by Mark Anderson
Ann Seletos is fuckin’ cool.
And not cool in like a “cool” way. You know, that too cool for school, disaffected by everything and everyone around them, smoking cigarettes with reckless abandon kind of way. No, she’s cool in a completely other, cooler way.
If you know her then you know what I’m talking about: completely personable and very low key in social settings, but when she gets up on the stage to perform in either Cherie Cherie or The Christian Family, truly mesmerizing moments happen. I’ve witnessed many performances of hers over the years and I’m never unimpressed.
I was excited she took the time to answer the questions I had for her. Let’s find out more about Ann Seletos with An Insider’s Introduction.
Mark Anderson for YabYum: How long have you lived in AZ? When and how did you first get involved with the music and art scene? I believe I first saw you with Make My Baby, how did you start playing with them? Were you in bands before that?
Ann Seletos: My family moved from California to Arizona when I was two months old. I was raised in the suburbs of North Glendale where I never felt like I fit in or had anything in common with the people I grew up with and desperately craved some kind of artistic respite. When I was a teenager I discovered the First Friday Art Walk in Downtown Phoenix (which was much different, smaller, and more DIY back in the early 2000s) and I pretty much knew that’s where I belonged. I suppose that was my first introduction to the Phoenix music and arts scene, but I spent many of my early years as spectator rather than participant. I struggled with a lot of confidence issues and simply thought that being in a band was something I “couldn’t do.” I was lucky to have good people around me see my potential and push me into giving it a try.
I first saw Lonna Kelley perform opening for M. Ward at the Clubhouse when I was about 19 or 20 and instantly became a huge fan. Years later, when I was about 25 years old I think, Lonna contacted a friend of mine because she was looking for female backing singers for her solo project. After singing together, she and I realized we had a lot of similar ideas musically, and we really liked the sound of our voices together. We started Make My Baby with the intention of having girl group-esque three-part-harmony driven songs. Cherie Cherie sort of rose from the ashes of Make My Baby after dark times struck. We realized we are both happiest when we are writing songs together and singing them together, and we became closer than ever during those formative months…we’ve since referred to each other as “soul sisters,” and we truly believe that. I would not be doing any of the projects I’m doing, or finding myself musically, without the unconditional love and encouragement Lonna has shown me over the years. She has always believed in me, even (and especially) at times when I was incapable of believing in myself, and she has always pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone. I am endlessly grateful to her.
How long have you been playing the drums now? Do you play any other instruments? Obviously your singing is great, were you in choir at all?
AS: This is kind of a tricky question for me to answer! I don’t really consider myself able to “play the drums,” but I do have some training that has helped. I played snare on the drum line in high school for a short time, and when I first went to college at 18 I tried for a music degree focusing in percussion (which turned out not to really be my thing…music academia, that is). The drum kit has never come very easily and honestly, I don’t even really like it that much, haha. I intentionally strip down my kits: in Cherie Cherie I use only a floor tom, snare, kick, and one cymbal. In The Christian Family, I use a kick and two floor toms. That’s it. My full kit is much bigger, but I am a firm believer that less is more. And I love toms. Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground and Peg O’Neill of The Gories have probably inspired me the most as far as my drumming style is concerned…they were unconventional and untrained, but more musical in their drumming than drummers typically are, and I think that makes all the difference: having a good sensibility and being complimentary to what’s going on musically (Ikue Mori of DNA is another great example of this, though in a much more sonically intense/avant-garde way).
I can also play keys (and am secretly actually classically trained on piano) and I play guitar just about as badly as I drum. But I love the guitar so much–it might be my favorite instrument. I’m hoping to play it out more in the coming years, particularly with a solo project I’m working on. Thank you for saying that about my voice! It’s probably the thing I struggle with the most. I’ve never liked the sound of my voice and feel like I’m still getting to know it, although, yes, I did sing in choirs growing up and learned how to harmonize and to listen to the people you’re singing with, which I think is just as important as having a good voice. I feel like I get to reconcile a lot of different styles in both bands, since Cherie Cherie is full of beautiful and dark melodies and harmonies while The Christian Family is a bit more uninhibited (and I get to scream!).
How did the Christian Family come about? How would you describe the band for those uninitiated?
AS: The Christian Family is Daniel [Shircliff] of The Freaks of Nature and me. The Freaks have always been my favorite local band, and as it turns out, Cherie Cherie is Daniel’s favorite local band. One night after I went to see Freaks play at The Lost Leaf, Daniel stopped in me in the middle of Fifth Street to ask if I’d be interested in doing a new project with him. I said of course, and we discussed getting together to try it soon. A couple of weeks later, he called me with a full vision, and that’s when The Christian Family was born. I was so excited to try something completely new to me and to again be pushing myself into uncharted territory.
The Christian Family is sort of Gospel-Revival-Garage-Punk. We are largely inspired by the heart, soul, and rock and roll of 50s and 60s gospel revival musicians as well as straight-forward, fuzzed-out garage and punk. If Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, the Spits, and the Gories got together to jam, you might end up with something similar to The Christian Family.
You’ve played all over the Valley and State, any favorite places to play? What made ’em so special?
AS: There are some very cool places to play in AZ; one of my favorites to come about recently, especially for sound, is probably Valley Bar. The Trunk Space was always a favorite because good people ran it with good intentions, in addition to it being one of the few all-ages venues around. I honestly always enjoy playing shows at really unique, one-off/DIY venues, like house shows or even just in record stores like Double Nickels Collective in Tempe. The Christian Family played at a motorcycle/hot rod garage on Grand Avenue called Haifley Bros last year and that was really fun and different. Places like that, or more underground venues, like warehouses, usually always produce unique and memorable shows.
