Alternative rock band set to take The Union stage

By Stan O’Neill |

Shilpa Ray

Shilpa Ray will perform at the Union Bar and Grill, 18 W. Union St., with an alternative rock approach that does not fit snugly into the conventional slot allotted to most current bands of this genre.

Various bands, including Style Star and Total Blam Blams, are set to make appearances alongside the main attraction Thursday at 9 p.m.

“Shilpa Ray is always special, they have played here a few times before, it’s always a light hearted and energetic show,” said Scott Winland over a Facebook message.

The band’s style is a haunting onslaught of delicate prog-rock, with the down tempo moments mediated by punk sensibilities and clever instrumentation. The band’s music contains a goofy ferocity and rebellious animosity reminiscent of Warhol-era New York, back when alphabet city’s gritty punk scene still thrived in dive bars like CBGB’s with youthful force.

Shilpa Ray’s enigmatic title is actually the full name of its lead singer and die-hard proprietor, and incidentally the only remaining member of the original lineup. The four-piece group is a convoluted product of the past few years, a revolving door comprised of various members that came and went before the establishment of their current roster.

Evidently this cathartic process of breaking down to build back up fostered some raucous ingenuity. Their music fluidly fuses bruised punk and bluesy movements with entirely original energy. Ray’s howling vocals are a potent mix of Janis Joplin and old soul caught in a choke-hold, refusing to be turned down or stifled, burning down the old conventions and reviving the fire of rock’s idols with scalding emotional vengeance.

The band is based out of New York City and records at Emandee Studios in Brooklyn. The new EP It’s All Self Fellatio was recently released and will be available for purchase at their Union show. I recently reached out to Ray and bassist Will Benton to discuss their music and creative chemistry.

“Well these days it’s Will Benton on bass/guitar, Jon “Catfish” DeLorme on bass/pedal steel, Russ Lemkin on drums and then there’s me,” Shilpa Ray said over Facebook Message. “We all met through mutual friends and other bands.”

She expanded on her own personal musical history.

“I started out playing solo, and then tried being in and running two bands, failed miserably and now I’m back on the horse playing solo and having band mates at the same time,” Ray said.

She went on to list the collective’s primary influences including Lou Reed, New York Dolls, Kevin Ayers, soul, some jazz and old Bollywood movies. Benton chimes in emphatically, emphasizing “especially old Bollywood movies.”

I ask the singer where the distinction lies between her solo and collaborative work. Shilpa speaks with playful sarcasm, poking fun at herself and the egocentric rock-star archetype so common in modern music, diffusing my nervous inquiries with light hearted words.

“The whole universe starts and ends with me,” Ray said. “Basically, I’m the self-absorbed protagonist of my very own American Novel. Hence the band’s name…”

The charge at the Union is unusually high, but it may pay to not judge this booking by its cover, the stories underneath seem deeply cultivated down to their basic elements, with exaggerated humor hanging out for fun’s sake over their true luster, touched with a bit of blushing intelligence.

“Well, it’s storytelling. I tell stories, that’s as American as you can get,” Ray said.


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