Unwoman

photo by Audrey Penven

“… I seek to be timeless, with just the right amount of freshness and experimentation”

I don’t even feel right “introducing” Unwoman (aka Erica Mulkey). She is already an established musician with quite a few releases under her belt, she toured with Votaire, Rasputina and Stripmall Architecture (ex-Halou – love ’em!) and has a solid (and ever-growing) fan base. Her music is a combination of heavenly cello, beautiful vocals, intelligent lyrics, inventive electronic arrangements and goth/steampunk/avant-garde attire, which, once heard is guaranteed to stay with you. And yet I’m sure lots of you poor trippin’ souls still listening to old Portishead albums and waiting for another Hooverphonic release have never heard of her. I’m not surprised. In fact, Unwoman was surprised herself by an interview request from a trip-hop blog. So, if you like surprises – read this Q&A and listen to Unwoman. It won’t change your life, but it will definitely help broaden those way too narrow trip-hop horizons.

tipkin Were you surprised to be contacted by a trip-hop blog? What genres do you like or dislike to be associated with? And how would you describe your style to someone who never heard your music?

Unwoman – I guess I’m a little surprised. I usually describe my music as chamber pop or darkwave, depending on whether it’s solo voice-cello (called “acacella” by Doctor Popular), or with backing tracks or electronics (as my recordings are) or with my drummer Felix [Macnee], as the Heavy Sugar Duo. But several years ago I gave up trying to limit ways in which my music would be defined and decided to welcome whatever people wanted to call it, within reason. When I first started drawing a steampunk audience I was skeptical, but I’ve found that it really makes great sense for someone with both anachronistic and futuristic esthetics such as myself. Really I seek to be timeless, with just the right amount of freshness and experimentation.

t. – Are there some examples that aren’t “within reason”? And how do you feel about being called “trip-hop” – what’s “trip-hop” to you?

U. – Trip-hop is certainly one of the many genres that has inspired me. I listen to a fair amount of Portishead and Massive Attack and Lovage. I feel like I’m on the edges of all these different genres that have inspired me at one point — pop, electro, trip hop, industrial, indie rock, experimental, goth, and of course classical. I’ve been listening to and learning more old standards these days, too, and am relieved to see that even those classics have genre-identity disorder, being classified as jazz, vocal, or easy listening. That’s one reason I decided I like steampunk as a genre label, though anachro-futurist or retro-futurist is even more accurate, because it doesn’t really matter which styles and technologies you’re using as long as you’re looking to both the past and the future.

t. – You know I have to ask about the name! What’s the story behind it?

U. – I chose the name almost exactly ten years ago, actually. I was rereading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and noticing parallels between the novel’s dystopia and the prevailing beliefs of the Republican party and George W. Bush who had just been elected. I felt a proud unity with unwomen, an underclass of queer, rebellious, or sterile women who were punished harshly in the novel’s fundamentalist Christian society. The name has served as a reminder that I don’t have to play nice with prescribed gender roles as a female artist, though of course I can dress as girly as I want to.

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