From Sixth Street to the Stones
An interview with Mary Ann Sigler Stanton '89 and Cathy '90 and Kristen Henderson '92:
It's hot - even offstage - and hotter on the skin of Cathy '90 and Kristen Henderson '92, founding members of Antigone Rising, the talented all women's rock band out of New York City with several albums under their belts. The sweat pores off their skin - no carefully styled rock band hair for these two at this concert - it's hot, and Cathy has her long blond braids tucked into a hat, while Kristen has gone for the ever-glamorous pony tails.
It's a hot day, but there is some extra heat generated by the arms of Steven Tyler, lead vocalist for Aerosmith, which loop comfortably around the sisters. Antigone Rising has just finished opening for the legendary rock band, and Steven is digging hanging with them as much as they are with him. On another date, in another huge venue - AR opens for the Stones. That's right, The Rolling Stones. The sisters, both Bucknell graduates, are remarkably at ease as they discuss "Mick" and “Steven," but that ease is sprinkled with a generous portion of awe at where they find themselves, and thoughtful introspection at what it has cost them.
I was at Bucknell with Cathy and Kristen, was in the same sorority, laughed on the porch of Cathy's apartment on Sixth Street, and even sang passable harmony with our sorority rush singers, the Pi Phi Angels, led by Cathy. They've come a long way since their college days at Bucknell. We got together on campus to reminisce during Spring Arts Weekend in April.
MS: What was that like? Playing for Aerosmith and the Stones?
CH: Amazing. It was like I had electricity running through my veins. To play in front of that many people ... you can't even imagine.
KH: You're like, well, we can quit now! This as good as it gets [laughs].
CH: [They] were very accessible. We hung with them from sound check on. Steven Tyler could not have been more of a doll and acted like he knew us. He called me on stage during their sound check to sing "Sweet Emotion" with him ... on the same mic! You know that face of his - imagine it really close up. So I did the same faces he did, and made sure I hit the higher harmony for him. They were extremely down to earth, and not a bit of ego. Very nice people. Steven let our families watch the shows from the side of the stage.
MS: And the Stones?
CH: The entire experience was surreal. To play in arenas, to hear a real roar of the crowd, and to say "Thank you. The ROLLING STONES are next …" It's like, what?! The Rolling Stones are next?! I just played my guitar right here ... in this spot ... on this stage ... and "Keef" [Keith Richards] is going to be standing here next?
KH: All the Stones were really great to us. Charlie Watts [drummer] stopped by our dressing room and hung for a while. Keith Richards called us "yummy."
CH: We took it as a compliment ... That he must have really liked the show ... "yummy" ... maybe it's a British way to say "great show."
KH: We got to hang with Ron Wood at a few meals. Ron and Keith hung out on the side of the stage to watch our shows. We also did a cover of a song called "Stay With Me" that Ron Wood wrote when he was in a band called the Faces ... [and] he really appreciated it. Mick is larger than life ... the epitome of rock star, but also gracious. They all thanked us for opening. It was awesome.
CH: They all looked great and had a lot of energy, even though Keith does look like he's been through the ringer several times. I grabbed his faced, kissed him, and told him he was my boyfriend. He told me he would be my boyfriend AFTER the show if I wanted, a cigarette balanced on his lower lip, with an ash that hung to his knees never hitting the floor ... amazing. Sheryl Crow hung with us that night. She [has] the same management team we [do]. There we were ... the five Antigones and Sheryl Crow, waiting for the Stones to come back to meet us. That was surreal too.
MS: I can't even imagine. And you've collaborated with Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas, haven't you?
CH: Yeah. Cassidy [AR's lead singer] and Rob co-wrote "Don't Look Back." That music video was in 60-minute and then 30-minute rotation on VH-1.
MS: How did that relationship happen?
KH: [That happened] through Jason Flom, the president of Lava. He wanted us to co- write and Cassidy, and I said we would only do it if it was with Rob Thomas. We thought he'd never make it happen, but he did. He sent Rob some of our music, and he loved it and wanted to work with us. We hit it off with him instantly and have become very good friends since. He invited us out on his solo tour last year ... so, we spent over a month with Rob and his band on the road ... it was great.
CH: Rob Thomas is one of the nicest, coolest, most talented people I have ever met. We hung like we went to school together.
