Antigone Rising’s Kristen Ellis-Henderson and Dena Tauriello talk about their new video “Get to You,” being U.S Ambassadors, and the importance of having safe places for LGBTQ youth.

By Jennifer Galm

Antigone Rising with Edie Windsor on the Equality Olivia Cruise

Antigone Rising with Edie Windsor on the Equality Olivia Cruise

Antigone Rising, the all-female boot-stompin’ alternative country rock band comprised of Nini Camps (lead singer), Dena Tauriello (drums) and founding sisters Kristen Henderson (bass/vocals) and Cathy Henderson (guitar/vocals), exploded into the spotlight in 2005, and have been rocking the music scene since, touring with iconic acts like The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, and making it on the cover of Time magazine.

Despite working for an industry that is slow to elevate female musicians, Antigone Rising has not only been making a name for themselves in the music world, but also they were quick to become U.S. Ambassadors to encourage cultural exchanges in Palestine and Israel. Antigone Rising’s bassist Kristen Ellis-Henderson and drummer Dena Tauriello shared their experience with us as U.S. Ambassadors and Tauriello talked about the drum therapy workshops she implemented while they were there. Henderson also shared with us the story behind their new video “Get to You,” how she keeps close bonds with her children while on the road and the importance of encouraging safe places for LGBTQ youth through the building of LGBTQ centers.

Kristen, I watched your video “Get to You,” which was really fun. Can you tell me a little bit about the story we see in the video?

Kristen: The whole point behind the video and writing the song was the thought of what it was like out on tour and how we’ve got our families at home. We love to go out on the road because we get to be together, but then we’re leaving our real families home behind. The premise of the video is to show that we are like a family on the road and how much we miss our families when we are away. I hope it captured the closeness we have with each other on the road. I think it did.

Yeah. It seemed to show that pretty well. I loved how you showed your phone with your kids on it. That was cute too.

Kristen: Yeah. Yeah.

Many people can relate to the idea of being away from their loved ones, but how do you make sure that your connections with your family stays strong and vibrant when you are out on the road?

Kristen: Yeah. We definitely stay in touch. I’ll Facetime with the kids as often as I can and as often as our schedules match up. Usually, what I do with my kids before I leave to go out on the road is – we’ve got in their playroom this big decal map on their wall and always before I go I’ll show them exactly where I’m going to be, where I’m going on the map. They love that. When I come home, we sort of recap. We go down to the map and they ask me questions about where I’ve been. I always try to make them feel like a part of it and incorporate the trip into their lives here. That’s kind of what I do. I try not to make a point of buying gifts for them every time we go out because that can get a little expensive and a little hairy. Basically, I would have to bribe them every time I would go out on tour (laughs). So, I’ve managed to avoid having to do that since I create fun little things like that, showing them places that we go on the map, tell them maybe something historical about the city that I’m going to, whatever. They are both really learning a lot, which is pretty cool.

Dena, How do you keep the connections with your family alive and vibrant while out on the road?

Dena: It’s all about grabbing quality moments when you can: at home, before & after a road trip, and then staying in touch while away.  I text a lot, little moments that brings my partner into our daily goings-on while on the road. It helps her feel a part of things and we stay connected.

This question is directed to you, Kristen. Have you ever heard of the phrase “mommy brain?”

Kristen: (laughs) Oh, yeah.

Have you ever had to experience that when you’ve been on the road or on the stage?

Kristen: All the time! I’m always in a fog, distracted, or thinking of a million other things, especially when I’m out on tour. I’m thinking about what time it is back home, where they are in their schedule, what they’re doing. You know? And I’m like totally exhausted. You know, it’s funny because before we had kids, people would say “You’ll never be so tired in your whole life.” I would say, “Well, I tour with a band for a living. I know what tired feels like. We tour really late nights and then we get up really early to do interviews a lot of times. You barely get any sleep.” I realized very quickly that I had no idea what I was talking about. Once I had the kids I realized now I do know what tired really is. You just get literally delirious (laughs). So many times I’ll be talking on stage and I feel like my bandmates want to take the cane and pull me off stage by my neck because you just start talking, and you sort of lose track with what you are talking about and the next thing you know you are blurting out very strange things. It’s lots of fun (laughs).

