Massive snowstorms can be a drag, to say the least, but you wouldn’t know it to talk to Gina Volpe. When I caught up with her on the day of New York’s biggest snowfall of 2017, she already had a music video shoot planned for that night and is happily constructing a fuzzy snow creature costume for the occasion. “It might not happen if it gets too bad,” she laughs. Thankfully it didn’t.
Volpe works as a visual artist and has composed for film, but many in the music world first got to know her as as the guitarist and co-founder of celebrated all-woman punk band The Lunachicks, and later as guitarist/vocalist of New York rock trio Bantam. This spring, she’ll make her solo debut with an EP titled, “Different Animal.” Along with the “snow creature” video, she also intends to release a video for each of the its five tracks. “I started to think about how I was going to release this into the world and I realized that so many people go on YouTube to find new music, so a lot of people will be introduced to me and to these songs for the first time through YouTube. I didn’t want to have a static image up there… If I think about it in terms of an art project more than a music video, then it becomes a whole package of things,” she said.
Photo by Basil Rodericks
“Different Animal” has its roots in recording sessions Volpe did with Barb Morrison (Blondie, Franz Ferdinand) around 2004-2005. “When Bantam stopped playing in 2006, I decided to take a break from music. I had been touring and recording, and rehearsing—music had been my life since I was in high school. I thought, ‘I’ll just stop for a while, maybe a year or two, and then I’ll make a solo record.’ All of a sudden 10 years had passed and I realized I’d never finished that solo record,” Volpe said. “I had this epiphany around last September, and without thinking any more about it, I picked up the phone and called Barb. I hadn’t talked to her in years and I just said, ‘it’s time for me to pick it up where I left off.’ Except I didn’t want to use any of the old songs. I didn’t have a plan I just said, ‘It’s time. I’ll book the session and the songs will come.’”
The EP was recorded over a series of sessions, with Volpe writing and demoing songs, and building guitar stems in her home studio in between, which resulted in a diverse collection of tracks layered with chunky riffs, pop, and dance sounds. Although she wrote “everything” on guitar, outside of the vocals and guitar itself, the instrumentation on the EP is electronically programmed, a new experience for the veteran musician. One track, the slow-burning, loungy “Shine,” was even transposed entirely from guitar to electronics (with the exception of a lone touch of slide guitar). “I’ve done it for film scores before, but that’s the first time for myself that I wrote a song without any analog instruments. It is really nice to have that freedom. I’m interested in all kinds of sounds and now with technology we have so banks and libraries of different sounds you can dial up and put in, it’s incredible. It’s like making a painting—you have this wide palette of things you can add and blend, and it’s really cool.”
Along with creative liberties, her recording method also afforded her the freedom to create music on her schedule without assembling a band. “Getting a band together, teaching everyone the songs, and recording live is great, but I didn’t want it to hold up the process. Booking with Barb, I knew I could just walk in there with my guitar and that’s all I needed, and we could just see what happened.”
When she brings the project to the stage, however, it’s going to be a “different animal” completely. “When I perform it live that’s going to be another story. I want a band. I’d also like someone to be there to do samples off a laptop, but I want a live drummer, and a keyboard player… I do see a lot of electronic music, but a person with a laptop is not the same as a live band.”
She Shreds is proud to present the premiere of the hard-grooving first single from Volpe’s EP, “Different Animal.” Check it out now, as well as some of the gear behind her sound. More info about the release can be found here.
Marshall Jubilee: The main amp I’ve had since 1989—I love it so much—is a half-stack Marshall Jubilee, the originally anniversary series from 1987. It’s just the greatest head and it has been all over the world with me. So, that’s my main amp, and simultaneously, my husband built me a clone of the 1974 Marshall 18-watt. It’s kind of based off of Billy Gibbons’ (one of my favorite guitar players) amp.
Switch Bone: I got a splitter so I can play both amps at what time, and I just got a new one called the “switch bone.” I can plug three amps into it at once. I have another amp, a bass amp [my husband] also built that is a clone off of a Sunn O))) amp. It’s crazy, and I can play out of three amps.
FrankenFuzz: [My husband] built, and I painted this fuzz pedal.
D’Angelico Guitar: I have no business owning a jazz guitar, but I fell in love with it. Barb has a hookup at D’Angelico, that just happens to be around the corner from the studio. We borrowed it for a clean, fingerpicking track, and I fell in love with it so I bought it. On the second track [“When I’m Gone”] there is a clean, jangly guitar, and that’s the D’Angelico.
Ibanez Artist: My main baby is an Ibanez Artist. It’s not worth any money, it’s nothing special, but I just love it so much. I’ve always wanted an SG/Les Paul. A few years ago they came out with an archtop SG. I’ve never played one, but that was always my dream guitar and it did not exist before that. I used to play an SG but I would have to wear a weight. I put a five pound weight on my guitar strap because it was so light it drove me crazy. [The Ibanez Artist] Is an archtop and a double cutaway, it kind of looks like a Paul Reed Smith, I imagine they took a look at it.