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INTERVIEW: NINA DiGREGORIO from FEMMES OF ROCK – December 2023

| 14 December 2023 | Reply

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur @ToddstarPhoto

According to the groups bio: “They sing. They string. Featuring the music of Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, The Who and more! FEMMES OF ROCK, led by rock violinist and arranger, Nina DiGregorio, has rocked audiences worldwide with their blistering solos, unique arrangements—not to mention their beauty and charm. The FEMMES OF ROCK show is a high-energy rock production fronted by four female violinists/vocalists. Virtuosic arrangements, original material, a live rock backing band, video, lights, choreography, comedy, and more can be expected in this energetic show that leaves audiences awed. The only one of its kind, there are no other similar string acts operating at this level of production. Be prepared for something that you have not yet seen the likes of. The girls keep a busy touring schedule and are one of the most sought-after “hard rock” violin acts in the world.” I was able to get founder and leader Nina on the phone to discuss upcoming tour dates, changes in the industry, and more…

Toddstar: Nina, thanks for taking time out today. It’s been a couple of days since we talked. (laughing)

Nina: I know. Before COVID, the last time we played in Michigan.

Toddstar: Right, in Lexington back in November of 2017, believe it or not.

Nina: That’s right. Man, that’s crazy.

Toddstar: I’m excited to see that you are going to play hands down my favorite joint in the world, the world-famous Machine Shop in Flint.

Nina: We’ve heard great things. It’s a legendary room, so we’re excited to play there.

Toddstar: I think it’s perfect for what you do. You told me before how you like to be able to look the crowd in the eyes and vibe off that.

Nina: Yeah, definitely. We usually do more casinos and performing art centers, so this is unique for us to be playing a rock room. I think people are really going to enjoy it. It’s super unique, and obviously they probably have never heard electric violins played like this before.

Toddstar: Definitely. I can still remember being in awe when I witnessed that first show that I saw you all back in November 2017. Back then you had explained to me that that was really your first year touring and you were really trying to blow this out. Here you are six years later. Any regrets taking this out on the road and doing what you do?

Nina: No. No regrets. We had a bit of a delay, like everyone else did due to COVID. We were set up to have our best year with the most touring dates ever in 2020. Like dominoes, in March 2020 they all fell off. Obviously, it was a huge blow for us. It was a huge blow to a lot of the venues. Everybody lost a ton of money. Then the step of building awareness again and getting people back out of the house. We went through a phase of people had to wear masks. People needed to show vaccine cards, so selling tickets was hard. Now, most of that is behind us, but we’re still stuck with this extremely high cost of travel, like airline tickets, rental cars, gas, and things like that. We’re struggling to get back to full strength, but I would say that we are well on our way in the next year or two to achieving our pre-COVID tour status. Other than that, it’s been great, and we’re building momentum again. We’re excited to be getting to new markets once more.

Toddstar: Awesome. Because what you do is so specialized and intimate, you can’t just have guns for hire come in and play. There’s got to be sisterhood. Back in 2017, you had Christina, Chandra, and Carissa with you. Still touring with the same crew or have you switched some of the players out?

Nina: All of them still perform with us. We do have 15 or 16 string players in our cast and 10 to 15 rhythm section band members in our cast. Sometimes we have two shows on the same night in different parts of the country, so we’ll have two casts going out. Sometimes, there’s various other things, like private events in Las Vegas while we have a tour date somewhere else in the country. It’s always a little bit of mix and match. I’m usually on the Femmes of Rock shows, as long as I’m not having to be in two places at once. This time, when we come to The Machine Shop, we’ll have Christina with us. She’s one of the original members. We also have an amazing, rocking electric cellist, named Sarah Chaffee, who rocks out on stuff like Ozzy, and she plays with Aerosmith when she’s not with us. She will be featured on electric cello in the show. We have a violinist, Ellie Krasner, who’s been with us since 2018, and she’ll be playing with us as well in this show. Our band features mostly musicians from Blue Man Group Las Vegas as our backing band.

Toddstar: Very cool. You created a monster with this. Looking back, forgetting the setback from COVID, did you think this would grow as exponentially for you as it has? Did this grow the way you thought it would or did you expect it to take a lot longer?

