NYC Designer & Musician Laura Rebel Angel: “Believe in yourself first and foremost and stay positive.”
Laura Rebel Angel is an amazing and inspiring woman. She’s a self-made lady that radiates confidence, positivity, strength and an admirable ‘can do’ hard work ethic endearing her to all that comes into her orbit. Laura fronts rockabilly band, Screamin’ Rebel Angels, designs for her own label Dollsville NYC, has her own production company and puts on shows, most notably the largest US east coast annual Psychobilly Luau. It’s always a pleasure interviewing someone like Laura, that has a wealth of experience and is happy to share her story and secrets of her success…all with a stunning great big smile, of course!
I’ve read that you went to your first rock n roll show at the age of 12; what was the show? What were your first impressions of rock n roll shows?
LAURA REBEL ANGEL: Ah, great memories! My first show that I went to was an all-ages punk rock/hardcore show held at a fire hall in Pennsylvania. I remember somehow convincing my mom and dad to drop me off in the parking lot far enough from the door so I wouldn’t be embarrassed that they had to drop me off. I heard about the show from friend whose older brother was playing in one of the bands. The bands were local PA and NYC bands including Option, Phallacy and 1st Things First.
Looking back I realized how formative that first live music experience was. To me, at that age, there was no difference between seeing those bands and seeing a ‘famous’ national touring band. There were no barriers between the fans and the artists. You were up front sweating and screaming back the lyrics to your favorite song into your favorite bands face. Clawing through pile-ons trying to grab the mic to be able to sing one line of the chorus. I didn’t care that I was a 13-year-old girl with a bunch of big tattooed hardcore guys either. If the pit got too crazy, I would scale up the speakers and sit on top holding onto the rafters just drinking it all in, able to experience what was my music world first hand and personal. That sense of accessibility and personalization to music and musicians has always stayed with me, and I that’s one of the things that I try to recreate with the shows that I produce or perform in.
What were you like growing up? Who were your heroes and heroines?
LRA: I was the youngest of 4 children, there was a large age gap between myself and my sister and brothers. They were my heroes and I always wanted to do whatever it was that they were doing. I became a girlie girl tomboy. My sister would play dress up with me, and then I would play soccer and wrestle with my brothers. On my favorite nights, my dad would come home and pick up his guitar, and I would just listen to him sing and strum with complete abandon. He was able to play anything by ear, and always got a kick out of me singing along to Nancy Sinatra or to Dion. My parents had an old giant record player piece of furniture. When they weren’t looking, I would just go through his records and sit close to the speaker and sing along. They had a Time Life box set of 50s classics, Nancy Sinatra’s Boots were made for walking, and an old Bing Crosby Christmas album that were my favorites.
How did you first become involved in the culture/s of Rockabilly and Psychobilly?
LRA: I went to a show in Long Island in 1998 with my good friend at the time Jessica, whose husband Pete was playing guitar and singing in an early incarnation of the Rockabilly band The Buzzards. I remember we went to a house party in someone’s basement afterwards, and I just kept asking the people there, what kind of music is this? to which they responded, “This is punk rock.” I said, no this isn’t! My mind was completely blown away by the whole genre. To my memory, it was the intensity and honesty of punk rock, but was also completely amped-up early rock n roll, the music that reaches into your soul and makes you feel love, heartache, excitement. It touched me deeper than punk rock and hardcore in a way that resonated more with my soul. All I wanted to do was dance! Visually, it was like a scene from a movie, the girls looked so glamorous, the guys looked like James Dean and I was hooked. I was also still completely shy, underage and too nervous to talk to anyone, but fast forward a decade, and I wound up playing with The Buzzards briefly, in a completely different lineup, and they were the first guys to let me get on stage with them. I am pretty certain that all of those people that were at that party that night are now my current friends, but don’t remember the skinny shy teenager hanging out in the corner.
