The Sirens

00:00 November 25, 2013
By: David Vicari

Sirens are dangerous but beautiful femme fatales who lure nearby sailors with enchanting music, and, as it turns out, New Orleans has some of our own right here in the Lower Garden District. An intimate mix of acoustic harmonies combined with the island sounds of the ukulele, the soul sisters Kimberly Vice and Michelle Ausman of Sirens are the latest group from the NOLA folk music scene. After the December release of their debut album, Unity, these ardent temptresses caught up with me about working in a minor, stage fright, and a D.I.Y. ethic. Unfortunately, there won't be a burlesque intermission, but, with any luck, you might be able to get intimate with these two at one of their smokey live shows.

WyAt: how would you describe your music?

Michelle Ausman: We sing soulfully and play acoustic harmonies, so I would say we are part of the folk scene - Soul Folk Kimberly Vice: People will say "Oh yeah, they sulk."

WyAt: I have heard your music described as sultry, sensual, and burlesque. how do you get that sound? Is it the ukulele?

Ausman: It's the way we harmonize. We usually gravitate towards harmonizing in an A minor. A lot of times we will harmonize in a minor, play in a minor, and sing in a minor.

WyAt: you guys have your first album coming out this month. Congratulations! What's it called?

Vice: Unity

Ausman: One title we were considering that also kind of pertains to our identity is To Look in the Eyes of Everyone. It correlates with what and how we sing harmonies - like what it feels like to be at one of our shows. At most shows it feels really loud to people, right? When we play, it gets dead quiet. It gets personal when you're making eye contact with everyone in the room which is where that title came from. I think it represents the intimacy we are singing about.

WyAt: I watched your video on BalconytV. how did you guys get involved with that?

Ausman: We had a mutual friend, Jordan Prince, who worked with them in June and he recommended us. He is also a RAW artist. Vice: Yeah, it was great. Ausman: I think we have close to 10,000 views now on that video and it's only been up for two months.

WyAt: Besides playing for BalconytV, where else do you like to play in New orleans?

Vice: Big Top for sure; that's like our family. Ausman: It's a wonderful venue all around. It's a gallery space with all different forms of art, but they're also a non-profi t. They only keep $50 a night, just to pay the staff, and everything else is for the touring band or whatever cause is happening that night. WyAt: I saw you did a fundraiser for your album there. how did that go? Are you also fine artists? I noticed you sold some art as a part of that event. Vice: We are both I guess artistic. She puts it out there more. Ausman: Yeah, I did some watercolors, bought frames from a thrift store, and we sold them at the show.

Vice: A bunch of our friends are artists. One person made a Siren button; people donated art and food. Ausman: We made Jello shots!

WyAt: tell me about your writing process. Do you ever get writers block?

Vice: Oh yeah, of course. There is no form ever. Sometimes the chords come fi rst and sometimes it's the lyrics. Or I will write a whole song, scratch it and later use bits and pieces.

Ausman: We are defi nitely the same in that way. Vice: There is always some sort of emotion we are trying to play; a certain tone. Ausman: I call it The Scatter Brain Formula - I'll be playing and then it just hits me like a ton of bricks.

WyAt: you both play the ukulele; are you classically trained? that's kind of a unique instrument.

Vice: Well, I also play the guitar so that's how it started for me, and Michelle knows the piano. Once you know how to read music, it is a lot easier to teach yourself to play something else. A friend of mine had given me a ukulele; I took it home and taught myself. It was pretty easy; I mean, there are only four strings. The chord structure is simple.

Ausman: I had never played a string instrument before. I never really thought I was good enough at music, but when I tried the ukulele I took to it. We are both completely self-taught.

Vice: But, singing wise, I was in choir.

Ausman: And I did musical theater. It's funny because in high school she used to play in another band with this other girl (laughs), and I always wanted to play with her.

Vice: I'm extremely shy though. I had never played in front of people. When we started playing together, I found my own voice. I would go to open mic every single week to try and prepare for shows.

WyAt: how was that?

Vice: Terrifying! But I got a lot of local support.

Even if you're terrible, people are so supportive. They will be excited that you are covering a certain song or artist. Sometimes I will still go a week before one of our shows just to prepare.

WyAt: Where do you usually do open mic?

Vice: Buddha Belly or Buffa's.

Ausman: Rusty Nail. It's by our house and Todd, I don't know his last name, but he's the guy who runs it, and he is so professional. The sound is great and he really makes sure everyone can be heard.

WyAt: What musicians are you influenced by locally?

Ausman: I'm infl uenced by everyone I see. This is New Orleans. Everything is so open-minded. Personally, I guess, the D.I.Y. punk scene has been really benefi cial. If you want to go tour underground you can. Everything here is D.I.Y., and it's nice to have that in common with some musicians no matter how bad or good people are. There is also a man who busks on Decatur across from Governor Nicholls, I think it is. He made me cry once.

WyAt: What is next for your music?

Ausman: We are planning on selling albums, vinyl, and t-shirts on our national tour.

WyAt: Any other achievements people should know about?

Vice: The 48 Hour Film Festival actually created a new category so that they could give us an award. We sang the score for our friend's movie Sunnyside Up (EFI Productions), and they awarded us with "Best Original Score" for our cover of "House of the Rising Sun."

With more film work on the horizon, plus the tour and promotion of Unity, there is no doubt these water-logged soul-seers will be seducing onlookers from here to the Atlantic.

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