Nina: I knew that the first time this show went through various markets in various cities, it would be a difficult sell, because there’s nothing like it. It’s not like if you’re touring and you’re a cover band, if you’re a LED Zeppelin cover band or a Pink Floyd cover band for example, it’s an easy sell. People know what they’re buying a ticket to see. You know you’re going to see your favorite Pink Floyd songs, and that’s what you’re buying a ticket to. What is this show? So sometimes we get blow-back from people who don’t really know what it is and think that it might be stupid. The good thing is most of the people who have seen our show enjoyed it. We’ve never gotten a complaint from someone who’s seen it. It also raises awareness that these instruments can be a part of rock and heavy metal. We’ve also, since you saw the show, added a lot of singing to the show. We don’t have a lead vocalist that cuts in and sings with us. We taught ourselves to do a lot of the singing, and it’s about half-and-half instrumental and vocals now. We didn’t want to bring a lead singer in, because suddenly your show gets hijacked and it’s not about us anymore, it’s about the singer. So, we decided that we would sing, and we would play and still front the show as string players. There’s a lot of that going on, and we’ve added some new things like Van Halen, a bunch more, Led Zeppelin, some Whitesnake and Guns N’ Roses, and things like that to the show.

Toddstar: That was one of the things I really dug about the show. While this was your baby, there was no impression that this was the ‘Nina show, and here is her supporting cast.’ Everybody had their own solos. Everybody had their moments in the spotlight. Is that intentional so that this isn’t the Nina show, and you are all in this together?

Nina: It was always my intention to showcase everybody’s talents in the show. We have great musicians who all have amazing careers in their own right, collectively. The performers in our group have played with The Eagles, The Who, Aerosmith, Michael Bublé, David Foster, Beyonce on the Grammys, at the Billboard Music Awards. These are all very highly trained musicians, and I wanted to showcase everybody’s abilities and talents in the show. We try to give everybody a feature so that they have their moment to shine as well.

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur @ToddstarPhoto

Toddstar: As you said, you’ve added some stuff since I’ve seen the show, and you have quite a repertoire to pull from. Anybody who wants to go out to YouTube or Google is going to find just tons of stuff. Looking back, is there anything you’ve done that you thought we shouldn’t have taken a crack at that? Conversely, is there anything that you want to do but seems daunting to you?

Nina: Well, I’m in the process of learning something that’s extremely daunting, and it’s taken me the better part of a year to figure out how to do it. I’ve had to purchase gear, send gear back, purchase gear, send it back, and finally, I’ve got the right combination of gear, effects chain, and learning the proper technique myself, which didn’t really exist for a violin. I’m going to be debuting something brand new at The Machine Shop on January 26th that I’ve never performed live before. I can’t say what it is, because it’s going to be really, really special, but it’s worth being there for. I’m also going to be releasing an official music video on the same day for the same piece of music that I’ve been working on for a long time. In terms of something that didn’t work, we’ve gone back and changed things, but I wouldn’t say that something didn’t work. What I would say is we’ve changed our approach to it. Sometimes we would have medleys, for instance, our AC/DC medley. Since we weren’t singing yet in the show, we would fill in the extra things into the backing track. We had some male vocals in the backing track that wasn’t us singing the parts. It would fill in some of the choruses, and we’d be playing over that. Now that we’ve rehearsed and are going to sing some of these choruses ourselves, we’ve taken that stuff out. There are no external players that we brought into the mix. It’s us fronting and singing the show most of the time.

Toddstar: I was curious, because when we chatted before and I posed a similar question to all of you – what song do you play that you think, “Oh man, do I have to do this again”? In unison, you all agreed that it was a Rush Medley, not that you don’t like it or don’t think it goes over well, but you think maybe it’s more technical than the crowd wants or needs at that time.

