Vermillion Lies
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Vermillion Lies

Band Folk Cabaret

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Curve: Vol. 17#9
What do global warming, lobster squeaky toys and a circus of zombies have in common? They’re all a part of the “thrift store cabaret” that is Vermillion Lies. Drawing upon the dance, circus and art classes they took as kids, Zoe and Kim Boekbinder (vermillionlies.com) have put together a vaudeville-inspired show that will quite literally have you laughing your pants off. Their quirky quips and amusing antics form an engaging and entertaining experience.

1. They’re morbid but not morose. And their lyrics are reminiscent of the scary stories we were told as children. Zoe’s known to be jazzier, Kim likes a good ballad, and together they create whimsically bizarre fairy tales and fables set to the kind of lighthearted music that you would hear at a circus or carnival.

2. They play the barbecue grill. And the typewriter, tricycle bell, accordion, air vent and pretty much anything else they have around. They used to play the plastic squeaky lobster, but he ran away. If you see him, they ask you to please ship him home.

3. They sing with their pants down. “There is supposed to be this sexy thing when a woman takes her clothes off,” Kim says. “But we’re making it really silly.” She insists that their motto applies to the rest of their show as well: “A show doesn’t have to be only sexy or only smart or only silly—it can be all of those things at once.”

4. You can participate, too. In fact, you have no choice. “Our performance is like theater,” Zoe says. “We can’t just do it without anyone paying attention.” From playing a handed-out instrument to singing along, these girls inspire—and require—full audience participation.

5. Their new EP is a “scream-along.” Along with an exceptionally participatory audience, the girls arranged an EP full of songs that allow for various forms of singing along—including screaming.

6. They make music for people who wear hats. These sisters love wearing hats, “fluffy undies,” corsets and any other vaudeville-inspired garment, and they encourage anyone coming to their shows to do the same.

7. They roll with a posse. The Vermillion Sisters, groups of burlesque-inspired dancers, have joined them on stage in many towns along their tour. In addition to these sexy sirens, the sisters often share the stage with other cabaret comrades, and they are always looking for people to join in the fun.

8. Their parents love them and so should you! Recently their mother arranged a show for them in Toronto and brought 150 of her friends to come see it; their father bought them a van to go on tour.

9. They’re not just another folkie duo singing about the environment. They are actually making a difference. Along with videos, pictures and an interesting story about the band, the Vermillion Lies Web site includes a link to an informed global warming page. Encouraged by their song about the phenomenon, an environmental policy analyst has helped them to create a page that is insightful and informative on how you too can actually make a difference.

10. They’re inspiring. After watching a Vermillion Lies show, I guarantee that you’ll want to join the circus, ride a tricycle, wear a hat, stop global warming, sing with your pants down and maybe even write an article professing your love for this quirky twosome.
- Curve Magazine


Vermillion Lies is one of the most exciting bands on the U.S. cabaret scene. And it's likely the only one that cites Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets characters from children's television, as its main inspiration.

The Oakland, California-based group, made up of sisters Kim and Zoe Boekbinder, is performing in Moscow on Friday and Saturday to promote the Russian edition of its 2006 debut album, "Separated by Birth -- One Album in Two Acts." It's the first time the band has visited the Russian capital.

Their eclectic songs include dark circus ballads, soft lyrical melodies, rock love songs and even an instrumental tribute to Italian composer Ennio Morricone. But first and foremost, the duo tries to weave narratives with its music.

"We are storytellers and our songs tell stories," Kim Boekbinder wrote in a recent e-mail from Portugal, where the band was on tour. "Some of our songs sound like myths or fairy tales, some sound like old time folk-songs from the 1930s. We love to create a world for the audience."

Although in the United States, the Vermillion Lies frequently use a live band, in Russia they're planning to perform as a duo, and will bring only guitars and an accordion. But household objects will flesh out their sound.

"We will also play the piano and typewriter and pots and pans and more surprises," Boekbinder wrote. "We usually play lots of strange things like that, but couldn't bring too many things with us, so we'll see what we find in Russia to play. We like to play things we find in each city."

Videos are also expected to feature in the concert. "We are visual artists as well as musicians. We combine all of our art into the Vermillion Lies show," Boekbinder added.

Although Vermillion Lies formed in Monterey, California, in 2004, the members have been learning music together since they were children. "We had music lessons when we were younger, but it wasn't until three years ago that we started to play music together as a band," Boekbinder said.

"We started playing much prettier American folk music with just guitars, but we quickly evolved to add things like typewriters and gas cans and barbecue grills."

She noted: "We love Jim Henson, who created The Muppets. He is our foremost inspiration. We also love Tom Waits, Billie Holiday, Django Reinhardt, and many other old-time jazz players."

