Bourbon Princess
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Bourbon Princess

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When Elvis Costello titled his 1980 album Get Happy!!, he was laying down a manifesto of sorts. People with snarling, punkish personalities weren’t supposed to cheer up, calm down, or, God forbid, fall in love. Getting happy was equated with mellowing out, becoming boring. Some would say that Costello went on to do just that later in his career.

That issue came to mind while I was listening to new albums from two of the dark women of Boston music, Bourbon Princess frontwoman Monique Ortiz and ex-Helium leader Mary Timony. If not exactly happy, these albums find the two women more upbeat than they’ve been in the past. After years in an enchanted forest of prog-rock leanings and fairy-tale imagery, Timony has rediscovered her guitar and made a loud, scathing rock album, Ex Hex (Lookout!). And Bourbon Princess’s Dark of Days (Accurate) adds some cabaret shadings (and a rare love song) to the band’s usual sultry funk.

When we meet at the Abbey Lounge, Ortiz admits to having doubts about letting her guard down. "I used to have a complex about, ‘Are we cool enough? What’s our hipness factor?’ And when I thought that way, I was afraid of pretty songs. Finally I said, ‘Why the fuck am I even thinking about this?’ Because when you think that way, you’re not going to be sincere. And I realized that cool people have done pretty songs, even Iggy Pop. And look at the Smiths; they’re the kings of pretty. I’m in a healthy relationship now, so I can’t continue to write songs about heartbreak and rejection. I can’t write about what I’m not feeling."

Ortiz’s pierced cheek, shaded eyes, and black clothes give her a severe look on stage, but off, she’s more likely to smile these days. "When I wrote the first two albums, I was having problems, and I think it’s really common for a band’s first two albums to be really self-absorbed. I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist writings lately, and I’ve learned that it’s not about running away from your fears. More like learning to relax and be comfortable with yourself."

What’s on her mind these days? "Well, lately I’ve been thinking about really ugly fish. And I’m reading a lot about socialism. Plus, I was really traumatized by the last election, so that led me away from the whole sex-and-romance thing. Besides, that can get really boring."

Not to worry: the disc opens with a pair of love-and-sex songs that are as twisted as anything she’s written. "Still Asleep" is a shady blues that brings the lowest growls out of her fairly-androgynous-to-start-with voice. "The Waiting Noon" uses some funky sax and a rap-style vocal delivery to delve into a vampiric relationship. Then the love song "Minor Key" rings true and touching, describing the moment when a dark soul finds a mate. As for which songs were inspired by the November election, "Master Manipulator" would be a safe guess. The lyrics grow more instrospective and the music gets more expansive as the album goes on. The title track employs strings to fine effect; "Supergirl’s Complaint" would be heavy metal if the main riff were played on guitar instead of sax.

"If I’m in love with someone, the music I’m going to put on is a little cerebral, dark or sad," Ortiz explains. "Look at Roxy Music, for crying out loud. I wanted to make a record like that. I’d gotten myself a digital eight-track, and I did a lot of writing at home, using instruments other than bass, so we knew what the plan was before we went in the studio. I really wanted to do a bigger-sounding record this time. And" — here she cuts a familiar topic off at the pass — "I do think it’s gotten dangerous to make the Morphine comparison."

That’s a hard one to avoid altogether now that Bourbon Princess are part of the loose-knit, Morphine-associated Hi-N-Dry organization. Ortiz herself was a teenage Morphine fan who was drawn to Boston after meeting the band’s late leader, Mark Sandman, at a Philadelphia gig. Morphine-like sounds have been known to turn up in Bourbon Princess’s music, especially when ex-Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Jerome Deupree (Morphine’s first drummer) were in the band. (Deupree remains on drums, but Either/Orchestra leader Russ Gershon has taken over sax and Jim Moran has been added on guitar.) Then again, Ortiz’s voice isn’t anything like Sandman’s. And her lyrics are different as well. "They had a sound that was so unique and now it’s gone. So people are going to be hungry to hear some of that Morphine sound. With us being from this area and my having a slidy sound on bass, we’re going to get those comparisons. But I think we have more in common with Julian Cope than with Morphine."

