Known for their Kool-Aid-hued chords on their first album inspired by the chirping, electric melodies of retro video games and old MTV movie-scapes, these guys do not wish for a time-machine back to the 1980’s. This band has already found their inside track: instant euphoric recall through an aesthetic called Voltheque. But this darkly Glam, guitar-driven band aims to do more than just transport you back to a certain time. They hope to one day move on and traverse mediums, decades, even eras. And with a band that includes a sigil-drawing warlock, and a couple that bounce visible sparks off each-other in their live performances, we just might get to hear the outcome of such a feat that would make even David Bowie cock an blue eyebrow.
With shows at the Red Party in New York, and The Barbary in Philadelphia, this is already a band that can traverse, if not time periods, than different scenes. The city of Philadelphia is the one place with enough accessibility to the scene, as well as the grit and heart, to hold this up and coming act.
Underneath the stage after a performance at the Red Party, I had the opportunity to speak with two visionaries behind Voltheque: lead vocalist and all-around artist Simone Strange, and bassist, back-up vocalist, and sigil-sketcher Jonathan V. Facile.
JZK: So Silk Stockade was once an original project with Jonathan Facile and Joseph Martin, do I have that right? And they sort of merged with you and Marko to become the project that is now Voltheque? What sort of change did having them bring to the band?
SS: I didn’t ever think of Jonathan and Joseph as Silk Stockade. I’ve listened to all the music of Silk Stockade, and I enjoy it. But I’ve never thought of them, especially of Jonathan, as that project. I just thought of Jon as the bass player and back up singer that came to my band, and added a tremendous amount of energy and pizzazz to our project. He also handles a lot of the communication that -I guess it pisses him off that he communicates with people (laughs) but- I think he knows a lot more people. (JF (shouting): No, I don’t know, I’m an introvert, I know like three or four people! ) I feel like he is more of a people person. I am more of an introvert- I prefer to be in my room, you know? I’m an INFJ. But when I get on stage its totally different. I love being up there, and I feel like I can finally look people in the eye and be my true self. But when we are say, talking to the owner of a club, or industry people, I would prefer that Jonathan do that part, ‘cause he is just really star at it (JF: incomprehensible emphatic sounds). But Jonathan really brings such raw energy and draws people’s attention to our project, and I appreciate him immensely for that.
Another thing is confidence. We were coming from some gigs before that weren’t really the right gigs for us to be booked for: kind of puppymill, jazz bars, Thursday nights at KFN, it was never the right kind of venue. Once Jonathan joined, somehow magically- I think literally he may have drawn up some sort of sigil- but ever since he’s joined we’ve been getting booked for the right types of shows. And now here we we are, playing the Red Party in New York!
Jonathan was also one of the first people, for instance, that told us a live drummer would benefit our sound. He saw the set, and it was kind of crazy. I actually took his advice to heart. But he and my friend Thomas Fisher, the DJ, and the lead singer of Bloodsound, they all came up to me and said they agreed with him. So we found this guy on craigslist named Joe to cover drums, and at once everything changed. Joe is no longer with the band, but the idea stayed.
But the energy of the five of us, altogether, was something I’ve never encountered before in a band. It was live, it was sexy, it was really visceral. I could fuck up and they would just follow me!
Also- I idolized Gary Numan. I looked to Gary Numan as an example when I really should have been looking at Ian Astbury, maybe Siouxsie Sioux; somebody who is more like me, you know, using dance and movement in their performance.
JVF: Yeah, it was like this: Simone had to move forward, and she did. By that first show, when she did move forward, it was a completely fucking different band. We all saw the difference.
JZK: So. When was the point where you stopped messing around in your living room, and Voltheque became a more serious reach?
SS: It was never really messing around in my mind. I was always very serious, and I was also really attracted to Marko, which was a huge driving force behind it (laughs).
JZK: Yes, I think we all saw evidence of that on stage tonight!
SS: Well, yes. How I joined the band was funny, actually. I had posted that I was single on Facebook. Then fifteen minutes later, no joke, Marko messages me asking if I would audition for the band (laughs).
He just thought he would have me play a few chords on the keyboard, whatever, rack up some points for having a girl in the band- a kind of visual thing. And I think he didn’t know I was a singer.
But yeah, I would say the New Years Eve party this past year at Linda Morella and Michael Petit’s house -2016 into 2017- that was the moment we came into our own. We were playing in an 80’s cover band at the house of our new friends. We rocked that basement. We played “She Sells Sanctuary” by the Cult. People were receptive. We must have made, like, seventeen new friends in one night. I am really thankful for Linda and Michael for asking us to do that. When we met those guys, we knew that we would be hanging out for a long time. Just that little video in that basement that we posted on Insta, FB, etc. earned us some clout in the scene.
Another point where we really became “Voltheque as we know it” was when our friend MC Blackwolf- his real name is Alvaro- got us a show at the Barbary. We played in front of one the bartenders, which is a good friend of the owner, John Redden. He recommended us to John, who saw us and then said we were booked for Transmission. Transmission was really a gateway for moving ahead in the scene. Getting booked- Getting paid for shows!
JVF: And shout out to Dollface!
SS: Oh yeah, Ella Dollface, that’s right! She also got us booked at The Fire for a Valentine’s Day show with her. She has so much talent, and I would love to do a duet with her: she has got a great voice, she’s got great energy, she’s a great performer- she needs to be out there!
She has the acting, the voice, and the movement- she’s a triple threat.
JVF: I mean, Jane, how do we come across on stage?
JZK: Oh well, I have to say that watching that performance, I felt proud to know you.
JVF: Like a proud mom!
