Frenchy and the Punk have returned to the forefront with the "Zen Ghost" album. For those who may not be familiar with them, they are an accomplished alternative post-punk duo, comprised of guitarist Scott Helland and singer Samantha Stephenson, who have released some brilliant albums together. Let's welcome Samantha, who answered our call and spoke with Dimitris Zacharopoulos. She had a lot of interesting things to say, indeed!
When, where and under which circumstances was Frenchy and the Punk formed?
We met in 1998 in NYC. We were both fueling our creative projects with temp jobs, Scott his music, and me, my art. Scott had stopped playing in the punk scene and was working on his solo music project and I had turned my back on the corporate life, was taking art classes and trying to figure out my way. It wasn’t long before we were collaborating creatively, for example Scott provided music for one of my art installations, but it wouldn’t be until 2005 that we started playing music together.
Introduce us to your new, seventh album, “Zen Ghost”. How do you feel about this album now, some months after the official release? Are you satisfied with the response of the media and the fans?
The response to “Zen Ghost” has been extraordinary. We’re really happy with how the album came out and with the response not only from our fans but from people who are just discovering us. We’ve received a lot of great reviews and the record really seems to resonate.
How would you describe the differences between “Zen Ghost” and your previous albums?
Our albums to date have consistently been inconsistent style-wise although there is an undeniable Frenchy and the Punk thread that brings that all together. Each album has had songs that have different moods and have been genre fluid. We have traditionally mixed modern cabaret style songs that tell a story with gothy darker songs and a splattering of pop. “Zen Ghost” highlights the darker more gothy and post-punk vibe style that we both love.
How would you define the music style of Frenchy and the Punk? Describe your music with five adjectives!
It’s a mix of the punk energy and European sensibilities. Scott is coming from a Hardcore Punk background and I’m coming from a classical dance and art background. Those are two opposites that somehow we are able to mix together to make our weird quirky style. Five adjectives?… energetic, moody, dramatic, exhilarating and mystical.
Who is responsible for your music and lyrics? Where do you draw inspiration from?
Scott comes up with riffs and chord progressions and we work on the melody and arrangements together. I write the lyrics. Musically, Scott draws inspiration from his vast knowledge and experience of music. His music interests are wide, however he tends to draw inspiration from guitar based music. He likes everything from punk, metal, rock to post-punk, goth and surf.
For my lyrics, I am inspired by observed moments, films, art, nature, conversations, dreams, nightmares, books, a seemingly mundane chore that suddenly sparks an idea. Inspiration is all around us, there is an endless supply that can trigger a thought that can then lead to an idea to be explored.
What do your lyrics refer to?
My path to writing and playing music has been an unexpected one. My lyrics deal quite a bit with my mental and emotional struggle to lead the life that I wanted to. One that was creative without constraint and with as much freedom and independence I could garner. I am somewhat obsessed with the idea that we all have talents/interests that we are meant to explore, I don’t mean just in only artistic ways. No matter what you do in life, if you are doing what is truly your calling, doing what you are interested in, you can bring it to an art.
Describe the recording and the production process of the new album.
We started writing during the pandemic. We wanted to explore the more atmospheric and moody aspects of our musical voice. It’s something we’ve wanted to do and the pandemic seemed to bring that out, it was obviously time to do so. We write at home and perform the songs in our rehearsal studio before taking them to a professional studio. We recorded in New Paltz NY at Split Rock Records.
Your music is emotional and dark. Which feelings of yours do you try to express through your music?
I try to convey the feeling of overcoming things that can constrain us, of moving beyond the darkness of our fears and mind imprints that shadow us, that follow us and can block our way. And of course love. I come from a dance background so I am naturally attracted to the visceral nature of music. I want to feel it. I dive into the well of experiences to unearth tiny glimpses into knowing myself and the world around me. Hopefully those glimpses resonate as shared human experiences.
How do you sound live in concert? How important are live shows for you? What are your tour plans?
Live, we create a wall of sound when we are performing the full arrangement songs. Scott does live guitar looping so he loops the bass line and then plays the guitar melodies on top of that. I am smashing cymbals and playing tambourine as I sing providing percussion to the mix, so we sound like more than two people. On the other hand, we also have our more stripped down cabaret songs that have a different vibe perhaps more theatrical. We love playing live, and both love being onstage. I can’t imagine writing songs and not performing them. This year we’ll be hitting it hard to tour for “Zen Ghost”. We’re building a comprehensive tour in the US and we’ll be in the UK and Europe in July and August as well. All our tour dates are on our website as well as on our Bands in Town page.
How did the pandemic affect you as musicians and people?
The pandemic forced us to stop. We’ve been touring since 2005 and it felt like we were always on the move. The pandemic was very jolting. It was the first time in 15 years that we were at home for an extended period of time. Honestly, as much as it was difficult, since playing music is our livelihood, it was a welcomed break from the constant running. It also allowed us to really sink our teeth into writing the new record. Scott was even able to write and record and release the Spy Detective Collective album for his Guitarmy of One solo project. We did a ton of live streams right from the get go as all our tours were cancelled, including our European tour. Strangely, we started a Patreon in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit so we were busy with creating for that and it really helped so much. Another thing is it became very clear to us that all the touring and endless work we did for those 15 years had actually built something real as we received so much support and love from our fans around the world during that difficult time. I think in a general sense, the pandemic cemented the feeling that we need to cherish every moment and live to the fullest.
If you had the chance to collaborate with a famous artist, who would he/she be?
Scott says he would love to collaborate with Robert Smith, Rob Halford, Tobias Forge and Siouxsie Sioux!
Ah, so many! But I think it would be really fun to collaborate with Tim Burton on a project.
Send a message to the fans!
We can’t wait to see you at a show! Thank you for sticking by us and we hope to continue to create work that you love. If you are doing things in your life that nurture you and bring you joy, bravo! If not, what are you waiting for? Do it, things can surprisingly open for you when you do the things that are in your heart to do. Daring to be ourselves, to create the lives we want so badly to have is revolutionary work. We all have something to share and to offer the world.