Tucson sounds: Violinst Samantha Bounkeua coaxes stories from her strings | Weekend music
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Tucson sounds: Violinst Samantha Bounkeua coaxes stories from her strings

Plus, Remembering Churchill Brauninger

There's nothing like the sound of strings in rock and roll. Take, for instance, Eddie Jobson's unhinged electric violin solo in Roxy Music's "Out of the Blue," or the gorgeous pandemonium of Dave Arbus at the end of the Who's "Baba O'Riley."

And, naturally enough, the musicians who play orchestral rock and roll tend to have a traditional, classical music background. Thank the gods, orchestral education is thankfully still a thing and gifted players can learn they have an aptitude for classical instruments at a young age, meaning that a brilliant and disciplined player might have two decades plus of playing experience before they leave their 20's, something that might be unfathomable to their self-taught guitar-slinging peers.

That experience pays off in spades. Not just in the tools a classically trained player wields in their well-honed hands, but in their love of the shapes and colors and unexplored pathways of the music they are playing, be it a two-century old classical masterpiece, an impromptu jazz riff, a folk fiddle solo or premium orchestral rock and roll.

Your friendly local music columnist, who never had the nerve to pick up a violin and couldn't quite figure out the flutophone for that matter, has always been floored by such magical folk. So when she interviewed local multigenre violin maestro Samantha Bounkeua this week, your trusty scribe was more than suitably humbled. 

TucsonSentinel.com: Hey, Samantha! Last time we talked with you, you were part of Half-Broke Town, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of what you do live. What other projects are you and have you been part of locally? And what are you up to these days?

Samantha Bounkeua (Tucson violinist and solo perfomer):"I’ve been incredibly lucky to collaborate with tons of inspiring Tucson folx."

"I perform regularly with Two-Door Hatchback, a brilliant and whimsical acoustic old-timey-jazz-trumpet-indie-cotton-picking-guitar project with Dante and Marco Rosano. I also recently had a blast playing brand new music from Chris Black's ChamberLab at Hotel Congress with 'Synesthesia,' with artist Joe Pagac painting live on stage during our performance. I’ve formerly performed and recorded with Half-Broke Town, Jimmy Carr and the Awkward Moments, the Rogue Theatre and many others."

"What am I up to these days? Well, I fell in love, bought a house, adopted two kittens, a new stage persona and built my own music studio!"

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"The name 'RogueViolin' for me was born out of this incredible tension between my classical conservatory training and, well, just about everything else. How to reconcile these completely different worlds. Having always been drawn to more experimental techniques of violin playing, I’ve been using distortion and delay to expand my vocabulary on the instrument, and have dedicated the last six months to learning Abelton Live, a live performance music production program, which I’m hoping to incorporate into my performance routines."

TS: A lot of musicians start out playing in orchestra as kids, but only a dedicated few stick with strings as their instruments of choice. What made you fall in love with violin and stick with it?

SB: "Ah yes. I’m still figuring out how to stick with it! I fall in and out of love with it every day, a relentless cycle of potential and possibilities and self-doubt, certainly my most complicated relationship."

"I started violin when I was four years old and learned to read music before the alphabet. I’m still learning to survive the highs and lows. That first time walking onstage in Carnegie Hall. That devastating audition when I was shaking so much I dropped my bow. The  hundreds and hundreds of hours of joyful but also relentlessly religious practicing. And through all that, the violin develops this voice, and little by little you are able to coax out these stories and melodies and colors. And then you share these with people that you love. And all the lines are blurry between the violin’s voice and your own voice. And what matters is the stories you share and the people you connect with, on stage and off."

TS: You've played in bands from multiple genres, seemingly without skipping a beat. What music inspires you most? How did you fall in love with music as a listener as well as eventually a player?

SB: "I think what inspires us as listeners can’t really be defined by genre any more than our sexuality can be defined by labels. I am drawn to music that expands and questions the politics and social structures of our daily living, to music that experiments with textures and harmonies to create sonic soundscapes and paintings, to music that grooves and makes us move our bodies. It’s all such a somatic experience. Music should make you feel something, physically, in the pit of your stomach or the base of your hips or the center of your throat. I think that’s the root of the nourishment we find in music. It’s participatory, whether we realize it or not.."

TS: Do you play any other instruments? 

