Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Dear Disco's Michelle Chamuel: The New Gay Interview

Kaysey, a TNG reader and former Nashville resident who misses the music scene dearly, submitted this piece.

This Saturday's Homo/Sonic will feature Ann Arbor's My Dear Disco, a seven piece dance band fronted by vocalist Michelle Chamuel. Ms. Chamuel, who is openly queer, spoke with me this weekend as she prepared to hit the road for MDD's spring tour. The group's debut LP "DanceThink" was released in 2008 and the band has been touring in support of it since.

In addition to creating and performing music the members of My Dear Disco are dedicated environmentalists. As part of their ongoing green efforts, the band tours in a vegetable oil-fueled short bus. I imagine the Ben's Chili Bowl grease trap could keep them running for nearly a month.

Michelle was kind enough to offer her thoughts on traveling and working with six men, and how that group structure contributes to the band's success. In addition to her insights on boy-girl dynamics, she provided me with a cat-and-mouse story of her own, literally.

Make sure to come out to Solly's this Thursday, Feb 19th for the TNG My Dear Disco Party. We will be giving away copies of the "DanceThink" LP as well as free entrance to the next Homo/Sonic.

My Dear Disco will play at Homo/Sonic this Saturday, February 21, 9:30 PM. $10.

The New Gay: Hey Michelle – where did I catch you today are you still in Ann Arbor?

Michelle Chameul: Yes I am in Ann Arbor.

TNG: And the tour is starting this week right?

MC: Yes the short tour starts this week. We are doing a month long tour in March.

TNG: You were the last member to join My Dear Disco, correct?

MC: Sort of, originally we had a different drummer, but he left for another band.

TNG: They didn’t have vocals before, how did they decide to add a vocalist?

MC: I did a track with Bob Lester who is one of the guitarists and vocalists in the band. I had never planned on performing because I loved being in the studio. He gave me an electronic track, and I said, “sure I’ll put some vocals on it,” and then he played it for all the other guys in My Dear Disco (MDD), which at the time was called Toolbox. All they guys said, “this is great we should do a track with Michelle.” They had guests all the time which is one of the reasons MDD grew to be seven people; they kept keeping members that they would guest. So after the track they said, “hey do you want to be in the band,” and I said yes.

TNG: You have a very powerful voice and a really great tone. Are you classically trained?

MC: First, well thank you! I took two semesters of classical voice. My mom heard me singing along with Christina Aguilera and said, “You’re gonna hurt yourself! You’re going to class!”

TNG: What are some of MDD’s influences? How did you go into this kind of dance, disco type music?

MC: The type of music we listen to on our own time is all so different. I feel like dance music seems to be a hybrid, it sort of overlaps with everybody’s tastes. Michael Jackson is a huge influence on the dance-ability – Quincy Jones’ production as well – that kind of tight sound. Moving on to artists like Daft Punk and Justice, you can hear it in the construction of the tunes and specifically in what each person is playing. It’s kind of hard to hear when we’re all playing together because it becomes one lump, but you can hear that Joey is super influenced by Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock and Coltrane. I listen to a lot of Mariah Carey and Ella Fitzgerald. You can begin to hear how the different elements come together, but what influences the entire group would be kind of dance-y stuff and soul.

TNG: I understand that each band member has taken on a kind of second role to writing and performing; for instance, bus mechanic, publicity and online presence. Do you have a specific role?

MC: Yes I do a lot of the finance stuff. I’m the only one that will do it.

TNG: Ooo Band Accountant! Who is the mechanic?

MC: That would be Christian, but it’s more or less the “Bus Man.” We still have to go to mechanics, but he’s its care taker.

TNG: In order to off-set your tour’s environmental impact the band travels in a vegetable oil fueled short-bus correct?

MC: Yes

TNG: How did the band find that form of transportation and what led to the decision to use it?

MC: That would be Christian again. He decided to be transportation man and found this bus that looked like it could fit us all and our gear. He drove out to Massachusetts to get it and also found Full Circle Fuels which is the company in Oberlin, OH that did the conversion to the vehicle so that it could run on waste vegetable oil.

TNG: How do you find fuel while you’re on the road?

MC: Sometimes Christian will call ahead to restaurants or if we have friends in town we will ask them if they know restaurants that fry things. Other times we’ll be driving around and see a place that has a grease trap in the back, look inside to see if it’s useable and then ask the company if we can take it.

TNG: You have also worked with Michigan concert venues to make them smoke-free while you perform. Is there any news on the smoke-free Michigan front?

MC: Yes, we haven’t really done anything to make the actual venue be smoke-free other than for our shows, that’s really up to them. We would all support Michigan being smoke-free but we’re not forcing that issue. We’re trying to push the venues.

TNG: So now more topically gay questions. You’re a member of the queer community.

MC: Definitely! Yes!

TNG: Do you encounter many queer fans on the road? Would you say you’ve got a queer fan base around the country?

MC: I’m not really sure. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell. I haven’t really been immersed in the queer community so I’m not all that sure. I often think so, I’ve definitely been asked out a few times. I don’t think it’s always that obvious that we’re queer, which in a way, I think is great. It’s just a bunch of people.

TNG: Are you the only queer member in the band?

MC: Yes

TNG: How is it to be the only female and only queer member of a 7 person band?

MC: I think it helps it work that way. I went through a period in my life where I dated guys and at this time in my life I’m really, really happy to be with the woman that I am with. Before I was in the band my relationship with guys wasn’t as smooth. Our band dynamic takes away any of the sexual tension that could exist. I think it’s the only way this band could work.

TNG: I guess you could say you’re not going to go Fleetwood Mac.

MC: Exactly

TNG: No divorces.

MC: No, no. But yes sometimes it is tough it doesn’t matter if you’re queer or straight, if you’re a girl in a group of guys you’re going to be facing some challenges. As far as learning to express yourself and communicate, you have to be a lot more assertive than if you were in a group of girls. I wasn’t necessarily used to that. You just have to say what you think and say what you mean, and I think girls may operate on a different wave length of communication, sometimes it’s easy to get overlooked. If you can learn to communicate in a different way than we are socialized to, it can be really beneficial.

TNG: You mentioned you’re in a relationship currently. Is it hard to tour and carry that on long distance?

MC: Yes. Yes.

TNG: What’s next for My Dear Disco? Are you going back into the studio after the tour?

MC: We are really excited to get back into the studio. We’ve been writing some new tunes so that’s definitely on the horizon. Up next we have the festival season which we’re very excited for.

TNG: Are there any festivals in particular that you are very excited about?

MC: Yes! We got into 10,000 Lakes which has some of the people we’re very excited to see like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, also Wakarusa in Ozark, AR. Ahhh! My cat just killed a mouse!

TNG: Just now? Did she bring it to you like a gift? My cat used to kill baby bunnies it was disturbing.

MC: Yes!

TNG: Well I will leave you to that, thanks again for talking to me today!

MC: Thanks you too!

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