KRAAK FEST 2023 HIGHLIGHTS: Charmaine's Names
Projects that purport to “explore the borders of masculinity and sensuality” are not exactly the jam du jour, but a non-Talking Head David Byrne whose provenance is as enigmatic as his facial hair opens that exploration for the indisputably better. Charmaine's Names has us under his many grips with his seductive baritone and sax game ~ this crooning, confusing troubadour opens the gates just a crack for us - and you - to catch a glimpse of the enigma (and his untrustworthy guts).
From what we’ve heard, it sounds like you’re very much a real troubadourin nomad: when we contacted you you were in Florida, and in recent times you’ve been spotted in different parts of the East and West coast. Is there anywhere you currently have a home base?
I’ve always loved touring, it makes me feel like I have a purpose. Enter a town, express yourself, vibe with people who resonate, hang out, have delicious breakfast, maybe go on a hike. Let people see the best sides of their town through someone else’s eyes. Then drive. And drive and drive and drive. I have driven across the US about a dozen times, rarely with a working radio or a companion. Aside from the incredible network of underground artists, curators, and lifers who make it all possible around the world, mine is a desperately solo endeavor. Not only do I record, produce, and play every instrument in my “band”, I also do my own car repairs, update my own hardware, glue my own shoes, make my own analog feedback synth, and plan and book all of my shows.
One thing I did not plan on was falling in love.
In April of ‘22 I carted my ass to Tampa, FL expecting a rather meager spot on an open mic that said it would pay $50 for a 20 minute set as the “featured act”. I’m not exactly a big deal, but this was punching pretty far below my weight. I was just in Savannah, GA, filming a music video with my friend Kait Jensen, and was not exactly thrilled at the feeble promise at the end of a 330 mile (530 kilometer) drive. Once I got to the shuffle board themed bar, filled with innocent civilians just trying to drink, wholly unprepared and uninterested in whatever was coming out of the PA in the corner, it turned out the host was not informed of this promise. They said I could still play a couple songs for no pay, but the vibes were thoroughly off, and I said “no”.
A fellow performer, Kate Magruder of Fjshwjfe, and my only comrade at the show, called the Commander of her local VFW hall (Veterans of Foreign Wars) where she hosts karaoke as an undead rabid chippendales dog, DJ Kujo. The Commander said nothings going on and to “come on down, do whatever you like!”
So, we moved to the VFW, I played a full set to a handful of rapt audience members, and Kate filmed to conclude my music video (“Who I Am” available on youtube). You can see a vet called “Boatman” and his wife slow-dancing and kissing at the end of the song.
Afterwards, Kate took me to the all-night diner, Three Coins, and I ordered spaghetti and red sauce.
Romance was in the air.
But there was one final twist. In my intestines.
During the 6 hour drive in my hot ‘86 Honda Accord LXi, I had been wholesaling peanuts into my stomach, eating little else but some nasty old raisins from a discount grocery in east Carolina (easily one of the most foul and putrid parts of the country). Sitting in front of the soggy diner spaghetti, adrenaline from the evening fading, I could barely take a bite. Kate was making excellent conversation, but I could barely focus and apologized, explaining it felt like an alien was about to burst out of my stomach.
She took me to her house, laid me out on the futon, made tea, got me a heating pad, and stayed up talking with me, showing me her favorite dances from old forgotten movies, making jokes, just generally being great to be around. It was not just the pain in my stomach keeping me awake that night. Yaddayaddayadda, the next morning we went to a Cuban cafe, la Teresita, and I shat out a whole unchewed peanut.
After Tampa, my journey continued across the southwest, involving many other adventures, like getting stranded in the outskirts of the outlaw city Terlingua at an insane tweaker’s compound for a couple days, and a much more pleasant stay at a friends ranch in Tucson. Ultimately, I made it to Nevada, where I had parked my shuttle bus. I had bought it in El Monte, CA in ‘21, and spent the winter in LA turning into a home. Kate flew out in July, and we toured together across the north. I spent time in New Jersey with family, working sound at weddings to make money. Then the years long tour continued south, back to Tampa, back to love, back to home?
