Michelle Gemma

Rick Freitas is the main vocal, going under the name of “Ellery Twining,” I am so delighted to have the chance to interview this artistic soul and the band members of this project that they recently were working on their recent release of “Revenge” that caught the ears of their fans and some curiosity that was built around them.

1. How did you assemble the band together? and where did you all meet?
REVENGE is my debut solo album. Although, I did have a few key collaborators: one of my oldest and closest friends played the bass guitar, the incomparable Dave Bentley- the best musician I have ever worked with. Luke Hunter and Brad Bensko are long-time Mystic scene kids and I knew they would give life to the songs on the guitar tracks they contributed. And REVENGE producer Eric Lichter, a genius in his own right, added incredibly fluent piano and Wurlitzer on two songs.

2. Do you have a specific state of mind where you can create and invent your music? How do you get inspiration?
Lyrically, what I attempt to do is keep my mind open at all times to feel the nuance of a certain situation, whether a memory, or something in real-time, and try to capture that in as few words as possible. For example, I recently wrote a song about food insecurity, even though I didn’t realize it in the moment. I was thinking about a two day stretch one summer when I was about 8 years old. A girl from the neighborhood asked my mom if she could stay for dinner after whiffle ball in the backyard. I thought nothing of it- kids in our neighborhood did that all the time. The very next night, she asked my mom again, and again I thought nothing of it. The following afternoon, Jane wasn’t around at all. My mom noticed, and pulled me aside before dinner that third night.
“Do you know why Jane asked to eat with us two nights in a row?”
“No.” I replied.
“Because her mother isn’t feeding her.”

3. Why is your recent album called “Revenge”?
Good question. Thirty-five years ago, I heard Prince’s “Sign of the Times.” I was a casual Prince fan at that point, his records were played at the boutique gift shop I worked at. As I began reading the liner notes, it finally dawned on me that Prince had played all of the instruments on SOTT. I didn’t realize he had been doing pretty much that his whole career, but that revelation blew my mind. I didn’t know Stevie Wonder had already accomplished what Prince was doing, because as a kid in the 1970s, he was just another guy on the car radio. In the back of my mind I said to myself, “someday I gotta try that.”
About 2o years ago I heard the solo debut LP by Alexander Spence, legendary cautionary tale from the late Sixties. Spence also played all of the instruments himself, and another seed was planted.
My last active band “Slander” ended in an abrupt fashion in the most awful way that I actually took ten months and wrote a book about the band’s two year odyssey- 2012-2014. Having not played a single instrument for seven years since the breakup of Slander, I found myself picking up an old acoustic guitar I could never figure out how to play. And I wrote a song. And then I wrote another song. I asked around a bunch of my old bandmates to see if anyone wanted to put a new band together and record an album. I found not a single collaborator and decided one night to just write and sing the whole record By Myself. REVENGE.

4. Were you fed up with being a drummer? Can you tell us more about what was on your mind to have your own music and project? Was it something you were working on for a long time while being in other bands?
I was never fed up with being a drummer at any point in my career, except….
In 1994 my band 17 Relics had been together for nine years. We had started the band in 1985 as sixteen and seventeen-year-old kids, our career had run its course, and I was tired of being told “hey man, we really need you behind the drums….” So, I took my part-time hobby gig as a guitar player with Delta of Venus and that group became a full-time endeavor.

5. I have noticed that you removed your music releases from Spotify, Can you tell us why?
I have never put music on Spotify. They don’t pay the artists. The whole thing is a giant corporate scam.

6. Why did you go by the name of Ellery Twining?
My hometown of Mystic, CT has the oldest continuously operating Bascule Bridge in America. When I was a kid, an old man had a big sailboat docked next to the bridge. But the boat was missing all three masts. The owner had a brother who was a fairly well-known oil painter. He would display paintings by his brother Ellery Thompson on the deck of the boat, for passerby to catch a glimpse. I always thought Ellery was a cool name. Twining is a nod to my Gemini sign.

