On Saturday night, Unicornicopia will be playing at 511 West 54th Street in NYC as part of the Ars Nova 54/10 Music Marathon (who we've been featuring for you all week-long!). Before you decide to go to the show, let me tell you a bit about the talented woman behind Unicornicopia.... Today's 10 questions guest: Natalie Weiss!
Danielle: I always like to start with an odd-ball question, but given the unique name of your band I'll keep it simple. What is Unicornicopia in 10 words or less?
Natalie: One and many
Danielle: Now that we have that out-of-the-way, you're performing as part of the Ars Nova 54/10 Music Marathon on Saturday. How did you get connected with Ars Nova?
Natalie: I collaborated with playwright Bekah Brunstetter on my musical CAMP WANATACHI. Bekah was working with Ars Nova on Be A Good Little Widow around the time that CAMP WANATACHI went up at La MaMa ETC (February 2011.) Bekah brought Jocelyn Florence, Ars Nova’s Artistic Coordinator, to come see CAMP and that’s how she became familiar with my work. Jocelyn asked me to participate in 54/10 shortly thereafter.
Natalie: There are tons of reasons to support a non-profit like Ars Nova, but that’s not why I’m performing in the festival - to like, support them. I’m performing in the festival because I get to. I’m into their back line, their air conditioning. I’m bored of the venues in Brooklyn. Much cooler to trek all the way over to W. 54th St. to the place right next to the Colbert Report where they let performers borrow their PORTABLE HEADBAND MICROPHONES. Come on. No one is giving me any headband mics in Williamsburg.
Danielle: You've been able to collaborate with so many great artists and performers over the years. Have you met any of these artists through Ars Nova and who were your stand-outs?
Natalie: I haven’t met anyone I’ve collaborated with through Ars Nova. But the four artists that have made the biggest impact on my creative work are Travis Stewart (of Machinedrum), Joe McGinty (of Psychedlic Furs/Loser’s Lounge), Jason McMahon (of Skeletons) and Conrad Winslow (of Julliard? of John Corigliano? Ha!) All great musicians who challenge me as a songwriter and person and who have turned me on to the scenes that have shaped my voice as a musician.
Danielle: You perform as Unicornicopia, you're a DJ and you also wrote a musical called CAMP WANATACHI which was produced by Blue Man Group co-founder Ian Pai and Legend of the Seeker star Bridget Regan. Where did your musical career begin and when did you begin to branch out into different areas of performance?
Natalie: My music career started when my 11th grade Bible teacher agreed to let me sing my original ska songs about being dumped while he was grading papers in class. Man, he was the dream Bible teacher, super buff, super progressive; he thought that you could masturbate without sinning. (Not that it was easy, but that it could be done.) When someone like that puts down his papers and is like, “Did you really write that song? That’s really good.” You’re like, fuck yeah.
Danielle: I began to branch into other areas of performance in 12th grade when that same Bible teacher’s career as a writer started to take off. He needed as much time as possible to write, so he started turning over class after class to me. I, in turn, started taking shit to the next level -- started to experiment with crucifying myself to the blackboard and pantomiming all manners of bondage and self harm. I would get really into it. And, oddly, my conservative classmates were like “You’re being so weird, but it’s funny!” That’s when I was like, Not Just Songwriting. Performance Art. It’s amazing what you can get away with.
Danielle: What has been your favorite experience so far as a performer, composer and DJ?
Natalie: Performer - performing as Myself as a Tree in the second musical I ever wrote: Unicornicopia: A Metamorphosis. I self-produced that show in the Orlando Fringe Festival when I was 20. The whole last number involved me (5 foot 10) carrying a younger version of myself on my shoulders (she was 5 foot 5.) She was the branches and I was the trunk. I had her on my shoulders for like ten minutes all while hopping around on one foot and singing to this ill Machinedrum beat. It was fun to have to be so strong. And it was fun to see people in the audience cry. Like, women wiping their faces and being like “I am also a tree!”
Composer - I am hugely proud of my original musical CAMP WANATACHI. It’s about two 14-year-old girls who fall in love with each other at Christian summer camp. Check it out at www.campwanatachi.com.
DJ - Last week I was part of John Cages’ MUSICIRCUS. I DJed a tag team set with Wooster Group Sound Designer Omar Zubair. Our set started out real poppy and conversational but then.... it turned into the most blown out noise jam. Man, I felt so free Omar rules. I think Omar and I are gonna be DJing at this Ars Nova show as well!
Natalie: With a Blackberry. And prayer.
Danielle: What advice would you give emerging artists?
Natalie: Fractured Atlas, Foundation Library, Materials for the Arts, Zebulon, Live Piano Karaoke with Joe McGinty at Manhattan Inn, North Brooklyn Vineyard, Tumblr, WRITE YOUR OWN WORK YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO BE GOOD.
Danielle: What can we expect from your live show on Saturday evening? I read something on your website about costumes....
Natalie: The night will start off with a DJ set by me and Omar Zubair. AND THEN OMAR IS DOING A 20 MINUTE SOLO SET. This is huge, his first solo set in NY. He is the sound designer for Wooster Group, he has created soundscapes for Casey Spooner and Lady Gaga and he is insanely talented. Thrilled to have him on this bill.
After his set is done, Unicornicopia throws down the ill pop tunes!! The lineup is me on vocals, processed accordion, synths, samplers, electronics, and cassette tape, Joanna Choy on vocals, synths, samplers, and micro-cassette tape, and Zack Buell on drums. Zack happens to be in Blue Man Group and is an incredible physical actor, so he’s gonna be doing a some puppetry as well. Offstage is my boy Andrew who will be running the instruments and vocals through effects. Jammin true!
As for our costumes and makeup, they are inspired by James Parker’s article The Beast Within. The secret formula of the Animal Planet: it’s all about us. It’s in the most recent issue of The Atlantic. Very excited about the costumes actually, made by art collective DADDY with makeup created by Dean Fournier.
Danielle: Where can readers find your music if they can't make it to the Ars Nova show?