Known for soaring three-part harmonies, and a infectious and vivacious live show, Antigone Rising has held their own while touring with The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers Band, The Dave Matthews Band, Rob Thomas, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Lucinda Williams and The Bangles. The folk-alt country band will be heading the annual Women’s Redrock Music Festival, Aug. 9-10, in Torrey, Utah.
We caught up with openly lesbian lead-singer Kristen Ellis-Henderson to talk about the new EP, how her sexuality has affected her career and about her family. For more information, go to womensredrockmusicfest.com.
So you’re working on a new EP, correct? When can we expect it to be released?
We are practically done. We’re just moments away. I’m anticipating sometime in July. It will be summer, maybe early August. And we’re going shoot a video for the first single, “Whiskey.” We have some cool producers and directors. It’s kind of where all our focus is right now.
You’ve worked with crowd-sourcing before it was en vogue. Do you think that’s the way of the future for bands?
Definitely. I think these sites and ways of raising money are so quick to change, I never know what’s coming next. But we always try to anticipate the next big thing. We did a crowd-sourced CD back in 2000, before Kickstarter was started. We had a website, but we told people they could mail checks, and we raised $10,000.
We did a Kickstarter for 23 Red, our latest album. So I do think it’s the way of the future and there are even major-label artists doing it.
You’ve worked with labels and gone independent. Do you have a preference?
I loved our time with our label when we were with a major label. But our label, Lava Records, was a pretty small presence on a much larger major label. It was so fun to have a team like that working alongside us. We’d already been together for so long that we were already a well-oiled machine, as far as running our business, tours and lives. So when we did partner up with Lava, it was amazing. It was like business on steroids. We had major publicists and people who could pick up the phone and get us booked on The Tonight Show.
I wouldn’t say I like one more or less than the other. But there is something about being independent. We don’t have deadlines. We’re able to train and work within our own time frames. And it’s ironic, but the checks are much bigger being independent. When we get a royalty check it’s much bigger now.
For my readers who don’t know you yet, how do you describe your music?
I think we work really hard at writing good, honest songs. And that’s always been our primary focus. I think we’ve got a little country influence in our writing. We were primarily a touring band for a long time and we’ve gotten really good at it. We can take our song and really make a jam out of it, really turn it into something for the live show.
We definitely put a lot of thought into the songs. If you don’t have great songs, no one’s going to listen. You can put on the best live show and have all these other elements, but no one will want to listen.
You’re open about your sexuality. How do you think that has influenced your career?
For a long time I wasn’t open. I think we were concerned about how open we could be. But we started to realize that the only way to live is honestly. I have kids now and I can’t be afraid of who I am. I can’t set that example for them.
I think for our careers, more than anything, ever since I’ve come out, our audiences have grown. The demographics have changed and I see more men and more straight couples. I find now that we’re out and open, everyone is there. What we feared the most was that we wouldn’t be considered mainstream.
From a career standpoint, concert promoters and publicists would rather deal with a band that’s open and honest and real. I would say we have more opportunities because of our honesty.
Do you think one genre of music is more open to gay and lesbian artists?
I think that there are certain country artists that would have a much harder time because they’re Nashville based and signed to the country labels. I think the great thing about Antigone Rising is that we are a little this and a little that and we’re not pigeonholed. We have a little bit more freedom.
We don’t live in Nashville and we’re not making records in Nashville. So I don’t feel those elements. I think there’s an issue in country music for gay and lesbian artists.
Have you been to Utah before? What do you remember about your visits?
We have been to Utah. It’s so beautiful. What I remember most is how beautiful it is. We toured through in 2006 and I just remember looking out the window and thinking, ‘I feel like I’m on another planet, it’s so beautiful.’
I have to ask about your kiss on the cover of Time magazine. How did that come about? What was the reaction?
It came about because of my family. Sara and I got pregnant on the exact same day and 10 months later we gave birth to our son and our daughter. We got a book deal and we discuss how, in 2009, marriage equality nearly passed in New York. We got a lot of phone calls when marriage equality came back into discussion in 2011. So the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation referred media to us when they wanted to talk to a gay couple.
When the U.S. Supreme Court was listening to oral arguments about DOMA, Time called and asked us to see if we’d be willing to pose for photos. They asked if we’d be comfortable kissing. We didn’t think it was for the cover, we had no idea.
The reaction has been amazing. It’s been entirely positive. If there’s anything negative, I haven’t felt or seen it.
Who would you say are your all-time inspirations?
I would have to say The Beatles. I love listening to a Beatles album like Abbey Road. Oh, and Roseanne Cash is another influence.
Who are you listening to now? Who’s on your iPod right this minute?
My iPod gets taken over by my kids. Fortunately, they’re both really into The Beatles. My son, Thomas, is really into Elton John. So we listen to a lot of Elton John. And my daughter, Kate, is totally obsessed with the Broadway show Annie. So at any given moment, I’m dialing between Elton and Annie.
If you could record with one person alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I’ve been asked this question before, and it always changes depending on the day. But I’d have to say I’d love to sit with George Martin, who produced The Beatles records, and get his take on things. It’s amazing what they did. Of course it wouldn’t hurt if John Lennon was there, too.
Do you have any advice for young gay people living in conservative Utah?
That they’re not alone. Even if they’re unable to come out, they’re not alone. Whether it’s the Internet or through other resources, find friends. You’re not alone and it gets better. It breaks my heart to see young gay and lesbian kids being bullied. We’re all here fighting the fight for equality.