MS: And you've done a lot of big television shows. I remember seeing you on Jay Leno.
CH: Right. That was in '05. We did the Today Show with Katie and Matt. NPR did a show on us too. We did a lot of national TV. It was pretty nutty.
Flash back 17-odd years to the back yard of Delta Upsilon at Bucknell. It's Saturday afternoon of House Party Weekend, and Cathy, Kristen, Penelope Kokines '90 (now Sanborn), Lisa Bloomburg '90, Amy Harrison '89, and Debbie Bashian '90, all members of Pi Beta Phi or Delta Delta Delta, are onstage performing “Wild Thing." The band was created to compete in a talent show as a part of Greek Week 1988. Pi Phi had two secret weapons in '88, sorority sisters Cathy and Peppy (Penelope), whose musical prowess was not a secret to anyone. For a couple of years before that talent contest, Cathy played with some Bucknell student bands like the Tokin' J's and Pandemonium, but she really wanted a band of her own. After the Greek Week premier and the addition of some new musicians, Mistress, as the band was originally called, was a hit.
MAS: Take me back, will you? Why did you choose Bucknell?
CH: Man, well, first of all, both my parents went there. I just followed them, I guess. I did go interview and take the tour. It was spring, so of course [the campus] was beautiful, and everyone was so nice. Everyone seemed so cool. Really, it was a no-brainer.
MS: You had other family that went to Bucknell, didn't you?
KH: Oh yeah. Our grandfather, George Henderson, Class of '33. He was a Sig. And our aunt, Holly Henderson Iyer '70.
CH: Dad [Frank Henderson] was class of '63. Mom [Jeannie] was '65.
MS: So is that why you chose Bucknell Kristen? To follow the family path to Bucknell's door?
KH: Sort of, but really, I came to play drums in Cathy's band. That was the biggest incentive.
KH: Yep. They needed a drummer, so I came out to play for that DU House Party, which was so cool because I was still in high school. I was hooked.
MS: I was there! You were in high school when you played that party?!
KH: I was - it was so amazing.
CH: We really needed a drummer. One of the girls tried, but she didn't really know what she was doing, and here was my sister just sitting at home. I knew she was coming to Bucknell in the fall, so why not have her play for Mistress?
MS: You and Pep started the band, right, Cathy?
CH: Yeah. For all I know, we could have started the first and the last "all-female rock band" on the Bucknell campus. Shouldn't there be a plaque or something for that?
MS: That name, Mistress? At the time I don't remember questioning it, but?
CH: Yeah, it was pretty lame. I don't even know where that came from.
KH: I didn't even know what it meant then [laughs]. I was too young.
Bucknell in the late '80s and early '90s was a thing to behold. Denim mini skirts, sweatshirts and pearls, long shirts with hip belts, and jeans up to our belly buttons. And the hair … the hair really should have been outlawed. Cathy's long blonde locks dare anyone to mention the bangs she wore at the time.
MS: So the sorority thing? You know, as rock stars, one might not figure you for active sorority girls. How did that happen?
CH: It was really a social thing for me. Pi Phi was kooky and colorful. [It was] just a lot of fun. My big, Linda Jilk '89 was a good friend.
KH: It was a natural progression for me - everyone I knew was a Pi Phi. I was Rush Chairman one year, and President the next.
CH: I think I was VP Moral. I did all the music for rush - remember "We Be Pi Phi" with the Pi Phi Rappers? It is pretty funny looking back. But I really loved everything about Greek life. I had friends in all the sororities and it was all great, except the rejection that people had to face. That sucked.
MS: Beyond being Greek, how do you feel that Bucknell shaped your career path?
CH: I think both of us always knew that we would be in music, but Bucknell gave [us] a place to work on it, it gave [us] a platform. We really performed a lot, and you just don't get that opportunity at that age. There was a point where we were playing two gigs a weekend, one at a frat on Friday night and then another on Saturday.
KH: We went on the road too. We played Union College in New York, and some really sketchy area bars. Is there a place called Sunbury near here?
CH: No, wait, I think it was across Route 15 - you know, toward Penn State? Where was that?
CH: Yeah. That sounds right. Anyway, we played some local bars - that was a hoot.
KH: It was heaven. I loved it. There was always an event where they needed music.