I can relate, except I’ve never been on stage doing that.

Kristen: Right. I fumbled into giant talks about breastfeeding and the band was like, “Kristen, what are you talking about?!” I’d lost track of where I was and how I ended up saying that. Anyway. It can be silly out there.

I’m sure it’s quite draining with that and your tour schedule. When do you sleep?

Kristen: Honestly, I sleep on the road as much as possible. When we’re in the van, when we’re traveling, that’s when I sleep. I sleep a lot on tour. I never did really before, but now any chance that I get to sleep on the road is where I sleep (laughs). I just do as much sleeping as I can.

That sounds like a mom.

Kristen: Exactly. Right (laughs)? And Nini, who is our lead singer has kids too. She and I, they always stick us in a room together. She and I just close the shades in the room and it’s really, it’s almost shocking to my system when we sleep like that (laughs). And you wake up in the morning and it’s so dark in the room and it’ll be like 8:30 in the morning and you just can’t believe it’s that late. And, you can’t believe that that’s late (laughs)!

I know what you mean (laughter). Let’s talk a little bit about being an all-female band for a moment. The music industry is a pretty tough place to make a living. As an all-female band, are there any challenges you face that maybe an all-male band or a mixed group do not?

Kristen: Yes. I believe that there is. Obviously, when you look at festival bills and things like that, how it will be twenty male bands to two or three female bands or solo artists. You rarely see all female bands. So, in that case, yes, there is a bias or a disadvantage. You know, I also think that with radio – I remember when we were signed to Atlantic Records, the first single on our record was “Don’t Look Back” and at that time there was a female artist named Anna Nalick with a song called “Breathe.” All the radio stations were either playing our song or her song. [The radio stations] would say, “Well, we can’t add it because we played Anna Nalick this week. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we can’t add it because we added John Mellencamp, or Bruce Springsteen, or other male artists.” It was like we were just being pitted against each other, and they were only adding one female artist at a time. It wouldn’t be like Coldplay has a new single, Maroon 5 has a new single – everyone was getting added everywhere, but they were only adding one female song.

Wow.

Kristen: Yeah. So, that was an interesting experience.

Has that changed at all since you started or is it still the same way?

Kristen: You know, I always laugh out loud in my car if I’m listening to the radio and I’ll hear Katy Perry followed by Pink followed by Kelly Clarkson. I’ll be like “Wow! That was three in a row (laughs)!” I can’t say for sure. We’re not really, you know – we don’t have the major label money anymore to be promoting it with radio that way anymore, mainstream radio, at least. So, we’re not experiencing that with being added or not being added. I had that experience where I heard those three in a row and I thought, “Wow! Maybe things are changing a little,” but I’m sure it’s not too much different. All you have to do is see what Miley Cyrus did at the MTV music awards to know that the music industry, the way it views women and the way the business expects female artists to behave [hasn’t really changed].

I’ve been enjoying your new EP. Can you tell me about why you chose to do an EP instead of a full album?

Kristen: The thinking behind it is really about [where] the music industry [is] and the state it’s in. It just seems like putting out a 10 song CD or a 12 song CD would leave us on the sidelines way too long. Everything is in real time now. Everyone wants it now. So, for us to “disappear” for a week to record a new album, you just sort of drop off the face of the Earth. You’re just sort of dead. So, for us it was about a constant stream of content. What we decided to do was instead of putting out one full-length album, and really pushing one or two singles from this full-length album, we’ll split the album up in two; and we’ll put five songs out in March with [Whiskey and Wine, Volume 1] and then we’ll put out five more songs in October. In essence, always having new product available to the fans, we’re making videos for each of the songs. I think too with the smaller amount of songs that we’re really celebrating each of the five songs. That’s what we are calling it, celebrating it, instead of just singing it. We’re trying to do things a little differently because the old way isn’t working anymore. And especially with things like Spotify. I’m not one of those artists who really gets on a soapbox about it, but I figure we’ve got to figure out how to evolve with what’s happening with the internet and all that. [But the thing with Spotify,] Spotify is not paying the artists any money at all to play those songs.”