Besides, given Ortiz’s performance style — and the fact that she used to perform with just a drummer for back-up — you’d think her audience would have more crossover with the artful types who follow the Dresden Dolls. When I bring that band up, Ortiz reveals that she and Amanda Palmer used to be housemates. "We didn’t get along very well as - Boston phoenix 4/05


Set to release their third album on April 12th, Bourbon Princess has created an ominous presence in the crowded Boston rock scene as THE rock act to see multiple times. Maybe its Jim Morans piercing eyes, staring at the crowd as he strums a Fender guitar. Or it could be Russ Gershons amazing saxophone, which ties the entire night together.

Dark of Days may prove to be Bourbon Princesss breakaway success, if the songs performed Saturday night are any indication of the albums tone. Its darker with a cleaner presentation, like a Blue Wave crashing over you. Blue Kitchen was evenly played and less experimental than their earlier attempts (like The Dream from Black Feather Wings), although it mostly exuded spoken word over bass guitar. Its nice to have a touch of the poetry reading, art-house thing without having to endure an entire night of it.

Another excellent tune was the title track to the new album, Dark of Days. The nocturnal creeper helped introduce a more sophisticated sound, yet blended well with the climax of familiar favorites. In true rock style, they closed the set with eerie, detached crowd pleasers Black Feather Wings and Early Train.

It proved an impossible task to recapture the energy that Bourbon Princess delivered as headliners and popular roots artists, Twinemen, were in the auspicious position of following Monique Ortiz and her white fretless bass.

North Carolina veterans SNMNMNM opened the show, presenting an odd assortment of instruments that included a trumpet, an accordion, a tuba and drums. They are a retro Dr. Demento band called SNMNMNM (think S&M and Eminem together). My favorite song was smack dab in the middle of the set, called Zombie Girlfriend, which had tones of The Dead Milkmen and references to Night of the Living Dead. The tuba solo was excellent, too, as this quartet proved that you dont have to have a traditional rock instrument to be a great rock band.

by Alan Haworth

- StankyGroove.com


By Andy Ellis


Casting a sonic spell that’s spooky, hypnotic, and often nightmarish, Bourbon Princess mixes droning bass, world-weary tenor saxophone, jazzy percussion, and washes of textural guitar into a startlingly original ensemble sound. Fronted by bassist and vocalist Monique Ortiz, and powered by Morphine’s original drummer, Jerome Deupree—whose tom-rich rhythms evoke vintage Velvet Underground—the band specializes in mysterious, rumbling grooves. Saxist Russ Gershon wraps his lines around Ortiz’s husky alto voice like an anguished lover, while guitarist Jim Moran artfully fills the cracks with subtle, liquid colors. Ortiz writes about the intoxicated, seamy side of life in such frank, unflinching detail that some listeners may miss the telepathic musical interplay that underpins her lyrics. Engineer Paul Q. Kolderie (Morphine, Hole, Radiohead, Warren Zevon) keeps the swirling sounds sharply focused. Fans of Tom Waits, Portishead, and Nick Cave will feel right at home.

- GUITAR PLAYER MAGAZINE, MAY 2005


The unfortunate band name, Bourbon Princess, brings to mind some boozy rock ‘n’ roll chick, but actually, the music of this Boston-based band comes from a very different space.

Deep-voiced lead singer/songwriter/bassist Monique Ortiz has written a set of dark, moody tunes that are somewhat reminiscent in spirit to The Doors, Patti Smith and Nico-era Velvet Underground, as well as the Boston band Morphine, whose drummer, Jerome Deupree, plays skins in Bourbon Princess. Sax player Russ Gershon also brings some of that Morphine vibe, while guitarist Jim Moran lays down haunting lines that snake around the extremely prominent bass parts supplied by Ortiz. At times jazzy, other times more rockin' and hypnotic, Bourbon Princess has made an album that is both unique and uncompromising.

