Robert Conroy has the voice of an angel - an angel who’s lived a season in hell.
Conroy is one half of the exquisite pop duo, Misty Roses, whose beautiful and ethereal voice is married to the dramatic and mesmeric music of Jonny Perl. From when they first met, they understood each other. Call it synchronicity. Call it good taste.
Together they are Misty Roses - the most startlingly original and brilliant group of the past 5 years.
In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds, Misty Roses, Conroy and Perl, explain the who’s, what’s, why’s and wherefores of their music.
Robert: ‘I met Jonny in late 2002, when he was still living in Brooklyn. We had a mutual friend and, in passing, I mentioned to that mutual friend that I was obsessed with Scott Walker and Julie London. To which he said “There is only ONE other person ON EARTH who is obsessed with Scott Walker AND Julie London! That’s this English guy I know, Jonny Perl!” And I found out he was a musician, and I was intrigued - so I got Jonny’s number and I called him. We met soon afterwards, and we just realized very quickly that we were on very similar frequencies. I mean, after our first rehearsal - which was three hours long, maybe - I think we came away with working demos of three or four songs that ended up on our first LP. We understood each other - musically - from the get-go.’
Born and raised in NYC, Robert had performed with a range of bands “post-punk, goth, electronic” over the years, and says he “was lucky enough to have a front row seat for a lot what happened musically over last decade or two.” The range of experience only confirmed his talents and focused his ambitions.
Robert: First and foremost, I am a singer - I’ve trained with some serious vocal coaches, in my day. And I like a lot of different kinds of music. So if I dig the people and I dig how they write songs and they dig how I write songs, then I’m game.’
British born Jonny has always been musically gifted, as a child he learned to play the cello, piano, and saxophone. Before Misty Roses he had played in a variety of combos, and was playing with a surf band in NYC when the conversation about Julie London brought him to Robert.
Jonny: ‘The synergies between our musical interests seemed so strong that we both figured it was worth giving it a shot.’
Together, they create music that is the perfect fusion of cabaret and cinema, of torch song and widescreen. You are listening to the score for a dream by Kenneth Anger or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Douglas Sirk or David Lynch.
Robert: ‘We have been described as Lynchian - which we take as a great compliment. (And we did cover a David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti song on our disc Komodo Dragons - so it sort of fits, don’t it?) But we both love the way Mr. Lynch takes something seemingly innocuous and pretty - such as a song like “Sixteen Reasons” or “Blue Velvet” - and discovers all these inherently disturbing elements beneath its surface. I hope we create a similar kind of frisson with our best songs.
‘Musically, we are deeply influenced by non-rock popular music from the later half of the Twentieth Century. Soundtrack composers like Ennio Morricone, John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith, exotica, bossa nova and tropicalia records, dub and a lot recordings of jazz and vocal standards - Ellington, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone and such like.
‘Likewise, the work of people we like to call “middle-of-the-road mavericks”- artists who were able to create music that was both very accessible and deeply idiosyncratic and more than a little odd. People like Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg, Bacharach and David, Dionne Warwick, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Jimmy Webb, Bobbie Gentry, etc. And these influences get filtered further through the “rock” music we like, which is primarily the “artier” end of the spectrum. Stuff like the Velvet Underground and its alumni, Bowie, Roxy Music, Sparks, Joy Division, The Banshees, The Associates, Soft Cell, The Smiths, The Pet Shop Boys, Suede, Broadcast, Goldfrapp, etc.
‘Jonny described our sound as “glamorous easy listening music” initially. I loved that. Jonny and I are really attracted to glamorous sounds. We love orchestrations - strings sections, and french horns and flutes. We dig those gleaming, cold textures of synthesizers from the 1970’s.
All the things that you’re supposed to reject if you’re into music that is “true” and “real”. We dig artifice.’
Jonny: ‘Yes - we had pretty much all these things in common as interests from the start. I will never shake off the Smiths/Postcard/C86 influences I had when I started to play guitar, but there has always been cross-fertilization - from playing in orchestras and ensembles to collecting old easy listening, Latin and Brazilian records.’
Robert: ‘And our music tends to drift into the shadows, as it were. Traditionally - until the last century, really - “glamour” was an occult term. Its a synonym for “spell”. One casts a glamour. And that connection to magic also suggests a sense of mystery - I think. Nothing can be truly glamorous without an element of darkness or strangeness. All my favorite music has some eerie, even creepy, aspect. And I find a lot of classic horror and science fictions films - like Forbidden Planet or Suspiria or The Bride of Frankenstein - wildly glamorous. Star Trek and Space: 1999 likewise.’