CH: You could be yourself here. I could be creative and crazy and that was okay. I knew how good I had it here - especially with the constant reminder from my father telling me, over and over, "It will never be as good as this, Cath." Not to say life isn't great now, but to live with and be surrounded by so many incredible people was a blessing. Not everyone feels that way about college. And that sucks for them.
There is a lot of laughter that surrounds Cathy and Kristen. They are funny. Genuinely funny and articulate women who can make your sides hurt from laughter given the time and opportunity. As we walked around campus for the photo shoot, they were cracking jokes, making faces, generally hamming it up. Up on the balcony of their freshman dorm, Vedder Hall, the girls made a prop of a garden gnome that had been left up there by a current student as decoration. The sisters make each other laugh too, and that's a good thing, since they spend so much time together.
MS: So after your graduation Tent Party in 1990 - what happened next?
KH: Well, the rest of the band graduated and I still had two more years, which was hard for me.
CH: I moved to Manhattan and spent some of the most depressing days of my life realizing that I was no longer at Bucknell. I remember on graduation day Laura Witmer '90 had t-shirts made that said "The Party's Over." It was so hard to adjust to that. I got a job in advertising, which I actually liked. Again, there was this social aspect that guided everything that I did. It still does. I worked on the media side of advertising, and I learned a lot that I use now for the band - marketing and budgeting stuff.
KH: I graduated two years later and was hell-bent on playing music. So I moved to the city with Cathy.
CH: I remember we went to a Pat Benatar concert at the Grand and I thought - my God, we have to play again!
KH: Pep had been in grad school in Wisconsin and when she graduated, I talked her into coming to the city to start the band back up.
CH: We reformed as Antigone Rising, with another Bucknell alum, Suzanne Obolski '89 joining us on vocals. Kristen played drums then, and I was on bass.
MS: Didn't Pep play the character Antigone in a theatre production at Bucknell?
KH: She did, and she and I took classics from Professor Orbison at Bucknell and studied Antigone. When we wrote that paper I think I got a D. Pep got an A.
MS: Of course she did.
CH: So that is where the name came from. Antigone was this strong rebellious woman who defied authority - we loved that, and of course in the Village, where everyone is creative and intellectual, people got it. Once we got out of the Village we realized that in the world, the name didn't play as well. If you are a Borders in, say, the Dakotas, I wouldn't suggest stocking up on Antigone Rising CDs. It's just not our audience.
MS: [Laughs] I remember on your VH1 special when you imitated people who mispronounced the name - like it was a pasta or something.
CH: Anti - GOHN? We get that a lot.
Fall 2005: I am sitting on the floor of my living room in Winfield, Pa., ignoring my own mommy rule, which demands that my children sit at least six feet away from the television. I am glued to the set. Antigone Rising is being featured on VH-1's "Listen Up!" which highlights up-and-coming bands. Cathy and Kristen are, to me, the best part of the show. Yes, because I know them - the excitement of seeing people you know on television does not go away as we get older - but also because they are still so, well, so them. Cathy is telling a story about how folks mispronounce Antigone, Kristen shares the story about buying “Vanna White," the white van that serves as the band's second home, its mascot, and its transportation on her credit card, and I am howling. My family joins me in the living room and is unceremoniously shushed so I can hear every word. By the end of the show, I am actually a little teary. I am so impressed with Antigone Rising, with their integrity of self, with the fact that they have stuck with this dream for so long and are really and truly making it work. What a wonderful feeling that must be.
MS: How would you describe your musical style?
KH: We are a mix, I think. rock, folk, acoustic, – it's all there. When we started in New York City, we were definitely more folk, but as we have matured musically and grown as a band, we've created our own niche, I think.
CH: More rock/folk-y.
MS: What was it like when you started?
KH: We were all working day jobs and playing gigs four nights a week. We lived and worked in the Village, practicing in our apartment and then walking a few blocks to play at one of the bars.
MS: Tell me about your first gig in NYC.
KH: It was at a bar called Café Figaro. It wasn't really a live music venue, but we had some friends who worked there so they said, come on and play. It was cool.
CH: Then we got gigs at The Back Fence - that was really our first musical venue gig - Dylan played there.
MS: How'd you get the gig at the Back Fence?
KH: We went to an open mic night, actually.
