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Progressive Rock Interviews

Accolade

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Accolade from 2014
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Stefanie Reneé: I've been singing classically for over 20 years and love performing early music as well as our own compositions. I have always been moved by music and took piano lessons as a child from age five to twelve, at which point I was able to sight-read music. But things didn't really "click" for me until I started singing in high school, and it still took me a while to discover that this is what I am meant to do in my life. I know now that singing is truly a calling for me. I've performed for many years in various operas, choirs, recitals, weddings, etc. I'd always wanted to sing in a band as well, however, which led me to my former position as lead singer for the San Franciso bay area's legendary local cabaret group The OmniCircus.

I had a collection of songs (an entire album's worth) that I had written when I was a teenager that lay dormant just sitting on a shelf for over 20 years. When Aaron and I decided to start a band, the lyrics were dusted off at long last, and new life was breathed into them. These songs developed into our first album, Festivalia, which we recorded ourselves in our home studio.  I love the merging of classical with rock music and enjoy having a foot in each of those worlds.

Aaron Goldstein: My interest in music began at a young age. Growing up we had a baby grand piano and my dad used to play Beethoven and Rachmaninoff pieces on it. I remember trying to emulate his playing by just letting my fingers flow on the keys. Later I took piano lessons, but I struggled with the reading part. I always learned better by ear. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine needed a bass player for his band, so I just bought a bass guitar and taught myself to play. This started as a hobby, but as I got older, I realized it was a true passion. After playing bass in several Bay Area bands, I became interested in playing more instruments. I bought an old antique pump organ and started recording with that, as well as an electric guitar. When I met Stefanie, I had actually just been through two band break-ups and was thinking of quitting music. I took a full-time job as a restaurant manager. We had a wine lounge with a piano, and I booked Stefanie as one of our acts. Hearing her beautiful voice, I knew that we would have to do a project some day. It was after a whole year of dust had gathered on my music gear that I finally took a look at some songs Stefanie had written. I was immediately blown away and inspired - the rest is history!

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Aaron Goldstein: I originally wanted to be a film director. I had my foot in the door in Hollywood as a teenager working as PA on some pretty big movies. If I had stayed with it you never know where I might be now! But I wanted to move to San Francisco and do something different. There is still the possibility of doing some film soundtrack work, which is something I've always wanted to do as well. However, these days I might say a restaurant chef. I really enjoy cooking when I'm not playing music.
MSJ:
How did the name of the group originate?
Stefanie Reneé: We chose the name Accolade for many reasons. Initially from the fantasy painting "The Accolade" by Edmund Blair Leighton, although further inquiries demonstrated that all of the other definitions of the word seemed to really fit the band as well. I've always held an affinity for the Renaissance and Medieval times, and the knighting ceremony from that time is called an “accolade.” Other definitions of the word include: an award or special honor, and praise or admiration. It's also rather fitting that an accolade is a classical symbol connecting the treble clef to the bass clef.
MSJ:
Who would you see as your musical influences?

Stefanie Reneé: Many different things inspire us musically, but specific bands include: Renaissance (70s prog rock band), Miranda Sex Garden, Dead Can Dance,  Loreena McKennitt, Cocteau Twins, Blackmore's Night, Muse, The Cure, Delerium, Kristen Lawrence, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etcetera.

We are also inspired by early music, classical, progressive folk, and many other music genres.

Renaissance has been my favorite band for many years, and Annie Haslam is undoubtedly my favorite singer. Quite a few people have told me that I sound like her and have mistaken her voice for mine, including my mother. I can't tell you what a thrill and an honor it is when I have Renaissance's music playing in the background, and someone asks, "Is that you?” It's truly one of the finest compliments I can imagine! We had the privilege of seeing the band live at the end of 2012 on their Scheherazade/Turn of the Cards and Novella/Grandine Il Vento tour. As you likely know, Michael Dunford tragically passed away less than a month after then. We saw their last live show with Michael, just before Hurricane Sandy hit. We were able to give him a copy of our first CD, Festivalia, which includes our cover of "Black Flame.” As such, we have dedicated our new album Legends to him.