Producer: Bourbon Princess. Engineer: Paul Q. Kolderie
— Blair Jackson

- MIX MAGAZINE, March 1, 2005


Though the name of the modern rock band Bourbon Princess has nothing to do with Louisiana and more to do with the French Princess of Bourbon — as soon as the bass of the first song begins on Dark of Days, it is as though you have stumbled upon a pre- or post-Mardi Gras jam session held somewhere close to the famous New Orleans party street.

Bourbon Princess has returned with its third album and has applied its trademark bluesy sound and funky trumpet vibrations to tracks with weighty drumbeats and has managed to create a very strong album.

True to the album’s title, the band provides nail-bitingly haunting arrangements, with tracks worthy of inclusion on any horror movie soundtrack. But Bourbon Princess displays its talent and versatility with a variety of songs each standing strong on its own originality and energy.


Monique Ortiz, the lead singer, songwriter and bassist, is responsible for the album’s story-like lyrics, and engineer Paul Kolderie — who has worked with rock bands Hole and Radiohead, is credited with the album’s unique sound.

The album begins with “Still Asleep” and “The Waiting Noon,” on which saxophonist Russ Gershon displays his talent with a provocative rhythm, lusty enough to influence anyone imagine moving as though they are the wavy stream of air coming from the hollow opening of his instrument.

The instrumentation of this album can not be ignored — the music alone would have been enough to offer an enjoyable release.

But Ortiz’s lyrics are almost as engaging as their musical arrangements. In “Still Asleep,” Ortiz croons in a dreamlike state “Better come back my friend./ Gonna lock you in my legs again,/ pin you to my bed and pull a pillowcase/ over your handsome head.” Her vocals, suggestive of Tracy Chapman and Nina Simone influences, are as penetrating as her bass.

Ortiz offers a little sunshine on a gloomy day in “In Between Songs,” an upbeat song about catching the eye of an admirer who makes her a little more excited than she expected to become.

As the album moves along, the songs begin to slow down, but Bourbon Princess doesn’t lose its enthusiasm.

Ortiz could have easily to put listeners to sleep with her abysmal voice in ballads such as “Cliché” and “Master Manipulator,” but her sound intensifies and the lyrics become sharper, deterring any urge to skip to the next track.

Bourbon Princess has received critical acclaim for its murky sound, and the band does a good job of preventing the album from becoming dismal and boring.

The creativity and originality of Bourbon Princess is undeniable, and Dark of Days proves that the band definitely has a sound you definitely won’t find anywhere else.

Dark of Days is an album with songs that have a variety of arrangements and lyrics capable of holding your attention till the very end.

- DAILY TARHEEL, March 24, 2005



The sound of Monique Ortiz's world changed the moment she first heard Morphine. It was 1996 and for Ortiz, a former New Wave Goth girl who had grown up playing the bass guitar in suburban Pennsylvania, the exotic atmospheres of Morphine's music sounded like an epiphany. What struck her, she remembers, is "how different it was, and the mood of it.

"It seemed like something a lot of us wished we could do, and we couldn't figure it out. They were onto a concept that I really wanted to pursue, which was [mostly] guitarless rock, where the bass was the focus or the horns were the focus." That's all the reason Ortiz needed to leave her home state. She headed for Morphine's birthplace of Cambridge, and began developing an approach not only indebted to that band, but also to influences as diverse as David Sylvian (singer for the art-punk outfit Japan), and Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry. Later, Ortiz discovered jazz singer Nina Simone.

Ortiz, who plays the Zeitgeist Gallery June 20, recently released her second album, "Black Feather Wings," under her stage name, Bourbon Princess. The disc is out on the Cambridge-based Accurate Records label. The perfect soundtrack to a late night of low lights and smoky ruminations, thanks to its author's equally smoky, contralto vocals and Beat-inspired lyrics, it is also a date with destiny. The disc features ex-Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley, original Morphine drummer Jerome Deupree, and was recorded at Morphine's Hi-N-Dry studio. The creative spirit of that band's deceased singer-bassist Mark Sandman also looms large.

"It's no secret that these guys are some of my biggest musical heroes," Ortiz says. "Even now, I have moments where it hits me and I go, `My God, I actually did it - I made a record with Dana Colley and Jerome Deupree.' I'm honored." Recording with them, as well as multi-instrumentalist Jim Moran, was a valuable learning experience, she says. While the ambience of the music sounds unmistakably like Morphine, to anyone who has attended her shows over the past several years, "Black Feather Wings" is also very much a snapshot of Bourbon Princess's own dark-hued dreams.