SB: "I can dabble around on some other instruments, mostly some basic keys, a few guitar chords, some mandolin melodies. Most recently, my “dabbling” has led to a serious obsession with my newest instrument, an Akai MPK49 midi controller hooked up to Ableton Live, my laptop and a universe of sound and possibility."

TS: Favorite genres of music and fave musicians?

SB: "In no particular order, from opera to pop – to name a few obsessions - Fats Waller, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Cecilia Bartoli, J.S. Bach, Morton Feldman, Stockhausen, Kaaija Saariaho, Bjork, Avett Brothers, Bjork, Rolando Villazon, recently discovered Baths and Fatima al Qadiri, super influenced by Andrew Bird, Thao & Mirah, Janelle Monae. Also, did I mention Beyoncé? Because, Beyoncé! Local favorites include Jillian Bessett and everything she touches, Loveland, Kiss the Sun and Katie Haverly to name a few."

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TS: Advice to young string players?

SB: "Play the music you love! If you aren’t digging the song you’re learning, the magic is lost. I wish someone had told me when I was younger that It’s okay to break the rules, to try new things and be excited about discovering melodies on your own. Make things up! There is never going to be one right way to play music, whether it’s Mozart or Radiohead."

TS: Favorite performing moments ever? Weirdest?

SB: "Too many favorite moments. My first time walking on stage at Carnegie Hall as concert mistress when I was 15. The Bach I performed in the middle of a pitch black stage when I was 18. That one solo I shredded at Plush after having taken a shot before performing for the first time in my life. This fall when I composed a violin cadenza for violin with distortion and delay pedals to accompany queer love poetry and aerial silks. ."

TS: What bands and projects have you recorded with? Any plans for upcoming recordings, yours and the like?

SB: "Yes! Currently recording and producing a concept album with Erin Henderson, who I performed with in Half-Broke Town and is now the lead singer of Black Medicine. Incorporating sound sampling, live violin loops, and vocal effects, we’re writing all original songs with a focus on queer subcultures. As I’m baby-new to recording and production, the journey is vast and daunting but we’re all kinds of giddy to be working on it together."

TS: Details on your upcoming gigs? And where can folks find out more about your music?

SB: "Taking a small break from the usual gigging frenzy this summer to focus on recording, but you can still catch me with Two-Door Hatchback (Dante and Marco Rosano) on Saturday, June 1, 6-9 p.m. at Sand-Reckoner. Also, ridiculously excited to be joining a killer line-up at Che’s on Sunday, July 7, with Julius Schlosburg, Jillian Bessett and Vicki Brown for a back-to-back looping show. Super excited and so nervous; I feel like I’m coming out of the looping closet!"

"I'm excited to launch a new platform and domain (www.rogueviolin.com) in the next few weeks which will include links to SoundCloud and YouTube. Also, I will be accepting a few new violin students soon"

TS: Sounds like you've got a lot up your sleeve! Where can people find you until your new site launches?"

SB: "Till then, folx can follow me on Facebook or Instagram as @rogueviolin or email rogueviolinmusic@gmail.com. You can also check out my existing website at www.samanthabounkeua.com.

Also happening this week

Summer may be underway, but though the student dorms and luxury bars Downtown might be deserted, Tucson's hardly a ghost town this week. Prime live music is happening all around, including appearances by psych indie faves La Cerca and the broody gorgeous Moontrax Friday and Saturday, respectively at Sky Bar. Taste little bit of goth indulgence from the Dracula Kite, a local Cure tribute supergroup featuring Chris Callahan and most of Miss Oliva's Interlopers (Mike Sydloski and David Hostetler, and Daniel Thomas.) 

Wednesday at 191 Toole is a two for one mini-festival of sorts, beginning with Local First Arizona's Roadshow at 4 p.m. with performances by Jillian Bessett and Hawkins Dance and followed by local wunderkinds Stripes album release at 8 p.m.  (with  support from Tongs, Lenguas Largas, and Exbats) while a few blocks away at Club Congress, Weekend Lovers welcome indie garage rockers Dehd at 7 p.m. Also at Congress, the night before (Tuesday, June 4) Taco Sauce and Gutter Town welcome touring band National Velvet. 

