Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Lisa Ridgely and The Fainting Room part 2

Lisa Ridgely and The Fainting Room (Tim Suchocki photo)



BENNINGTON -- It takes special talent to write lyrics featuring Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, crack cocaine, President Bubba Clinton, the Green Bay Packers and abortion, then wrap them around the theme of longing and lovesickness in a way that makes people laugh.

Lisa Ridgely makes it sound easy in "Stopgap Girl" -- a fun yet politically savvy song from the singer-songwriter and her Milwaukee-based band The Fainting Room.


Lisa is a 32-year-old self-taught guitarist who took the leap of faith into the music life after a scare with ovarian cancer in the mid-aughts.

Here is a quick chat with Lisa:

1. On who wrote Stopgap Girl and whose life it is based on:

1. "I wrote it. The lyrics are autobiographical, and pull from a few different experiences of dating or crushing on dudes with whom I had fundamental differences that I chose to ignore or tolerate in the face of things I really liked or admired about them. The song is also about being a woman in the 2010s. I consider it an anthem of the unmarried progressive gal in her 30s; there's humor, there's intelligence, there's opinion and there's hope."

2. On the multi-genre sound of Stopgap Girl:

2. "It's interesting how songs are created. This one has evolved a lot from the start, and the band really helped to give it depth and energy -- particularly with Ryan's guitar melody, special guest Nick Berg's 'jolly piano' and Sara's backup vocals.

"I am horrible at defining what type of music I make, but I would say that we are mixing pop and country and rock in this one. It's got a 50s vibe with the guitar tone and pace, which makes it fun and hip-swingy for us to perform and for the audience to get into. The lyrics are pretty sassy, so I can understand the Loretta Lynn comparison." -- I told Lisa it sounded like Loretta Lynn, the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly with a bit of Jane Wiedlin (the Go-Go's) and Melissa Auf der Maur (Hole) -- "Had to look up Jane Wiedlin and Melissa Auf der Maur; Wiedlin is from my neck of the woods, kind of cool. I'm definitely influced by the new wave and pop of my childhood, and as a kid loved girl bands like the  Go-Go's and Bananarama.

"Musicians can't help but be influenced by music of the past and present, but rarely do I write songs while consciously pulling from a particular era or artist or style of music. I wish I were so strategic! I've spent a lot of time listening to Kathleen Edwards this year -- her album Voyageur is simple addictive -- so perhaps she's been a strong subconscious songwriting influence. In the band, we all pull from many varied artist and genre influeces -- which means we're not always on the same page but also that we have a lot to learn from eazch other -- and I love that this song ties a lot of them together to make what is hopefully a new-ish sound. I also love that different listeners will hear different things that perhaps are reminiscent of things they've heard before."

Lisa also touted Nick's band Field Report and its debut self-titled album. The band just returned from a tour opening for Aimee Mann (of Til Tuesday fame). Before that the Milwaukee band toured with Counting Crows.

2A. On the post-modern progressive gal behind the singer-songwriter:

2A. I'd hope that the right dude would be cool with me keeping my last name, regardless of whether I did dishes! Some chores I really don't mind, including laundry and dishes. And I've always hoped to snag a guy who can cook -- because I truly cannot, and don't really like to -- so the tradeoff is there. I do the dishes. It's fair, right?

3. On the political nature of Stopgap Girl, which includes the lyric: "You voted for Walker, I think he's on crack, I love Bill Clinton, and I want him back ... I couldn't care less if the Packers lose, as long as I still have the right to choose":

"I tend to judge politicians, regardless of their party affiliations, based on whether I'd want to hang out with them in real life. And yes, clearly, I am pretty liberal about certain things, so the Clinton shout-out is a no-brainer. Dude's a great person doing great things to make the world a better place -- and, I'd love to go bowling with him. Scott Walker, on the other hand, appeals to those who for whatever reason dig the jerkish authoritarian style of governing. Before he was our governor, he was the county executive in  Milwaukee, and that is when I started to not care for his style of leadership. As governor, he turned me off even more. I actually had a chance (in a way) to hang out with him last summer at a local sports bar. Went outside for a smoke and he was sitting at the next table. This was when he was really starting to rile up up my liberal friends. I let him be, out of respect. Perhaps sitting five feet away from him with my back to him was a decent enough silent protest. Strangely, one of his friends got my attention, though, to compliment my eyeglasses.

