Madison's Sigourney Weavers
The four women who make up the unique band known as The Sigourney Weavers, could just as easily call themselves The Ellen Ripleys (the main character actress Sigourney Weaver plays in the Alien movies). I’ve seen an alien-faced balloon or several appear at their shows, otherwise the mystery to their musical imagination is hidden by the fact, this band rocks!
The Sigourney Weavers came together for what was supposed to be a one-and-done effort, and luckily realized they had some special chemistry. The band’s first album is just out, and more original music is in the works.
And the fun and games inspired by another universe keep you on your toes, as I learned when recently asking Sandy Kowal (drums, vocals), Ellie Erickson (lead guitar, vocals), Pam Barrett (lead vocals, guitar), and Julie Kiland (bass guitar, vocals) to share their secrets from within The Sigourney Weavers with Maximum Ink.
Maximum Ink: How did each of you get started in music, and what brought the four of you together as a group?
Sandy Kowal: I started drumming when I was 16. My high school boyfriend and I started a band and needed a drummer. I was elected. Pam and Ellie formed The Sigourney Weavers and had been playing together for a little while, but needed a drummer and bass player for a Girls Rock Camp fundraiser. They found me through a friend, I found Julie through another friend. We meshed well and decided to keep the band going after the fundraiser.
Ellie Erickson: I played my first gig when I turned 30 after I found, if I didn’t force myself to learn to play by ear, I’d have to stop listening to music—because if I wasn’t going to play some instrument, I’d need to go deaf. And I prefer to do that with rock and roll rather than an ice pick. Now as a band, we’re all musical freaks with a lot of different bands in the dust bin of our history, and an industrial size dumpster left to fill up if we don’t all get hit by a meteorite or upload to the alien singularity I hope we get before the bozos drive our civilization’s bus into the junkyard of history.
Pam Barrett: What am I supposed to say now, Ellie!? O.K., it wasn’t until I volunteered to play a Girls Rock Camp fundraiser and started freaking out after realizing, if I didn’t pull something together, I’d have to play it solo. So, Ellie agreed to play with me, then after a few practices said we need a drummer, and found Sandy. Then Sandy said, we need a bass player and found Julie. And we started to play together and realized, we sound damn good! And this is fun!
Julie Kiland: My background is much more serious. I started in high school with the band and chorus, then played in cover bands until I was found by The Sigourney Weavers.
MI: What’s your goal with the band?
SK: I enjoy playing music and writing songs. So far it’s been fun with The SW’s. When it stops being fun is when I’ll stop. For me, it’s a good way to express myself.
EE: Mine is to keep jumping around and tripping over stuff on stage, while playing that boat anchor guitar, while also having a few thousand metric shit-tons of fun until I fall over dead. Or the band fires me because my idiot streak is getting bigger than my savant streak.
PB: Playing in a band is where it’s at for me. I’ve never wanted to play solo. There’s something special about playing with other musicians and creating something unique. It’s pleasing. It’s calming. And it’s a bonus that other people actually enjoy listening! My goal is to keep playing out and as long as people want to listen, we’ll keep creating a different performance every time we play.
JK: I just want to get out there, have fun, and play music with my talented and sometimes freaky band-mates. Oh, and I’d like to receive a cease and desist letter from Sigourney Weaver.
MI: Funny! Well, your name is going to be out there now with your first C.D. Tell me about your creative process?
SK: As a band, we picked our favorite songs and the ones our fans react to for the new C.D. Pam and I wrote most of the songs together, or we’ll bring an idea to practice and work it from there. We do a few covers, but re-work them to be like us.
EE: Yeah, our first C.D. Hopefully we do a few more, otherwise I won’t be able to find them in thrift stores in a few years and be able to say,“Hey, that was my old band and we were far from sucking, so why’d they get rid of this C.D.?”
PB: It’s our first and represents just a fraction of our stuff. But it’s a fairly good representation of the breadth of what we do during live performances. Did I mention I hate recording? Well, I hate recording. If no more new recordings surface, you can blame me. Sandy and I will usually have the basic bones of a song (lyrics, chord progression, feel/mood), then bring it to the group where we arrange it in practice together. I think it really brings out each musician’s strengths.
JK: I hope there will be more, right Pam? Pam?!
MI: And with the time you’re devoting to the band, do you still try or need to work a regular job, too?
SK: I co-own a video production company in Madison. I love being a storyteller at work, and in the band.
EE: I gave up that day job nonsense years ago, and got a sweetie who makes enough money so I don’t have to clean toilets or work in advertising/photography; both odious tasks to me. My days are usually filled with chainsaw carving tiki heads, building electric guitars, or drinking coffee while talking cheap philosophy and spewing non-sequitur examples out of my monkey brain. LUNCHBUCKET SLURPEE!
PB: Tough to follow, but I am a physical therapist. And can we add genius?
JK: Well, I am simply a scientist by day.
MI: How often do you schedule a show, and is it usually in the Madison area?
SK: We vary our schedule. We don’t want people getting sick of us! We definitely have our favorite places to play – with good sound techs. Happy to live in a city with other talented people who love to make music.
