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Pre-Teen Post-Punk: Interview with Chandra
04/14/2009, 10:05 AM
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: , ,

When people sing “Love Me Do” to themselves on their way to a date ten years on the other side of their second divorce, it’s a sign that a young songwriter has got to a universal truth. This kind of precocious wisdom is embedded in the work of songwriters like Hank Williams, Prince, Elvis Costello, and Randy Newman. People who aren’t old enough to have lived the songs they’ve written nevertheless know how the song embodying that life should go. – Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker

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It should exist, but it shouldn’t be this good. A Delta 5-meets-Jackson 5 adolescent post-punk EP with paranoid undertones, large doses of Farfisa organ and occasional melodica solos? Sounds like a dollar record. Actually, it sounds like the best dollar record ever. Transportation, the EP recorded by then-12-year-old Chandra Oppenheim and her cast of collaborators, is a brilliant artifact of the early-80’s New York club scene and a fascinating listen, full of propulsive rhythms and mildly obscure yet insistent phrasing. I usually use the term “teenage girl poetry” as an offhand diss when artists unwisely delve into confessional mode, but Chandra’s lyrical acumen just might salvage an entire genre of verse.

As the daughter of conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim, the precocious and self-assured Chandra was in the right place at the right time. Her father’s acquaintances Eugenie Diserio and Steven Alexander, already active in the downtown scene as The Dance, were looking for a child to front an experimental rock band, and the rest is history. After recording the 4 songs on the exceedingly rare original Transportation EP, the group toured the Northeast, debuting at the Mudd Club in 1980. Sometime thereafter, Diserio and Alexander took more of an advisory role, and Chandra recorded a second EP with an all-kid band as The Chandra Dimension. Those songs, stronger than those on the original EP, have finally seen the light of day thanks to Cantor Records’ recent release of both EPs on a single piece of wax, accompanied by a beautiful booklet. Moved by what we heard, we decided to speak with Chandra and dig a little deeper into her story.

When did you get involved in music in the first place?
Well, I was about 10 and I would write little songs and stuff. Like, my best friend from school was getting teased and I would write her a song and make her happy to chear her up—things like that. I was always in plays and stuff too. So Eugenie and Steve were friends of my dad and wanted to do a project with a kid. And they knew that I had done theater and wrote songs and stuff, so that’s how everything started.

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