All-female indie-rock band Antigone Rising is on the road again to support its latest EP, “Whiskey & Wine Vol. 1,” and gearing up for the release of the second volume of the project later this year.
Kristen Ellis-Henderson, the group’s bassist and vocalist, said the group decided to release two EPs instead of an entire album because it makes more sense in these times to dole out new music in smaller portions.
“We thought in this day and age, the way people are consuming music is very different,” she said. “We could put out this one album and have this big splash or we can split it in two and be able to release music more frequently so there is always something in the news feed from a social-media standpoint. That was our thinking. It would make more sense to release it in bursts just to keep the fans engaged and keep it all exciting.”
Ellis-Henderson added that the group has made some artistic strides in between the two EPs.
“They are similar but, interestingly enough, we recorded them in Nini’s, our lead singer, home studio,” she said. “I think you can see a maturing process going on from a production standpoint as we move into volume two. We were upgrading equipment as we went along, so there are some really lush productions of volume two.”
Ever since Antigone stepped into the spotlight in 2005 with its first major-label album, the group — comprised of new lead singer Nini Camps, drummer Dena Tauriello and founding sisters Ellis-Henderson and Cathy Henderson on guitar — has garnered feverish critical acclaim for its stripped-down style and toured the world, opening for rock royalty like The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers Band and Rob Thomas.
Their sound covers a lot of ground, and the band has been described as everything from rock to alternative country and folk.
Ellis-Henderson said Antigone Rising is more about sticking to its influences than conforming to labels people want to attach to them.
“It’s such a blur,” she said about the genres of music the group is associated with. “There are some artists where the music is exactly what it is. It’s rock or it’s country. As a songwriter, I’ve always leaned a little more country. Country songs, the songwriting itself is a little more melodic and honest. My inspiration comes from artists like Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin, who I think is more folk. Then my sister is more of a rocker. She pulls us in that direction from a production and arrangement standpoint. Nini joined the band a few years back and we became songwriting partners. She definitely comes from a more traditional country-songwriting background. I think that once you hone in on the songs like that, it can fall into a more-country style. I don’t think the way that we arrange or perform is straight-up country and I don’t think we’re alt-country, but I think we’re rock with an alt-country spin. It’s like a green-blue crayon versus a blue-green crayon. It’s a subtle difference.”
Ellis-Henderson said that even before Camps joined the band as a replacement for former lead singer Cassidy, her songwriting style helped steer the band in a more country and folk direction.
“Any time somebody new enters a band, it’s going to shift the trajectory in some way, but it was a very natural progression because, before she joined the band, when we still had our prior singer, I was doing a lot of songwriting with Nini and I was starting to introduce those songs into the band,” she said. “It really wasn’t such an abrupt shift for us mentally. Our singer left and we were being offered some great opportunities to play with The Bangles and Joan Jett. Nobody knew the songs better than Nini, so we had her perform for those shows and that’s how we made that transition. When you change a lineup the way we did, we run that risk. We could have cast a twin of our former lead singer and kept moving in that direction. But the reality is our former lead singer and I were the songwriting force in that band. Her style made up a large part of what that was. For us, we had to find someone who was going to work with us creatively and create a natural fit. We may have lost some fans in that shift, but we’ve gained quite a few too.”
After a few years on a major label, Antigone Rising now operates as independent artists with a little help from fellow rocker Jett and her imprint, Blackheart Records.
Ellis-Henderson said the group’s brief stint with the majors served its purpose.
“We’re still distributed through Blackheart Records; we’ll be in stores through their channels, but we also do some selling at our shows and through independent Internet spaces that we sell downloads through,” she said. “I like both situations, [independent and major labels]. I’ve always liked to be in control. Before we had signed to Atlantic/Lava Records, we had built that band up to a point where we were completely independent on our own and didn’t necessarily need the label. So we were running it ourselves. So it was a little strange once we signed to the label, having them take over our email list and the day-to-day nitty-gritty stuff that we were used to having our hands in. But you can’t deny that they have access to things that can propel you much further. So our situation is ideal because we built up the business and knew how to run it and knew our fans and who we were as artists. Then we got this push from a major label. And then we left and, since leaving, we’ve quadrupled our fan base. We benefited from that and now we’re back to running it ourselves. Blackheart Records is our distributor but we are our own label. So we are in charge of all our marketing and publicity. So it’s kind of nice to be back in control with an audience to talk to.”
When we last spoke to a member of Antigone Rising, back in 2008, Cathy Henderson was willing to talk about her own sexuality, but not about the sexuality of the rest of the band. Antigone Rising these days identifies as an all-lesbian band and Ellis-Henderson has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with wife Sarah Kate Ellis-Henderson (president/CEO of GLAAD) for a feature on marriage equality.
Ellis-Henderson said the band members have become more confortable talking about their personal lives over the years.
“You get older,” she said. “You evolve. I’ve always been pretty open and out. I think during our time on a major label, it was a different time. It’s changed quickly in the last 10 years. To our fan base, especially as an independent band, I think they knew we were gay. We weren’t all gay then, though, so we’ve evolved and our lineup has shifted. The four of us are gay and I think everyone is comfortable with being open about it. We’ve all been in long-term relationships and, as you get older, you become more comfortable in your own skin. I think it’s so important for us as role models for younger people coming up that you don’t have to be ashamed of who you are. We’ve found that it has diversified our audience more than anything. I think people respond really nicely to artists who are being genuine and honest.”
Antigone Rising performs 8:30 p.m. March 7 at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. For more information or tickets, call 215-222-1400 or visit www.antigonerising.com.