What is your take on the Arizona music scene? The good/the bad/the ugly? What would you like to see change, if anything?
AS: There are a lot of advantages to being a musician in AZ, particularly in Phoenix/Tempe. I feel like it was the perfect place for someone like me to start out playing (that is, someone who was pretty timid and maybe lacking in confidence, but with a real desire to play). I was afforded a lot of opportunities that would probably not have come around as easily or as often if I lived in a much more musically competitive city, like Portland or Austin or New York or Los Angeles. I feel a lot of people took chances on me here and it’s really helped me discover myself and grow as a musician.
Another thing I like about the music scene here is while it’s so diverse, it’s really not that big, so there’s a lot of crossover between music scenes. I’m interested in a wide variety of music genres, and I think I would go crazy if I had to only stick to one thing. For instance, in addition to getting to play in Cherie Cherie and The Christian Family, I’ve also had the opportunity to play in other projects including Soft Shoulder, the legendary post-punk/no wave/avant-garde project of Gilgongo Records owner James Fella. The drum parts in that are so different from what I’m used to playing, it’s really fun and challenging whenever I’ve been able to be part of the ever-rotating line-up. I also have an experimental/noise project that I do with John Quintos called EVA AGUILA. It’s basically me experimenting with guitar feedback through a delay pedal while John goes free-jazz-style crazy on the drums. Our whole set is usually about ten or so minutes. It’s wonderful. Then my solo stuff is more in the 60s/70s folk vein (or at least I’d like to think so). I hear that in other more musically competitive cities, the scenes are much more niched…that is, people tend to stick within their very specific subgenres, since they’re each so large, and don’t often mix.
Now that I’ve talked about what I love about the Phoenix music scene, I guess it’s time to discuss some of the disadvantages. While it’s kind of cool that no one really knows how great of a music scene there is here, like it’s sort of a well-kept secret from the rest of the country, it can often feel kind of restricting. I love the music scene here, but Phoenix just doesn’t really love musicians. It’s really hard to get people to go to shows and it feels like it gets harder all of the time. And I think that’s really what it all comes down to—there’s just not a lot of support. If we don’t take our own music scene seriously, no one else will. I feel a lot of musicians get fed up and leave so there are all of these really great short-term projects that pop up and then go away. There are many great “had to have been there” times when these cool and unique projects came around for a year or two and then disappear. The scene kind of swells at times, but it doesn’t really grow. I certainly feel like I’ve pushed myself as far as I can go here and while I could probably be happy with that, I’m starting to feel ready for a new challenge.
You DJ under the moniker DJ ANN ELIZA, is this in reference to Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young? What could we expect to hear in your set? When do you spin next?
AS: This question made me laugh so hard! Someone must be aware of my Mormon upbringing…but no, I had no idea that was the name of one of Brigham Young’s wives. My middle name is Elizabeth and I’ve always liked the name Eliza. Ann Eliza is something I’ve considered using for my solo project, mostly because I think the name Seletos is tricky to pronounce/spell/remember, but also because I’ve never had the opportunity to really think about an identity for a project that is (so far) all me. I’ve been using it as a DJ name to sort of try it out and see how it feels, and also because I couldn’t really come up with anything better at the last minute!
My sets have been consisting of a wide range of styles that reflect my personal taste, including 60s garage, punk, post-punk, riot grrl, country, blues, soul, etc., and additionally some of my favorite local bands. On the one hand, I love a wide variety, but at the same time I’ve been hoping to start playing more curated sets. I’ve been really into collecting old stompy gospel 45s lately and I think it would be really fun to do a set centered on that style of music. I don’t have anything in the books as of now but am hoping to spin a few sets this summer.
Can you share any future plans for Cherie Cherie or Christian Family? Shows? Albums? Tours?
AS: One of the biggest changes affecting the bands is that I will be relocating to Los Angeles at the end of the summer (as will Matt of Cherie Cherie). However, I am still going to be active with both bands and am aiming to get us more shows out of state! Matt and I also have plans for a new band and I’m also going to be focusing on a solo record.
Cherie Cherie is just finishing up recording our sophomore album. It’s taken some time, but we’re really proud of it and are very excited to have it out hopefully by the end of this year. We are also planning on doing a split 12” release with our friends Golden Boots from Tucson, so keep an eye out for that as well.
The Christian Family will have our debut 7” coming out in June on Slope Records. We’re extremely blown away by how beautiful the product is and how great the tracks sound and can’t wait to share it with everyone. We’re also planning on finishing recording some tracks for a full length before I leave and have plans for a West Coast tour at the beginning of 2017.
Finally, where do you get your fab fresh threads? Hole in the wall thrift stores, or online specialty retailers? Your sense of style is smashing!
AS: Why, thank you! I love vintage clothes, specifically from the 60s and 70s, and have a particular affinity for vintage boots as well as 60s mod mini dresses. Also vests! And psychedelic prints. And while I love buying clothes and records, I honestly really hate the actual act of shopping or rummaging (I know, I know, I’ve just never felt that thrill-of-the-search most thrifters speak of), so I’m a big Etsy and Discogs fan where I can sort of search for exactly what I’m looking for (and, bonus: not have to leave my house!). When I do go shopping, however, one of my favorite spots in downtown Phoenix for vintage clothes is Antique Sugar. They have a really fantastic variety and everything is always in stellar condition. Plus the owners, Anna and Sarah, are always super friendly and helpful and you can totally trust them when you need an opinion or are looking for something specific.