Oh, really? I didn’t know that.

Kristen: Yeah. Spotify and Pandora, these internet streaming services are grossly underpaying the artists. You can Google it. There are just some crazy stories. But, I also think that with certain artists it’s a great platform because you can hear their music, it’ll be recommended because you are listening to somebody else, and people find you that way. I do think it is a great resource for artists in that regard. They, [internet streaming services], just need to figure it out since people are subscribing and paying money, so they need to make sure the artists are being paid royalties. It’s kinda nuts. That being said, we’ve got to figure out ways for our band to stay relevant. With this constant stream of content, it feels like you got to have a video or a reason to post to Facebook or a reason to tweet, and when you fall off the face of the Earth, you go and record a new album, and a lot of times you don’t really feel like blogging or tweeting. When you’re in the studio, you’re in the zone.

Right.

Kristen: Right? It’s really hard to keep pumping out info, whatever it is. We worked on this all last year, so now we’re leaking it out slowly, so there’s this constant stream of content going. Well, now we’re writing for the next record and we’ll do it the same way next year. We’ll put out another EP and then another EP after that. We’ll just keep doing it that way.

I found out that all of you as a band are a US Embassy Ambassadors.

Kristen: That’s right.

Can you tell me how that came about?

Kristen: That came about through a fan who works at the US Embassy. She has been a long time fan of the band. One of the things she does is she creates these cultural exchanges. She invited the band to come over and play, predominantly in the West Bank, in the Palestinian side. Because she was bringing us over – she got connected with the US Embassy in Israel, so we went over to Israel as well. We got to tour through all of Israel and all of Palestine for about two and a half weeks. During the day, we did a lot of outreach programs in schools and remote villages where we would play and perform and meet the people in the village. In some cases, they would share their customs with us: the type of music they listen to, the songs they sing in their village. It was really an amazing experience. Dena did a music therapy day with the kids who are autistic kids. It was really intense. Then, at night, we would do typical regular shows in theaters. Some were really big shows and some were in small nightclubs. It was really a cool, cool experience. It was a great way to see part of the world that you might not necessarily go to, especially the West Bank. We were way in Palestine of West Bank, in territories that most Americans wouldn’t travel to.

Kristen, Cathy and Dena pose with the women from the village of Ni'lin

Kristen, Cathy and Dena pose with the women from the village of Ni’lin

Dena, can you tell me how the drum therapy became a part of the tour?

Dena: I’m honestly not sure exactly how the dots were connected on that one. I think someone from the Embassy saw it in the mix and it was pursued. There was an amazing facility fairly nearby and it got connected. It was incredible!

How does playing the drums help children with autism and other issues?

Dena: It helps integrate left and right brain, thereby helping with things like retention, focus, concentration, motor skill development and self-esteem.

Dena Tauriello conducts drum therapy workshops with special needs children in Israel

Dena Tauriello conducts drum therapy workshops with special needs children in Israel

Can you tell me what you took away from that experience? How did you feel?

Dena: There are no words to describe how it feels when a kid’s face lights up because they were finally able to do a specific task that previously eluded them. These kids were severely impaired – some couldn’t hold a stick in one hand because of physical limitations, but they were able to eventually follow directions, execute the sticking or pattern that was asked of them, and they loved it. They beamed, and it was a joy to witness.

This last fall, my digital media professor handed me a magazine, and it was with your face on it, Kristen.

Kristen: (laughs)

She said, “You might want this – want to read this.”

Kristen: Awesome!

She’s totally an ally for us.

Kristen: That’s cool!

Little did I know that I’d get to talk to you.

Kristen: (laughs) That’s crazy!

Yeah! I thought, “This is really awesome!” I’m going to ask you a little bit about you being on the cover of Time magazine, if you don’t mind.

