Cathy Henderson of Antigone Rising
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If you are one of those people who think classic rock is making a comeback, you could get an argument from Cathy Henderson. I don't think it ever went away, the lead guitarist and cofounder of Antigone Rising exclaims about the genre that has played such an influential role in the band's songwriting. Sprouting from an acoustic duo comprised of sisters Cathy and Kristen Henderson, this New York quintet of female rockers is on the cusp of stardom. Touring with bands including Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult and the Allman Brothers, Antigone Rising have had ample opportunity to display their roots driven brand of rock in front of fans and peers who have kept the classic rock fires burning brightly for three plus decades. One of the main reasons for the success this band has experienced can be traced to a grass roots approach that propagated a fan base transcending generations of rock and rollers.
Cathy Henderson knew from a very young age that she was meant to be a musician. My parents loved the Beatles and those types of bands, and I loved the whole idea of groups like that and their performances as a group. There was always music in our house, and I spent a lot of time gathering the neighborhood kids up and putting bands together. Cathy's sister Kristen was also heavily into music, and throughout high school and college the siblings performed in several bands together as well as in separate groups. After college they decided to join forces as an acoustic duo, performing anywhere they could in their native New York City area. Eventually naming themselves Antigone Rising, the duo began to add various other performers as they continued to perform and grow as a band. The process was gradual for Antigone Rising. Drummer Dena Tauriello came on board in 1996 when the band was still in its formative stages. In 1999, Cassidy joined the band as lead vocalist, and after having a couple different bass players, Jen Zielenbach proved that she was the right fit for the job in 2002. With Cathy and Kristen on lead and rhythm guitars respectively, everything seemed in place. We started gathering the right people, Cathy recalls, and while we started acoustic, we were always looking to become a full rock band. You just need to find the right parts and being on the New York music scene, we were able to do this.
Antigone Rising had started as more of a cover band, gradually adding in originals as they penned more of them. Soon their fans began to take interest in their original work so they cut several demo CDs to sell at their shows. In 1999, the band independently released their first official CD New And Used. We always had that experience in the studio, Cathy notes. We made up our own label called Gurly Records, and we just printed them up and sold them. We got out there, played everywhere we could and sold the CDs; it was the best way to do it. It was totally grass roots because we wanted to stay in control with who we were and what the type of music was that we were going to do. Antigone Rising spent most of their early years sticking pretty close to their geographic home, and managed to cultivate a respectable fan base in the tough New York market. They eventually began to spread out more along the East Coast, also touring as far west as Chicago. The more often we went back to these markets, the more and more people would come to see us. More radio people would take interest, and they would come down and put us on the air. The press would start writing more about us...it just kept growing.
Antigone Rising had always been a bit different, due to the fact that they were a new act whose songwriting impetus was primarily culled from the classic rock roots that they had been brought up with. They decided briefly to take a more modern approach to their songwriting, before discovering that this could actually herald a step backwards for them. We actually once listened to what was on the radio now and tried to write a song that sounded more like that. We just found ourselves chasing our own tails and it then became an empty process which produces empty results. We realized that this was a big spirit sucker for us.
Returning to their musical roots and their grass roots way of presenting themselves to the world, Antigone Rising's fan base continued to swell. We love doing what we do and the way people have been supporting us has been incredible. We decided we were going to do it our way and figure out who we are before a record label comes in and decides for us. It took us a few years, but once we let go, everything started coming around for us. Music industry people finally began to take notice, particularly Jason Flom. In 2003, the band cut a demo with Allman Brothers producer Michael Barbiero. Michael really liked their music and asked them if he could shop the demo around. After walking into Jason's office, Michael convinced the Lava Records CEO to go see the band perform live at a club in New York. After the show, Antigone Rising was invited the very next day to a meeting in Jason's office, and they ended up with a record deal. When it all happened, it was pretty much like that, Cathy notes. But it was not without years of being on the road, making no money, figuring out who the heck we were both as a band and as people.
Lava had a different marketing concept to introduce Antigone Rising to a nationwide audience. Along with getting them on the road with classic rock acts including Aerosmith and Joan Jett, Jason worked together with Starbucks Coffee and their music division Hear Music. The result is a CD of more acoustic tracks in a live setting called From The Ground Up that will be available in Starbucks Coffee outlets nationwide. That was a very smart move on Jason (Flom's) part, because it is very difficult to sell your CDs as an unknown band. It is especially difficult when you have your first CD in the stores under the letter A and there is nothing pointing people to it. The fact that we were going to be on display in Starbucks would attract a widespread demographic that no other place attracts. It was a great way to get our name out there so when our Lava record comes out we already have a larger fan base built who have the (Starbucks) CD and will be looking for the next one.
With the plugged debut on Lava forthcoming, Antigone Rising is on the road again to support the release of From The Ground Up. A hectic fall tour schedule launches with select opening slots for the Allman Brothers, and will continue with a longer stint opening for Rob Thomas, who had co-penned a song on the Hear Music debut. In spite of being a fairly new band, Antigone Rising fits in well with these classic rock icons, as their own music carries influences from mellower acts like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles to those who have more bite like AC/DC. We've been playing with all these classic rock acts that have been around for years and their fans are loving our music. The crazy thing is the parents are liking it, but so are their kids. Classic rock is really the best music out there; so layered with the vocals, the harmonies, the riffs. I don't think the need or the want for that music ever went away. It was more of a case of the business taking over in the 80's and making music more about the bottom line and quick easy mindless hits. One of the main reasons for this band's burgeoning popularitygoes beyond their talent both in recordings and in the live presentation of their music. True, they have a major label backing them up now, but they retain the work ethic and loyalty to their fans that has always been present. This potent combination is perhaps the greatest underlying reason thatAntigone Rising's career is...well...rising. When you are on a label you have to toe the line. We are lucky that we are on a label who loves us for who we are and are behind us a thousand percent. No matter what, we will always be grass roots, we will always be reachable, and we will be real. After every show no matter how big the venue is, we go out and we interact with people. That's part of making it a real happening and a real event, and without the fans, what are we doing? We reach each other that way, and that is such an important part of any business, to be in touch with the people you are trying to reach.
Cathy Henderson's advice for musicians You have to be clear on who you are and what your music is all about and what your goals are and who your audience is. Do it for you and the rest will come if you are ready. Don't ever lose the essence of who you are. You have to let go of certain aspects of the business as you get bigger and let people take over some things, but you still have to stick your face in there every once in awhile to keep up with what is happening. The only way you are going to do it is you have to be it, you have to be a full-time musician. That is really not easy, society does not court to that, so that is the hardest thing. Once you do it, it sort of flips around, but you have to stick it out.