No one expects a Jazz-affiliated ex-Phish associate to come out of leftfield and set the underground dance community afire. Yet it’s glaringly apparent now that a very astute, literary-minded vocalist who’s a tad edgier than her booty-shakin’ contemporaries has accomplished just that. Bristling with nervous energy and readily causing a commotion, this seasoned starlet continues to gain notoriety via exhilaratingly action-packed gigs.
Buxom Amazonian bleach blonde, Heloise Williams, intriguingly bolsters ‘80s-derived new wave and ‘70s-styled disco by plying powerful pipes to multihued arrangements, reckoning the past with an over-the-top frivolity indicative of raunchy electronica chum, Peaches (whom she once chauffeured and body-guarded). Accordingly, every deviant nut job in her loosely twisted ensemble, Savior Faire, boasts a distinctly off-kilter personality – some more so than others.
As we squeeze all six members into my ’99 Lincoln to chat, I’m convinced there’s tremendous camaraderie holding these half-dozen sassily sharp scruffs together. Heloise (ex-Viperhouse) moved to Brooklyn a few years back, doing local shows at trusty downtown venue, Don Hills – singing, manipulating a laptop computer, and doing waggish dance routines with lubricated Vermont pals Joe Shephard and Sara Sweet Rabidoux (proprietor of erstwhile modern dance company, Hoy Polloi). As a sidebar, it’s worth noting multiethnic gypsy punk comrades, Gogol Bordello, have similar New England nurturing and dual dancer setup, though totally different musical approach.
Soon, Heloise brought boyfriend, guitarist James Bellizia, into the fold alongside early fan, lanky drummer Luke Hughett, and bassist Jason Diamond. Meeting Diamond (an incipient guitarist) through Elijah Wood (Lord Of The Rings/ Everything Is Illuminated) proved fruitful when the famed actor decided to launch Simian Records. In conjunction with Yep Roc Records, Heloise & the Savior Faire released their powerful ‘electro-rock’ debut, Trash, Rats and Microphones, on Wood’s new-sprung boutique label early ‘08.
Though initial live performances included chewed-up covers of disparate material by the Tubes (“White Punks On Dope”), Roberta Flack (“Feel Like Making Love”), AC/DC (“For Those About To Rock”), and Britney Spears (“Toxic”), these couldn’t better the sexed-up originals Heloise promptly build a small catalog around. Set changes, stage props, and kitsch-y clatter further characterized and elevated the eccentric sextet. And Bellizia’s rock solid New Order compulsion nicely thickened the finest efforts.
Despite the murky sound system bogging down Lower East Side club, The Annex, Heloise & The Savoir Faire took the totally bitchin’ crowd on a romping joyride through the urban dancehall jungle. I shortly hung out beside foxy Gogol Bordello dancer, Elizabeth Sun, as the colorful troupe began enthralling the sardine-packed patronage with rip-roaring coital fugues. Illuminating the stage with daring sexual prowess far removed from her tertiary Phish swish, Heloise’s lascivious rhymes and slyly promiscuous mannerisms challenged archetypal politics of dancing. Dangling impudent innuendoes atop catchy-as-fuck dance-rock (and ancillary orgiastic mantras), her lone cat moans and queen bitch quavers killed the fanatical audience ‘til friskily febrile finale, “Givin’ U The Bizness,” reached maximal white soul strut integrating ravishing pale-faced damsel Annie Lennox with swaggering blaxploitated diva Tina Turner.
The flamboyant Shepard, wearing gay pirate apparel and bandanna, worked in casual Casio tones and scant backup vocals when not gyrating hips like a frolicsome warlock. On the opposite side of magnanimous goddess, Heloise, erotic emissary Sara Sweet (whose swiveled Egyptian belly dancing ruled) sashayed as if she was a darlingly kittenish nymph. Wearing heavy mascara, eyeliner glaze, and flashy makeup, the extravagantly tattered frontline shimmied and shook – utilizing syncopated steps, fluttered arm gestures, and oddly flippant affectations. Heloise randomly donned a sparkling metallic sequence top and raccoon shawl during the eye-popping 50-minute set. Behind the fearsome threesome, Diamond laid down funky Larry Graham-inspired bass lines suited to Hughett’s leathery discotheque percussion while guitarist Bellizia rendered randy power chords. Bellizia and Hughett acknowledge Gang Of Four as stylish influences and oft times it’s revealed. Bellizia, peculiarly a big fan of ‘60s folkie Bert Jansch, also takes inspiration from Talking Heads’ snazzy ’80 classic, Remain In Light.
Born in Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital to British parents, Heloise lived in Minnesota as a youngster, moving back east to attend Middlebury College for literary studies. Yet it’s doubtful the future versifier learned to craft provocatively libidinous lyrics during scholastic English.
