vocalist Lynn Michalopoulos | click on image to visit the Bebek website | photo © Aquamatrix Studios 2005
eclectic alternative music with powerful female vocals
music review and artist reflectionsreview, interview and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2005
images © Bebek 2005 | used with permission
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last updated: 30 May 2005
Bebek is a rapidly emerging five-person ensemble from the Philadelphia, PA area. Fronted by lead vocalist Lynn Michalopoulous, the band blends a variety of alternative styles spun out of jazz standards. Upon our first listen we needed to know where Lynn got her tremendous voice. Her power, range and vast range of styles will immediately draw listeners into Bebek's music. She is supported by four other remarkable musicians. Read their story in our exclusive and in-depth interview with Lynn below.
While Bebek's musical style varies significantly, Lynn's vocal prowess is clearly reminscent of, and in the same vein as, the stunning Ann Burstyn who fronts DreamAria (review). Bebek draws more heavily on jazz, but the band can rock with the best of them as our review below shows. The band tour the Philadelphia alternative circuit. Their live performance must be a treat.
Musical Discoveries: Please tell us a bit more about your background?
Lynn Michalopoulos: I grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Neither of my parents have any musical talents, although my father was a cantor in church for a brief time. My father is a huge fan of traditional/classic jazz, which greatly influenced my musical taste as a young girl. I remember growing up hearing Charles Mingus' Haitian Fight Song every Saturday morning on the record player.
Although my father's love of jazz greatly influenced me I think that my aunts, uncles and great grandmother really got me "into music." I have two uncles and five aunts that all have amazing voices. During summer vacations and holidays my family would visit my aunts and uncles in Baltimore where my mother grew up. In the evening after dinner everyone would gather in my grandmother's basement and sing gospel songs. My great grandmother had a huge deep voice that had everyone clapping. Everyone liked to sing along with her but I remember times that I would lay on my mom's lap while my great grandmother was singing and just want to listen to how beautiful the sound was.
When did you realize that you wanted to do more in music?
My mother says that at age five I went to her and begged her to take piano lessons. My mom says that she didn't think I was serious but after asking her for six months or so I started taking lessons. I always liked to sing and created plays in the summer with my sister where I was the intermission act singing along with and dancing to Donna Summers "Bad Girls" and the Beatles "Come Together." I took voice lessons briefly in high school but thought I wanted to be a pianist when I grew up. I also played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, which was one of my first singing performances.
In college my love of singing continued to grow. I played the piano less and less and sang in an a cappella group as well as had solos in the gospel choir.
How did you meet Nick?
I went to graduate school for social work at the University of Chicago where I met Nick who is now my husband. We met when he was the keyboardist in an instrumental/jazz/fusion band in Chicago. At this time I hadn't sang since college but was convinced to sing with Nick's band which I was very nervous about. It went over well and Nick and I decided to start a band where he would play the keys and write the music and I would sing. My job moved us to Philadelphia in May 2002 and Bebek began in September 2003. I started and have continued to study classical voice training since 2002.
Were there any projects you worked on prior to Bebek?
I have not worked on any other projects prior to working with Bebek. Nick and I have done some jazz standards in clubs around town (Philadelphia) but I have not been involved in any other original projects besides Bebek.
Please elaborate on your role in the group. How did the band form?
As I said earlier, the band formed in September 2003. Nick and I put in ad in the paper for a drummer and a bassist. We first started working with Jameison Ledonio (bass) who has been involved with a number of projects in the Philadelphia area. Through his connections we met Aaron Roussakis (drums). After we played for about six months we decided that it would be good to fill out our sound, which is when Nero Catalano (guitars) joined the band.
As the lead singer of the band I am the front of Bebek in live performances but each of the members play an integral role in the making of our music. Nick and I write a lot of the lyrics together as well as some of the melodies but for the most part Nick brings the genesis or the skeleton of each new song to the band and we work as a whole to form it into the final product.
Nick does the management and most of the booking for Bebek at this time. He works beyond overtime to schedule gigs, promote the band, and make potential contacts. I feel that my individual role in the band is to be the main support for Nick.
Where does the name Bebek come from?
When trying to come up with a band name we all wanted something that had an edge but was feminine, which we thought would appropriately describe our music. Nick's mother was Armenian but grew up in Turkey. When thinking about names I remembered helping Nick's mother move dolls in a box that she had me label "bebek" which means "baby" or "baby doll" in Turkish. We decided that this would work perfectly for our music.