Kristen: Sure!

Alternative Antigone Rising Time Magazine Cover

Alternative Unpublished Time magazine Cover. Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

Almost sixteen years ago, to the day of your cover release, Ellen DeGeneres graced the cover of Time magazine telling the world that she was gay. That affected the whole community quite a bit. How do you think your Time cover was taken by the public?

Kristen: You know, what I would say is because of that Ellen cover, I do think that things have changed really quickly in the past year or two, the landscape. But I think that those moments – that moment when Ellen DeGeneres says “Yes I’m Gay” on the cover of Time magazine – all paved the way to what eventually feels almost like an avalanche to some people. Because we are gaining equality in a lot of places, we’re being confronted with way more fear and hatred and there’s hate crime on the rise and all that.

In 2011, Sarah and I wrote a book. We did a book tour. There was a lot of possibility. We were met with a lot of different interviews that were really difficult. We went through extensive media training through GLAAD so that we would be prepared for the questions that they would fire at us. Some of them were really hard, “Two moms, and what do you think, how can you do that without a father?” There were lots of possible questions that they could ask. Two years later in 2013, when we did the cover of Time, even Time magazine said to prepare ourselves. There’s probably going be a lot of media requests and to get ready for the negative, as well as the positive, and to hunker down and make sure the house is safe and the alarm and all that. And we did. We were prepping for the worst. We ended up going on a press junket, if you will. We ended up talking to a lot of different media outlets, including Geraldo Rivera, extremely right-wing type interviews. It was a walk in the park. We were expecting the worst and were stunned by how it was a non-issue and how it had changed in just those three years. In that regard, nothing has gotten through to me via internet, any posts. We haven’t seen anything negative. I’m sure there has been. There was one person that went out to their magazine shop out in Utah and she asked if the magazine was there and they said, “No, we sent them back.” They were not going to put them out on the shelves. Even at Time Inc they were shocked at how many retailers didn’t send the copies back. They were expecting a lot to be shipped back, and they weren’t. They were blown away by how successful it was. Everyone was really pleasantly surprised, I think.

That’s good.

Kristen: Yeah. It’s great. Did you know that there was an issue with a young girl, her name is Morgan. She is a straight ally. She won Most Political [and] Most Outspoken in her school. For the picture for the yearbook, she and the boy who [also] won most political were supposed to come in with a topic they felt strongly about, a magazine. They were going to hold the magazine cover up in the picture. So, she brought our cover. When she got to the photo shoot, they said, “No, you can’t hold that up.” She said, “What do you mean I can’t hold this up? It’s my issue. The political issue I want to hold up for the picture.” Even the boy said he wouldn’t be in the photo with her if she was going to hold that up. The principal told her she couldn’t hold it up. [Morgan] said, “Then I’m not going to be in the picture because it goes against everything I represent. If I’m most political, this is my issue.” So, the principal called this girl’s mother. Her mother came into the school and stood by her daughter. They then let her pose for the picture with the photo, with the magazine cover. Anyway, someone on Facebook picked it up and they started posting all about Morgan’s story and somebody must have seen it, holding up our cover and then it got back to me. I ended up writing a blog about it for the Huffington Post. It was a really cool story. This kid in junior high school was like, “You can’t tell me what I can hold up or not hold up.” She was in Texas.

That’s interesting. I’ve been seeing a lot of information on Facebook. That is where I get a lot of my news, which is sad.

Kristen: I know. It’s really troubling, but it just sort of is. I found out Michael Jackson died on Twitter.

That is where I find out about what is going on in the LGBTQ community.

Kristen: Totally.

It seems like there are a lot of issues with kids not being able to show that photo, like with Morgan’s case, not being able to talk about things they find important: Gay Straight Alliances, people being fired from schools, mainly religious schools. I think the education system is the hotbed for some important talking points.

Kristen: Right.

What do you think about that?

