Building A Rainbow: Swing Sisters Swing
In the second part of our series spotlighting some of the lesser-known acts on the roster, Pollstar sits down to chat with Marcella Puppini of The Puppini Sisters, who are likely to be the most stylish and harmonious act to hit the TC stage.
For the uninitiated, The Puppini Sisters, which also features Stephanie O’Brien and Kate Mullins, is a ’40s-style vocal trio with a twist. The group, dressed to the nines in the height of retro fashion, mixes standards with ’80s hits, originals and even contemporary tracks like Beyoncé‘s “Crazy In Love,” all done in air-tight, Andrews Sisters-style harmony.
You’ve done a little bit of everything to get where you are, but you were inspired to start the group by a movie – “Triplets of Belleville.”
It wasn’t a case of just watching the movie and thinking, “Oh I want to put together a harmony group.” I actually already wanted to put together a harmony group. I’d graduated the year before from music college and I’d been teaching a choir for some time. And I kept thinking, “It’s all very well being the choir director or conductor, but I want to sing in harmony.” I mean I love singing in any capacity, but singing in harmony is something that just makes people happy.
And then I saw the movie and I thought, “Fantastic!” That had everything. It had the performance element. It had the kind of music that I love and also the fashion element to add even more happy coincidence. So it was just perfect.”
On Betcha Bottom Dollar, you did a lot of covers. On The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo, there’s more original work.
Yes, that was always going to happen from the start. When we made the first album, we just weren’t there yet. We’d been spending so much time honing our arranging skills. And even to get the blend of the voices together took a long time. So we started by transcribing all of the Andrews Sisters and Boswell Sisters songs that we loved and really studiously copying their phrasing and the way that they do it, because it isn’t something that’s part of our soundscape anymore. Kids singing R&B now hear it on the radio all the time, so it just comes naturally. That kind of singing, you really do need to spend more time thinking about it and practicing it. The first album was just the foundation; it was just the beginnings and we always wanted to move towards that.
How do you find audiences receive what you do here versus in Europe, where you’ve found greater success so far?
What we got a lot of in the beginning in England was – if we did a concert somewhere where people hadn’t come specially to see us – we’d start singing and people would just stare and be totally bemused by this act. It happened a lot in gay clubs especially, that it would start like that and people would be going, “What is going on?” but then they’d be whooping and hollering by the fourth song, especially when it got to Kate Bush. They really did appreciate that in the gay clubs.
In America it’s very different, because it’s a sound that people know and it doesn’t need to be justified; it’s just something that people get. So it’s just a question of audiences deciding if we’re good at it or not. And so far people seem to think that we are.
Do you find that you play different venues in the States than abroad?
Again, it’s as varied in Europe as it can be. We’ve played art centers, gay clubs, burlesque parties – we’ve done all sorts. And obviously we’ve done our own tours, which tend to be more in music venues. We’ve even played in rock venues. So it really is very varied.
But even in the States, during the tour we did, there was a big difference in the types of venues we played at. For instance, in San Francisco, the venue we played was a big ballroom and the occasion was a big dress-up party, where a lot of people that like to dress in the 1940’s style and do the dancing came to see us. But we’ve also played at Splash in New York, which is a gay club. It’s really quite diverse.
We have groups like the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Pink Martini, so there are already people here sort of doing what you’re doing.
And I do think that the Andrews Sisters have remained in the public consciousness. It just seems to be a part of your culture, which is not the case in Europe at all. Although in Italy, people get it quite easily as well.
In Europe it seems to be a lot of fashionable and trendy people who’ve cottoned on to what we do. In America we still don’t know exactly who it is that likes us. Although, judging by MySpace, there are a lot of young people that like to dress up like we do.
You’re doing a few dates on the True Colors Tour this year. Are there plans for a tour beyond that in the States?
We have to be back home after that because we’ve got dates in the U.K. We might come a bit earlier though, because we definitely would like to be in America longer. It’s definitely going to happen. We’ve already got gigs booked for February 2009.
Plus there are other things coming in. We’re even supposed to go to Italy for a movie. It’s a small independent movie, but it would be our acting debut – as ourselves, of course – and performing also.
How did you wind up on the True Colors Tour?
I believe we asked if we could join them and they said yes. I don’t actually know. We just heard from our manager that we were going. But I believe we asked.
Were you familiar with True Colors from last year?
To be honest, no. Since then, of course, I’ve been reading up about it and it’s wonderful. I mean, I respected Cyndi Lauper before. I loved all of her ’80s songs and I loved her as an artist. I thought she was always a fantastic performer. But what she’s doing is just beautiful – and much needed in America, as well. We’re so excited about it.
You mentioned the movie and of course you’re promoting Ruby Woo – any other projects that you’re working on?
At the moment it’s just touring, really. We’re just now beginning to write for the third album. For that what we’d really like to do is concentrate more on our own material than anything else. We’re not letting go completely of what we’ve done so far, because we love doing that. And of course there are so many great songs still to tackle. But we really do want to try and get a little bit more of ourselves into it. And also start collaborating, because so far we’ve written songs individually. We’re just beginning to write songs together.
Have you been approached to work with anyone?
We did a guest appearance on The Real Tuesday Weld’s album. It’s a British band, well it’s mainly one person – Steven Coates, but what he does is brilliant. In a way, it’s quite similar to what we do, which is that soundscape of very, very old mixed with quite modern. He takes it even further because the beats that he uses are very modern and he uses samples as well. We’ve been guests in his video and we’re going to do it again.
And also – really exciting – we got an email from The Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer saying how much she loves us and she would love to maybe tour together or do something with us. I was gobsmacked when I heard that, because I’m one of her biggest fans. I think she’s wonderful. So fingers crossed. Hopefully we’ll be able to get something together, because that would be fantastic.