Verena a.k.a Schneck Tourniquet is frontwoman for Portland-based punk band The Bloodtypes. She also has her own solo project The Darkest Moons. I found out about her via fellow lady musician Shanti Wintergate. Verena is originally from Germany and has a classical piano background. Despite being a musician from an early age The Bloodtypes is her first attempt at starting a band… and might I add with wonderful results! The songstress chats about her beginnings as a musician, her experience of the Portland music scene, style, packing for tour and more.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I perform in a band called The Bloodtypes and also have a solo project entitled The Darkest Moons. In both I sing and play the keys. I spent most of my weekdays teaching English as a second language. I am an avid rider, mostly dressage, some trail riding. I am crazy about cats and dogs and live together with a magnificently beautiful cat called Needles. He shows up in my songs. I love yoga and have been known to practice even on horseback. I reside in Portland, OR, possible the USA’s most European city. I can walk to the grocery store and go out to shows every night. People are smiley and friendly. It rains a lot.
How did you first come to playing music?
I have to thank my parents for that – they sent me to music school early on – and I really loved it. I was perhaps five years old when I started learning to play the keyboard. Weirdly, I also took composition classes from age 10-12, but never really wrote music until my early 20s. I’m pretty well versed in classical piano and harmonics.
The first band I joined for about a second was a metal band that wanted me as the pretty girl voice… I was about 17. We never played a show and I sang on only one song. I couldn’t hear myself or anything in the practice space, it was hilarious. The song was about a Viking’s fight for his motherland. Yeah, right.
At about 24 or 25 I joined a band called “Leben ist Tand” (life is meaningless). We played gothic-industrial style music. I loved the music, but the bandleader was overbearing – he hated my vocals and never let me write songs. I quit the band after our first show.
The Bloodtypes are my first attempt at starting a band and writing punk rock songs. It’s going amazingly well considering.
You’re originally from Germany, what was it like growing up there?
Born to middle-class parents who value stability, I led a sheltered life – which somehow resulted in my rebelling against it all as I grew up – smoking, drugs, boys, music, the whole deal. I adored Marilyn Manson (I cringe as I write this now) and all things morbid.
Metal and Goth have deeply influenced me. As a German, Goth, metal and industrial are ubiquitous and they’re definitely sticking with me. When I go out to a Goth night here, it’s not the same. Some of the songs I write definitely seek out the feel that the music I grew up with had.
As far as mindset goes, the fundamental thing about being German is that for you there are no certain values. As a German, you’re ingrained with a sense of shame. It’s because we have this WW II history. Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred, everything is to be questioned. The notion of patriotism is ridiculous to me – and dangerous. Any kind of fanaticism is deeply disturbing to me. I reserve the right to discuss and question anything – much more so than my American friends.
What influenced your decision to move to the US?
It’s actually quite the story. So, I was a pretty big fan of this fantastic band called the Epoxies. On their 2007 Europe tour I met their Keyboardist after a show in Düsseldorf, Germany. It was love at first conversation – he is that charming. We had one date and then he flew back to the US, leaving my heart aflame. After six months of phone conversations and pining, I finally visited him in Portland, OR and fell in love once again – not with the man, I already was head over heels for him, but with the city. Portland is fantastic and I’ve never felt freer or more able to achieve things creatively. A year after my first visit, he asked me to marry him and move to the US. I’d finished my studies and was ready for a change. I moved in 2009 and have never looked back.
What was the first band tee you ever owned?
I’ve never been into band t-shirts until recently. I was never “cool” in that respect, and still struggle with dorkiness today. I think it might have been a Dresden Dolls shirt that I bought in 2005. Oh, and for some reason I owned a Slipknot hoodie that I bought in 2003. I guess I wanted to be anti… I gave it to the Goodwill a month ago.
Who’s your musical style icon? What is it about them that you love?
Actually, I’ve never had a style icon. Until recently I wasn’t even all that interested in style, but I actually consciously decided to work more on that and it’s really fun – it’s just another form of artistic expression!
Artist whose style of clothing, make-up and music I emulate are:
Debbie Harry. I mean, come on. It’s a no-brainer. Roxy Epoxy. Those eyes! A lot of the cues for my stage make-up come from her. Siouxsie Sioux, of course. One of my songs is a declaration of love to her song “Red Light” and I just love her make-up and clothes.
How would you describe your personal style?
Uncomplicated and effortlessly punk-rock with hint of sexy… maybe? I like skinny jeans and band t-shirts, Chuck Taylors and studded belts. Pretty classic. I also really like dresses and skirts, paired with knee-high Doc Marten’s. Plaid and leopard print always catch my eye. I buy almost exclusively second-hand. Mostly, though, I don’t think too much about what I wear. Half of the time I run around in breeches and some dirty old shirt, on my way to the barn.
