Steph Pappas 2 December 2015 on Rocket Shop
L-R: Mike Kirick, Steph Pappas, Ted Looby
WORDS BY TOM PROCTOR, PHOTO BY JAMES LOCKRIDGE.
Steph Pappas, joined host Brent Hallenbeck on 'Rocket Shop', Big Heavy World's local music radio hour on 105.9FM The Radiator. Steph's next local show is 7pm December 31 at Fletcher Free Library as part of First Night Burlington Listen to a replay here or via Rocket Shop Radio Hour on iTunes or Subscribe on Android [powerpress]
Steph Pappas is a legend on the Burlington music scene; prolific, inventive and hard to ignore, she has evolved and transformed throughout her musical tenure. For three decades she has traversed through multiple genres and reinventions, while steadfastly sticking to the badass, rock chick, psychedelic Cowgirl persona she passionately embodies. Churning out multiple albums covering everything from girl-group rock, folky blues and a dash of metal country she’s kept her fans guessing, and with her love of bringing new sounds and musicians together we can still expect a few more twists and turns to come.
Pappas joined Big Heavy World last Wednesday for a live session, accompanied by Michael Kirick on the washboard and Ted Looby on acoustic guitar. We catch up with her in the Big Heavy World green room to discuss her ongoing transitions, creating new memories and which artist she best identifies with out of the plethora of big names she’s been compared to. Let me shed some light on the woman known as “Jimi Hendrix’s little sister”.
TP: Steph, on your website you mentioned you felt that you’re on the second part of your music career, referencing a similarity to the Old Testament and the New Testament. What created the split and what changed in the intervening time?
SP: I’ve been wondering if my music career is in sections or if it’s one big conglomerate. I feel the younger years, the younger Steph Pappas is different than the older Steph Pappas, or is it? I’m not quite sure yet.
TP: How do you feel it's differed if there is a break, in what way has it changed?
SP: Just age. (Laughs.) Kinda like the Bible, I did refer to that right? The Old Testament and the New Testament. What’s the difference between the old and the new?
TP: Well, one angry God and one generally nice God.
SP: Yeah, that’s about right. I was more fire and brimstone back then, I remember beating up club owners and stuff.
TP: So you’ve mellowed out a lot, and become more forgiving?
SP: Let’s see...You know what it is, you look younger and then you look older all of a sudden. I think that's really the only difference. Maybe that’s what I was thinkin’ of, I don't know. I’m supposed to know this aren't I? (Laughs)
TP: You mentioned you have felt some of your older dreams have faded to be replaced with newer ones. So what are the dreams that are beginning to fade and what are the newer ones that are emerging?
SP: I always wanted to go to California - just like Ted, he always wanted to go to California, so we both went together. You have simple dreams like that and they've actually been accomplished, so I wrote a song about it called “The Lombard Street Rendition”. All I wanted to do was drive up and down Lombard Street, and that came true. These are simple dreams.
I have to make new memories now. All the old stuff, a lot of it really happened, the stuff that I dreamt up, it came true. Like touring and living in Austin, Texas. So now what am I gonna do now? Everyday's a new day for me. I wanna make new memories, go on another tour so I can have that as another memory for later. My former classmates have found me on the internet and have said to me “God you’re doing stuff so late in your life”, ‘cos for them the best part of their life was when they were 17, but some of us have grown out of that and realised that really isn't the best time of your life.
TP: You’ve been given the moniker of Jimi Hendrix’s little sister, who came up with this?
SP: We were playing festivals and people started introducing me as Jimi Hendrix’s baby sister. It started out they said if Jimi Hendrix was born today he would be Steph Pappas, I had nothing to do with it, but I think it was ‘cos I use the wah wah pedal.
TP: Did you ever play with your teeth or roll a cigarette while playing?
SP: No never any of that, but Ted started sending me videos of women playing behind their heads and with their teeth. But it's all been done before. Jimi wasn't the first person to do it, he was just the first person to bring it to the popular movement.
TP: There's also quite a few comparisons with you to Jack White and Seven Days once compared you to Bjork if she was born in the North East. So out of all of these comparisons which one do you think you identify with most?
SP: The host tonight had me down as Patti Smith. Sometimes I get Joni Mitchell. It’s a mix, but right now it's Jack White and Patti Smith.
TP: Is there any you prefer?
SP: No. Compare away. It all sounds good to me. I don't know which I like better, they're all good. People like to compare.
I feel I can speak better though my instrument than I can just talking in a conversation. When I have my instrument in my hand and we’re playing, that's really what I'm saying and talking about.
TP: Did you ever have that problem of being self-conscious when you were younger?
SP: I've never had that problem, I got over it fast. I used to carry my guitar with me wherever I went - I slept next to it, I walked down the street with it. It was the best way I could speak and communicate
TP: You play with a lot of different musicians and instruments - harmonicas, didgeridoos, washboards - it’s quite an eclectic mix. Do you go looking for these new sounds to work with or do the people find you?
SP: I've had both, I like to have a lot of people with different instruments because I've always wanted to be a conductor.
MK: That’s how you are, a conductor. She was doing that right in there. (Points to recording booth). We all have to pay attention.
SP: Yeah, nobody can be stoned out in this band, everyone has to pay attention, no drinks allowed on stage. No shorts either. (Laughs).
MK: And no T-shirts with logos on them. Those are the rules.
SP: Somebody's got to be the boss. Talking about dreams, I thought, “How am I going to be a conductor?” ‘cos you can only be a conductor of an orchestra and you don't have that in rock and roll. All of a sudden I start coming across all these people that can play different things; this guy can play washboard, this guy can play bass, I've got the didgeridoo player, and then all of a sudden I find myself conducting.
There was this jam session I held at Vibesville studio, and I didn't just want a regular jam session. I wanted it to be in a studio, where I could record it. It was on TV, we stuck it on the radio and the best stuff of the jam I put on an album called Vibesville. I got a lot of good players, I got as many as I could, I don't know if all ended up on the CD, but everyone that played that night is listed on the album.
But there we go, a dream that came true ‘cos someone said someone needs to boss this around, someone needs to produce it, someone needs to tell us what to do. Then someone said “Pappas is the conductor,” so I became the conductor.
TP: You also mentioned on one of your songs that you wanted to become a baseball player?
SP: That’s what I wanted to do [when I was younger]. See, girls can’t become professional baseball players, but that's what I wanted to do. Then I saw a Boston vs. Yankees game and the players had a fight and I thought, “This is ridiculous.” I could have made my life career making it so women could play baseball but I loved the guitar so much so I made that my life career. Not that you used to hear too many women on the radio.
MK: You are a big inspiration to women though.
TP: Do you think you've inspired some up-and-coming female folk singers?
SP: I hope I do. I once played a heavy metal show, and these guys came up to tell me what a great show it was. Then a few years ago I saw them again at this radio station and said “Oh my God, you were my first rock show ever.” I also remember when I was playing in a girl group at the park one time and a bunch of young women stormed the stage. They must have liked it, I think we must have inspired them.
TP: Is there anything musically that you're still aiming for?
SP: I'd like to really learn how to play the fiddle.
TP: That's a pretty achievable dream, I think you've got this.
SP: Well I gotta get one first.
TP: (Laughs) Well that's step one.