The Miss Chiefs — interview, 2013

At the National Folk Festival, 2012. Image courtesy of The Miss Chiefs.
At the National Folk Festival, 2012. Image courtesy of The Miss Chiefs. Image by Ian Fisk.

The Miss Chiefs talk about upcoming festival performances

The Miss Chiefs are Laura Zarb, Amelia Gibson and Vendulka Wichta from New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Coming together at the National Folk Festival in 2012, they’re back together to perform at three folk festivals including a return to the National in 2013.

I spoke with the three girls after an informal performance at The Artists’ Shed in Queanbeyan on Sunday 13 January 2013.

The audio file is below and the text that appeared on the Timber and Steel nu-folk blog is duplicated here:

From posted on 16 January 2013:

The Miss Chiefs is the serendipitous musical union of three young women whose massed ages don’t stretch too much past the half-century. Laura Zarb (Blue Mountains), Amelia Gibson (Canberra) and Vendulka Wichta (Cooma) have not been performing for long, however, they grabbed the attention of many immediately and they’re about to play three east coast festivals.

After a week locked away together, creating and rehearsing, The Miss Chiefs played a set in front of an appreciative crowd in Queanbeyan last Sunday, and Bill Quinn (Overheard Productions) caught up with them afterwards.

Bill Quinn: We’re here at The Artists’ Shed in Queanbeyan and have just seen a – was it a performance or a rehearsal…?

Laura Zarb: Awwwww, a bit of both!

BQ: … of The Miss Chiefs – Amelia, Vendulka and Laura. Laura, you’re the mother of the troupe; you’re the eldest.

LZ: It would seem so, yes!

[Laura is an elderly 25.]

BQ: So, I’m going to ask you about the genesis of the group.

LZ: The genesis. Well, it was at the National Folk Festival…

Laura and Vendulka: 2012.

Image courtesy of The Miss Chiefs

BQ: Did you note they way they harmonised on that one?!

LZ: Thank you very much; we’ve practised. I came down to the National Folk Festival for the first time in my life. And on the first day, I ran into Miss Vendulka who was doing the youth stage, organising that with our friend “Feral” [Scott Sneddon].

Vendulka Wichta: And we bonded over the fact that we both have Maton guitars.

LZ: Yes, this is true. So, Vendulka came along and watched me play my set, then I watched her set, and I said, “Hey, we should maybe play a few songs together”. So we organised a small set for the chai tent [The Tantric Turtle] – an open mic stage. And as we were playing, Amelia came across us and said, “Hey, we need to play together!”

And that’s pretty much how it went from there. By the end of the festival we ended up on the Budawang [main festival stage].

BQ: Yeah, how did that happen? Tell us about the Budawang.

VW: What happened was, “Feral” told me that I had to enter the Leonard Cohen competition, and when I started playing with Amelia and Laura, we messed around with “Hallelujah”, and then I asked them to do the competition with me.

And then we made it to the finals which were held in the Budawang. And it was awesome.

[See official video below.]

BQ: Along the way, Amelia joined in. How did you get involved?

Amelia Gibson: I’d gotten into the festival by volunteering and was put, by “Feral” – who’s a cunning man – into the group that was organising the youth tent. And he said, “You know, you need to meet your partner: Vendulka! She’s at the chai tent.”

I found it, I saw Vendulka and she was listening to Laura play, and it all seemed to go from there.

BQ: It’s fair to say you guys have come from very different backgrounds, because Amelia, you’re classically trained, aren’t you?

AG: Yes. I’ve been playing violin since I was four and for a lot of that time it was Bach and Shostakovich. My parents also played on the folk side as well, so I got very used to improvising actually, because you can use a lot of what you learn in classical like the scales in your improvising. So I think it’s a great asset to have.

Image courtesy of The Miss Chiefs

BQ: And Vendulka, you’ve been playing from an early age as well?

VW: I played cello from when I was four to when I was 12. Then I stopped for a year – well, I stopped everything for a year. And then I decided to self-teach guitar because you can’t really play cello and sing at the same time, and I’ve been self-teaching guitar for the past two years.

BQ: And just to put a bit of age perspective: you’re still in high school, aren’t you?

VW: Yeah, I’m just about to start Year 10; I’m 15.

BQ: That’s why we say that Laura’s the mother of the troupe!

LZ: I am!

BQ: So what guided the choice of the songs you pick?

LZ: We all pretty much picked songs that we love to sing…

AG: Unless in my case when Vendulka ties me down and goes, “Sing it!”

LZ: Yes, of course! But I’ve been playing full-time in the Blue Mountains or the last year as my sole source of income, so I’ve been working pretty hard at getting my set list up. So I picked my favourite songs, Vendulka’s had her set list going on so she picked her favourite songs and we just molded together. And said, “OK, how I can make your song better, how can you do for mine, what can we do for each other?”

BQ: You mentioned the Blue Mountains, there’s about 500km that separates you all. How does that go for doing stuff? Together?!

VW: This is the first time we’ve been in the same place since we met!

LZ: Since the National.

VW: I’ve seen Amelia and I’ve seen Laura. They haven’t seen each other and we haven’t all three of us been in the one spot.

AG: We’ve had lovely phone conversations, though. We always chat, which is nice.

Image courtesy of The Miss Chiefs

BQ: And the last week has been?

Amelia, Laura and Vendulka: Huuuuuh! [Listen to the audio, but it’s roughly an expelling of air in the slightly disbelieving tone of, ‘OMG, we got through that and we’re still alive and upright!’]

AG: It’s been good but at some point I think the whirlwind of creativity just spits you out, and you’re just lying there…

LZ: …all broken.

AG: …like desiccated little beings. We had that moment yesterday, but we’re back on our feet, ready to go!

BQ: And the practice is much needed because you’ve got a few things coming up.

LZ: We do. We’re playing at the Illawarra Folk Festival this upcoming weekend, and then Cobargo Folk Festival, and then the National is the plan for this year. So a bit coming up, a bit of fun – it’s always fun and exciting.

AG: And jumping in on each others’ gigs as well seems to be the plan.

VW: And CDs! Because Amelia’s jumped in on mine, and she’s going to be jumping in on Laura’s as well.

BQ: That was going to be my next question: recording – what’s happening?

VW: Ah well, we’ve decided quite recently that we’re not going to record anything all three of us together. Because Laura wants to focus on her career and I want to focus on mine. And I’m happy to play with Amelia and Laura when we’re together, but it’s kind of like a side project being The Miss Chiefs.

LZ: It’s for fun. That’s what we do when we’re all together and we get a chance to play. This is our fun time. And if we happen to get a live recording or something like that we can through around the traps, that would be great but for now it’s our fun time.

AG: We use it as our little escape, I think. Nothing too serious; just all getting together and seeing what happens.

BQ: Sounds like a plan. Thanks very much for talking with us this afternoon.

All: Thank you, Bill!

2013 Festival dates for The Miss Chiefs:

17th to 20th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW
24th to 26th February – Cobargo Folk Festival, NSW
28th March to 1 April – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT

AND be sure to check out the official video below of The Miss Chiefs performing ‘Hallelujah’ at last year’s National.

2 thoughts on “The Miss Chiefs — interview, 2013

  1. Apologies if you’re seeing an error message in the Soundcloud box above. The servers went down due to a load balancing error several hours ago and the techs are still sorting it out. To complete my tech challenges, my phone won’t let me get to the text above to change it. These things are sent to challenge us, and this too will pass!

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