"I wasn't trying to copy Morphine," says Ortiz, whose band features a rotating cast of musicians, including Accurate Records founder and Either/Orchestra saxophonist Russ Gershon. "But there's really no avoiding sounding like people that you really like. And this is a kind of rock that should be pursued and explored. The sound shouldn't die just because Mark isn't with us anymore."

For her next album, Ortiz envisions other collaborations as a way to explore tones and textures in her music even she hasn't discovered yet. As a female artist who doesn't fit the Lilith Fair-folk or mall-pop molds, the future appears wide open. "I cringe when people use that (singer-songwriter) terminology with me, because I know what they're thinking and I'm not that," she says. "Maybe there's somebody else in the country or the world that sounds like this, but I haven't heard it yet. So I have the feeling that I'm on the right track."

Author(s): JONATHAN PERRY Date: June 19, 2003 Page: 9 Section: Calendar

- Boston Globe



By: Scott D. Lewis

My, what an ideal band name. We'd expect a Bourbon Princess to be majestic and messy, capable of exhibiting grandeur and poise, but equally likely to take a header down the stone steps. Of course, when our Bourbon Princess reached the bottom and got up, she'd be sure to brush the creases out of her gown and thrust her bloodied nose back in the air. A vehicle for the provocative storms gently gusting out of the mouth of sultry singer Monique Ortiz, Bourbon Princess has released an oddly arresting sophomore effort. Those familiar with the criminally overlooked Diane Izzo or Antietam's Tara Key (whose first solo album happens to be titled Bourbon County) will recognize and appreciate the terrain laid out on *Black Feather Wings.* It is stark, hollowed-out and swollen with as much tragedy as beauty. Ortiz sounds like she could be Patti Smith's detox-hating daughter or PJ Harvey's sister slammed in solitary confinement. Her literate, colorful narrative and skewed reflections slide out of her mouth like thick opium smoke, and the minimal, jazz-rock band (featuring Morphine sax man Dana Colley and drummer Jerome Deupree ) keeps things moving along without ever getting in the way. Several songs pay homage to Lou Reed's cool detachment while a few others, especially Jerkoff, bring Bryan Ferry's slushy suave to mind. While it's certainly not the most immediately accessible album out there, it is certainly one of the most interesting, involving and compelling pieces of sonic art to arrive in some time.

(http://www.inmusicwetrust.com/articles/61r14.html)


- In Music We Trust (July, 2003)


Wow. To be completely honest I was so not expecting Bourbon Princess to sound like this. Bourbon Princess is Monique Ortiz—a songwriter, singer and bassist who just oozes through the speakers like warm, sticky molasses on a hot summer day. Her voice is intoxicating, mesmerizing and sexy all at the same time…quite a feat indeed. From the sassy album opener “Stretcher” to the rougher “The Spider Sings” to the bluesy ballad “One of These Days,” with one listen Black Feather Wings will have you in its snare and won’t let go for a very long time. But it’s not like you’re going to want it to anyways.
- —C.E. Pelc


Maybe Baby and Bourbon Princess shed light on darkness
BY TED DROZDOWSKI

(excerpt)