Their first performance as Misty Roses took place in an old East Village Buddhist tea house. Jonny played guitar and backing tracks, while Robert “channeled Dusty Springfield”. For both, it was a moment of magic, and the promise of greater things seemed almost within reach. Almost….
”Starry Wisdom” from ‘Villainess’ by Misty Roses
More from the fabulous Misty Roses, plus bonus tracks, after the jump…
From early 1997 to sometime mid-1999 I had a talkshow called The Infinity Factory that was produced at Pseudo.com, the increasingly legendary “Internet TV Network,” creative madhouse and party central of downtown New York during the high-flying Silicon Alley dotcom years. (Ondi TImoner’s new Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary, We Live in Public chronicles the rise and fall of Pseudo founder Josh Harris and it’s a fascinating film, a movie well worth going out of your way to catch. Watch my interview with Ondi here).
The Infinity Factory was taped every Sunday evening at 8pm with a few exceptions. It was produced by Vanessa Weinberg who also DJ’d and mixed the show live. Vanessa was extraordinarily in tune with how the conversations were flowing and added an intricate bed of trippy music, samples and sound loops under what were often extremely psychedelic conversations to begin with—like this episode, with Robert Anton Wilson and Genesis P-Orridge. This show dates, I think, from Fall of 1997. When it was originally netcast it was when most people still had 56k modems and the video quality was fairly awful. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty cool to be able to do something like this back then and there was a real “pirate radio” aspect to it as well that greatly appealed to me, but in truth it looked more like flickery animation than it did actual video. And it was the size of a postage stamp. There were probably well over 100 shows, each of them around 50 minutes, but I really can’t say for sure how many there were. Most of them are probably lost.
Pseudo had several floors, first two then three, in the no-frills building where Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi still have their art studios, on the corner of Houston and Broadway. One floor had the business people and the producer’s offices and on the floor with the studio—which is where all the parties were—Josh Harris had his own apartment in the back. Each Sunday night, I’d usually I’d see him, cigar in hand, either leaving or returning from a poker game. It was, if memory serves on the 12th floor and this building had the scariest elevator I have, ever, ever used. It was super slow and extremely rickety. If I made it up and down in one piece each week, I breathed a sigh of relief, let me tell you. When someone especially heavy was waiting for the elevator, I’d opt to use the steps, even if it was twelve long flights. Seriously, you took your life into your own hand with this elevator. I don’t know why Jeff Koons puts up with it. (Composer Gershon Kingsley, who was a guest on the show once, told me that taking that elevator and getting off at Pseudo was like entering Dante’s Inferno except that you went up instead of down. I don’t think he was joking)
The studio itself was basically set up like a radio station but with these cheapo cameras that were the size of cigarette packs on pivots that were cut with this jerry-rigged Radio Shack thumb switch with three clunky buttons. The hosts had to do this themselves—cut between cameras—in the beginning. It was really distracting when you were trying to concentrate on what someone was saying (I might be doing it here, but I don think I was). I had some fun guests on the Infinity Factory including a pre-Boing Boing David Pescovitz, Adam Parfrey of Feral House infamy, painter Paul Laffoley, my late and very missed friend Dr. Mario Pazzaglini, R.U. Sirius, Grant Morrison, Joe Coleman and Bob Wilson, who was on a couple of times. Genesis P-Orridge, Douglas Rushkoff, Howard Bloom and conspiracy theory writers Kenn Thomas and Robert Sterling were all frequent guests.
It’s nice to see these shows popping again now, after so many years, as larger HD YouTube files. These shows were taped off Manhattan Cable and probably represent the best versions around. If the master tapes do still exist, they’d be in Josh’s storage space amongst 10,000 hours of other Pseudo programming and I doubt very much they have been cataloged! On television only in New York City (and maybe later in Brooklyn) The Infinity Factory was on a fairly low number on the Time-Warner cable box, so if you were flipping channels at 10:30 on Thursday night and you lived in Manhattan, you were going to see me. This was at the time George Clooney was still on E.R. and it amused me to no end that people watching that show or MTV’s The Real World and channel surfing would—inevitably—find themselves looking at my freaky show.
The morning after it was on the Manhattan Cable for first time I was asked “What do you do for a living? I saw you on TV last night” or some variation on that theme by four people in my apartment building who had never spoken to me before. Overnight I had become as famous as… Robin Byrd or Al Goldstein!