Your bio says you cut your teeth in the Philly noise scene, and word has it you were very active in the improv/theater world as well. What other projects have you been/are involved in?
Live theater is ubiquitous in Philadelphia, largely revolving around the annual “Fringe Fest”. I grew up doing theater, starting as Harold Hill in “The Music Man” back in junior high. I costarred in Zach Webbers three bird “Bird Opera” which used only bird sounds for dialogue, and toured with Zac Palladino and John Sinclair’s irreverent musical “Beans Beans Beans”, opening as Charmaine, and seamlessly transitioning to live musician for the play.
These shows seem like a lifetime ago now, probably 2010-2011?
I’ve provided saxophone to a couple recordings, notably Lazy Magnet’s hauntingly beautiful release “Mahogany”, but mostly follow my own path.
How was Charmaine’s Names born? What sounds/influences were behind its inception?
I’ve always known that I was a crooner. I loved R&B since I was a little kid. I used to imagine terribly sad situations just to cry, and that soulful music held all the emotions that I could muster. I was a heartbroken romantic before I had ever fallen in love.
The name “Charmaine’s Names” came about while I was walking dogs in philly, back in 2009. I kept saying to myself, “Hello, my name is Charmaine, and these are Charmaine’s Names, Antwar, Kolar, Belazor, Feladazzio” just making up names for the sound. I thought it would be funny to be this lounge singer who kept introducing the band, but would forget everyone’s names and just make them up. “Antwar, on the bass” is the only name I would give out consistently. Others would be “Kikikikikikiki, on the drums” “The Sisters Rebecca singing backup”, and sometimes the name of someone from the audience. “And Charmaine, on the pain” was another old standby.
A friend asked me to play interstitial music between readings at a poetry event, and I said “oh great! I’m starting a music project with words for lyrics, that will be perfect!” He said “Whatever. Just do what think is best.” Up until that point, I had mostly played noise guitar and made screeching sounds with my voice.
I recorded some backing tracks on a borrowed 4-track, sang to a warehouse full of friends, and got some great feedback!
One friend said “You remind me of Scott Walker”. I said I’ve never heard of him. He said “write it down, you have to check it out!”
Maybe it doesn’t count to have an influence after the fact, but Scott captured what I was after, and has been a guiding light ever since, RIP.
For the most part tho, I don’t really listen to music unless it’s live. In my vehicles, I listen to the engine. At home, I listen to the fridge. On a walk, I listen for the interconnected symphony of all life, cars, and wind woven together in seamless predictability.
A solid third of my songs come to me in dreams. I have forgotten most dream compositions, and of the ones I remember, it is only a small part. I don’t know where it all comes from, but I sometimes recognize the reworked themes of songs heard in passing, or remembered from childhood. The full dream compositions are more complex and meandering than I could ever hope to capture in waking life. The same goes for dialogue in dreams. I hear people say things I would never think of, and hope to one day capture some part of the adventure I experience while asleep.
You claim this is your first time touring Europe! Where are you going and what’ll come after that?
So far, Stuttgart, Strasbourg, Paris, Nantes, maybe Lyon, maybe Lille, Marseille, maybe Toulouse, unfortunately not Italy, Miskolc Hungary, Ostrava, maybe Leipzig, Tallinn Estonia, Berlin, and London, tho I don’t have a show booked there yet either. I have enough free time between shows to pick up whatever comes my way as things progress.
I played jazz for many years as a youth (primarily on bari sax), and as you might have noticed, I mostly play by ear.
Kate and I just recently started renting a garage we're setting up as a studio. I haven't been in one place for a while, so I plan on digging in and creating new music, while making money at some new jobs doing sound for corporate events and concerts. So far it's already been quite productive, I already have some new pieces to share!
I cannot overstate how grateful I am to be invited to play KRAAK fest, and the opportunity to play many other places I have never been. I hope to tour in Africa in the future.