EE: So, we’re playing out about once a month. And about half the time we play with other bands, unless it’s at The Harmony, where we play all night. My favorite kind of show is the three set night, because by the third set you lurch between genius and exhaustion, and I love recovering from mistakes and screw ups. But I’m more in love with chaos than most sane people are (laughs). We have the High Noon and The Harmony in Madison, and those two venues alone make it great from my point of view. It would be nice if the booking was easier for some of the festivals. I get a little sick of the same old bands on the same stages.
PB: It can be difficult to play out more often than we are right now. Once you become part of the landscape, even to a die-hard fan, it’s hard to get people to come see you and people start to take for granted that you’ll always be around and just think,“I’ll catch ‘em next time.” For me, you never know when something might happen and I value the time I spend with my band-mates/friends. Every show could be the last, so enjoy it! I do have the good fortune to be in two kick-ass bands (the other is BingBong). It affords me the opportunity to play out a bit more in our little Midwest market.
JK: I defer to Ellie!
MI: O.K., how about as an all-woman band. What’s the reaction to your group? And tell me more about the alien connection?
SK: I’ve never really got a reaction about being in a band made-up of women. Once you hear us, you’ll love us. Who wouldn’t? (laughs) I like it because we all get along – at least right now! It’s good, clean fun until Ellie falls on you from the stage – so, dancing is at your own risk. But, do dance.
EE: We’re an all-earthling band. The fact that we lack male anatomy is just an accident. O.K., actually the reaction we get in Madison is people dancing or jumping around like they’re dancing. People do like our harmony vocals a lot, and that jangle-power-pop-punk thing seems to be popular. We’ve been playing long enough, we’re both tight and loose at the same time. Musically, that is! We got our name by sitting around the bar drinking, and I’m told I came up with it, although like most of our song titles, lyrics, and the keys we play in, I can’t remember coming up with it. I think one of us really likes Sigourney Weaver. And I feel like an alien most of the time. Or at least like an alien anthropologist stuck on this blue ball full of strange thinking primates.
PB: Gender doesn’t matter. The whole “women in rock” line is tired and needs to be retired. You either rock or you don’t. And about the name, Ellie came up with it. I think it was around 2007 when she and I got together with Robin Davies and Tim Hogan and needed a band name. We were at a bar after rehearsal and Ellie just started spouting out a string of non-sequitur words (if you’ve ever talked with her, you know what I mean). The Sigourney Weavers was born out of that free association exercise. The previous group played out a few times but disbanded as various members became too busy. It holds no resemblance to this iteration of The Sigourney Weavers. And I came up with the logo. I wanted something that vaguely echoed the spirit of our band’s namesake but clearly indicated we were rock musicians. It’s a play on the skull (also an alien head) and cross-bones (crossed guitars) and works great for it. There’s also the pirate flag banner with our name, which seems to speak to our sometimes chaotic sound.
JK: I go back to the original reason we got together, which was to do a benefit for Girls Rock Camp, so it makes sense we’re all women in that respect. I haven’t noticed a different reaction to this band versus co-ed bands I’ve been in. And I love the name, plus I like aliens, so it’s a win/win.
MI: You know I’ve seen the band, and enjoy your show. But for those who haven’t, what should they expect when The Sigourney Weavers takes the stage?
SK: High energy, kick-your-ass music. It’s fun. And it’s always entertaining – unpredictable. You never know what Ellie might do.
EE: There is a lot of filthy lead guitar and frogging around, tripping over stuff from me. Lots of chiming telecaster chords from Pam; lots of lovely vocals, seriously solid bass playing from Julie; a fair amount of screaming vocals, and vigorous cymbal bashing and skin pounding from our drummer Sandy; and feedback. I love me some feedback. Oh, and screaming through megaphones.
PB: You should expect the unexpected, because even we don’t know what’s going to happen. Ellie’s guitar playing is fun, and she improvises constantly, but not like “jazz musician improvising.” She’s more like “psychotic-I-forgot-to-take-my-meds improvising.” That, combined with my forgetting the words occasionally means we’ve all got to be on our toes, listening to each other, and being prepared to flex with it. The results can be remarkable.
JK: You might also see Ellie play the guitar with her feet. Or teeth. Usually not at the same time.
MI: Anything surprising, or something people don’t know about you?
SK: My favorite color is black.
EE: We are made entirely out of the stuff, awesome wishes it was made from, but cannot discuss how it happened until after May 9th, 2065, or until the last of us is dead.
PB: Julie has a tail. It’s about three inches long, and she keeps it tucked in so you don’t see it.
JK: Hey! If I tell you that kind of stuff, then it isn’t a surprise!
FOR MORE ON THE SIGOURNEY WEAVERS:
Facebook for unusual stuff, photos, and gig updates:
Music samples on the band’s website - http://sigourneyweavers.com/
June 21 for “Make Music Madison:” 3:45pm at Emerson Elementary School Playground in Madison.
July 29 for Sandy’s Birthday: 5:45pm at High Noon Saloon in Madison.