LIKE WHAT MATTERS, Bourbon Princess’s Black Feather Wings (Accurate) was recorded at Hi-N-Dry, a fifth-floor aerie in an old Cambridge industrial building that’s more like a comfy loft apartment than a studio. The place’s warmth and atmosphere translates to the recordings made there, which date back to Morphine’s Cure for Pain (Rykodisc) and include recent albums by folksingers Karaugh Brown and Kris Delmhorst and rockers the Twinemen.
The latter band’s nucleus is vocalist Laurie Sargent and ex-Morphine members Dana Colley and Billy Conway. Colley and Conway tend to take turns manning the studio’s controls: Conway produced What Matters, for example, and Colley, along with Monique Ortiz, produced Black Feather Wings.
Bourbon Princess is in essence Ortiz, who writes the material, sings it, and plays fretless bass. The name refers not to any predilection for Jack Daniel’s but to a consort of the Marquis de Sade, the Princess of Bourbon. "Sometimes it’s really annoying, because I can’t enjoy a whiskey without somebody saying, ‘Bourbon princess, eh?’ " The name does create a sense of mystery, and so does Ortiz’s music. But it’s deeper and darker than that of Maybe Baby — closer to the poetic "low rock" of Morphine. At times, in numbers like "The Spider Sings" and "The Dream," Ortiz sings with long, deep phrases that recall Morphine’s late vocalist, Mark Sandman.
And there is a connection. Ortiz was living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the mid ’90s and going through a difficult period. Her band, a new-romantic-inspired group, had just broken up; worse, her brother had died, sending her family into turmoil. His passing occurred just before Ortiz went off to college, so she soon found herself alone and miserable and trying to find her own way out of an emotional pit. Morphine offered her a rope ladder.
"Amid all this other stuff, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do musically," she says. "I knew it wasn’t going to be a band with a guitar, but I didn’t know what it would be. And then I saw the movie Spanking the Monkey. I heard the soundtrack and loved the band. I didn’t know what instruments, exactly, were playing, but I knew they didn’t have a guitar."

DON'T FRET: it was Morphine who led Monique Ortiz out of emotional turmoil and into new musical terrain.
The music for Spanking the Monkey was provided by Morphine. Shortly after she figured that out, Ortiz learned that the band had a show scheduled at the Trocadero in Philadelphia and determined to go. "You know how sometimes music will just hit you at the right time and make you really examine what you’re doing? I realized I was going to change my life at that Morphine concert." After the show, she went behind the club and met Sandman as the band were loading out. "I don’t know if he was just striking up a conversation or had some kind of inkling, but he asked me, ‘Are you a musician?’ I ended up telling him where I was at, and he tilted his head and looked at me kind of sideways, all chiseled in that Sandman way, and said, ‘Sounds like you need to relocate.’ "
Sandman advised her to check out Cambridge, and in 1996 she did move there. What’s more, she pulled together a dream line-up for Black Feather Wings. Colley plays saxophone all over the album, and the drummer is Jerome Deupree, Morphine’s original sticksman. They’re joined by guitarist/pianist Jim Moran. Deupree’s swinging, spare style of propulsion and Colley’s low-toned sonorities make comparisons with Morphine inevitable.
But careful listening reveals that Ortiz has evolved her own style as a talented poet since her self-released 2000 recording Stopline. Her songs, whether spirited kissoffs like "I’ll Take a Cab" or pure narrative like the post-one-night-stand "Early Train," are full of vibrant detail. The original blues tune "Careful What You Wish For" reveals her true range as a singer: Ortiz likes to keep her voice low for most numbers, and that adds to the sultry ambiance, but on "Careful What You Wish For" she unveils her upper register, with delicate phrasing and subtle control.
Although Black Feather Wings is an excellent album, Bourbon Princess are best straight up — live. That’s where Ortiz’s stories get a boost from her energy as a performer, and where her musicianship is on fiery display. As she relates intricate tales like the bleak overdose narrative "Stretcher," she negotiate effortlessly the twists of the fretless bass. The instrument’s slithery tones work almost as a second vocalist, harmonizing with her vocals as Deupree keeps things afloat.
You wouldn’t know it from watching her, but playing a fretless bass while singing is, as Ortiz admits, no easy task. "I find it really, really hard, and I’ve worked really hard to be able to do it. But I can’t even listen to a fretted instrument now. The fretless has just become such a big part of what I do."
(http://www.bostonphoeni - Boston Phoenix


