Any words about Stephanie Vogt is a tale of two cities. A Kenosha, Wisconsin native, Vogt is a member of the band alt-rock ensemble Donoma, who make the kind of music that folks like me love to write about, because it’s so hard to describe. For the last several years, Vogt has pulled double duty singing for Dead Halos, a bluesy rock band that makes no bones about digging deep into that well and dredging up all sorts of guitar driven goodness. They’re playing this Saturday night at Zanzabar with Brenda, so we thought now would be a good time to sit down and ask her questions about her music, being a singer, and Skynet! You can listen to the last Donoma record below and send sternly worded emails to the Dead Halos Facebook (linked above) requesting some kind of musical presence online. But if you do that, offer to buy whatever they record, because that shit is expensive.
Never Nervous: How did you get involved in music? What was the first instrument you picked up and why?
Stephanie Vogt: Music has always been a big part of my life. I was involved in the school band where I played the flute, bass clarinet, and the baritone saxophone. But when I was about fifteen I picked up my first guitar. I was always writing and singing, but it took me years to be able to perform in front of people.
NN: What do you consider to be your choice instrument and why?
SV: I would have to say my vocals. I enjoy playing the guitar and the piano and messing around with any instrument really, but I enjoy singing the most.
NN: What can you tell us about your musical resume?
SV: I look back and find it crazy to believe I’ve played over 350 shows in my life so far, and the ride seems to only get more exciting, and I have had some really cool opportunities. I started working with a girl who was in a band called Richard Cranium. They were out playing all the time. We all became friends and it wasn’t long before they encouraged me to play on some shows with them doing some acoustic songs. That’s how I met Shelle (Mounce) and Israel (Alpizar) and we formed Donoma.
We played every show that we could squeeze onto or we set up on our own, even if it meant setting up in our front lawns on the 4th of July until we were told to cut it out. We eventually recorded our album A Sight of the Sun in 2011, which is when Nick (Campolo) joined the band and Tim (King) joined a few years later. We’ve gotten to play peace festivals, punk shows, biker bars, coffee shops, house parties, and the main stage at Summerfest in Milwaukee. This summer we have had the opportunity to be the direct openers for Soul Asylum, Candlebox, and The Meat Puppets. It was a lot of fun meeting, talking to and hanging out with people that you looked up to when you were younger. They were all very humble and friendly people.
I started singing with Dead Halos two years ago, our second show being in front of thousands of people at the annual Louisville Zombie Attack, and we’ve had the chance to play shows with The Bronx, Shonen Knife and CJ Ramone, among others. All have been a great time and opportunity.
NN: How did Donoma start? How would you describe that band?
SV: We were at this building called The Flower Shop in Chicago for a show and I was going to be playing a solo acoustic set. I asked Shelle and Israel if they wanted to join me this time on bass and drums. They did and we’ve been a band ever since.
We can fit into most scenes and genres. We keep our music very versatile that way, but still stick to the general concept of rock and roll. We thrive the most though playing live.
NN: Does that band still exist?
SV: The band still very much exists! In fact, we’re getting ready to release our second album, Falling Forward, at the end of this year. We’re very excited about this one, because we’ve grown and morphed quite a bit since our first one. We also had the opportunity to record this album with gold record producer Mike Hoffmann out of Milwaukee who has produced bands such as The Verve Pipe, Willy Porter, Violent Femmes, Carnival Strippers, and many others. In support of the album we were able to raise over $10,000 on a Kickstarter campaign and look forward to touring in 2016.
NN: What differences do you see between the Louisville and Kenosha music scenes?
SV: Well, I have to say that I know and see so much musical talent in both Louisville and Kenosha. I love being in both places. I’m always getting inspired. I think a big difference between the two is that Louisville seems to have a lot more going on and places to play, even on weekday nights. It feels a lot bigger and more city-like that way. We keep busy here in Kenosha too, but it’s a bit more limited, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If there’s a show, you can expect most everyone to be out at that show. Also, the cheese here is way better.