"The 'he's on crack' line is very tongue-in-cheek. I didn't get overly involved in the recall. I did sign the recall petition. It was kind of exciting to recall him and pretty disappointing to lose. But hey, it is what it is. I participated. I'm over it.

"It's great when the Packers win, I'll be honest. And losses like that one against the Seahawks super suck, but generally, I don't let it affect my life in the way a lot of fans around here do. To me, there are more important things to be losing sleep over. For example: women's reproductive freedom.

"I still have plans to write a song about Aaron Rodgers and his 'husband eyes' (that's my term, but look at his eyes! It's totally true!), and I'm hoping to someday get in on that friendship between him and Ryan Braun, whom I affectionately refer to as Randy Braun."

4. On the differences between the songs "Karma Caught Up" and "Stop Gap Girl":

4. "Each song is its own animal, so it's hard to compare them. Karma Caught Up taps into feelings of anger, betrayal and vindication -- epic, if you will, themes in our favorite stories and movies. Stopgap is lighthearted and fun and cute. Maybe it doesn't rock people to their cores but I have found, in the year that I've been playing it at shows, that it rally resonates with people. It's one of my only songs that makes people laugh, and that's pretty powerful in its own right."

5. On the future (near and far) of Lisa Ridgely and The Fainting Room:

5. "I'd be a liar if I said I was chasing some dream of becoming rich and famous and touring the world. It's also misleading to say that I'm just having fun making music with my friends. I want to have realistic goals: to get better as a musician and as a songwriter; to continue to collaborate with the amazing and and talented musicians of Milwaukee and environs; and to make a full-length album within a year. As a band, we hope to go on a regional mini-tour or two next year, but I don't know that I ever see myself giving up a day job that I enjoy to try the music thing full-time. I am much too reliant on regular income for that lifestyle! That said, life is all about how you react to the opportunities you get -- so I'm keeping an open mind, cuz you never do know what the future holds."

5A. On The Fainting Room:

5A. "The band members are Sara Moilanen on bass and vocals, Ryan Elliott on guitar and vocals, and Craig Mertes on drums. I met Craig last year through a friend who works at the indie radio station where Craig has a morning show once a week, and have known Sara and Ryan for a few years as friends who I met in the music scene. I sing backup with Sara's band West of East. Ryan started accompanying me on an acoustic guitar a few years ago, and Sara would sing backup. So it was a natural transition into the band for them.

"The naming process was laborious and annoying to my inner circle upon whom I rely for advice, mostly becaus I can be extremely indecisive and I love words. At the end, I think I had something like 400 possible band names in a Google doc. I would add to it almost every day. My favorites were the good metal names, like Guillotine Gameface, Manrage Shipwreck and Betty Bleeds. Really loved Rapture Slap but that got voted down. 


"I found 'the fainting room' when on Wikipedia one day researching some architectural element I had never heard of. Thought it sounded cool, then I read more about it and it was fascinating to me. It's so representative of how poorly women were -- and still are, to a degree -- understood by men -- physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually. It's equally horrifying and hilarious that men built women a room specifically so that they could be 'manually stimulated' by some sort of 'nurse' to treat their 'hysteria'. I am continually thankful that I was born in 1979 and not 1879."

Lisa Ridgely and The Fainting Room are nominated in 5 categories in this year's 88Nine Radio Milwaukee's annual music awards: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Solo Artist of the Year, Catchiest Song of the Year and Best Live Show. To vote click HERE.

For previous blogs entries on LR&TFR click HERE and HERE.

What others are writing about the band:

Milwaukee AV Club (HERE): Urban twang, hooks, suavely produced, rough edges, (Lisa has) Jeff Tweedy's knack for telling stories about the ugly side of love and relationships, obvious gem (Karma Caught Up), slick and pleasant sound (5-song Wine in Bed album), sad but strong like Natalie Merchant (Lisa's singing).

DTP1 Music Reviews (HERE): Lovely harmonies, cool guitars, effective choruses, Neko Case, Chrissy Hynde, Alanis Morrisette, most rocking track (Karma Caught Up).

WMSE Music News (HERE): Infectious pop melodies, darker undertones, tight harmonies, searing guitar solos, nicknamed ovaries.

For a 88Nine Milwaukee Radio podcast with the band, click HERE.