The quest for the party that never ends… sex and romance, infidelity, gossip, and gentrification in the city where anything can happen at any time. The song is “Where Are The Freaks,” and the band is Spanking Charlene, a New York City based group that recently won Steven Van Zandt’s Sirius Radio “Best Unsigned Band” contest.
As a result of the contest, Spanking Charlene is releasing two songs through Van Zandt’s label, Wicked Cool Records, and had the songs produced by the legendary guitarist as well.
“A song from our first record called ‘When I’m Skinny’ was entered into the ‘Best Unsigned Band in America’ contest sponsored by The Underground Garage station on Sirius Radio by singer Genya Ravan, who’s a DJ on that station,” explains Charlene. “There were about 1,000 bands entered into the contest, which then got narrowed down to a few hundred. There were a few rounds of Internet voting via the Underground Garage website. It got narrowed down to three bands that faced off in a live competition at Piano’s inNew York City. All the other bands fans bought up tickets in advance. Our fans are more of a walk up crowd. The show was sold out and we were bummed that a lot of people had to be turned away. We were the last band to go on. We thought, wow, we’re gonna lose, but at least we’ll have fun playing and then we’ll go get drunk. Needless to say. Steven Van Zandt got up there and announced that we were the winner. It was pretty surrealistic.”
Spanking Charlene’s namesake and vocalist, Charlene McPherson, is joined in the band by guitarist Mo Goldner, bassist Alison Jones, and drummer Eric Seftel. McPherson was formerly a member of the New Dylan’s, and also played Patsy Cline in the off-Broadway production of Always Patsy Cline, while Goldner was in the country punk band The Hedgehogs. Jones played in Erin Evermore and Slingshot, while Seftel came from the New Heathens and the Todd Wolfe Band.
Winning the contest led to a weekend recording with Van Zandt. “He was great to work with,” relates Charlene. “During our rehearsal for the session, it was fascinating to watch him listen and suggest ideas. His wheels are constantly turning, he has great ideas, and he rattles ‘em off like an improvising jazz musician, but nothing is a toss off. The ideas come out really fast, but seem like they’ve been deliberated over for years. He’s got a lot of experience.”
The band describes itself as a straight up, hard driving rock and roll group, with powerful guitars and powerful vocals. Together they’ve graced stages all over theNew YorkandNew Jerseyarea, including the Lakeside Lounge, the Mercury Lounge,IrvingPlaza, Lucky Cheng’s, Don Pedro’s, Galapagos, Asbury Lanes, and the Loop Lounge. “And a couple of drunken parties that got raided by the cops in upstateNew York,” Charlene laughs.
Mo originally met Charlene at NYC’s C-Note during an open mic night. They hit it off and started writing together. Their first recording, “Dismissed With A Kiss,” was produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who put together a rhythm section for the session. Eventually, they stole Eric from another local group and he introduced them to Alison.
Goldner and McPherson continue to be the primary songwriters, with Mo coming up with the riffs and Charlene adding the lyrical content. Audience favorites include “Stupid Me,” “Rev It Up,” “You Suck,” and “Where Are The Freaks.” While the music has a hard edge, their influences come from all over the genre map, including X, Elvis, Paul Rodgers, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, the Stooges, and the Beatles.
The band gets out on the road as much as possible and their goals include as much performing as they can manage to do. “We’d love to tour extensively and get the music out to as many people as possible,” muses Charlene. “Musically, we’d like to get even more honest songwriting wise and experiment with our sound.”
The road can lead to some harrowing experiences. “We played a show at a bar called ‘Hot Shots’ in theAdirondacksthis past Halloween weekend,” Charlene recalls. “On the way back, there was that big snowstorm. We got forced off the road after hydroplaning one too many times and landed in a Ramada Inn. We planned to hunker down until the storm passed. Around 6 p.m., the power went out in the hotel, so there was nothing left to do but hit the hotel bar. We wound up staying at the bar for many hours, drinking, and drinking some more. There was no food, so Mo wound up taking leftovers from a room service tray left outside a room—very rock and roll, and very nasty! The rest of us starved!”
The obvious question is whether there is a meaning behind the name. “When we were fishing for band names, we decided that we wanted to have the name ‘Charlene’ [in] the band name,” McPherson says. “So while driving to gigs we would put different words in front of Charlene, like ‘Running Charlene,’ ‘Prescription Filling Charlene,’ or ‘Atomic Charlene.’ We finally landed on ‘Spanking Charlene’ and said that’s the one!”
You can find out further information about the band, their latest release, and upcoming shows at spankingcharlene.com.