JZK: That’s right. I felt like….you know, “you came forth from my belly! I had so much morning sickness. I had so many ice cream and pickle cravings, and it was all worth it…” (laughs)
SS: Ugghh. If only they made wine ice cream…
JZK: They do, actually. That’s Hillary Clinton’s favorite food, apparently.
SS: I’m with Her, then!
JVF: Hey. How are you going to edit this, Jane?
JZK: My mind! That is the editing software I have just now (laughs).
TK: (guest input) You should use Audacity.
SS: Yes, Audacity is the editing software I used for Unearthed. In fact, I actually edited the entire rough version of the song with Audacity (the final version was mastered at Philly Sound Studios). It’s great.
JZK: So if there was one track that is the most important to you, which one is it and why?
SS: Unearthed is the song which I think most describes my life the best. It is very important to me. I wrote it in a college class that was called Creativity. I wrote it and performed it for my class, and they were kind of like, “what the hell are you doing?” cause they’re not really musicians, they were more like theater people. I mean, those are my people too. But I’m not sure they were into the same kind of music. I didn’t know if they would really get it, but I thought, “I know this is going to be something in the future”. It ended up being our first single. I’m just really proud of that fact- that I saw it through from a project that was a random thing for a college class, then to playing it with the band, then to doing five vocal takes in the studio. Then to having real mastering done on it! It just really pushed us forward as a band to have that single out there.
My friend John Redden who owns the Barbary, he’s played it several times already. It’s such a treat to hear it being played out of the speakers there. It’s a thing I made for a college class, man!
JZK: That must feel like you’ve already had the success you’re looking for. Sounds glorious.
How long has it been since you wrote that song for your class?
SS: It’s been about three years now.
JZK: I am wondering how you write your songs too. I hate to ask this, but….what was your process like?
SS: Not at all. Just to take that song Unearthed as an example- I wrote that while looking out across the balcony of the apartment I used to live in- just looking at the Philadelphia landscape. And now it’s a completely different place- the skyscrapers look different. Everything’s changed now. So I see that song as a relic of the time that has passed. It was, for me, a true moment frozen in time.
When I talk about “he whose knot held fastened”, I have to remember that whew, It was a bad time for me. But now when I listen to that song, I feel a great sense of pride like, “yeah, I did that. I got through that”.
JZK: So would you say then that Philadelphia features largely in your songs?
SS: Oh yes. I’ve never felt such a connection to a place. I’m originally from Woodland, Washington. A very small town- 5,000 people. I came to Philadelphia for college- I came to Bryn Mawr college originally, I graduated from Temple eventually. And yeah, the city has definitely featured very prominently in many of the songs that I write. “Lost” was another one. I had the feeling of a dystopian landscape in my mind when I was writing it. And just thinking about the changes the city has gone through- what I’ve seen it go through from the 70’s to the early 2000’s- it used to be frozen in a certain state. Then there was this hard wave of gentrification that happened after that point, and now it’s this completely different place. Just five years ago, I would walk around University City, where I lived back then, and I had spiked hair and weird clothes, and people would ask me to take my picture with them. So there may be all these pictures of me floating around somewhere!
JZK: I guess being a neighborhood character is a good prerequisite to being an artist though.
SS: Yeah. I used to walk around, smoking Cloves, black overcoat, liberty spikes, the whole thing.
JZK: Ok. So, if someone wanted to find you on Bandcamp or Youtube, or go to see you perform, but they weren’t sure what to expect, what would you say to them?
SS: Ok, I would say that Voltheque sounds like the first-hand account of an ancient battle scrawled in a mysterious foreign language and tucked away in a time capsule, someday to be unearthed in a distant, apocalyptic future by a gang of alien superheroes trying to save the planet Mercury from careening into the sun. Then you find out – this isn’t history – it’s actually a plot that takes place within a film from the early 1980s, featuring the characteristically soaring, anthemic soundtrack, and a live, intimate performance of Voltheque at the local club. But that’s all part of the experience….
I just came up with that right when you asked… I’ve always attempted to describe the band in conventional terms, but really, we’re not a conventional band by today’s standards. I think that’s why it never made that much sense to me. When you think about the lyrics, they’re mostly apocalyptic in nature. Combine that with the ‘throwback’ element and the energy of the live performance, it’s more akin to an experience than a genre.
JZK: Wow. I didn’t know there was that much multi-sensory, (or multi-era?) background concepts to Voltheque. And I can appreciate the juxtaposition between the archetypal and ideal and then the contrasting “normalness” of the local goth club (well, normal to some!). It’s all part of the goth sensibility, but it’s much more than that too. But that is what drove me to the goth clubs in the first place- it’s that grandiosity of imagination. That’s what I like about them anyway!
One last question. Do you have any straightforward ambitions for the band?
SS: All the way. All the way, if we can. I’m thinking U2.
JZK (singing) “Where the streets have no name….”
SS: That’s right. The Unforgettable Fire is my favorite album by them.
JZK: So your goal is sold-out stadium shows? Create non-profits?
SS: Why set a limit? As far as it can go, let’s take it there.
I just think the three of us are so talented. Jonathan, Marko, and I- we actually call ourselves The Unholy Trio (laughs).
We’ll perform shows just the three of us with sequences if we have to, ‘cause all three of us really are the core and the backbone of this band. Just the energy between the three of us is irreplaceable. You can’t replicate that.
Voltheque’s last two full albums, Voltheque, and I’veknownallalong, as well as their single, Unearthed, are available on Soundcloud and Bandcamp. They also give increasingly regular live performances at Transmission@ The Barbary in Philadelphia.
Interview originally conducted on August 13th, 2017 by Jane Z. Kimmelman.