CH: But as usual, we were late. The guy in charge of the music told us we'd missed it.
KH: That was it until next month. We could come back then. But the owner was bartending, and I guess he saw a bunch of girls with guitars and he asked us to play anyway. So we played for the owner and about three or four customers, and he asked us to come back and play the next night! We used to do three sets a night three times a week ... on a stage the size of a postage stamp with peanut shells on the floor. Then we graduated to The Bitter End ... a much more reputable and prestigious room.
MS: It was a better venue?
KH: The Bitter End on Bleecker Street is famous - mostly for the artists who have played there. Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, the Mamas and the Papas, Shawn Colvin - it has an amazing history. We really felt like we had made it when we got our gig at there. You know what's funny? Getting that gig - it was the same feeling as getting the Stones. We were so psyched to get that gig. It seemed so huge - it's like that in our business, every step forward is a victory. Getting your first gig, recording your first CD, signing with a booking agent, landing Lilith Fair. It is all so exciting - each step.
Summer 1998: Kristen and friend and fellow Bucknellian Mitch Goldman '91 stand in the wings of the stage which is set up for the Kick Off concert for Lilith Fair. Sarah McLachlan is performing onstage for over ten thousand people, an Antigone Rising button pinned to her jeans. The band is set to play right after the international recording artist. The two old friends look at each other and marvel in wonder at where they are, at what's happening. Antigone Rising goes on to play several Lilith Fair dates with, among others, Mclachlan, the Indigo Girls, Natalie Merchant, and Liz Phair.
KH: Yeah, we definitely had a Bucknell moment there, me and Mitch.
CH: That was the publicity concert for Lilith. Playing Lilith was crazy. I'm backstage hanging out with Natalie Merchant and the Indigo Girls. We thought, "Here we are!" But we had no idea then how much further we had to go. It wasn't until after the Lilith dates that our lead singer Cassidy and drummer Dena Tauriello joined the band. That was it. We quit our day jobs and went at it full time, bought the van, and went out on the road.
KH: We toured all over after that. Albany became like a second home for us. We built such a fan base in that area.
MS: Do you see Bucknellians at shows?
KH: Yes! Everywhere we went then and now, there are Bucknellians in the crowd. It is so cool. Sometimes we don't see them, especially if it is a big show, but they sign the fan book.
MS: I saw you play near Albany in '01 – what was the name of that place?
KH: Northern Lights, near Albany. We have played there a lot.
MS: That's right - it was a great show. Since then, you've had a lot of success - beyond Albany, obviously. What's is been like? Is it hard to deal with the ups and downs?
CH: It's scary. You are paving your own way. It's not like a normal company where you follow these pre-set steps and get promoted to the top in a logical way. It really demands that you dig deep in yourself to withstand it. You learn so much about yourself.
KH: I've learned that THEY are wrong.
MS: “They?" Who do you mean?
KH: They. People who say you can't do it, or it has to be done this way. We have so many friends who have given up because of whatever reason. I mean, it happens. You lose a gig. You lose a booking agent. Your lead vocalist quits.
MS: But you haven't given up.
KH: Frankly, it's [giving up] not in my thought process. For me it's "what is the next challenge?" Bring it on.
CH: We have the confidence to keep going. We always have - and we just love it so much.
KH: Maybe it's the stupidity. I don't know. But we run a business. Antigone Rising is our business. We can't imagine doing anything else.
MS: You mentioned losing your lead vocalist. That was Peppy Kokines '90, right?
KH: Right. We were devastated because we always pictured it happening, whatever "it" is, with Peppy ... but we wanted her to be happy, of course. It was scary because Pep was such a major force in the band. Not only were we losing our front person, but our best friend. [And] the fact that she was willing to quit made us all second guess what we were doing, but I also think it motivated us in a way that we weren't before. It was a make or break moment ...
CH: Of course, we were happy for her .. but at the same time, felt abandoned. We were going to conquer the world. We were going to defy the odds and get a record deal and become successful recording artists. We were going to do it together. So, there was absolutely a feeling of ... "hey, wait ... we can't do this without you."
MS: You can't do both can you, have a spouse and kids and do all that comes with being in a touring band?
CH: Not really. You really can't have a personal life or a relationship, at least early on. There is a lot of sacrifice.