Remembering a larger than life guy...RIP Churchill

This reporter first became acquainted with Elizabeth Menke and Churchill Brauninger, owners of Saint Charles Tavern, when doing a piece about the newly minted South Tucson watering hole for short-lived local rag the Tucson Edge. The pair came with a solid local pedigree, most recently having helped to shape local treasure La Cocina and Dusty Monk Pub at Old Town Artisans, and there was much buzz surrounding Saint Charles as a possible spiritual successor to beloved lost Downtown venues. 

While Liz Menke patiently and determinedly set the record straight about what Saint Charles was and wasn't going to be (yes to inclusivity, neighborhood inclusion, being a place for service industry folks, South Tucson and Downtown folk alike, no to being the District or Red Room reborn, maybe to live music...a maybe that became a certainty over time) her husband Churchill was a silent, solemn presence throughout the interview. Listening to just what was asked and taking mental notes. Making sure, essentially, that we got the story straight. Looking out for Liz and their shared venture.

The story must have been more or less on point, because from then on, this reporter was welcomed with open arms, big smiles and occasional huge hugs at Saint Charles from that time onward. And the bar itself has blossomed and grown into a local institution for patrons and musicians alike, under the wise, loving, fiercely protective stewardship of Liz and Churchill and the family of staff and regulars they've created in their South Fourth Avenue neighborhood institution.

Monday night, Liz Menke took to social media to share the devastating news that her husband and partner had left the planet and was met with a massive outpouring of love, grief and remembrance from friends, staff, musicians, former coworkers and employers, Saint Charles and La Cocina regulars, and a ton of other folks in the Tucson community and beyond. 

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Churchill Brauninger died May 27 of natural causes. He was 51 years old. Tucson mourns this warm, funny, loyal, steadfast, stubborn, gorgeous soul. 

We'll miss you, Churchill. We love you, Liz. 

Check your local listings...

Friday, May 31

  • Offbeat. the High Art of the Underground Beat Scene - 6 p.m. MOCA Tucson
  • Jacob Acosta Band and Leigh Lesho - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • Frank and Friends - 7:30 p.m. Hideout Saloon East
  • Cra$h Magic - 8 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • The Smokes, La Cerca, Liquid Summer - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Natalie Pohanic - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk
  • The Dracula Kite play music of the Cure - 9:30 p.m. Surly Wench
  • El Tambó - 10 p.m. Hotel Congress Plaza

Saturday, June 1

  • Xiu Xiu - 8 p.m. 191 Toole 
  • gnash - 7:30 p.m. Club Congress
  • Two-Door Hatchback · 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner
  • Belinda Esquer Album Release Party · 7 p.m. Tucson Hop Shop
  • Dirty Magic EP Release - 8 p.m.Thunder Canyon Brewstillery
  • Little Cloud · 8 p.m. Hotel McCoy
  • Moontrax, Belladon, Early Black · 8 p.m. Sky Bar Tucson
  • Nocturnal Theory, Silver Cloud Express and Tough Luck & Co · 9 p.m. Passe
  • Texas Trash and the Super Wrexx · 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Ilana Glazer - 7:30 p.m. Rialto Theatre
  • Cafe Jaleo plays the music of Buena Vista Social Club - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre
  • Never Reborn, Agnostic Purgatory, Single Finger Theory, Despair - 7 p.m. Spark Project Collective
  • Sophie McTear Art Opening with Cool Funeral - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth

Sunday, June 2

  • ESP - 10 a.m. Monterey Court
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina
  • KAT Studio Appreciation Day · 2 p.m. Kinetic Arts Tucson
  • Kevin Pakulis · 2:30 p.m. Borderlands Brewing
  • Natalie Pohanic - 5 p.m. Public Brewhouse

Monday, June 3

  • Spiral Stairs, Fat Grey Cat, Exbats - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Mystic Braves - 8 p.m. 191 Toole 

Tuesday, June 4

  • Natural Velvet, Taco Sauce, Gutter Town - 8p.m. Club Congress

Wednesday, June 5

  • Local First AZ Roadshow with Jillian Bessett and Hawkins Dance - 4 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Dehd w/ Weekend Lovers - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Stripes Record Release, Exbats, Tongs, Lenguas Largas - 8 p.m. 191 Toole

Thursday, June 6

  • Divy, Demonyms, dfoRm - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Nattali Rize - 8 p.m. 191 Toole

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

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Ruth Christopherson

Still life with violin and player (Samantha Bounkeua)

Youtube Video