Fresh out of the recording studio, Red 40 & the Last Groovement is getting ready for the release of their debut album, She’s Keen to Feed, with a launch party concert at FringeArts on Saturday, October 29, 2016. The funk/disco/R&B band was formed by lead singer and songwriter Martha Stuckey in June 2013, as the final project for her certificate from the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. Since then, the group has played gigs at such popular Philadelphia venues as Silk City, Milkboy, The Trocadero, Underground Arts, Johnny Brenda’s, L’Étage, Race Street Pier, Union Transfer, and Kung Fu Necktie, and has been the resident band at FringeArts since 2014, performing Late Nights there monthly.
I had the chance to speak with Martha about the band and the upcoming album, her background and future aspirations, before the big event at the end of the month.
Deb: What has you most excited about releasing your first album?
Martha: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a singer–who doesn’t?—but I never thought I’d really be able to do it. For my brown-haired self to release my inner delight and sexy beast is a dream come true! The album, which will be available for digital download (not as a physical CD), is the first time of having my own original work recorded. We’ve only played outside of Philadelphia once, in 2015, at ANT–the Ars Nova Theater Festival in NYC. So this will enable us to have our music heard by a larger audience, beyond our home base; I’m very excited about that!
Because your performances are so visual, combining music with theatrical personas, did you approach your recording session differently than performing before a live audience?
That’s a very appropriate question. We had to chew on it before going into the studio for our sessions, because our live performances are so physical. So we decided to do live tracking, even including our back-up dancer with us for the recording. One of our new songs, “Comin’ To Getchu,” was written with choreography, so we made sure to do it that way in the studio, with the dancing. After the dance segment, I was almost out of breath when I had to sing again, but it captured the sound and feel of me participating in the energy that we have on stage for the recording. We also wrote new songs with lyrics that reference the visual and physical elements that the audience would normally see on stage.
Red 40 is so sexy she’s gross! So I had to incorporate that gross-out sexy attitude into the album. For example, in “Things That Make Me Feel Like a Woman” she sings about stroking her long leg hair, and about food getting caught in her teeth. The main themes of She’s Keen To Feed are physical; they’re about eating, sex, and femininity, so we knew we had to convey that in the album.
What do you love most about the band?
I love that it’s been a place for all of us to identify what gives us the most pleasure, and to unleash ourselves on stage. We’re all having the time of our life! I grew up in Minnesota, performing in churches, so that was a very different voice from Red 40. Now I get to scream my head off! It’s sweet revenge for this former quiet church girl.
How are you different from your alter-ego on stage?
I don’t know that I’m different, maybe just lower dosed; it’s like knobs that turn up and down. On stage I can be aggressively bossy, sexy, and vicious, but in my everyday life I have to dose it differently. I need business acumen to lead the band, so there has to be some bossiness mixed in with playfulness. But socially there is still some shame for a woman to be bossy, and I resent that I have to be careful in my leadership. On stage I don’t; it gives me the opportunity to open my trench coat.
What’s your first creative memory?
I have multiple memories as a three- or four-year-old, all centering around church. My mother and grandmother were both choir directors, and my mother sang opera for a while, so throughout my life I was always around music. The church down the street had a congregation of two families—mine was one of them—and since I was three, I was the loudest singer. I would break out into song at home, in church, in the store, in the car, anywhere, and people would wonder, “Who is that singing like a maniac?”
In college, I studied music and theater, but I had other interests about the world. I got a BA in Sociology/Anthropology and Women’s Studies, and after college I had the opportunity to teach English in Spain. But while I was there, I realized that I was always spending time locating a keyboard, producing a concert, connecting with other musicians, doing something related to music, so that led me to my career in young adulthood; I realized I had the impulse to create. I also use my background in Anthropology in my music, to find something deeper and to understand being human. Because of that influence, I use storytelling to define the meanings that we make of social constructs. Again, those are some of the important themes of the new album—sex, food, and female identity.
Who were your idols and most important influences growing up?
Dolly Parton was a big one! In my childhood, I saw her photo on the cover of a Christmas album, and thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. My mom had a lot of musicals on tape, and I loved Hello, Dolly! with Barbra Streisand. My boyfriend (Douglas Williams of Orbiter 3) and I talk a lot about the old musicals, they were definitely a big influence on me. I love soul and R&B, so Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu had an impact on the way I wanted to use my voice. And I love Beyoncé, but that almost goes without saying, since everyone does! For the band, it was Parliament-Funkadelic; their shows seemed larger than life, with all the outlandish costumes and color.
You’ve had very diversified training. What have you gotten from your educational background, and what do you hope to gain from returning to school for you MFA?
It’s hard to make these decision as an artist. I had to ask myself, “Can I afford it?” “Is it worth going into debt to pay tuition?” “Should I take the time to do it?” After college, I did the certificate program with Pig Iron, and that was the launch for Red 40. It was my final project, and several of the other artists who were enrolled with me became part of the band. I’m indebted. If I hadn’t gone there for additional training, Red 40 might never have happened.
One of the focuses of the program is sensitivity to the audience, of learning to be playful and responsive, to be able to interact spontaneously with them; that takes a lot of talent and training. I’m back now with Pig Iron, at the University of the Arts, for my MFA, which will be done in December. It went so fast! Having those letters after my name will help with my educational goals, of being able to teach. As a woman in music, I’m especially interested in teaching sound engineering to young women, because not many women do those types of jobs. There’s a gender disparity in the music industry, as in all fields. So I want to encourage young women to diversify, not just to be lead singers, but musicians, technicians, songwriters; they should do everything that men have traditionally done.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Oh, God! I feel like I need to get this album out, and then I can think about it! I’ll be 39, I’d like to have a kid or two, and I hope to be making music. I’m interested in the longevity of my musical life, though I’m not sure what it will be: maybe Red 40 in her 40s, and 50s, and 60s—that would be great! And I always want to continue to support women in music.
What upcoming events are on your schedule?
When our class finishes the program at the end of this semester, we’ll have the “Catapult Festival” (the Pig Iron MFA Performances), with three shows done in rep at the Arts Bank, from December 13-15. Red 40 & the Last Groovement will still be performing regularly as the house band at FringeArts, including New Year’s Funkin’ Eve, though not on a monthly basis as we have for the past two years. I’m also working on a show called Devil’s Auction with Adrienne Mackey and David Sweeney (aka Johnny Showcase), through Swim Pony in collaboration with Drexel University, from Feb. 16-25. And there’s a lot more in 2017, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here!
What is it about red hair?
There’s something that feels so bodily about red—it’s bloody and visceral, and voluptuous. Max Brown, who dresses Martha Graham Cracker, said that big red hair traditionally signifies fertility, and also vitality. As a contemporary symbol, I think red represents nerve and uniqueness, a kind of “I don’t give a fuck” attitude.
Alex Bechtel came up with the name Red 40 for me. I have a sensitivity to the food dye; it made me super-hyper as a kid, and, as an adult, aggressive and confrontational. It also can be toxic! So it was perfect for my stage persona. And it’s funny that my boyfriend is a natural redhead, so I guess I am partial to red hair.
Thanks for giving us some background information on She’s Keen To Feed, and for letting our readers get to know you better–as both Martha and Red 40!
Red 40 & the Last Groovement Album Release Party plays October 29, 2016, at FringeArts – 140 North Columbus Boulevard, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.