“I was an aspiring poet,” Heloise recalls. “I worked from anger. I’d wonder, ‘Why am I so mad?’ Then I’d write. But I want to make it sound like candy and let kids learn in a weirdly obtuse way.”
Subsequently, she was in formative Vermont-based Jazz bands ‘warbling Mingus, Monk, and Sun Ra.’ Then, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio recruited the enthusiastic lass to sing at concerts and on ‘98s Story Of The Ghost.
“I couldn’t turn that down,” she admits, prior to divulging, “I’d always enjoyed Joni Mitchell and hoped I’d be able to learn to compose. But I can’t put as many words to a song.”
“She also liked Prince,” interjects Sara Sweet, “I was thinking the other day, Heloise’s lyrics are set apart in an artistic scholarly way like Beck’s crazy stories. How she describes dreams. The ‘do me’ lyrics aren’t pretentious. She doesn’t cram views down your throat.”
But Heloise need not always rely on insidious roundels. Opening Trash salvo, “Illusions,” nostalgically summoning Romeo Void’s fleshy come-ons and punk icon Siouxsie Sioux’s hiccuped delivery, sneers at cringe-worthy music biz sleaze. Ruptured bass, staccato drumming, and squiggled bleating electronics coil Heloise’s revelatory snip: ‘It’s all smoke and mirrors in a house made out of cards.’
“We’d been courted by record labels. It was all cheese-ball disillusionment,” elucidates Heloise. “We went to Japan and this big label guy was such a messed-up alcoholic we were actually taking care of him. Could you imagine that? The labels were promising shit and not following through.”
Furthermore, posh metro nightclub snub, “Members Only,” cattily deposes self-centered snot-nosed weekenders, the worst kind of crassly curmudgeon conformists sojourning Manhattan’s arrogant poseur scene.
Heloise explains, “I’d just moved to New York and there’s a giant club, Exit. I was in a huge line. People around me thought I’d cut in front. I was like, “I’m sorry. I don’t know where my friends are.” They said, ‘I could see why they want to lose you ‘cause you’re a loser.’ They were super-cool Williamsburg kids who were so mean. I was crying. So I got in the club and it was full of people not having fun posturing and posing for each other trying to be cool. No one was laughing.”
When corroborating about poseur gals having rusty pussies from underuse, the entire group chuckles. Then Heloise goes into a story ‘bout Southern boogie tilter, “Po’ T,” a.k.a. ‘poor thing,’ being based on a spring break trip to Mobile, Alabama, with a high school buddy and her hook-armed ex-marine father sailing the Gulf of Mexico.
“We met this kid, the youngest of twelve children, got drunk, played with guns – scary stuff. We were super-wasted on wine coolers. So “Po’ T”’s imaginary lyrics are wistful.” Heloise then reflects, “I had terrible cold sores and didn’t get to make out at the officer’s club doing karaoke.”
I obnoxiously counter, “Did the hook-armed father try to finger you?”
Heloise nods no, but without missing a beat, Shepard opines, “That’s how underused pussies get rusty.”
Duly note that Shepard’s hilariously gregarious. Upon latently entering my car, he interrupts the conversation with scandalously juicy gossip: “There’s a giant gay guy down the street running through a hallway yelling, ‘I’m a fucking faggot. I just broke up with my boyfriend and I’m really emotional right now. I’m sorry!’ Poor guy. Who’s gonna suck his dick?”
Jokingly, Sara Sweet bellows from the backseat, “I will!”
Such is life for this jocularly juvenile thirty-something assemblage whose curvaceous singer recently impressed chic punk, Debbie Harry, so much she ended up purring the Eartha Kitt epilogue on rumbling retro-disco anthem, “Downtown.” It seems the renowned Blondie front woman gave her seal of approval to Heloise at a Knitting Factory show where fashion designer Todd Thomas acquainted the two flaxen felines.
Getting back to Trash, the ecstasy-laced existential exploration, “Disco Heaven,” with its computer-generated voicing and typical spanking two-step disco beat, inhabits a blissful Shangri-La wondrously denigrated by scintillating metal guitar- razed car tune, “Datsun 280Z,” where Heloise assents to ‘grinding my gears down there.’
“That’s about sex in the car, driving fast around corners,” she says candidly. “Put your hand on that stick shift and grind those gears. Then you need to be re-virginized.”
Elsewhere, timbale lends a Latin feel to horn-y party jam, “On Fuego.” Burbling keys deluge buzzing shuffle “Pick ‘n Choose,” a savory li’l confection. Closing Euro-clashed rave, “Odyle,” finds Heloise emphatically yelping and pleading with an overwrought aggression R & B vets would relish.
“My high school director had me do Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” I thought I couldn’t, but he thought I had the personality to pull it off,” Heloise informs before solemnly concluding, “I should return to vocal lessons. I need to learn how to warm up and cool down, especially if we do a lot of shows in a row.”
“Yeah right,” ball-busting brat Shepard quips. “Vodka up, vodka down’”