The album "Separated by Birth" featured a range of alternative musicians and was produced by guitarist Myles Boisen, who also produced the 2004 Grammy-nominated album "The Gorey End," by The Tiger Lillies and Kronos Quartet, and has worked with Tom Waits.

The duo's friends include Jason Webley, a Seattle punk troubadour and a frequent sight in Moscow. "I think Russia will love them, but I hope that the audience will be gentle and will listen," he wrote in a recent e-mail. "Their show isn't as bombastic as mine."

"They play twisted, tangled songs with clever lyrics and instrumentation. They sing about lobsters and taking off your clothes, and they put on a really fun live show. And they have nice underwear."
- The Moscow Times


Playing to a packed crowd at Monterey Live before headlining act The Ditty Bops take the stage, Vermillion Lies attempts something most bands wouldn’t even think of: a rousing solo where Zoe Boekbinder plays a barbecue grill with some broken xylophone pipes.

Following the feat, Vermillion Lies, which tonight is Zoe and sister Kim, return to playing a new song titled “I Found Myself,” which features Kim strumming an acoustic guitar and singing lyrics like, “Today, I found myself/ right where I left me/ on that shelf.”

“The song doesn’t end ‘til you are all singing,” Kim cajoles the crowd. The audience responds by attempting to sing along like a crowd of kindergarteners.

After plowing through another number—a fast paced, foot-stompin’ original called “White Picket,” where Zoe supplies percussion by impressively banging on several cooking pot tops and a thermos—Kim makes an announcement. “We are going to cook for you,” she says. A lady in the audience fires back: “I’ll come to every show.”

Then, donning a top hat, Kim starts playing a toy piano as her sister plays acoustic guitar. The sultry, jazzy number, titled “Circus Fish,” features the sisters trading zesty lines about cooking that the crowd eats up with bursts of applause and laughter.

It’s one of many great moments that show how far these young women have progressed as musicians and performers since forming Vermillion Lies almost a year and a half ago in Monterey. Last summer, when I saw the band at the Henry Miller Library, Vermillion Lies had potential but were a little wobbly, but now both sisters seem as comfortable onstage as in their own living room.

~ ~ ~

With the release of their new CD, Separated By Birth, the Boekbinder sisters prove that their songwriting abilities have possibly surpassed their impressively enhanced ability as performers. The superb 16-song album is divided into two acts, with the first leaning towards rootsy singer/songwriter material, while the second is full of surreal circus imagery and innovative instrumentation reminiscent of Tom Waits.

It starts with “I Should Fly,” a song about getting a different perspective on a frustrating world. Over the fluttering of a mandolin, Zoe sings in a world-weary voice that: “From up in the sky/ they are just people/ but from here/ they are liars, cheaters and thieves.” Then, Kim joins her sister on a big, catchy chorus that lifts the number up.

Lyrically, the whole album is strong, from the beautifully over-the-top theatrics of “Circus Fish” to the quietly devastating ballad “Louder,” which is full of great little details, like how a box of ice cream in the freezer triggers memories of a lost love. It’s impossible not to be completely drawn into the piano ballad “Bad Man” after lines like: “I met this funny girl alone on a bridge/ I threw her to the fish and made my wish/ yeah, I’m a bad man.”

Musically, Separated By Birth is extremely varied. There’s the brisk folk country number “Shady,” the pop balladry of “Middleground,” the Sgt. Peppers carnival sound of “Circus Apocalypse” and, maybe most impressive of all, the ‘20s jazz of “No Good.” The song features the clicking sound of a typewriter—one of many found instruments used on the album, along with a gas can, a flour sifter and a barbecue grill—before morphing into a nod to Billie Holiday, aided by a trumpet that sounds like a whistling teakettle. Another notable number is “Shark Serenade,” a song sung from the point of view of the legendary marine predator accompanied by the teethy clink of a toy piano.

Though all the songs were written by the Boekbinder sisters, Separated By Birth features contributions from a strong cast of musicians from Vermillion Lies’ new hometown of Oakland. Myles Boisen—who recorded the album and played guitar, bass and lap steel on the release—played on the Tom Waits discs Alice and Blood Money, while violinist Carla Kihlstedt has contributed to Tom Waits and Tracy Chapman CDs and currently is a member of the Tin Hat Trio and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

Kim Boekbinder believes that the presence of so many great players pushed her and her sister in the studio. “We were being inspired by the fact that we were so challenged,” she says.