7. Which track means something to you and why?
The totality of REVENGE is quite personal to me, not only for the singular accomplishment but because I didn’t totally give up on a lifetime of music. Having said that, “Civic Duty” probably hit me the hardest of all the songs because I felt I had absolutely captured the mood-
“But I kept it to myself….”
And that was the song that I realized I could actually pull this off.

8. What got you to use Michelle Gemma’s artwork in your music video?
We’ve been together for thirty-one years, and she knows exactly what the images should look and feel like. And we were there for Mars Hall, the name we gave to the disco in the attic.

9. Tell us more of the story behind the making of the song dedicated to Andrew Weatherall, and what inspired you to do so?
We had two DJs at Mars Hall. I was one, and Dawn Estabrooks, the other guitar player in Delta of Venus, was the second. Dawn would begin her set at 10.30 pm sharp each night. At 2-2.30 am, I would take over. At about 3.30 am, when the crowd was feeling the first real effects of dancing and being up all night, I would drop The Sabres of Paradise track “Theme” from Haunted Dancehall, and that would give the crowd enough energy to make it to sunrise. That was the most massive track I ever played anywhere because you would have an attic full of people, they all knew what was coming, and “Theme” would blow everyone away every time. He passed as I was writing the songs for REVENGE, and the entire lyric just kind of poured out of me when I learned of his passing, and the effect he had on a tiny riverside community an ocean away.

10. Is there a memorable moment when you were producing your music that you will never forget about?
There are so many. Recording three Slander sessions with Daniel Schlett at Strange Weather in Brooklyn was an absolute joy. Unforgettable. I will say the same for working with Eric Lichter at Dirt Floor on REVENGE- the entire recording process was like stepping into a dream. There have been innumerable nights of incredible shows all over the entire eastern half of America, touring with different bands. But I will share an indelible story of life on the road and trying to make it in music.

17 Relics had a mid-level booking agent beginning in 1991, booking us at prep schools across New England and small colleges all up and down the East Coast and Mid-West. In May of 1992, we got a gig at Keene State College, a private school in New Hampshire much bigger than the campuses we normally would play. And this time, we were going to open for fIREHOSE (if you didn’t already know, fIREHOSE was started by the two surviving members of Minutemen after D. Boon died) and The Lemonheads. We were pumped up because there would be band managers there and many other “industry” types and we felt we just needed that ONE person to see us live. We were scheduled to go on at three o’clock after a college band opened the show. Then fIREHOSE, then The Lemonheads. At two o’clock, the promoter finds us in our van and explains that we are now closing the show at 6 pm. I was incredulous. “What are you talking about!?! We have a signed contract right here. We have already been paid as an opener, not a headliner!?!?!”
“Well, The Lemonheads and fIREHOSE took a last-minute offer from Clark University in Worcester. For tonight. And they are getting paid well for that show.”
(that phrase was always coded for “keep yr mouth shut kid..” from people in “the business.”)

So what ended up happening was fIREHOSE went on at 2 pm, the Lemonheads went on at 3 pm, at 4 pm those bands took off, and the 1200 person audience had now dwindled to about 300 kids, who we thought were just sticking around for the college band who went on at 4 pm, and we were going to play to an empty field at 5 pm.

As it turned out, about 200 kids were still there when we took the stage. Our lead singer Michael reached out to the crowd by saying-
“Thanks for staying. We are going to play the best show you have ever seen.”

And it was probably the second-best 17 Relics show ever.

11. Are you going to produce more folk music in the future? Or will you produce different music that specifies a different genre? What will it be?
My next record “BROKEN PROMISE” will be a more diverse sonic take around the same type of recitation/singing I found on REVENGE.

12. Are you looking to perform in live shows and go on a tour in the future? Tell us more about your future plans.
No live performances for me. I simply don’t the applause anymore. But I am working on two new records as of today. BROKEN PROMISE, the follow-up to REVENGE, and an electronic record with sequencers and drum machines called PRISM POINT.

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