The band is comprised of sisters Kristen Ellis-Henderson and Cathy Henderson on guitar, Dena Tauriello on drums, and vocalist Nini Camps, who came on board for their 2011 album 23 Red, replacing original lead singer Cassidy.
The band formed in New York City in the early '90s and spent the next decade or so playing gigs and releasing four independent albums. Their cup of coffee in the big leagues came in 2005, when they released the album From the Ground Up on Lava Records, home of such hitmakers as The Corrs, Sugar Ray, and Matchbox 20. The album was sold in Starbucks as part of their Hear Music series, but wasn't able to brew up a hit. You get the sense that with a twist in the wind - a little more promotion, the attention of a Grammy voter or two - Antigone Rising could be sharing chart space with acts like Lady Antebellum and Carrie Underwood, but it was not to be. The band went on hiatus and didn't release another album until 23 Red, which was financed by some of their devoted fans through a Kickstarter campaign.
"That Was The Whiskey" was actually written in two phases. Phase 1 was a writing session with Lori where other songs were written but we started talking about a shirt I bought on tour (at a truck stop) that said "Whiskey Makes Me Frisky." That shirt when worn onstage was quite a magnet for free drinks being sent up to the front. So, we were laughing about that and someone said we have to write a song about whiskey. I loved the idea and wrote the title down in my notebook.
Fast forward to a night in Florida where Antigone Rising was a part of the 30A Songwriters Festival. Lori was also there as a performer along with many of our songwriting/performer friends. I won't go into the details, but it was my birthday night, Jägermeister girls were indeed onstage, last call came just in time, and needless to say, a good time was had by all.
Where do the inspirations for your songs come from, and how does an Antigone Rising song typically get written?
Nini: Usually they come from conversations or blips of ideas. They can come from anywhere really. Just the other day we were recording and Cathy was playing something on the guitar between takes that sounded really interesting to me. We were on task for recording but we took a minute to record the idea so we could get back to it later.
Sometimes it is a concerted effort to tell a particular story that has affected us in some way. "Gracefully" came like that. It was someone Kristen knew well who was battling cancer. We were talking about it one day and the details had us really mellow and contemplative. As mothers and wives a story like that can bring you to your knees. The song just poured out.
Please tell us about one of your songs that has a very personal meaning.
Nini: "Gracefully," as mentioned above. "Borrowed Time" is another that comes from a very vulnerable place.
How was your Starbucks experience?
Kristen Ellis-Henderson: Our partnership with Starbucks was an incredibly positive one. It was a great opportunity for our music to reach a much broader audience. And we continue our relationship with them. They still play songs off our current CDs in the stores, so we're very grateful to them for the support they've given Antigone Rising over the years.
What is the song "She's Not Innocent" about?
Kristen: "She's Not Innocent" is about someone who can't get out of their own way. It was written a few years ago, and it was during a time where the band felt a little disenfranchised with the music industry. It was taking a long time for our label to release our CD so we were writing more and more songs. When we partnered with Starbucks, it was one of the newest songs we'd written, so we did it for that CD.
Kristen and Sarah have been married since 2011, when they took their vows in New York. They drew the attention of Time after telling their story in the memoir Times Two, Two Women in Love and The Happy Family They Made.
Kristen: We like to keep the music out of the mix when it comes to politics. Our music is definitely about real life experiences, and if our politics lends itself to the music, then sure. It may be part of a larger theme in a song. But we're not overtly political songwriters. I like to say our band's mere existence as an all female band is a political statement unto itself.
I think there is a tendency to pigeonhole any type of artist. So in that sense, I feel like Antigone Rising has been put on "female" oriented bills based on promoters inability to look beyond gender, specifically. But conversely, I don't look at it as a challenge anymore. For me it's an opportunity to be out and be seen. Visibility is so important in breaking down barriers, and the fact that we get to make a statement just by being ourselves is, hopefully, changing lives for the better.
How did your songwriting change when you went to a major label, and how has it evolved since regaining your independence?
Kristen: I don't think my songwriting changed because of the major label, although it did give me the opportunity to co-write with some amazing songwriters like Rob Thomas, Linda Perry and Darrell Scott. So in that sense, you become a better songwriter by learning from great ones. I do think I've brought many of the lessons I learned from those writing sessions with me. Quite honestly, I think Nini and I push each other pretty hard when we write. We don't settle very easily. Whenever you have a writing partner that's willing to push you, you're bound to write better songs.
Was "You're the Reason" written about a specific person?
Kristen: That was a three way co-write, so when you start writing with other people, songs tend to take on many meanings. We wrote that song about someone who was sitting on the sidelines and not getting in the game.
Which one of your songs have you found most connects with your fans, and why does it do so?
Nini: I think "Borrowed Time" is an easy song for people to connect with. It's really just about the simplest of notions of love and life. We have all experienced the loss of a loved one and as new moms, the idea of leaving something for our children, a legacy, a memory, a lesson.. Really, love is the only thing that matters.
"I want to sit under the stars and watch the night unfold, stay here with you now and whisper really close... The only thing we take with us is love."
"Everywhere Is Home" is another one that people seem to really respond to. It's sort of easy breezy in feel, and the sentiment is simple and sincere. "Nothing else really matters, as long as we're together, everywhere is home" pretty much sums it up.
Creatively, how has the band changed over the years?
Kristen: I don't believe the band itself has changed that much over the years, although we have changed members. We are strongly committed to writing songs people will like... hopefully! That's always been at the core of who we are as a band. The songs are most important. As a touring band, we learned how to put on a show, maybe. And we learned how to lengthen songs, or jam. That made playing every night more fun for us. But always, at the essence of who we are, are our songs.
You've talked about how "Don't Look Back" came almost effortlessly in a session with Rob Thomas. From a songwriting perspective, what makes that one work?
Kristen: What makes "Don't Look Back" work so well is that we didn't overthink it. It all depends on the moment, and you know when a song is working effortlessly. Sometimes what comes out fast is best. There are plenty of times I have second guessed songs in sessions, and we've revisited them, taken them apart, rebuilt them, and sometimes they're great songs in the end. But there is something really magical about the ones that write themselves quickly. "Don't Look Back" came that way, and we didn't question the song gods that day!
Nini, as a performer and songwriter, what were the biggest challenges in going from being a solo artist to a member of Antigone Rising?
Nini: Ha! Well, ask any dictator what it's like to live in a democracy! Seriously, I love it. As a solo artist, your highs are high and your lows are really low. The brunt of everything falls on your shoulders. As a band, the highs are greater since you have a band that shares in it with you. The lows aren't ever quite as low for the same reason.
Lori McKenna told us that her husband doesn't go to her shows, since some of her songs are about him and he can't bear to listen. How is your songwriting affected by your loved ones?
Nini: My close friends and family have always respected a song for song's sake. We don't try to analyze or judge. It can be hard at times, but this is who I've always been so there aren't many surprises.
23 Red was financed through a Kickstarter campaign. How did that change your approach to writing the songs for the album?
Nini: It didn't affect the songwriting at all. The songs were written before Kickstarter and now, post Kickstarter, the songs are being written the same way they always have been. We write what we know, what we feel, what we experience, and hope that it resonates with people out there. Aside from that, there's not much you can do about it. We try to put our best songs out there every time regardless of who is paying to listen. If anything, the fans that funded our efforts showed us that they appreciate what we are doing and by doing so, encourage us to keep on keeping on. It is a gift in so many ways.
June 13, 2013. Get more at antigonerising.com.
More Songwriter Interviews