Now, the band is gearing up for a West Coast tour this September and their own Twisted Folk Festival, which will feature six acts including DeatHat and The Peculiar Pretzelmen, Aug. 25 at the Henry Miller Library. But, before all of that, Vermillion Lies play a carnival-burlesque-themed CD release party at Monterey Live, with dancers.

By Stuart Thornton - Monterey County Weekly


'There is a special kind of thrill that comes from finding someone who takes unadulterated joy in the texture of sounds -- someone who understands how to use texture in the creation of beauty, laughter, sorrow, or reckless abandon. Vermillion Lies layers all such understanding over the well-crafted bones of songs about heartbreak, destruction, and unorthodox cooking. And circuses. And pets. (all the pressing issues of our tenuous times, after all.) The tracks vary from those that make you leap out of your chair to dance around the room to those that force you back into the chair to listen intently to the speakers... one of my very very favourite new bands to emerge from the Bay Area in quite some time.'

-Greg Scharpen, KALX radio, Berkeley

- KALX radio, Berkeley CA




CD Review

by Damon Orion

Vermillion Lies
Separated by Birth
A Small Tribe Records


A more homespun form of neo-burlesque comes in the form of the semi-local Vermillion Lies, a revolving assembly of musicians whose core members are the Boekbinder sisters, Kim and Zoe. The group’s debut CD, Separated by Birth, is divided into two acts, the overarching theme of which appears to be love’s destructive power (or so it would seem on first impression to a sleep-starved brain). Conceptual cohesiveness is well and good, but truth be told, the group would have been better off starting the show with Act Two, by far the stronger half of the CD. Introduced by the spooky, Theremin-haunted “Overture,” Act Two kidnaps us from the relatively drizzly introspection of the CD’s first half, plunging us into a Tim Burton-ish ghoul carnival rife with compelling monstrosities like “Circus Apocalypse” (“Your father will weep/Your mother will cry/Because to join this circus/You have to die”), the charmingly psychotic “Circus Fish” and the stormy, brooding “Monkey,” which sports some of the album’s finest lyrics: “Love is an organ grinder’s monkey/On a three-day bender behind the wheel of a truck … He’s got a bottle full of bloody guts and a shotgun full of stardust.” To be fair, the comparatively sleepy tunes from Act One improve on second listen, but some listeners won’t get that far. Nonetheless, Separated by Birth’s more inspired moments show Vermillion Lies to be a potentially formidable force in freaky musical theater. This CD features a wealth of performances by guest musicians, including Tin Hat/Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s Carla Kihlstedt, and is enriched by a wide array of instruments, including acoustic guitar, lap steel, toy piano, English horn, accordion, mandolin and all manner of found objects, from typewriters to bicycles. | DO - Good Time Weekly, Santa Cruz


Discography

Separated by Birth 2006 - full length album
Scream-a-long EP 2007 - four song EP
What's in the Box? 2008- full length album

Upcoming:

New Orleans 7" vinyl - Fall 2008
New Orleans downloadable EP - Fall 2008
Next full length album - Spring 2009

Both full length albums were given a college radio campaign and reached into the #200's of RIYLmusic.com list of 1000 most played albums on College and Independent Radio.

The song "No Good" was featured on NPRs Open Mic in July 2006 and May 2007.

Songs from the albums have been played on various popular podcasts including Fluff Radio Brooklyn and Binary StarCast.

Both albums are currently in Pandora.com, the popular internet radio station.

The albums are distributed digitally and physically by CD Baby.

Photos

Bio

Vermillion Lies was born in the bygone era of 2004 by sisters Kim and Zoe Boekbinder. Their eclectic music ranges from lyrical folk melodies to raucous circus ballads with toy piano and accordion. The sisters have earned a reputation for an amazing live performance and beautiful arrangements. They craft their songs with guitars, pianos, typewriters, toy pianos, washboards, pots and pans, broken pipes, old steamer trunks and lobsters.

Audiences find themselves singing, clapping, screaming, and dancing along to a show filled with wild abandon and sheer delight.

Vermillion Lies has extensively toured North America, Europe and Russia and continues to inspire international audiences.

"Looking out into a Vermillion Lies audience is to see people smiling out loud." Enthused one fan.

Vermillion Lies supports a sustainable life style and strives to make choices that are ecologically healthy. From running their van on bio-diesel, to researching eco-friendly packaging alternatives for their next CD release, the sisters are setting a high standard for themselves. Plus they have that song about Global Warming!

Vermillion Lies has charmed audiences at such world class venues as San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium and Great American Music Hall, Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, and Teatro Circo de Braga in Portugal.

Vermillion Lies has shared the stage with: The Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer (solo tour,) The Ditty Bops, Carla Kihlstedt, Camper Van Beethoven, Jason Webley and many other fabulous performers.