Nina: Well, for a corporate event, yes, that doesn’t go over that well. But it goes over well for our public shows. I think the problem was everyone learning their parts in the beginning of it, but now that we’ve been doing it for a while, and everybody knows their difficult parts, we’ve been opening our show with it. It’s been great. It’s also helped that I’ve acquired a lot of Rush fans that are now fans of ours. My husband Brody and I did a cover of “Limelight” and posted it. I covered the Geddy Lee bass part and covered Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo on violin. It got well over a million views. It was featured in Ultimate Guitar Magazine and No Treble Magazine. Alex Lifeson saw the video and my solo and sent me a nice compliment on it. After we did that, I acquired a lot of Rush fans who had seen our video, so they expect that in the show now. It’s part of our staple repertoire, whereas in the beginning when we were performing mostly private and corporate events and people just wanted to dance to celebration, they’re like, “How do I dance to “YYZ?”

Toddstar: Something like that’ll definitely go over at The Shop. Your life has changed a ton since we last met. What’s it like now to try and take this out on the road and continue to build increase the Femmes of Rock now that you’re a mom? You’ve got so much going on in your personal life, how much different is your approach now to it than it was before?

Nina: Extreme time management, and it takes a village. So, people who don’t have children, what do you do with all your time? You’re done working for the day and it’s 5:00, what do you do for the rest of the day? You can do whatever you want until you go to bed. My evenings consist of getting kids’ homework done, getting two children bathed, getting them ready for bed, getting them dinner, making them eat their dinner, getting them up for school in the morning. I have very limited hours of the day when I can sit down and focus on work. It’s difficult, because just as soon as you get started on something, it’s 2:30 and I have to leave to go pick up one of them from school. So, it’s extreme time management. With our traveling, I rely heavily on my parents, who still live in New York, but travel to Vegas a lot to help watch the children. We also have a great nanny here who will stay with them when my parents can’t come out. It’s childcare, taking a village, and extreme time management.

Toddstar: My son’s 31. It’s been so long since I had those issues. Looking back Nina, if you could go back to when you thought, “Yeah, this is a good career move for me and I’m going to do this for a living,” knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself then?

Nina: I would’ve started promoting my own abilities sooner. I spent a long time only focusing on group stuff, group branding, and I didn’t really show what I was trained to do to the world until COVID, when I started making these cover videos myself, performing these guitar solos on violin, and posting them on social media. Many of them have gone viral on my pages with multi-millions of views now. I wish I would’ve made myself showcase my own abilities sooner, because it helped the group and brought more awareness to the show and to myself. I always focused more on live performance and never on the social media stuff so much prior. When COVID forced us to not perform live and I started focusing on social media performance, I realized they work hand-in-hand. If I had started doing that from the beginning of the Femmes of Rock, I think we’d be even further ahead than we are now with awareness about the show. I was always so caught up with live bookings and live shows that I never had the time or even really thought about doing social media performances. I wish I had started that a little bit sooner; that’s the good thing that came out of COVID for us – it brought me a whole different avenue of creativity and awareness for the show and for what I do.

Toddstar: It also gave you a whole different audience. Suddenly, a shitload of people were sitting home just staring at computers all day too.

Nina: Definitely. And it’s global. The people who have seen these videos and the comments on my page regularly, it’s throughout the world that these people have seen these things now. It’s helped us come out of the pandemic.

Toddstar: Ever since I met you all – you were so gracious and nice, and the show is absolutely amazing – I’ve followed the groups trajectory. I will say I love your cover of “Life on Mars” with Brody on vocals. Listening through that and going through the lyrics, it makes me think about different songs. While you may not feature lyrics in every song, is there a song in your repertoire that if you had to put the title on your tombstone when all is said and done, what song would it be and why?

Nina: I would have to say that that would be… We do cover part of the Beatles “The End” in our guitar hits medley. The last line of the last real song on the last Beatles album is, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” That would probably be the one. I mean, I can’t think of anything that sums up everything better than that.

Toddstar: I’d agree with that one 100% Nina, and I couldn’t end this on a better note. Thank you so much for taking the time out both back in 2017 when you took a chance letting some goofball come interview you all and hang out and now when I hit you up randomly saying, “Hey, let’s do something.” I’m really hoping to be able to catch a show sooner than later since I am going to miss the January show.

Nina: Let me know. If you’re ever close to one of the performances, we’ll make sure we leave you tickets. Thanks so much. Hopefully, will talk to you soon Todd.

Toddstar: Sounds good.

FEMMES OF ROCK LINKS:

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Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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