Erin Rodgers is arguably one of Houston music’s busiest people. Whether she’s performing in one of many bands, working on behalf of artists as an entertainment lawyer or teaching copyright and business courses at area colleges, it’s normal for her to be engaged with this city’s music community. So, how has she managed the unexpected slowdown in all things music due to the pandemic?
“(Not performing) has been frustrating, but honestly, it’s been good because in the past I was rehearsing or having shows three or four days a week, so I never really took the time to make other stuff as much as I would have wanted to. In this break, I’ve written and recorded a bunch of stuff, both for myself and for other people’s projects. I’ve learned how to make videos which, it turns out, I don’t suck at,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve made some of my own videos which I don’t want to release yet because I care more about this one, but eventually I’ll put them out.”
“This one” is “Endgame,” the video for the debut single from Rodgers’ newest musical endeavor, National Pleasure. Fans know her from bands like Glass the Sky, The Wheel Workers, the Ween cover band Poon and the always entertaining accordion cover trio, Houston’s A S S. We may now add National Pleasure to that impressive list.
“So, National Pleasure isn’t a band yet. It is me. National Pleasure was born originally because I had a couple of frustrating collaborations in a row where I was starting to react to that and I was like, ‘I’m going to go start my own project, I’m going to do everything myself,’” Rodgers explained. “But, after I calmed down a little bit from that, I really believe that collaborating and the things that we create together are better than the things we create individually. So, I’ve got this good scenario going where these are my songs, I wrote them, but I’m bringing people in to play with me and to contribute. And I try to let them have free reign on the parts that they’re adding. It’s been going excellently, so I’m excited about the way that’s working.”
“Endgame” is a good example. The song’s lyrics were fashioned from a poem written by her friend, Houston poet Charlie Scott. The Wheel Workers' Steven Higginbotham plays bass, violin and Rhodes on the song and Josh Applebee produced the track. The song is from a forthcoming EP which also features “a ton of people,” according to Rodgers, including Merel van Dijk and Anthony Barilla from Merel and Tony and ukuleleist Alli Villines. Higginbotham, Craig Wilkins and Kevin Radomski from The Wheel Workers contribute to the EP, as does Vicki Lynn from Black Kite. The six song EP is titled Neophelia.
“It’s about 90 percent done, but the little things that I have left to do are mostly vocals and I can’t go to the studio right now, so it’s kind of tied up. But, it’s super close and I’m hoping to put it out this fall,” Rodgers said.
She said “Endgame” was the first fully-completed track from the EP, so it was first in line for video representation. She took the same approach of reaching out to artists she trusts and admires for the video production and tabbed the wildly creative, multi-discipline artist Traci Lavois Thiebaud to direct.
“I approached Traci about making this video because I really liked the work she’d done for Merel and Tony. Although I’ve gotten into making videos recently, that’s not a medium in which my brain functions, like I can’t envision what a good idea for a video is. So, I just went to her and said, ‘Here’s the song, can you make a video? Tell me what you decide to do.’”
Thiebaud returned with a pitch and an actress to star alongside Rodgers in the video, Cidette Rice. The sequences combine old school stop motion technology with digital film work. Thiebaud painstakingly created costumes and hand-sewn masks for the piece to give viewers something tangible amidst its surreal scenery. She wrote party scenes into the script because she wanted to include more of Houston’s arts community in the work.
“I think what’s great about it is Erin and I are both this way – I don’t want to speak for her, but I’ve worked with her a lot and yeah, she’s been in tons of bands, she’s been in a lot of projects and while this is her baby and her brainchild, she’s still bringing so many people into her vision, which I think is really beautiful. There are so many great musicians that worked on this track. The lyrics were created by a poet friend of ours. So, I find that really inspiring, that it’s not just her alone in a vacuum even though it’s her piece.
“We knew that we wanted to feature Erin in it. I feel like Erin, as a person and a performer, she seems like she’s from another world to me, like we plucked her out of this Renaissance painting or something and just put her into the modern world,” said Thiebaud. “I kind of wanted to capture that elusive, ethereal, ephemeral beauty I feel like she has. There’s sort of this mystery about her, in her performance and her singing as well, and so I knew I wanted to try to bring that out in the stuff that I shot of her.
“I knew I wanted to work with Cidette Rice. I’ve worked with her before on some other projects, the young girl in the video. I just find her to be a really inspiring performer. I’ve worked with her on some immersive theater pieces in the past,” Thiebaud continued. “I just think she has a really interesting presence and wanted to showcase her in this, kind of as this sort of dream guide for Erin, I guess.”
It’s hard to not attach the video to COVID times, though it was conceived and shot last fall, long before coronavirus became part of our daily lives. The song presents the seasons out of sequence, so there’s a sense that time is out of balance. The pronounced use of masks in the video and the idea that we sometimes need others to help navigate our journeys fall in line with things we’re experiencing during the pandemic. The video isn't pandemic-related but it fits and that's by design, according to Thiebaud.
“I kind of think one of the most fun things about making a music video is you don’t really have to worry about literal accuracy, that it can be more like a mood or a feeling versus totally aligning to whatever the intent of the song is, which I find really freeing from a creative end,” she said.
Thiebaud said she’d have been fine filming an entire video of Rodgers with her clarinet, so stunning were those images from her shoot, she noted. It's not the typical indie rock instrument. Might Rodgers do for the clarinet what Lizzo is doing for flute these days?
“Well, what I hope to do is what George Martin did for the violin, you know, like in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ where he made a whole soundscape out of strings and put it into pop music,” Rodgers said. “My degree is actually in clarinet, that’s my main instrument; but, sitting around your house playing clarinet by yourself is boring as fuck. I don’t do it as much, that’s why I learned guitar and piano, because it’s more fun alone. But, I still love it. I think I have an interesting voice with it and I am trying to incorporate it more into music I like, and that’s been making me really happy.”
Staying busy makes her happy, too. She’s spent her “downtime” working on National Pleasure, perfecting her own self-produced videos, learning more about the legal aspects of livestreaming. One of her first “quarantine projects” was releasing 10 year-old music from her first band, Kennedy Bakery, online for the first time.
“So, I’m not mad about it,” she said of the present music slowdown. “Eventually, I’m going to be frustrated when I miss performing too much but it’s honestly been kind of good to force me to do these other things I always say I’m going to do and don’t.”
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