NN: How did Dead Halos begin? How has it evolved over time?
SV: Tony is really the one who put everything together. Several of the songs were written even before I was ever in the band. After Tony and I met at an event both Donoma and his band Trophy Wives were playing, we got to know each other and he asked me if I would like to sing for his band. Working with everyone has really helped me come into my own. When we played our first show together I could barely look out at the audience, and now after a set I have to recollect what all just happened. We’ve been writing some new songs that I think are great and each show we come back with more and more energy.
NN: How does the band compose? Does the music come first, then the vocals, or do the vocal melodies and lyrics ever spark a musical idea?
SV: Music generally comes first. Because I live in Kenosha, I don’t get to be at most practices, so when new songs are being written, I get them sent to me and then, from the demo recordings, come up with the vocals. Once I can be in town we put all the pieces together.
NN: What does it take to be a good front person in a band? What makes for a good stage persona and why? For that matter, is there any value in having a separate stage persona, or is it just an exaggeration of some aspect of the performer?
SV: I think that answer would vary between all bands. There could be a value to having a different stage persona depending on what your goal is with the music you’re playing and how you want to entertain your audience. For me personally though, I don’t attempt to be anything onstage that I am not offstage. My main goal when standing up in front of a crowd is to reach out and connect with everyone there and to make every show personal. I don’t only try to project my energy and open myself up to them, but I try and soak up and connect with theirs as well. And I think connecting to your audience as well as staying connected with the band during the show is what makes for a good front person.
NN: What makes for a good show and why?
SV: The best shows seem to happen when you’re mentally in tune with your bandmates. When you’re all sharing that energy, it extends into the audience.
NN: What responsibilities does a singer have in representing the band? For example, have you ever written lyrics that someone else may disagree with in the band? If so, how did you deal with it?
SV: That’s a good question. As a singer, although not in all cases, you’re viewed as the spokesperson of the band. You naturally become a visual focal point. So being ready to deliver a performance is important. As I get more comfortable being out in front of a crowd, it’s becoming easier to let loose and just do my thing on stage how I’m going to do it, but for a long while, and sometimes still, I’ve felt the pressures of most of the eyes in the room looking at me going, “Let’s see what you’ve got. Entertain me.”
I have written lyrics and covered songs that express my political viewpoints and there will always be somebody who is going to disagree with you. It definitely makes for more interesting conversations after a show. I’ve had people storm out before during a set and they made it clear they didn’t like what I was saying. I’ve also had a person approach me after a set and yell at me before. But I’ve also had people come up to me and tell me that they were very moved. If there is any kind of impact made, whether it’s good or bad, I’m satisfied we did our job.
NN: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
SV: I saw this on a TV show. I can’t remember the name, but this girl had the power to learn absolutely anything in seconds just by seeing it happen. If she heard another language, she knew how to speak it. If she saw someone doing karate, she could do karate. I would be able to watch someone play any instrument and know, in seconds, how to play it. It would be great.
NN: Who is your arch enemy and how do you plan on defeating them?
SV: Skynet is my nemesis and, after they send a machine back in time to kill the mother of the future savior of mankind before he is conceived, I would send a human resistance soldier back in time as well to protect her and kill the T-800.
NN: What non-musical things have gotten you all worked up lately? Read, watched, eaten, or drank anything interesting?
SV: I’ve actually been getting really into gardening since this summer, and learning and understanding about how plants work to survive is so fascinating because realistically they need all the same essential things we do to survive which are water, food, and to reproduce. But because they are unable to be mobile or shelter themselves there are some pretty interesting ways that they protect themselves. There’s a whole world working together, not to mention at war, right under our feet.
NN: What are your top five desert island albums and why?
SV: First of all, it would absolutely suck to be stuck on a desert island with only five albums, but if it came down to it, I guess it would be (in no particular order):
- Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street“
- Pearl Jam “Vs“
- AC/DC “Powerage“
- David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars“
- Elton John “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player“
All have influenced me over the years and are versatile enough to keep me going.