But, back to the question of how I got involved with the scene. I started to put on shows when I was about 14, at which time I also started a fanzine called, Rebel Angel, and a small record distro. I stopped putting on shows when I moved to NYC, and then became busy with work, bands and life in general. I started to DJ and have small residencies throughout the city, and then was approached to start doing larger events. I wasn’t in a band at the time, and I thought, hey this would be a great time to form a band and DJ and play at the same time. And that’s how the Psychobilly Luau started, very casually. I had no idea when I started it what would happen, and it filled a void that many other people were feeling in the city at the time. It took me until the 4th year to even get over my stage fright and get on stage, but I’ve been so happy and honored at what it developed into. I have been able to work with my favorite bands from all over the world, make some great friends, and keep a scene somewhat together in the world’s most musically competitive and diverse city.
You’re currently living and working in NYC; how does NYC inspire your work?
LRA: I can’t imagine living anywhere else. NYC is an expensive, ruthless, hard town to be in, but the opportunities that come with it are well worth the sacrifices. When you are able to make it in NYC, you get a sense of satisfaction that you are going to be fine wherever you go. NYC is my home, and I know all of the little shops and streets where I find my hidden gems and inspiration. I also have the opportunity to work in night life apart from my own scene. There I am surrounded by the most extravagant personalities who are the best at what they do ranging from Drag Queens, Sideshow performers, Circus Freaks, Burlesque performers, Musicians, Artists and all of the crazy people who come out into the night in their varying bizarre creations. Being part of anything here, you have to be on the top of your game, and constantly be creating new things and new ideas. NYC is very fickle, she doesn’t like to have the same lover twice, and if she comes back you better have learned some new tricks!
What does an average day at work look like for you?
LRA: I usually wake up around 6 AM and sew and pack items for Dollsville, NYC before I leave to go to my day job at 8:30, which is usually 8:45, and I am usually cursing and tripping over things muttering about being late. I try my best to answer emails and correspondence during the day for Screamin’ Rebel Angels, Rebel Angel Productions and Dollsville, NYC. My lunch breaks are spent either running to buy supplies, or dropping off orders at boutiques or the post office or planning new ventures. I get home around 6:30 PM and then go to rehearsals, meetings, or get ready for performances.
Did anything significant happen to get you to the point you’re at now in regards to all that you do, or was it a series of small steps?
LRA: It was all a series of small steps, small ideas or small opportunities that grew into bigger opportunities. As much as I know people think it comes easy, it does not. It is a lot of hard work, working smart and not taking the time off to complain that someone else has it easier. It’s not a competition, it’s something that is inside of you that you just have to do.
You’re a musician, designer, promoter—very entrepreneurial; where do you get your strong work ethic from? Would you consider yourself a workaholic and are you ok with that?
LRA: I’ve always had to work for what I had, and I always have had the need to be creating something. I think that stems from my childhood. I was very good in school, straight A’s, national honor society, but I was always an outsider, and never really had made close friends. I had a hard time in high school, like most people do, and all of the girls really hated me. They would write mean things about me on the walls, not talk to me, and just generally be unpleasant. Who knows why, I don’t really waste my time on other people’s insecurities. I found my peace and pleasure in creating things on my own, and that filled that space inside me that needed filling better than any sort of unhealthy relationship or friendship.
I also love to just figure things out. I love the challenge of a puzzle, and I get a rush when I figure out how to take things apart and put them back together more efficiently, whether it’s from a musical perspective, a design perspective or a business model, smart is sexy.
I also had the opportunity to be a research assist for the Graduate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Fordham University, when I was between my first and second job in fashion. I met her when I was working at a coffee shop in the West Village, and she sort of took me under her wing. I learned so much from her from working on business plans, trademark and copyright law, and just business acumen in general.
Yes, I am a workaholic, and balance is something that I am actively trying to pursue. One of my mantras is: work smarter not harder. I say that to myself when I am just spinning my wheels. I am also trying to delegate and outsource more of my workload where it can be, and take the time to enjoy life and relax. This is one of the reasons I am back to having a day job. I am great at what I do 9-5, and the money that I make from that time investment is better used to hire professionals to help me out in places where my skill sets are lacking and theirs are excelling. It took a little bit of pride swallowing to relinquish 100% of control of everything and to say that I can’t do it all, but it’s something that I am working towards, and it is the smarter thing to do at this moment in time. I have some great projects in the pipelines, and they are going to need a lot of hard work in order to be realized. This is worth it.
Do you think it’s easier to be a woman in the music business today than it was in the past?
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