It fits because I feel that our music is unique and new and continues to grow and evolve as we grew as individuals and as a band. The lyrics of our music are based on the feelings and emotions that have come out of experiences that we have had individually and together. In this way our music is very human, and like a "baby," because it is changing and growing as Nick and I change and grow together as a couple as well as a band.
What kind of music-—or artists---has influenced you own?
In the past five years or so I have listened to a lot of Anita O'Day and Roberta Flack. The clarity, smoothness, and richness of each of their voices have greatly influenced how I like to sing.
Tell us about the music you listened to before Bebek and what you are currently playing all the time.
Before Bebek I listened to a lot of Anita O'Day, Sarah Vaughan, Roberta Flack and other jazz vocalists. I also listened to a lot of Ani Difranco as well as popular R & B and hip-hop. Currently I have been playing a lot of Bjork, Radiohead, Massive Attack and Portishead.
How would you personally characterize Bebek's music?
I would definitely say that Bebek has its own unique sound. I feel that it's a combination of electronica, trip-hop, jazz, and world music. But probably more importantly Bebek's music is a very human music. The characteristics of each song--lyrics, harmonic changes, melodic ideas--reflect different emotions and all work together to present musically and lyrically a particular human condition or state of being. The songs are less about telling stories and more about presenting a picture of a human being at one point in his/her life.
Tell us about a couple of the songs and where you draw inspiration for the music.
"The Bricks" was written about someone who is having an internal struggle that wonders whether if they instead change one cosmetic/superficial feature of their life at their time, that is, their "face," would life in fact begin to be better because they would cease to be the same person? The song is called "The Bricks" because Nick imagined pieces of the man's face as being able to be moved like lego blocks to create something different. The music and lyrics for "Good News" were written by Nick just after his mother's death and bring to the front his feelings in the day or two just after she died.
As for inspiration, Nick very much admires classical music, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian music as well as current groups such as Radiohead, Bjork and older bands like Pink Floyd. But in truth, our music doesn't sound like any of these groups.
How specifically did you develop your voice?The different types of music styles that Bebek has explored since it began has allowed me to experiment and sing with different styles. "Traffic" has a jazz style, "Frozen" reflects some of my classical training and "Today" has more of a soul influence. My classical training has complimented this exploration well.
What has the reaction to Bebek's music been like?The first thing that most people say after hearing us live or listening to the CD is that we are really unique and that they have never heard anything like us. Many people try to categorize it saying that "we're kinda like this band or kinda like this band", but they have trouble placing us in one genre. We also have the same problem. We like to think that we have our own stamp as a band and it's nice to see people react in the same way.
How about the others who work on the project.Nick studied classical piano for many years and went to music school at Peabody and in Paris. He is primarily interested in composition and is not necessarily interested in highlighting his own keyboard skills in the band. He writes a lot of smaller, textural parts for himself in the songs that help create the distinct nature of the band's sound, creating an edge through electronics and different textures.
Jameison is a multi-instrumentalist who is an excellent guitarist and drummer in addition to being an outstanding bass player. His background is in jazz performance. Nero Catalano comes from a more rock background, but has also studied jazz. He too attended Peabody for one year but not at the same time as Nick. He is an extremely versatile musician who is able to switch his playing style from song-to song with great ease.
Aaron Roussakis also comes from a rock background. He is very much focused on maintaining the rhythmic structure that serves such an important role in the foundation of our music. Many people comment about how well he holds the beat down when we play live.
With such strong individual talent, how do you hold it together?
Part of the strength of the band comes from each individual's ability to contribute his or her musical vision to what we are doing as a whole. It is really great to be in a band where all five people are very able and talented musicians. It is even better to be able to be in a band where all the members are able to contribute their musical voice in a way that serves the good of the band. In addition, as we have developed, it has become easier and easier for the band to utilize and highlight each individual member's strengths in a way that still presents us as a cohesive unit.
Are there any songs on the album that particularly stick out for you?
All of our songs are about personal experiences and emotions. Although all of the lyrics are based on personal experiences that Nick and I have had and/or shared, the songs that stick out the most for me are the ones that I imagine the lyrics connoting something different than the original meaning.
For example, the song that sticks out for me the most--which I also love to perform the most--is "Palm Tree." The death of Nick's mother has been the inspiration for a lot of the lyrics on the album. I thought of the lyrics of the chorus to Palm Tree when I was at the cemetery with Nick and his sister visiting his mother's grave. I felt that I wanted to be a part of what he was feeling to help him deal with all of the pain. He was feeling a series of emotions that I knew was something that I had not experienced, but I wanted to somehow be a part of what he was feeling to help him out, maybe even hold on to some of the emotions for him.