Monique Ortiz explains that when you dream your teeth are falling out, it's a sign of stress. She adjusts her Kubicki bass and smirks at drummer Larry Dersch (Binary System). With a low chuckle and a wolfish grin, she sings "On the Inside," a hypnotic confessional ballad with an infectious and disturbing chorus. "I'm running as fast as I can into another day/I'm kicking and screaming but only on the inside…" The song is anchored by chunky, throbbing bass, sails into a heart-stopping wail, and ends with Monique plaintively whistling. A beat of silence, then the enthralled audience goes crazy. This girl can play.
Bourbon Princess is about unapologetic carnal urges, bleeding emotional wounds, and keeping your chin up. At once passionate and aloof, Monique Ortiz falls somewhere between Mark Sandman and Annie Lennox, her bluesy croons complementing her powerful bass. A strangely dynamic act, Bourbon Princess will find their audience with fans of Morphine, PJ Harvey, Soul Coughing, and Leonard Cohen. Minimalistic bohemian voodoo, baby. (Lexi)
- The Boston Noise


Discography

-Stopline (full-length independent release. c 2000)
-"Jerkoff" (3-song e.p. c.2002)
-Black Feather Wings (full-length. Accurate Records. c 2002)
- Dark Of Days (c 2005...due out 4/5/05)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Bourbon Princess is a band of four exceptional musicians making beautiful, dark-edged, highly original music featuring the lyrical songwriting of singer/bassist Monique Ortiz. And although the striking front woman does enjoy a good glass of Maker's Mark, she is not the actual Bourbon Princess.
"People always come up to me at shows and ask me why the band name called Bourbon Princess,"Monique says. "I try to explain that it's not me, but a woman the Marquis de Sade had an affair with - the Princess of Bourbon - and that I named the band after her.”
With the co-release of Bourbon Princess' new Dark of Days by the Accurate and HI-N-DRY labels and the band's upcoming tours, Monique will have a lot more explaining to do as a bigger audience comes under the spell of her group's mesmerizing sound.
Monique calls the sound "blue wave ": new wave with a restrained but distinct blues and jazz flavor. She crafts the approach from the warm, flexible tones of her contralto voice and the deep sonorities of her versatile bass playing, with the help of her talented co-conspirators: original Morphine drummer Jerome Deupree, Either/Orchestra saxophonist/leader Russ Gershon and guitarist/pianist Jim Moran.
Bourbon Princess began as a bass and drums duo, but over the course of two albums, 2000's debut Stopline and 2003's Black Feather Wings, and hundreds of live performances, the group's line-up and adventurous sound textures have grown into one of the most distinctive styles in modern rock while drawing comparisons to such giants as Jeff Buckley, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison and Nina Simone.
Dark of Days is a creative breakthrough for Bourbon Princess. "The album is more pop yet darker than anything we've done," says Monique. "That might seem contradictory, but I think we've pulled it off."
"It's the first body of songs I've written that are really influenced by the times," she continues. "The first two albums were about things that were going on in my head or in my immediate world. This one is less self absorbed. 'Dark of Days’' is really about the political times we're all living through now. 'Cliché' is social commentary, written from the point of view of a single woman struggling to make a living, not ready to give up and yet not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for all of her efforts. I think plenty of us are feeling that way today."
Dark of Days is also the first full-length collaboration between Monique and Paul Q. Kolderie (producer/engineer for Radiohead, Hole, Morphine, and many others), who manned the console. "It was a great partnership," she says. "He could hear what we were trying to do with our sound and made it more expansive and clear. Since Paul is a bass player, too, it was easier for me to convey the sound I wanted to capture, which is very bass driven, without compromising the other instruments."
Although Bourbon Princess is based in Boston, Monique hails originally from the Pennsylvania of open farmlands and Amish horse-and-buggy traffic. She moved to Massachusetts seeking an environment more receptive to her creativity. Within months she was performing her songs in clubs and coffeehouses, at art school parties and poetry slams, accompanying herself on fretless bass. Audiences immediately responded to her dry wit and riveting presence.
Early on Monique began perfecting a percussive and sliding instrumental style flavored by Arabic grooves, the perfect support for her cinematic lyrics which, while at times unsettling, are always strangely beautiful and affecting.
Besides the two previous Bourbon Princess albums, Monique's songs have appeared on the Respond II compilation alongside tunes by Ani DiFranco, Aimee Mann and Dolly Parton, and on MTV's Real World. She has also been nominated for a prestigious Boston Music Award and in the Boston Phoenix Best Music Poll in the best female vocalist category.