Sometimes inspiration takes hold in the strangest of manners. This was the case for NYC-based post-punk duo Frenchy and the Punk, for the impetus behind the songs on Zen Ghost, their seventh album. Dark times make for dark songs. Their strongest track in the collection, a sensuous love song wrapped in an impending apocalyptic scenario, is If The World Doesn’t End First. What wellspring burst forth this gem? An email postscript from a promoter.
“Extreme circumstances tend to put things in focus and in perspective…the pandemic felt like the culmination of years of social and cultural anxiety,” says vocalist Samantha “Frenchy” Stephenson. “There was a point where…we were trying to book some shows with the expectation that it would be possible to tour again in early 2021, but the situation kept shifting. A promoter, suggesting a new possible show date, ended the email with ‘if the world doesn’t end first’. That phrase really hit me.”
With those chilling words, Stephenson fell down a rabbit hole, recalling the childhood trauma of seeing the apocalyptic film The Day After. “I had a recurring nightmare for months afterwards that I was running home during a nuclear war to die with my family. I didn’t want to die away from them. It was the Cold War, it felt like the end of the world was possible back then…It took me back and I started thinking about how all the trivialities and ridiculous things that we worry and stress about, things that in the end don’t matter, vanish in the face of survival and we are left with the one thing that does matter – love.
The rest of the album is chock full of passionate performances, transcendent lyrics, spiritual connection and skilled storytelling. Starting off strong is Mon Souvenir, a boppy post-punk number heavily channeling Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Clark, through the filter of dark folk. ‘If I can feel, I can heal’ is the mantra of the day. Temple of Sleep is a plodding ode to sweet, sweet insomnia; the sound immediately brings to mind Dead Can Dance and Faith and the Muse.
After the aforementioned If The World Doesn’t End First comes the intense, ominous howls and spooky classical guitar stylings verging on prog rock in Gear Geist. If the ghost be in the machine, it is certainly ready to make itself known. The tempo moves back to a sweet folk aura more in the vein of Steeleye Span and Loreena McKennitt with the mournful Church of Sound. The album then moves to Come In And Play, a sensual Siouxsie-esque number with an injection of call-and-response interplay…this coven of indoor delights sounds mighty nice on these frosty nights!
The love song Paradise Found showcases Frenchy’s wild jazz vocal stylings, happily playing with the creative noodling on Heiland’s jangly guitar. Blood continues this, but with this track, Frenchy channels Sinéad O’Connor’s haunting yelps. Oxygen is pure romance, opening with gothic sighs of ecstasy over sparse guitar, before launching into a series of intense outbursts as the protagonist works through some Big Feelings. I’ll See You Again closes out Zen Ghost, a gentle ballad with minimal instrumentation – just two artists having their moment together in conversation.
Frenchy and the Punk is vocalist, percussionist, and lyricist Samantha Stephenson and guitarist-composer Scott Helland (Outpatients, Deep Wound). Influenced by The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Blondie, Concrete Blonde, and The B52’s, the duo thrive in their trademark blend of post-punk and dark folk music…at times we also hear the anthemic likes of Florence and the Machine.
Frenchy doesn’t shy away from theatrics: her infectious vivacity, commanding dance moves and bellowing voice weave into a mesmerizing combination. Helland anchors her with his skillful guitar work, a wonderful alchemy of complimentary energies.
French-born, but raised in the UK and USA, Samantha Stephenson’s study of piano and dance ignited her eventual rejection of corporate conformity; fuelling a quest to lead a truly autonomous life through art and music. A son of jazz-loving teachers, Scott Helland grew up in Western Massachusetts and was a vital player on the region’s fertile early hardcore punk scene, including time playing in Deep Wound, along with Dinosaur Jr. founders J Mascis and Lou Barlow.
Helland and Stephenson met in NYC in 1998, when Stephenson spontaneously jumped on stage to accompany Helland during his solo guitar performance. The artistic union was immediate, powerful and undeniable – and so is their personal union. The pair began to tour with fevered zeal, turning heads with their striking aesthetic, steadily building fervent fans on the mystical-folk/steampunk festival, coffeehouse, convention, and club circuits with their boisterous, revival-like live shows.
Over the years, Frenchy and the Punk have performed live with Dead Can Dance’s Peter Ulrich and Dresden Dolls’ Brian Viglione, and opened for Thomas Dolby, Dinosaur Jr., The World Inferno Friendship Society, Rasputina, Cruxshadows, Hurray For The Riff Raff andThe Young Dubliners.
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