MS: Didn't you get the Lilith Fair gig based on a demo that had Peppy's vocals?
CH: Yeah. That was one of those moments where you could give up. But we started auditioning lead singers and found one that we used for Lilith Fair.
MS: You still see Peppy, right?
CH: Oh yeah. Peppy and I really solidified our writing bond back [in the early Antigone days]. We co-wrote many of the early Antigone Rising songs together. The greatest thing is that we are still writing together. We have a lot of great material that we are doing for fun right now ... Our hope is to get our music placed in TV and films ... or maybe we'll start another band ... if she wants to!
Fall 2004: I flip through a copy of Rolling Stone in the waiting room at the doctor's office. Antigone Rising leaps out of the print at me, and I read the following critique by David Fricke regarding AR's performance in the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas: "These five women turned in the killer Big Rock show of the festival, with Lynyrd Skynyrd-army guitars, the country-gospel harmonies of a biker Dixie Chicks and a Janis Joplin-esque vocal dynamo named Cassidy." I leaned over to the complete stranger to my right, poked my finger repetitively at the article and said, "This is about my friends!" She murmured something polite but wary, and needless to say, I "borrowed" the magazine.
MS: What's it like to be lauded in Rolling Stone, the bible of all music magazines?
KH: Getting reviewed in Rolling Stone was mind blowing! They also did a big piece on us before the record came out ... so, we've been in a few times. It's beyond words to see the band, with photos and favorable reviews in Rolling Stone.
CH: We were appearing in articles in very big publications. The same ones Kristen and I used to put on media plans in our advertising jobs, we were now appearing in. Really cool. Especially that first review in RS - we were in the studio recording some new tracks when we found out. We immediately stopped and danced around the recording console.
June 2006: Bucknell Reunion Tent Party. I'm squeezing up to be in the front row to hear Antigone Rising. Really squeezing. It's packed. Cassidy's vocals are indeed "Joplin-esque," and the crowd is screaming its approval. Cassidy introduces the rest of the band, and the crowd literally goes wild as Cathy and Kristen's names are announced. Kristen is wearing a brand new Bucknell t-shirt from the Bookstore. Cathy is wearing one of those vintage long sleeved blue t's with the orange lettering. Kristen later tells me that she actually picked it up in a thrift store in Chicago, of all places. You can tell how happy they are to be there. I pause in my own absorption to look at the crowd, partially because the guy next to me keeps stepping on my toes. Everyone around me is singing with the band. Everyone knows the words. There is a five or six year old on his father's shoulders who is singing along too. Now I'm having a moment. I look to my left and see a group of my friends from college and they appear to all be having the same moment. Bucknell girls done good. Hot damn.
MS: So what's next?
CH: The new album comes out in July. It's a studio album this time. From the Ground Up, our last album, was a live studio recording, which was cool, but this next one isn't live.
KH: And we tour again. We've had a label now, but we want to do this ourselves. Having a label sign you is great, but you rely on [the label] to create you. We came in created, doing our thing already. You give up a lot of control, and we wanted that back. So here we are.
MS: What is the most important factor in your success?
CH: Our fan base, definitely.
KH: We developed a huge fan base when we left New York City and hit the road. Not that we didn't have a base here, we do, but you have to get out there to grow it. So signing with a label is great, but if you don't have the fan base, you won't go anywhere.
CH: Our fans are amazing. The Internet has been huge for us [http://www.antigonerising.com]. That was totally Kristen. We had a website when people where like, “What? What do you have one of those for? And what does it do?"
KH: Our first URL had like a million letters. I can't even remember it, but it was archaic. It went up in '95. Everyone was like, "What?" But I knew it would be important down the road. I don't think now anyone could succeed without one.
MS: Do you see a Bucknell concert in your future?
CH: Absolutely. We'd do anything for Bucknell. We love this place. What works for you? We'll plan the tour around it.
And they mean it. Antigone Rising, Bucknell's own musical uprising will be playing on Oct. 20 for Homecoming 2007. Talk about the perfect site for a concert, the band will be in the exact spot where Cathy graduated, atop Freas Hall, playing its unique sound to the quad for Bucknell's first myvillage festival. It rained for Kristen's graduation, preventing her from sharing that space with generations of Bucknellians before her, so this is feels like a special kind of karma. Stay tuned for the very cool details.