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Juliette Commagere's 'Queens Die Proudly'

December 17, 2008 |  8:46 pm

Juliette Commagere’s voice ranges from dusky to sharply silver, slicing through the intimate, sometimes alien orchestration of her debut solo record, “Queens Die Proudly.” An art-pop suite of 13 songs, the album was written over the course of a year as a way to fight off depression. Her energetic indie-rock outfit, Hello Stranger, formed with high schoool sweetheart Joachim Cooder on drums, wasn’t gaining momentum -- despite Commagere’s inspired keytar rips – and the L.A. native, who’s contributed to songs by Puscifer and Avenged Sevenfold, was struggling with what to do next.

“I felt like the only way I would feel better is if I could create something,” she said, after a rehearsal for her Troubadour show and KCRW-FM (89.9) appearance tomorrow. “Sounds corny but it’s true.... I think everybody, artists and non-artists, has got to keep creating or else life seems pointless.”

Depression, in a counter-intuitive way, might’ve helped Commagere but there was an even more important force at play for “Queens Die Proudly” -- Commagere let go of the rules, including any fuss over logistics. “It was the most relaxed I’ve ever been while writing,” she said. “Anytime I ever thought to myself, ‘I can’t put that here,’ I would remind myself that this wasn’t for anyone, this was just for me.” So, if she wanted to put in a part for horns and strings, she went ahead and did it.

The result sounds emotional but light, a combination that can be found in many of Commagere’s heroes, such as Icelandic pop mystic Bjork. Brahms and Tangerine Dream factor in too. The disparate touchstones make sense for a performer who can shape-shift quite easily. Puscifer and Avenged Sevenfold came knocking, she says, “because I’ve always attracted the goths. I guess it’s the black hair and pale skin.” Her brother, singer-songwriter Robert Francis, channels a different set of influences in his dusty folk, but with equal dexterity.

Commagere’s logistical gambles not only didn’t hamper the recording – for which she got help from Ry Cooder, Joachim’s Dad, who played slide guitar on “Nature of Things” -- it also hasn’t restricted her in concert either. Commagere has assembled orchestras for live shows in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and L.A. by putting up ads on Craigslist. “Everyone’s been cool and they’re all excited to play,” she said. “Though it’s been scary to put it all together at the last minute.”

No matter what the risks have been, Commagere is keen on making another solo record that will balance the light and the dark. “The possibilities,” she says, “are more wide open.” And who knows, maybe a project with her brother, and their older sister who also sings, will come down the pike. “We’ve talked about it before ... but when it’s with your siblings, you just start bickering a lot. Maybe we’d do some ranchera songs with really broken down guitar and three-part harmonies.”

-- Margaret Wappler

Commagere performs tomorrow at the Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd. $8. Doors at 8 p.m. She also will appear on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" at 11:15 a.m.

Photo courtesy of Aeronaut Records