“We were full-time gay playing rooms all over the country that would be full of lesbians”
BY LINDA RILEY, IMAGE BY LINDA RILEY
Formed in 1998, Antigone Rising is an all-female rock band based in the US. Formed by lead guitarist Cathy Henderson and bass guitarist and drummer Kristen Henderson, they’ve recently enjoyed a renaissance on the UK music scene. Last week, they took True Joy – the tunes from their latest album released earlier this year – to Etheridge Island in Mexico. DIVA Publisher Linda Riley had the pleasure of speaking to the group, chatting everything from soccer to coming out to LGBTQI activism.
DIVA: Let’s start with when, where and how you started?
Kristen: I think one of the main reasons Cathy and I formed Antigone Rising was we love music. We’re musicians and we always knew we wanted to be in a band. We’ve always played team sports, so we love the idea of being an all-female band because it’s like a soccer team…it’s the team sport of it and having all women together the energy and the power of that.
Cathy: I feel like with music it helped me balance my sanity because you couldn’t be out and it was even harder not admit it to yourself, let alone everybody. So, I always thought if I could be a massively famous musician and have millions of people love me, that once I came out maybe some people might not love me, but the majority might still love me.
Nini: I joined about 12 to 13 years ago. I have known the sisters in the band for years. We all sort of came up as singer-songwriters and they were in their respective band. I worked at the Bitter End music venue in Lower Manhattan, so I knew of them and watched them grow. Eventually, they were touring and I was touring enough that I wasn’t working anymore. We would see each other on the road maybe ending up on the same bill, and so our lives were intertwined for many, many years before then.
DIVA: Have you felt a resurrection after COVID?
Nini: During COVID, we played, but we played online.
Cathy: We were literally in the process of making True Joy when the world shut down. The doors were coming down and locking us all in our respective rooms, and we knew we had to finish the CD. We recorded separately and then we put the tracks together. But we did finish True Joy, and that was during COVID. We did the virtual connect where we would have guests come on and we were figuring out ways to make this virtual world work and keep us busy. Never once did I feel like we weren’t busy.
Nini: We were busy figuring out Kristen’s studio. We had to do the math, and figure out the videos. Eventually, we did do a fundraiser. It was a big process of learning and pivoting and finding ways to continue.
DIVA: Cathy and Kristen: you’re sisters so we have to ask, who was first out?
Cathy: I paved the way.
DIVA: How long after were you out?
Kristen: Just under two years later.
DIVA: Your parents are here right now. How were they when you came out?
Kristen: It’s been a journey for our parents.
Cathy: But one that’s a positive one.
Kristen: It’s hard to remember it ever being not good, but I think there was a time they needed to adjust. They love my wife Sarah, they have two grandkids, they love their lives, and they love our lives.
DIVA: Kristen: you in particular have been involved with a lot of LGBTQI activism. Do you feel that’s affected the band’s career or enhanced it?
Kristen: When you’re in an all-female band, there are obstacles. You can make a decision and say ‘this obstacle is going to break us or it’s going to make us.’ From an early on period, we would show up to a show and there would be all men on the bill and we went in to be the best band there. We always had to be the best to prove a point, and we had to prove ourselves every time. That’s why we have this soccer team mentality, we’re here to win and play too. That’s what you have to do as women in music and the same was true for us a gay band. We got signed to a major label in 2003 and they did not want to know we were gay but behind closed doors our marketing team were talking about how to market our gayness. We were full-time gay playing rooms all over the country that would be full of lesbians.
Nini: The flip side is where the community rose up to embrace the band and keep the band at its grassroots beginnings. Being a part of the community and being proud of that.
Kristen: Our time on Atlantic was tricky because of that. They didn’t want to acknowledge that side.
DIVA: And you found a way through that by starting your own record company.
Kristen: Rise and Shine Records is absolutely still going strong.
Nini: We’ve always had support, too, from Joan Jett’s label Black Heart Records. They do all our distribution, so whenever we need distribution, we let them know. Nowadays, you don’t really need distribution anymore because everyone is downloading and streaming.
Kristen: The reason we were able to become fully self-sufficient, even back in 2003, was because we were super early adaptors to the internet. We caught on and we were like “This is how we get to our people.” Our music was on Napster and there were people downloading it for free. We were okay with that because everyone was showing up to our shows. That helped us to sell tickets and get to a point where we could sustain ourselves. We’ve always made our living through tour.
DIVA: And how does Etheridge Island compare to the other events you’ve done with Melissa before?
Nini: This is our third Etheridge event. Two boats – a cruise – and an island.
Cathy: There are such great things about both. The one thing I really like about the cruise is that it’s a smaller space, so the artists are together a lot offstage. It’s a great time to collaborate and get other artists up on the stage with you. There’s a real fun aspect and community with the artists that is perhaps a little more disconnected here because it’s so spread out. But both have the overall sense of community – it’s there for both, but in different ways.
Kristen: When you’re on a cruise it’s not always beautiful. You’re on a boat most of the time and it’s an ocean that goes on forever and ever and ever and that’s all you see. Being here at this resort is really beautiful. You have all the infinity pools out to the beautiful ocean. It’s pretty heavenly.
DIVA: You had Melissa Etheridge and KT Tunstall join you at an event for Etheridge Island. What was that like?
Nini: We had planned to do this event with our drummer, our old drummer who is still a part of our family. She is fulfilling her dream of playing on Broadway, and she’s the first female to play in Hamilton. It’s a dream come true for her. She got COVID literally the day before she left and she was like “I can’t, you guys.” So we pivoted, as we do, and we had to figure something out.
Kristen: We arrived and we had a sketch planned, and we saw Alex – the drummer from Delta Rae and someone we knew back in the day – and we cornered him. We did a Fleetwood Mac tribute set. What that guy did was bananas.
Nini: Part of what we really enjoy doing is making the set or making our plan and throwing it out the window. In these environments, if KT wants to come up and sing with us, we’re gonna figure it out. If Melissa wants to, we’re gonna make it work. We made it work and that collaboration was magic.
Kristen: There’s nothing more dull than seeing a super rehearsed band. It’s fun to see the wheels coming off the bus a little and how they reach and get themselves back on the road.
Nini: You don’t want to go and hear the record. You can listen to the record. You want to feel the energy and you want to participate. Watch it all happen. When the bus is gonna crash, we might as well do it all together.
DIVA: And finally: who came up with the name Antigone Rising?
Cathy: We had a band in college and we ended up in Greenwich Village in New York right after we graduated. The singer in the band at the time was a theatre girl and the last show they did before we graduated was Antigone and she played Antigone. And the story of Antigone really being the first female figure to stand up for what she believed in, we found that to be a really powerful, symbolic thing to name the band after.
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