie Sioux and Edith Piaf, and veteran of the punk scene Scott Helland on guitar. Helland’s innovative live looping technique coupled with Stephenson’s animated percussion produces a sound that makes it hard to believe there are only two people on stage.
Samantha Stephenson, Gypsy Nomads singer and percussionist, studied art at The National Academy of Design and Art Students League in New York City. She began her dance training at the Royal School of Dance in England and performed in dance troupes in Boston and New York and studied and played piano throughout her teens. She also is the creator of Pupella’s Reign, purveyor of magickal wares and the free spirited gypsy Pupella character, who is currently in book mode.
Scott Helland has recorded and appeared on over 25 records and CDs. In the eighties and nineties, he played bass guitar with the bombastic, and now legendary Western MA hardcore punk bands Deep Wound, (which included Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and Lou Barlow) and Outpatients with whom he toured with in the US, Canada and South America. The bands released critically acclaimed underground recordings that still sell today to punk record collectors and aficionados of the hardcore music scene here in the U.S, Asia and Europe. The show flyer collages Scott put together in the`80s and `90s have evolved into intricate pen and ink drawings that blanket the covers of his CDs and merchandise. His artwork is exhibited in galleries and is collected around the world.
Their music has been licensed for Indie films and TV including the Oprah Winfrey show and WE TV’s Gothic Wedding show. They have been featured performers at events around the country such as FaerieCon, NYC’s lower east side burlesque club The Slipper Room, the cabaret stage at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theater, NY’s Brushwood Center, St Louis’ Focal Point Theater, and more. The Gypsy Nomads have shared the stage with Voltaire, Dinosaur Jr, Faun, Dragon Ritual Drummers, Albannah, Coyote Run, Ego Likeness, Wendy Rule, Brian Viglione and the White Elephant Burlesque, Lunar Fire as well as amazing belly dance troupes across the U.S.