The band is called FeMaLe GeNiuS, but Julie Hair, one third of the group, makes it a point to note that the ‘female’ appellation can be a troublesome one.
“For me, it’s a reminder that we shouldn’t have to qualify something as a ‘female’ accomplishment,” she opines. “It should just be ‘genius’. She adds that much of the world, in particular the music business, is still male-dominated.”
Also comprising Marnie Jaffe and Nikki D’Agostino, the group has just released their first album. Hair is playing percussion, synthesizer and singing, Jaffe is on vocals and guitar with D’Agostino on saxophone and keyboards. Hair and Jaffe are veterans of the scene, having played in 3 Teens Kill 4 (Hair) and Live Skull (both) in the 80’s, two bands that made a lot of noise (literally, at times) in the East Village post-punk scene but did not achieve commercial success. D’Agostino, an avant-garde composer who teaches music technology, went from being a fan of the original FG two-piece to becoming an integral part of the band, having seen the group perform as a duo early on.
“I was friends with Julie when I went to see them perform,” recalls D’Agostino. “I was just smiling the whole time! They were so powerful but fun and loose too. It was really artistic and emotional.” Jaffe and Hair later invited her to play on a number and it worked out so well that she never left. “Nikki’s sax adds a whole other dimension to the band,” says Jaffe.
The combo is a three way collaboration when it comes to writing songs, with some compositions beginning with one member’s idea and some generated from studio jams.
“That’s my favorite way to work,” admits Hair. “Our philosophy is to function as a unit, not singling out who did more or less.”
“These women are so creatively inspiring,” muses Jaffe. “It’s hard to be doing something that’s different from everyone else, but it’s empowering.”
All three members have other projects going – Julie is in the Isolation Society, Marnie in Live Skull and Nikki with the Art Gray Noizz Quintet, Vestments, And the Wiremen and Ohm Slice, but FeMaLe GeNiuS feels like it may be the most personal. Raw lyrics delivered with restrained cool blend with minimal keyboards, drum machine beats, spooky guitar, insistent bass and atmospheric sax in a way that is accessible but uncompromising.
“Our own experiences are going into these songs,” explains Hair. “We’ve chosen to do something that is more personal and feminine. What we’re trying to do is give people something that they might not know that they need or want but leaves them fulfilled.”
Some things have changed for Hair since she first picked up a drum machine in the scrappy early days of 3TK4 – a pioneering post-punk experiment that didn’t easily fit into any established genre – and some things have stayed the same.
“FeMaLe GeNiuS is all very DIY,” she explains. “This record was recorded in my basement studio and I still feel like we don’t fit into any specific genre.” While the city and its music scene is a different place than the NYC of the early 80’s, Jaffe notes that “what remains the same is finding clarity of purpose with your music.”
Jane Friedman, director of the Howl! Happening gallery and the new Howl! Arts/Howl! Archive, apparently didn’t have enough to keep her busy, so she decided to start a record label – Howl! Records. The first release, recorded in a basement studio/rehearsal space, is the limited edition FeMaLe GeNiuS album, with 300 hand-numbered red vinyl lp’s available. “I love Julie, her vocals and her compositions,” notes Friedman. “And I think it’s a great record.”
D’Agostino feels the same. “I’m thrilled that the record is being released!” she exclaims. “It really captures our personalities – It’s very true.”
Jaffe, who is very proud of her work on the project, knows what it takes to succeed on the artistic front: “You have to be good, and you have to do the work.”
“It’s really hard to be objective about my music,” admits Hair, but she knows that she’s on the right track when a woman came up to her crying after a performance. “Although we want to make music that women will relate to, we do want to appeal to everyone. We want people to stop, take a breath and listen.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.