MSJ:
What's ahead for you?
Aaron Goldstein:   We have several concepts for new releases in the works. Our current project is a collaboration with our good friend Sean Henry, who is a really talented electronic music composer. He composed the song “Lost Fair” from our debut album. This will be a different kind of sound for us, but we are really excited about working with Sean. We also have Martin Bowes from the experimental music legend Attrition, doing the mixing and mastering. We also hope to continue touring with bands that we connect with personally and musically.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Stefanie Reneé: This is actually an appropriate question for us considering the particular themes and stylistic intentions for each of our releases. Our first album, Festivalia, has a dark carnival/circus-y theme. This specific theme was intended for this album only, and it is possible that those who have heard it have misconceived us as a circus band. The genre of this album is primarily gothic rock, with classical/renaissance elements. Our next album, Legends, goes more in a progressive rock direction with a focus on the divine feminine. Again, this particular theme is meant for this album only. The same classical/renaissance influence remains on this release as well as the first. The content we are working on currently is a small collection of songs written by our guest keyboardist Sean Henry, to be released this summer as an EP. This release will be more electronic than our previous releases. We do have some exciting plans for future releases as well, but that will have to remain secret for now, Despite the various themes and genre experimentation, there are a few key elements that remain in everything we do: classical ethereal soprano vocals, dark, haunting melodies and fantasy/magical subject matter.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Aaron Goldstein: Yes, but I don't quite know who they are yet! We'd like to expand the band especially for our live performances. I really enjoy collaborating artistically, but it's all about finding the right fit. Of course I'd love to work with some of my idols - like Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance for example.
MSJ: You guys seem really committed to vinyl. What does vinyl offer that you can’t get from other formats?
Aaron Goldstein: The main thing about vinyl is the warm analog sound. Another factor is the large format artwork and lyric sheets. Listening to vinyl requires active participation: turning the record over, lining up the needle. I really love the imperfections as well - the pops and scratches, etc. The digital age has turned music into something too perfect, taking the feeling out of it. Vinyl helps keep that human element in the sound. I do believe that records will always be around. In fact, sales have been on the rise every year since 2000. We do hope to do more vinyl releases in future, but our next project will be a digital release. Mainly due to cost concerns and the fact that it will be electronic music.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Aaron Goldstein: Well, it's a double-edged sword. Legitimately downloading individual tracks and paying for them is great. Illegal downloads, of course, hurt the artist. But then there is the complicated world of streaming music. Sites like Pandora and Jango actually help new artists get exposure by placing their songs with similar artists. But most of the other streaming sites encourage people not to buy music at all, as they offer access to the full database of songs any time. We only get between $.001 and $.01 per stream on these sites!
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Aaron Goldstein:  I think recording shows is great! I wish all our shows had been recorded and/or videotaped. Live music is different in that each performance is different. Usually people post them on YouTube, which only helps gain exposure for the band. The recording quality will never be great, so I don't believe it would interfere with actual music sales.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Aaron Goldstein:  I'm going to have to say Daniel Ek, founder and CEO of Spotify. Spotify and other streaming sites have changed the way people perceive music. It's becoming a cheap/free commodity that is always available for light consumption. I would strike him down with a giant sound wave from my bass guitar!
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Aaron Goldstein:  Hmmm... how about: Annie Haslam (Renaissance) on vocals, The Edge (U2) on guitar, Robert Smith (The Cure) on bass, and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) on drums- also maybe Gillian Gilbert (New Order) on keyboards. Wow that would be a weird and awesome sound!
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Aaron Goldstein: 

 

DAY 1

Black Sabbath, The Doors (Ian Astbury singing), Led Zeppelin (Reunion), The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees

DAY 2

The Moody Blues, King Crimson, Renaissance, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Accolade

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Stefanie Reneé: The last album I bought was Kristy Thirsk's newest album, Phoenix. It is fantastic, and she is amazing. I've also been listening to a lot of 60s and 70s progressive folk: Linda Perhacs, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, etcetera.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Aaron Goldstein: The last books I read were all the Dan Brown books. (Da Vinci Code being the most popular). I love them because they are mysteries but they have so much history in them. The most recent one, The Lost Symbol is about the secret Masonic history of the U.S. They are the kind of books that start off running in the first chapter, and you just can't put them down!
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Stefanie Reneé: We recently had the great pleasure of seeing the incomparable Linda Perhacs live and meeting her and her great band. It was a wonderful surprise to discover that she has a new album (her first in 44 years!) and is now touring. It was so magical to meet such a legend, and we were honored that she asked for a copy of our album Legends.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Aaron Goldstein: Haha, I like Lady Gaga!  Her music isn't the greatest, but her outfits are super hot and her songs are catchy.  I won't say whether or not Stefanie agrees with me on this.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Aaron Goldstein: We had our first gig in Seattle last year, and we were super excited because we were headlining and it looked like it would be a great show. We were playing with a local band and two goth/industrial DJs. The day we got to town we opened the Seattle Weekly and noticed that Christian Death was playing the same night literally down the street from our venue!! So of course all the goths went to that show instead of ours. It actually turned out to be good show considering, as the folks that were there were very supportive.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Aaron Goldstein: Hmm, if it's interesting conversation we're after I'd have to say:  Jim Morrison, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Thomas Jefferson.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Aaron Goldstein: The menu would be pappardelle pasta with peyote buttons in a red wine sauce, served with laudanum and absinthe to drink!
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Aaron Goldstein: We hope to continue to make more music and reach more people! Thank you to everyone who has the taken the time to read this interview.  Please contact us directly through our website (http://accoladesf.com) for a discounted vinyl LP (Legends). Or just to say “hello.” We'd love to hear from you. Your support means everything to us.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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