“We’re a band who has very fun, sexy Rock N’ Roll music,” says Gina Zo of her Philadelphia-based quartet, Velvet Rouge (formerly known as Zo). Gina Zo – a contestant for Team Blake on season 10 of The Voice at 17 and former Director of Marketing for Joan Shepp – has been kicking out soulful and sultry retro rock jams alongside Buddy Mazzenga, Joe McEnany, and Andrew Amado for the past few years, making a lasting impression on Philly venues like Kung Fu Necktie, World Café Live, and, most recently, Johnny Brenda’s, which the group sold out last month: “It was amazing. I’d been basically begging Johnny Brenda’s to book me for months and months… and I thought we could get a fair amount of people out, but I didn’t expect it to sell out!” While many contemporary artists seem to be opting for listening rooms or DIY spaces these days, during a recent phone chat the frontwoman tells me that these small and sweaty rock clubs are what she considers to be ideal for the band’s bluesy brand of rock swagger.
“We’ve played Kung Fu Necktie and Johnny Brenda’s, which I like because they’re not huge, large but not gigantic. The crowd is close enough to each other and the crowd is close enough to you that you can feel what the audience is feeling. And there’s something about people who go to those venues that hold like 250 people, that those people love music. And we played Welcome America and that was great, because I love running around and dancing, so a great big stage is great for that. I love World Café Live, too. We always have really great shows there.”
Reflecting on her time on The Voice, Gina (who recently turned 25) tells me that at the time it was hard to step away from such an experience and come back to a small local label (“I was a teenager on The Voice, and going immediately back to being a nobody — who was, for a hot second, a somebody — was very jarring for me when I was 18.”), but seems to think it was ultimately for the best for someone planning a career in the industry: “The fanbase on The Voice is relatively fleeting.” And she’s certainly enjoying more dedicated fans: “I’ve personally gotten to know each and every person who comes to my shows.”
Gina seems quite proud of those who turn up to the shows: “I would say the people that generally like our music are the people who want to be something that they’re not allowed to be. There are women in their ’40s with kids and don’t feel like they’re allowed to go out and dance for a night, and then there are girls in their twenties, who are like, ‘How the hell do I work my 9-5 and not feel like a machine?’” “People feel empowered, they feel glamorous, they feel true to who they are,” she adds, before telling me about the special connection she feels with many of the band’s female fans: “I think one of the biggest goals that I have is the mission to make women feel like they can be sexy, be powerful, be all those things in one.”
Last month Velvet Rouge released “Save Me,” their most recent single, a glammy ‘70s rock number that would be more than at-home on the soundtrack to a Rob Zombie slasher, sandwiched between classics by The Allman Brothers Band and Alice Cooper. During our chat, Gina tells me that the song was actually likely the easiest to come to the band: “’Save Me’ started out as Joe sending me an idea and me developing lyrics based on that. And then we wrote that in one night as a band, which is the first time that we’ve done that.” The single was accompanied by a vintage, VHS-inspired music video featuring the band performing on the stage of Kung Fu Necktie that would remind those old enough to remember of the days of MTV’s Alternative Nation. And Gina tells me that those two reference points are certainly not a coincidence: “The eras that inspire me the most are the ‘70s and ‘90s, both in music and fashion.” She goes on to explain the inspiration behind her grunge gypsy sartorial style (Imagine if Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” were a wardrobe.), telling me, “Women in both of those decades were focused on how the clothes portrayed them as individuals. I’m drawn to clothing that reflects who I am and what I’m feeling. I don’t ever want it to be like the clothes are wearing me.”
Velvet Rouge have a number of upcoming appearances in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, including September 14th opening for Paul Cherry at The Lounge at World Café Live; September 16th at Dobbs on South with Teahead, Cal Blac, and Amanda and Teddy; and October 14th at Kung Fu Necktie with Hello June. For fans of the band, Gina tells me that crowds can expect to hear some unreleased songs for the first time, but for those who might be unfamiliar, she tells me people can also expect to hear some great covers (But trust me, you’ll love their original music!) However, she tells me that, above all, everyone in attendance will be thoroughly entertained.
“You’re gonna be blown away! Number one, it’s a lot of dancing, a lot of jumping around and a lot of dancing. I like to think of myself as an entertainer. I feel like that’s my job. I always joke that you’ll fall in love at one of my shows!”
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