For the month of April, we went back in time with Atlanta's Dancing Flames. The Dancing Flames specialize in Motown. They're a subgroup of a bigger musician collective: The Atlanta Rock n' Roll All-stars. They have some great insight into the history of music in Georgia as well as some local show suggestions that you shouldn't miss.
We sat down with Jesse, Keena, and Kirsten of The Dancing Flames. Listen to the full interview on our Soundcloud page!
Tell me about your name and how y'all met.
Jesse: When everything started we were a collective of musicians to put on a Rocky Horror Picture performance. [The show] was some of the Rocky Horror script and the songs in order [of the soundtrack]. The idea was to have a band dressed as the characters to perform [the Rocky Horror Picture Show] in its entirety. Not so much the shadow cast, but it had a very involved feel with lots of audience participation. It became a hit but it wasn't sustainable because of all the work involved in its production. We moved our focus to the decades market.
We did a 70's funk/disco Motown band that did pretty well. We took it a step further back and did a 1960's show with the girl groups [like] The Temptations and The Supremes. That's what we're still doing. It brings people together and is something you don't see a lot of today. You may see the occasional backup signer. When you have the real Motown feel with the dancers and the band is dressed to the nines, it has a sort of appeal that's not easy to find in a world where everyone wears jeans and t-shirts on stage. There's a lot of dissonance and electronics, things like that.
And your name?
Kirsten: We started as the Atlanta Rock n' Roll All-Stars. We're essentially a collective of really talented people. With every decade show we do, we come out with a new appropriate name for that decade. We voted, on everything, as we always do. The Dancing Flames has been really working for us. I think its very representative of our group, which I feel is at its best right now. I'm really proud of all the talented people we work with.
And there are more than the three of you in the collective?
Keena: Yeah, there's 37.
Kirsten: We are like Wu-Tang Clan, there are so many of us. It's like a party on stage.
Jesse: We kinda hide behind the name Atlanta Rock n' Roll All-stars as the umbrella term for the pool of musicians we pull from. That allows us to select certain people for specialty acts and who we think really fits the bill.
So you do a lot of covers, but are there any songwriters among you?
Keena: I think all of us write songs.
Kirsten: That's the world I came from. The studio world. I knew nothing about bands or being in a band until I met Jesse. He called me and asked me if I wanted to be part of the Rocky Horror Picture show performance. I learned about the band world after agreeing to that gig. This really made me enjoy music and singing from a professional standpoint because I was really burned out before. I quit writing.
Typically are you writing songs together or since there are so many of you guys do you offer songs as individuals?
Kirsten: We're not there yet.
Keena: We're not writing at all, that's kind of the point. It's more of a step back and relax situation compared to being in an original band. In the same way, there's another level of challenge to it because I think a lot of us would say that we're perfectionists. I don't think it's cheaping out to play a cover if you put your heart and soul into it especially if you play it and make people feel the same way they did fifty years ago when those songs were a big deal. That's what we to put out there. There's not a lot of music out here like that anymore. To be able to take everybody's talent and hone into these songs that we all know, love, and grew up with and fill it with love.
Kirsten: We want to keep that appreciation going.
Jesse: There are some slight adjustments to the material as far as selecting keys to create different feels with rythym. There is some composition that goes into it as far as arrangement and organization. We're all big fans of musical theatre, the classics and the greats and thats what we want to incorporate. I wouldn't be suprised if some originals come out of the project eventually.
What is it about Georgia that makes it a great birthplace for legendary music?
Keena: I think personally it has a lot to do with our history. In my experience, and in a lot of peoples experience whether they admit it or identify with, it goes back to church and spirituality. A lot of southern music came from is gospel.
Kirsten: Soul music.
Keena: We're all rooted into that. If you came from here, you probably had in your life at some point, and it does touch your soul.
Jesse: There's a lot too as far as unity and love. Atlanta being the hip-hop capital of the world. There's a lot of violence, tension, greed, and viciousness in music today. It's so good to hear a song fill the room that's more aimed at unity. There has always been a lot of tension here in the South. As far as a lot of the great acts in history, as Motown has shown us, the best things happen when people are united together. If we can all stand together black, white, gay, straight, male, female it adds the feeling of richness. I just like to hear something a little hopeful.
Kirsten: I think it also comes from life in the south because I feel like life in the south is a unique experience, there are unique situations for people living in the south than there are any place else. The reason why the south is so especially creative is a mixture of the things that Jesse and Keena said. That soul that comes from the church. The godfather of soul, James Brown, is basically from Augusta. There are so many southern soul artists. The blues is from the south. It kind of morphed over the years from blues to hip-hop and all the unique sounds and experiences of living in the south.
Jesse: Atlanta is the heart of the southeast. It's really a rallying point. Atlanta is trying to catch up with New York and LA, but it's so different.
What are some of the other local bands in Atlanta that y'all would not miss an opportunity to see perform?
Kirsten: Blood on the Harp!
Jesse: We have a lot of friends that have helped us along the way and landed us some great gigs. I'd have to say the Donna Hopkins Band is a huge part of our scene as well as Ralph Roddenbery. These are people who are also singing uplifting, classic, and southern music.
Keena: Blair Crimmins is one I always try to go to. You could be in the worst mood and if you go to their show you have to get up and dance. Everybody knows that dancing is not my thing, but if you feel it you can't help it!
Jesse: Just gotta get up off your feet and get down!
Keena: They [Blair Crimmins] have that New Orleans feel. They do a mixture of originals and covers. That to me is the idea of a really strong band, where you're family oriented, you're fun, and you have a little bit of an edge to reach down to the roots of what you really like.
Jesse: There's a lot of old timers in the Atlanta that have helped us out too like Deep Blue Sun. It blows me away that musicians of their caliber encourage us by saying we're sounding good.
Kirsten: There's also a really dope band out of Atlanta called Hero, The Band. Great energy! And whats that reggae band that I love?
Jesse: Natty Love Joys!
Kirsten: Yes! I still think about how amazing that show was. I would not ever want to miss them.
What are the Dancing Flames looking forward to this summer?
Jesse: We're doing a lot of private events, festivals, weddings, and some fundraisers.
Keena: We are playing Tunes for the Tombs this year at Oakland Cemetary.
Jesse: We're playing there with the legendary Bruce Hampton!
Keena: Yeah, we're pretty excited about that. They are really excited to have us which made me even more excited! That's a big deal for us! We're stepping into the limelight of the city, which to me is one of the best festivals we have locally. They [Tunes for the Tombs] don't have national traveling acts.
Jesse: It's great to see companies foster the growth of the Atlanta scene. Like you guys at Bullet Music.