By Scott Meeker
There’s an audible sigh from the other end of the phone when the inevitable question comes up, but it’s a good-natured sigh.
Go ahead, Christopher Blenkinsop’s sigh signifies. Ask it and let’s move on.
But when a band is called 17 Hippies and there are not 17 members (there are 13, and who quite frankly do not look like hippies) it’s a natural question.
“We were thinking of putting a FAQ on our Web site explaining the name of the band,” said Blenkinsop during a phone interview from the band’s base in Berlin, Germany. “But everybody seems to like asking about it, so we just thought we’d go ahead and keep answering it.”
The eclectic German pop band — which weaves together a variety of musical styles from around the world and performs in English, German and French — will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Taylor Performing Arts Center at Missouri Southern State University. The performance, offered as part of the Germany Semester, is free and open to the public.
Blenkinsop — one of the founding members of the group and who sings and plays the ukulele and bouzouki — answered that question and seven others in advance of the band’s Joplin performance.
Q. How did the band come up with the name 17 Hippies?
A. “In the beginning, we were more or less a loose connection of musicians in the Berlin scene. There were classical, folk, jazz and rock people. We started to meet once a week and swap melodies. The wall had just come down, and music was changing very fast. There were new sounds that were blending in with ours.
“There were three of us (when the band started). Every week, we would play and have the same core of musicians, but with a different variety of others.
“‘Hippy’ is a general word. It’s used here to describe a guy who is trying to do something but only half right, but it’s used in a nice way. Depending on (when the band played), there would be 19, 24 or 25 hippies. Seventeen sounded good.”
Q: You and the other band members play a variety of instruments (from Persian hammered dulcimer to accordion and clarinet). How has the combination of instruments helped develop the band’s sound?
A: “I think that the main thing that gave us our sound was that we never had anything like an audition to get this sound or that sound. I never listened to a hundred violin players and picked the one that I wanted. It just happened to be these people, and it’s important to have them play what their style is. It’s about the individual.”
Q: With a diverse group of performers and instruments, how does the songwriting process work?
A: “As with every band, we have a core who do most of it. It depends. Some of it is like a research project. We play and jam with people and say, ‘That’s a neat melody.’ We saw a band from Budapest, Hungary, play in southern France. We liked a melody that they had, so we changed it and added on bits and pieces, and it became part of a song in the later process, and we named the song after the band. The other way is classical songwriting. We start playing with people in the band, and it can take quite a bit to work our way into things. But it has to be our way.”
Q: For audiences not familiar with 17 Hippies, what can they expect from your show?
A: “A lot of fun. Expect to be part of what’s going on. The audience is really important for us. We can’t play without the audience being part of the whole thing. If you want to sit back and fold your arms, don’t come.”
Q. Do you perform in multiple languages in the same show?
A: “Most of the time. We have three main vocalists, and about three other band members who will join in to sing. We have people who speak French fluently, and a couple people who sing in German.”
Q: Last year marked your first tour in the United States. What was the reception like?
A: “Quite amazing, actually. I don’t know if we were expecting anything. We’re coming back for the second time this year and will be back in January and April of next year. It’s a great compliment ... people will say that we sound so European. A guy told us that we sounded like what he would expect a German band to sound like, that we had that kind of flair to it. I never thought of us to be a German band. That seems to be a very American way of seeing things.”
Q: What kind of response did you get when the band formed in Germany 14 years ago?
A: “It was a problem. In Germany, the professionals seem to categorize music. If you have a festival, you have a reggae day, you have a heavy metal day. But (17 Hippies’ music) is bouncy, it’s loud, it’s danceable. Think of bands like the Pogues, a punky attitude with folk. It’s the same kind of thing. The attitude is the same as you’d find in a rock band.
“Journalists were lost, in a way. ‘What are we supposed to call this?’ But in places like southern France, this is normal. This is pop music. We have all the influences from all of Europe, and we combine those. We play folk music in the modern and classical sense at the same time.”
Q: You released a new album last year, called “Heimlich.” What’s next for the band?
A: “We’re working on a new album. It’s called ‘El Dorado,’ and we’ll finish recording it in November. The interesting thing is the album-release party will be held in New York. It will not be released in Germany first, for the first time. But that’s the way these things go.
“(The music) sounds like maybe going out and discovering the Americas. We’re going out to the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and we’ve played with different people, listened and incorporated their music.”
<img src="http://www.joplinglobeonline.com/images/zope/extra.gif" border=0>Eight questions for 17 Hippies: Eclectic German band to perform at MSSU<font color="#ff0000"> w/video</font>
By Scott Meeker
Good sports: Huey Lewis and the News to play in support of remastered classic
The band will perform tonight at Downstream Casino as part of a tour backing the remastered re-release of "Sports," the 1983 album that propelled the band to icon status. That album featured the hit "Heart and Soul," and four other chart-toppers, such as "The Heart of Rock and Roll," "I Want a New Drug" and "If This is It."
Museum offers large array of toys, games
Paul Lawrence has spent the past six years taking tickets, answering questions and guiding visitors through the World's Largest Toy Museum.
Lambert helps Pistol Annies find success without radio
Miranda Lambert will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo Run Casino. Pistol Annies canceled its performance scheduled for the same time, but Lambert substituted in with a solo show.
Stained Glass Theatre to present 'Music Man'
The next production of Stained Glass Theatre will feature a story about a beloved con man.
Joe Hadsall: Hummus at center of controversy? Hummus?
I don't even know why I like it so much, because it's basically a paste made out of beans, and I hate beans. Something about the tahini, lemon, garlic and olive oil removes all the beany texture, and leaves it tasting wonderful.
Benji Tunnell: Vaughn, Wilson phone it in for 'Internship'
"The Internship" is the story of a vast conglomeration in the form of Google opting to have a two-hour advertisement for all of its various products, ostensibly as a lighthearted comedy about the crushing weight of an unstable economy once someone is no longer part of the younger demographic and finds himself unemployed. Or at least I think that was it.
Jeremiah Tucker: Vinyl may help keep record stores alive
The New York Times recently reported that the resurgence of vinyl music sales has led to a number of new record-pressing plants opening around the country, including one in Salina, Kan.
Museums, history and eclectic culinary culture key to Kansas City’s appeal
I get to Kansas City a couple of times a year. That’s my bad. I wish I could go more often. Every time I do, however, I realize what the metro to the north has to offer, especially now that the Old Highway 71 is the new Interstate 49.
Jeremiah Tucker: Song of summer is bound to be happier than 'Thrones'
But, experientially, I'd say summer is here. People on Facebook are posting pictures of their food blackened with carcinogens on outdoor grills and breathlessly keeping us abreast of every fascinating development in their vacation plans. What surer sign is there?
Benji Tunnell: 'Now You See Me' a unique summer flick
"Now You See Me" is the story of a group of solo magicians gathered together by a mysterious and unseen entity to create a powerhouse act that will change the world.
- More Enjoy Headlines
- Good sports: Huey Lewis and the News to play in support of remastered classic