Kristen: I totally agree. I guess you see it everywhere. It’s like these schools who aren’t allowing the kids to have Gay Straight Alliances or the organizations. Here on Long Island, we have an amazing organization called, well, it is a network, it’s the LGBT network here on Long Island, more specifically they have this group called Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth. Their program is so astounding! I absolutely believe that they are saving lives of kids out here on Long Island. As much as you can look and see the Morgan stories, I love that there are these positive things too out on Long Island. This organization is so buttoned up. They have these places for gay teens to go, or their straight friends, to hang out two or three times a week. They’ve got movie nights and locations they can go and have dances, proms and things like that. It’s such an amazing organization. I love that that’s happening now too. It’s really great networks and resources for these kids where they can go. And when kids are faced with situations like what happened with Morgan here on Long Island, they know to go to the network and go to it legally, and legally will bring it to the press. They’ve basically helped every high school on Long Island create an LGBT youth group in the school. They actually help them build the group, support the group, help fund the group, so the kids can get it off the ground at the schools and get acceptance. They do a lot of programming that is amazing. So, I try to think about those positive things for the kids. You know?

Wow. That’s great. I live in a very rural area in Iowa and it’s really hard. I’ve heard stories that it’s really hard to get Gay Straight Alliances started in schools.

Kristen: Right.

It’s hard for kids, I’m sure, to find outlets and support. I think that it’s really important that they know there is a place where they can go.

Kristen: So important. I couldn’t agree with you more. I always say, “I wish you could email me, if you need somebody to talk to.” The It Gets Better Campaign was such a brilliant thing that happened. I think it’s so positive for these kids who are in places that are so rural that don’t have Gay Straight Alliances in their schools.

The closest LGBT center from me is two and a half hours away.

Kristen: Yeah. That’s insane! That’s insane! So, here on Long Island, there was one center for the kids that was not too far, like fifteen minutes from where I lived. It wasn’t there when I was a kid, but it’s there now. But, further out, two hours out on Long Island, like closer to the Hamptons, there was a boy who was being picked on and ridiculed. This is such a sad story. He ended up committing suicide. It was like three months before they opened a second center only ten minutes from his home. They honored his mom, and they named the center after him. His mother and sister were at the big gala dinner.

Antigone Rising Being Honored

Kristen and Sarah at the GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles

They do a big fundraising dinner for the LGBT network on Long Island. So, they honored his mother and sister, and they spoke. It was so heartbreaking. I don’t know if you’ve been to any LGBT type of dinners or fundraisers, but the stories make me sob from start to finish. This one particular story was so heartbreaking. To think – that center was being created and built just for that very situation – and to have them lose their son and take his life. It was literally only a matter of months before they were going to open the center, somewhere for him to, at least, get counseling. The centers are so amazing. They’ve got counselors. They’ve got everything.

Hotlines, I’m sure.

Kristen: Absolutely! Resources for these kids, so they can have a place where they can go and feel safe.

And have fun with other people that can relate.

Kristen: Exactly. Exactly. It was tragic. It really is.

It’s sad. I think that there should be a center like that everywhere.

Kristen: Everywhere. I totally agree.

At least have a GSA in the school. Some people would question whether we should have a GSA in middle schools because they think, “Well, they don’t know their sexuality when they’re in seventh grade.”

Kristen: It doesn’t matter if you don’t know your sexuality. It’s just the ability in educating the kids. The group exists so that there is an organization. You know, you can just be an ally in seventh grade. If you want to be an ally, you can be an ally. There can be programming geared toward the kids to be accepting.

Right. Not just tolerant.

Kristen: That’s right.

I don’t like that word. Acceptance is much better.

Kristen: Yeah, Tolerant is the worst word (laughs). I don’t need to be tolerated.

Yeah. I’ll tolerate a sunburn because I stayed out in the sun too long.

Kristen: (laughs) Because I have one.

Was there anything else you wanted to talk about today?

Kristen: I think we covered a lot of ground. Good stuff! Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Well, thank you for taking the time out of your day to speak to me for The Human Experience. Good luck with your tour and kindergarten.

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