English teachers are known for providing students with valuable advice: brainstorming before starting a draft, taking notes on text as you read and, in the case of English teacher Emily Moore, “sister, don’t date a hipster.” That’s the title of one of the songs written and performed by Ménage à Twang, Moore’s all-female alternative country trio.
Moore is the songwriter, singer and tambourine player for Ménage à Twang. The band started out as a joke among Moore and her friends Rachel Levy and Jessica del Vecchio, about starting a “funny, country, campy” band in 2006, according to Moore. But then they got together with a guitar and a pillbox as instruments and the ideas came pouring out.
Ménage à Twang started out as a hobby but has developed into an authentic band. “I thought it was all a joke and then the next thing I know, one of them said, ‘So, when’s our first rehearsal?’’’ Levy said.
Their songs deal with love and romance as well as city life. “Emily is a lyric whiz,” Levy said. “You throw an idea at her and all of a sudden, she’s written all the words to a song.” This comes as no surprise since Moore teaches Poetry Workshop here in Stuyvesant.
“She’s a writer and a poet and clearly values self-expression,” said senior Jamila Ma, who has Moore for Great Books.
The trio is inspired by their own lives as well as those of their friends. For example, “Good Face/Bad Art” is a quirky love song based on Moore’s friend’s ex-boyfriend. “Songs come from lots of places, sometimes from our own lives and often from the suggestions and experiences of friends,” Moore said. Ménage à Twang also does country-style covers of popular songs like Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.”
With doing covers, most bands have to face being compared to the original version, but Moore’s crystal voice captures each song making it the band’s own. “She has such a sweet voice,” Ma said, “just like her.”
Ménage a Twang’s original songs take problems like bad boyfriends and mortgage payments and express them in a light comedic tone. In “Share a Studio and a Temp,” a song about a band forced to share an apartment while trying to make it big in New York, Moore gaily sings, “We met with a broker/Who broke into laughter/When we told her what we could afford.”
Ménage à Twang’s influences include Dolly Parton and The Dixie Chicks. Band members jokingly call their sound “Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton meet Candice Bushnell for an intimate encounter,” in reference to the way their music mixes country music with the themes of city life.
Moore, Levy and del Vecchio are all good friends. In fact, Moore and Levy have been friends since high school. The three work together well and have great chemistry. “We recognized early on that we all have different strengths, and we all genuinely like each other and support each other,” Levy said.
“I worked in the music industry for many years, so I bring a bit of business sense,” Del Vecchio said. The only problem the band comes across is performance time, since both Moore and Levy have full-time day jobs while del Vecchio is in graduate school in Austin, Texas. Their shows are usually during the summer, since that is when all three ladies have the most free tine.
Moore’s students are aware of her singing talent since she sometimes performs for them, especially in her AP Great Books class. “She sang for us twice in Great Books this year,” Ma said. During one of her performances, Moore and English teacher Annie Thoms sang a duet changing the lyrics of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys to connect to the characters of “Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov, which the class was studying. Assistant Principal English Eric Grossman has also accompanied Moore’s singing on guitar.
Although her singing ability is well-known, few are aware that Moore is in a band. However, it comes as no surprise once they find out. “She has a good reading voice, especially for lyrical prose and poetry, so it does not surprise me that she is musically inclined,” senior Caroline Brickman said. Moore does not perform her band’s material to her classes, since the songs usually deal with situations the students do not yet relate to, like promotions and buying houses.
Ménage à Twang performed twice last year, once in The Living Room on the Lower East Side and once in Austen. The band has also performed in Pianos and the Knitting Factory in lower Manhattan. “We plan to play a lot of shows throughout the summer,” Del Vecchio said. “Right now, we are doing all the logistical stuff: finding a ‘man band’ to back us, hiring a producer, researching recording studios.”
“We don’t have a CD out but we want to record,” Moore said. They hope to have one out this year. As they write new songs, which are probably raunchy, there’s two things they don’t have to worry about: grammar and syntax.
Visit Menage A Twang at http://www.myspace.com/menageatwang.