Female artists and female-led bands have always been a kryptonite for my musical taste, from the classic Tegan and Sarah to the soulful Mary Lambert and the goddess herself, Beyonce.
One of my personal favorites is a small, newly-formed band called Bandshes, located in Hartford, CT.
With Zoe Chatfield as the lead singer and songwriter, Athena Demaille Von Schmidt on keys, and Emily Gregonis on harmonies and violin, the raw fresh sound that comes out of their self-described “indie folk” music has already been well-received by critics. Their song “Lost Cities” was featured in the 2015 horror film, Unfriended, and their first album Beautiful World debuted that same year. After reaching out to them, I was able to arrange an interview through online messaging with two of the band’s members, Zoe and Athena, through Bandshes’ Facebook page. Check it out below!
JILLIAN FANTIN: Hi Zoe and Athena! And, am I correct in saying that Zoe, you are the main singer-songwriter and that Athena, you are keyboard/piano?
BANDSHES: That is correct! Our third member is Emily, who also sings and will be playing violin on our upcoming EP.
JF: That’s so exciting! And congratulations!
B: Thank you!
JF: And, of course, congratulations on “Lost Cities” reaching over 850k listens on Spotify. That’s quite impressive for a young band!
B: Thanks again, it’s been pretty wild for us too.
JF: When you all started out in 2013, was music something that you all had a passion for and really wanted to pursue as a career, or was it more by fated chance that Bandshes was formed?
B: In high school, we all did music in some capacity. We went to a performing arts school where Athena studied classical piano, Emily studied musical theater, and Zoe studied creative writing (where she wrote lyrics). Despite that, we didn’t form the band until after high school and it was very much by chance.
JF: Were you all at university when you formed?
B: During the summer of 2013, before we entered college, Zoe was asked to open for another local singer/songwriter, Kate Callahan. Zoe and Athena had done their senior capstone project together in which they’d written songs together. During a rehearsal, a family friend suggested that Emily sing harmonies and thus Bandshes was formed. We ended up performing all together that summer and recording a very rough demo that August. And by rough I mean on one microphone in a family friend’s living room.
JF: “Bandshes,” to me, is quite a cool name. What is the origin of the name? Was it created during the recording of that demo?
B: The conversation that lead to coming up with the name actually happened during senior year of high school. Zoe and Athena were writing songs together for a project and at one point were playing with the idea of a band, which mostly just meant coming up with really silly potential band names. Zoe came up with “Bandshes,” playing off of the word “banshee” and it ended up later sticking. It was funny at the time though, because Athena didn’t think anyone would get the reference, so Zoe made a facebook status asking people to like if they knew what a banshee was. At the time we had no intention of actually forming a band, it was just us being silly.
JF: Well I’m glad that it did happen! Now, Bandshes’ sound is very haunting and fresh. What genre would you say your music falls under, and what are some of the artists or styles that really influence that sound?
B: We tend to play it safe and call ourselves indie folk, but we have a number of different influences that are reflected in our sound. Some songs are more jazzy while others are more pop. One of our biggest and earliest influences is Regina Spektor, but we’re also inspired by bands like the Black Keys, Lucius, and Phox.
JF: Consistent in all of your songs, from the first rough demo to Beautiful World, is a very intimate sound. When you start out to write a song, what experiences or elements do you draw from?
B: All of the songs we have out started with the lyrics. Since then, our songwriting process has been more collaborative, but in general, Zoe has a lyric written that we work with. The inspiration for the lyrics come from personal experiences, observations on others and of society in general, and from other art.
JF: Of the songs you’ve written on your latest album, which songs are your personal favourites, and why?
B: Emily’s favorite is “Wild Geese.” It’s funny because we performed that song at our high school graduation, despite it’s sad nature. Zoe’s favorite is “Beautiful World,” because she feels it’s the strongest song lyrically on the album and enjoys performing it. Athena’s favorite is “Rainboots in the Desert,” because there’s a funny story behind the writing of the song and because the song only consists of two chords (much to her pride and enjoyment).
JF: I’d love to talk about the origins of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” which is the song that actually introduced me to your music. What would you describe a Manic Pixie Dream Girl as, and what prompted writing it?
B: The phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” itself actually prompted the writing of the song. Zoe heard it and decided to research it, reading about it being a common trope used in storytelling and film to define “quirky” women, who usually do not have much of their own depth as characters, and who usually play the love interest of sad or serious male characters. Zoe wanted to write a song for real life women who may have some of these “manic pixie dream girl”-defining traits, as a way to say that being “quirky” (or insert trait here) does not take away from a person’s depth as a human being and that women, unlike these tropes, do not function for the purpose of men or any other person’s self realization.
JF: That’s very interesting! Would you say that your experiences as women have played into your albums as a whole, not just on exploring this trope?
B: Our experiences as women haven’t purposefully played into our albums anymore than the fact that we are women. The other songs we’ve released have been about feeling lost and sad, about love and relationships, and about issues of society (in the case of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” an issue of gender, but in the cases of “Beautiful World” and “Storyteller,” not specifically so), and the songs we are currently working on follow in these general themes.
JF: Speaking of new songs, is there going to be anything new and exciting in regards to music or tours for Bandshes in these coming months?
B: We’ve booked a summer tour rooted in New England, where we will be performing new songs from our upcoming EP. Here are our tour dates thus far:
6/4 | Celebrate West Hartford | West Hartford, CT
6/5 | Art In The Park | Manchester, CT
6/21 | University of Saint Joseph | West Hartford, CT
6/28 | University of Saint Joseph | West Hartford, CT
7/8 | Radio Bean with Calico Blue and Spirit Ghost | Burlington, VT
7/16 | University of Saint Joseph | West Hartford, CT
8/11 | Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival | Hebron, CT
8/14 | Bushwick Public House | Brooklyn, NY
JF: That’s so exciting! Hopefully, I’ll be able to hit up one of those shows. Well, thank you very much for your time! Before we go, what’s the best way for fans to keep up with Bandshes and is there anything you would like to inform our readers of?
B: Facebook is the best way to stay updated and feel free to announce our summer tour! Thank you so much, it was great talking! If you have any other questions, let us know.
JF: Of course! You all have been absolutely wonderful! Thank you for allowing me to ask you questions and pick your brains!
B: Any time!
Remember to check out Bandshes on Facebook here and on their website, www.bandshes.com. If you enjoy indie folk or alternative music, they’re sure to become a new favorite!