You’re currently on tour; how do you pack for tour?
Usually panicking at the last minute. I generally forget something – this time I didn’t bring a short skirt or cut-offs, so I’m getting a little warm down here in So-Cal… I generally end up filling up one small suitcase with clothes, but could certainly take more. Due to my food needs – I eat neither gluten, nor sugar and only whole-grains; I also pack tons and tons of food, which sometimes annoys the boys.
What’s your favourite stage outfit you’ve ever worn?
I like what I’m wearing on this tour. A really weird, pseudo-sexy-nurse costume that I cut the sleeves off of, tights and stockings with garters, paired with Docs. It’s great for jumping around in! I also fondly remember the time I played in my underwear and I’ve got this fun blood-(paint-) spattered petticoat. But it’s hard to dance in.
Your band The Bloodtypes are from Portland, Oregon. Tell us about the current music scene/community there.
It’s pretty incestuous – everybody’s in a million bands! There’s a lot of indie-rock going on at the moment – it’s not the best time for punk rock. The punk scene is tight-knit and it is easy to make friends. But catching the attention of the local music press is hard. For that matter, catching anyone’s attention is pretty hard. If you don’t self-promote, it’s not going to work and even then… Fortunately, I’m not doing this for fame or success! A lot of fun can be had, but don’t expect the audience to bring the fun. You kind of have to force them to enjoy themselves. And that’s actually pretty enjoyable.
Tell us about your solo project the Darkest Moons. You’re inspired by Tori Amos, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Amanda Palmer!
The Darkest Moons is very dear to my heart because it goes back to my musical roots as a Goth in Germany – as one can clearly hear. The artists you listed above are my favourite musicians and have been very influential to me. At 16, 17 all I listened to was Tori Amos. Her whole philosophy about music is deeply fascinating to me. It’s hard to talk about how much I love these musicians. Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, Nick Cave’s The Good Son, PJ Harvey’s Uh-huh Her and almost all of Amanda Palmer’s stuff – they inspired me to be a musician. What they do to me, I want to do the others.
Music helps you to get feelings across with your words. The Darkest Moons is about my love for the dark and melancholy, and the beauty inside it all. I firmly believe in that – no matter how dark, how sad, how tragic, there is always that element of beauty. It’s not a spectacle, like the Bloodtypes, it’s for people who like to listen and contemplate. It’s a lot more melodic, but at the same time less pop.
Because the project is so precious to me, I prefer to keep it kind of private – I’ve only played one show and it was terrifying! It’s a whole different thing to be part of a sort-of-silly band than to be out there by yourself, baring your soul and being sincere. I’m currently looking to record and play more shows – once I muster up the courage…
Have you ever experienced sexism in the music community?
Not as such. I have noticed, however, how male-dominated the scene is. Sometimes promoters get confused that I do the booking and talk to them about financial stuff. They often prefer to have it out with one of the boys. I’m pretty professional and organized, though, so they get over it real soon.
What is interesting to me is that some people just outright hate female vocalists. I mean, I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I just can’t stand it when men sing.’ That wouldn’t happen. But people say that about women. They reject bands because they have a girl singer. To me it feels like those people are a little afraid of strong, opinionated women.
I saw a recent photo of you on stage and an audience member was flipping you the bird; how do you deal with hecklers?
I love that photo! The guy was hilarious. He was actually really enjoying the show, but appeared to be so intoxicated that his expression of joy was, hmmm, a little strange. Hecklers annoy me, but I tend to be friendly and polite. If it becomes too much, I just disengage. At times I’ve wished that my bandmates would be a little more protective, but I’ve come to be thankful that they’re not – they really trust me to take care of myself. That’s a great compliment!
What do you do creatively when you’re not creating/playing music?
Horseback riding is very creative to me. It’s a conversation I have with Sara, my beautiful horse, and both of us have to be deeply attuned, listening to each other. Every moment is new and different. No ride is ever the same. Together we dance the beautiful dance of dressage. It might sound over the top, but it seriously is that amazing.
I also do yoga, which allows me to creatively express myself with my body. I enjoy painting – it would be nice to do more of that. And as a teacher, you have to be creative about how you teach – every day.
What projects are you currently working on? The Bloodtypes have a debut CD in the works?
Yes, we are currently gathering funds through Kickstarter for releasing our first record. I’m really, really excited about it! We’ve done basic tracking, now it’s just overdubs and fairy dust. Anyone who wants to support us can go to Kickstarter – anything helps! Hopefully we’ll be able to put it out in early 2012. I also am determined to play more Darkest Moons shows and record an EP, too. It’ll be hard to choose the songs… I’ve got so many.
The Bloodtypes live: