While the violin is closely associated with country music, it’s rarely linked to Rock & Roll. The Femmes of Rock are looking to change that with their high-powered violin covers of classic rock music. Founder and arranger Nina DiGregorio took some time to talk to Wisconsin Music about their upcoming performance at the Weidner Center:
WM: When did you first start playing violin?
ND: I first started playing violin by accident. When I was nine years old and in fourth grade, they had us pick what instruments we wanted to play. At the time The Simpsons was a really popular cartoon. I was also really into 1950’s rock music, like old school rock & roll prior to the Beatles. So I picked the saxophone. The band director then called me in and said that I was really small and he didn’t think I would be able to carry the saxophone to and from the bus every day. He suggested I try the violin because it was a lot lighter. That’s honestly how it started! It didn’t start with a fiery passion for the violin. Someone suggested it to me and I said yes.
WM: Have you ever had a chance to talk to that band director now that your career is onstage with a violin?
ND: No, I haven’t. I actually do keep in contact with the orchestra director that I ended up learning from. But not the band director that taught saxophone, I don’t even know what happened to him. I wonder if he ever hears this story and thinks ‘Huh, I’m glad I started that!’
WM: All these classic rock songs you perform would sound a little different if you played them on the saxophone! (laughs)
WM: What are some of your influences?
ND: It all started with 1950’s music. My father and his friend were really into that music and I remember him taking my mom to sock-hops when I was little. Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis. I was able to go to Graceland about two years ago and it was a spine-tingling, chilling emotional experience. I was a big fan of the Drifters from the early sixties. The song ‘Up On The Roof’ was my favorite song for probably the first ten years of my life. But that kind of music was going on in my house, and I just loved it. I listened to that for a long time until I hit about eleven years old and I discovered the Beatles. That changed everything for me. Obviously I am too young to have ever seen the Beatles themselves, but there was a cover group that came to the college my mom worked at. She took me and my best friend to the show and we were just completely in awe of the music. It started a ten year love affair with the Beatles where I collected every album, every book that I could read about them, every movie that they made. It was super Beatlemania all over again in the early nineties. From there I got turned onto Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Chicago, Pink Floyd, and AC/DC.
WM: How did you come up with the idea to marry your violin playing with classic rock?
ND: That also started when I was quite young … when I was nine or ten and had my little rental violin and would do my practicing after school. My mom was a casual piano player, nothing professional. My father had an acoustic guitar – he also was a casual player. He had a book of Beatles music that had guitar chords and melody lines. While my mom would cook dinner, my dad would strum the chorus and I would play the melody. And that’s really the first time that I started playing the violin in that manner. From there I had a classical career that spans all the way to my master’s degree, and I would play in orchestras. But that part of me that wanted to perform this kind of music stayed with me the entire time that I was studying. And now we have a quartet of girls that performs with full effect pedals just like guitar players.
WM: You are paired with Lita Ford for your show at the Weidner Center. Have you shared a stage with her previously?
ND: This is our very first booking with Lita, and we’re big fans. We are really excited about this ‘women that rock’ theme. We hope that this is the first show of a much larger tour that happens. Red Rock Productions is the promoter that is putting this on and bringing us all together. I know that part of the proceeds of the show are going to the YWCA and some other women’s groups. So the cause is really important to the show as much as the rock and roll that we’ll play.
WM: In doing some research today I see that you know your drummer Michael extremely well. In fact, you’re married to him! How did the two of you meet?
ND: Now this is a funny story! We both grew up about 15 minutes away from each other in suburbs of Buffalo, New York. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue his music and management career. I moved to Las Vegas performing with Wayne Newton. About eight years ago I was performing in a lounge, I actually played bass guitar for this band. He was visiting from LA and came into the lounge I was playing in. Our drummer in this band was also from Buffalo and he introduced the two of us. We kept in touch over the years, but we had significant others at the time. It was about five years ago now that we were both single and in Buffalo for Christmas. We went to see a band play together, and have been together ever since! So basically we both moved about three thousand miles away from home to end up with somebody from our home town and that’s also a musician!
WM: Have you ever been to Green Bay previously?
ND: We performed in Wisconsin, but not Green Bay so this will be our first time.
WM: Hopefully the cold isn’t too cold for you.
ND: My wheelhouse is about twenty-five degrees and about eight feet of snow, growing up in Buffalo. But I’m no good with negative ten!
WM: How long have you lived in Las Vegas?
ND: I’ve been in Las Vegas about thirteen years. Everyone says that after you’ve lived in Las Vegas for seven years you get acclimated to the climate, but I definitely prefer the snow to the heat!
WM: Well, hopefully our temperature stays decent for when you perform!
ND: We’re looking forward to it!