So I thought of the metaphor of wanting to be in a movie, which ended up working very well musically with Nick's musical ideas. However, when I perform this song, I don't really conjure up the original place and time that brought me to those lyrics. I instead often imagine an Egyptian dance club filled with metallic machinery with hard edges where people are doing strange dances.
It's a strange feeling to have, but it makes singing the parts enjoyable in a different way than a song like "Grace 6 5" where the imagery is very obscure--the lyrics were written by Nick alone--but where the singing of the song is still and will probably always be directly connected with Nick's feelings surrounding his mother and grandmother's deaths. I feel it part of my job as singer to communicate our feelings of loss surrounding their deaths.
Tell us about your live performances.
As a band, we try to reproduce as much as possible what is heard on the album. Nick is careful to write parts--especially for himself when it comes to electronics--that can be performed live. There are certain parts of some songs like "Good News" and "Frozen" where I really stretch my range, sometimes sounding operatic, and I have been pleased that this variety of styles has been so well received.
Our live show is really more about the music than anything else. As a band, we are into performing well, enjoying ourselves and presenting an excellent product to those who come to see us. As the lead singer, I think it's really important for me to engage the audience, and while I like to enjoy myself on stage, I don't "act" in any kind of way just because I'm on stage.
I try my best to have my physical presence reflect what is happening with the song. I tend to think that people go to see live performances to feel something and I am happy that people have told me that they have been able to feel what I am trying to sing about in my eyes or in my movements. It's something that I am always conscious about and working on.
Do you think the internet will help your internet career?
Definitely. It already has. It has allowed us to enter into larger musical audiences both in this country and internationally. It functions for us like it would for any business where communicating and advertising your product is key. It will allow us to be available to your readers.
What are your hopes, plans and dreams for the rest of 2005?
I hope to have quit my employee assistance program day job and be touring with Bebek in whatever way will allow me to live off my music.
Bebek's self-titled debut album is comprised of ten tracks. Fronted by stunning lead vocalist Lynn Michalopoulos, the band is Nero Catalano (guitar, bouzouki), Jamieson Ledonio (bass), Nick Michalopoulos (keyboards) and Aaron Roussakis (drums). The album opens with the thick bass and groove of the trip-hop "807 dub" as Lynn's powerful voice is introduced to the listener. Range and depth are obvious from her first utterings against the rhythmic melody. Classical voice training is obvious in a capella introduction to the upbeat "Rollerderby." While the electronic sound effects within the track can be distracting from Lynn's voice and the melody, her soaring vocalise illustrates the singer's incredible range.
"Frozen" continues to highlight the singer's range, clarity and sheer sonic power. Arrangements of guitar, bass and crisp percussion are supported by lovely keyboard washes and never outweigh Lynn's evocative vocal energy. The band's Mediterranean influences shine through the arrangements--listen for bouzouki and woodwinds--of "Grace 6 5," a sensual number wringing with Lynn's emotional vocal delivery. And "Good News" clearly demonstrates that the band can rock, thick electric guitar, great keyboard work, thumping bass and crisp percussion certainly demonstrate the band's energy. Fronted by Lynn's stunningly powerful vocals, Bebek struts their stuff big time.
The jazziest number on the album is "Traffic," complete with vocalise and warm keyboard textures offset by guitar and underscored by the band's excellent rhythm section. "She Knows" is constructed similarly to "807 dub" but without some of the trip-hop effects. Lynn's powerful vocals soar across her vocal range above vast guitar excursions and warm keyboard washes. The upbeat "Palm Tree" continues the trend, particularly in the electronic rhythms. Shimmering electric guitar contrasts against layers of Lynn's vocals in this album standout.
Lynn's classical training is evident in the tremendous delivery of the lyrical message in "The Bricks," a complex number blending jazz with rock, rhythmic keyboard textures contributing significantly to the arrangement. The album concludes with an evocative ballad entitled "Today." The melody is delivered initially by Nero Catalano's incredible guitar solo and is then carried lyrically by Lynn singing at her absolute finest. Wrenched with emotion, "Today" is clearly one of the album standouts.
While many will be drawn to Bebek by their diverse musical styles, others will be enthralled with Lynn Michalopoulos' incredible vocal prowess. Their self-titled debut album is an excellent introduction to a band that have an extremely promising future. Follow links from their website to purchase the album. We can't wait to hear more.
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