FeminINDIE: Playground Etiquette
Wordkrapht had the pleasure of being able to review Playground Etiquette’s January, 2014 release La Marionnette earlier this year. The art rock band has two powerhouse women in Athena Hiotis (lead vocals, keyboard, guitar) and Lisa Ehrenspeck (violin, backing vocals). They’ve been quite busy the first part of the year and show no signs of letting up. If you took a few minutes to listen to the level of talent and composition of this album, you could easily understand how this quintet from Baltimore could stand out in a crowd of thousands. I had the chance to chat with Hiotis about the band. Enjoy…
Congratulations on Playground Etiquette being selected out of over 3,700 artists to be a part of FeminINDIE. How does it feel to be a part of contests like this?
We are so honored to have been accepted into this. Thank you so much!
When you hear a word like “FeminINDIE,” what does that mean to you?
It’s powerful, for sure. We’re thrilled to see so many musicians take part in something so new that congratulates the work of so many hard working female musicians.
For those people who don’t know you, give us some background. How did this band come together and where did the name come from?
Well, I’ve been involved in music since my parents got me a playskool keyboard when I was a baby. Always playing. I studied music in high school and the college. I started the band many years ago and after a while decided to break away from what the band at the time was doing. I linked up with my childhood friend, Nik Kosmas and collegemate, Lisa Ehrenspeck. We went through a few line up changes and Shareef Taher, who was the drummer on the record started playing a lot more with us and it just felt right. I’ve been friends with Ken Lasso for a while, doing music with him and I asked him to join us after a little while and here we are!
Your recent release La Marionnette was reviewed very positively here at Wordkrapht. How has it been received elsewhere and how do you feel about the release now that you are a few months away from the work of getting it done?
We’ve been incredibly happy with the reviews. It seems as though it’s been making quite an impact and we can’t describe that feeling, really because it’s always great to have a good review, but when reviews are saying that the band could make some monumental moves, that is really special.
You aren’t sitting back though. Tell us about your trip to New York this month to record.
Definitely not sitting back. We have a lot going on. This month, we are heading up to Joanne Trattoria – Lady Gaga’s family restaurant to record a stripped EP entitled, “the Joanne Sessions”. Joanne Trattoria has always treated us well. We eat there whenever we are in New York and the atmosphere has even, at times, worked us through some writers’ block so we figured why not give back to a place that gave to us?
You describe your sound as Art Rock. What does that mean and how did Playground Etiquette develop this style?
We have always had a very difficult describing our sound to people for a very long time. In our presentation, whether it’s the album artwork or the live performance we always want to incorporate the other senses to create an experience. Art Rock to us is the fusion of classical and avant-garde elements in rock music. Together with our strong belief in marrying visual stimulants to our music, the term art rock was just perfect for us on a lot of levels.
A lot of the bands that we listen to that are from the 60s and 70s had a style that was described as art rock. And also a lot of the modern influences and artists we like are starting to really push their music as an art, which is great.
Creativity is really important to us. We also have a mind-blowing team that we work with to visually represent our music. And the beautiful thing is that we let them run with their ideas and trust that the music inspires them. Our album cover is actually a painting by Alexandru Racu from Romania. He listened to the songs and he painted what he saw, what he felt and that was that. It was a big risk really because we had no idea what it was gong to be but we trusted that it would work out and it did. We have a lot of great things planned and we’re excited to see the music manifest in different platforms of art.
Not at all. Right now we are still in the developmental stages of the visual aspect of the show. We’re testing different things, light scenes, and we’re hoping to have something fully developed by the end of the summer early fall. We aren’t using backing tracks and since we aren’t dependent on a grid, if something feels like it should extend or things get softer or louder and they didn’t before, we are all going to follow it. Right now, we stick to a similar set list because we’re playing a lot of new venues.
You have some big things brewing for the road. When and where can fans catch you?
We are in the middle of scheduling a bunch of show on the east coast. We have a few dates and we will definitely be adding more.
April 5 – Legendary Dobbs, Philadelphia, PA
April 7 – Baltimore Soundstage, Baltimore, MD we’re opening for Alesana and Megosh on their Decade tour
June 21 – SAW Gallerie, Ottawa, Canada
July 19 – Funky Monkey, Cheshire, Connecticut
Aug 9 – Gullifty’s Underground, Harrisburg, PA
Aug 16 – Metro Gallery, Baltimore, MD
In addition to being a part of this band, you are also involved with the Popriot Music Group. Tell us more about Popriot.
PopRiot Music Group is a boutique label started by Ian Kaine MacGregor and me. We are actually in the middle of making some exciting changes to be able to do what we love on a bigger scale. Pop is a very interesting genre because there really is no middle ground like there is for rock. You are either nothing or you are a big pop star and unfortunately there isn’t an well-known avenue for smaller pop acts to succeed. We’re hoping to be able to open up opportunities to those that want to be successful pop singers by giving them the tools to reach their goals.
What does it mean to be an independent musician/label?
I believe that being a successful musician comes from a balance of both passion and business. In my opinion, you can’t have one without the other. A lot of independent musicians, for some reason, are “against the industry” which I, personally, don’t understand. It’s kind of like going to a big campus. You might be intimidated by the size and how many schools are within the campus but you’re never going to fully immerse yourself in the chemistry building if you’re a painting major the way a chemistry major is. So there’s no need to base your painting decisions on how the chemistry department is run. The music industry is beautifully and appropriately large so that it can adequately handle different genres, just like how a huge campus is. All that being said, I think it’s really important that an independent musician and/or label understands the role of the people involved in the industry and instead of rejecting the industry, they should utilize the tools and the lessons that the industry puts out there and use that to create their own plan.
There is a great pride and advantage in understanding the process and being in control of business aspects of the process. The more an independent musician knows about the what they want, marketing, branding, booking, or whatever the case, the more capable s/he is and then the less likely s/he will be taken advantage of. Being an independent artist is challenge but I think if people approach it by using the same game plan that a big label would use but obviously scale it down, then the artist can map everything out for him or herself. The formula is really the same.
To be an independent artist is to have full control over your product. The hard part is marketing it successfully. But I think that any open minded artist can overcome this.
Artist Name: Playground Etiquette
Location: Baltimore, MD
Genre: Alternative, Art Rock
Members: Athena Hiotis, Nicholas Kosmas, Lisa Ehrenspeck, Shareef Taher, Ken Lasso