We take a quick break from Seaknuckle Week to catch up with two members of the local band Ghost Pepper. The group will be performing at Champion Billiards on Saturday night and the group plans on debuting their brand new keyboard player, Jen Warren-Baker, at the gig. This will be the second time they will take the Champion stage, and we caught up with bassist Pete Altieri and Warren-Baker to talk a little about their show, how the band got together and, of course, their perception of the Frederick music scene. Enjoy!
How did Ghost Pepper come about? How long have you been a band, and how did you meet?
Altieri: Ghost Pepper originally formed in April 2012 when Pete Altieri (bass, vocals) teamed up with Joey Hafner (lead vocals, guitar) and two other musicians. As is often the case with startup bands, artistic differences necessitated changes in the lineup, leading to the addition of Wes Abdill on lead guitar and later Mike Henline on drums. After honing their sound throughout the various live music venues of Maryland and Virginia, Ghost Pepper realized that their current playlist would expand much further if they added the right keyboardist. Enter Jennifer Warren-Baker on the keys.
Along those same lines, you guys will be debuting your new keyboard player, Jen Warren-Baker at Saturday’s show. How did you guys get together with her and what can you tell us about her background?
Altieri: After agreeing that adding a keyboardist was the logical next step for the band, each member set about combing the various chat boards, professional sites and social networks where active musicians look for work. Pete Altieri found Jennifer’s pianist profile on Gigmasters. After the band viewed her video demos, she was invited to audition and simply blew Ghost Pepper away with her skill, enthusiasm and personality.
Warren-Baker: I am a classically trained but versatile pianist and piano teacher with a broad range of experience in all styles, including jazz standards, classical, blues, Broadway, rock and pop. I was most recently the resident pianist for Salamander Resort & Spa’s inaugural year (in Middleburg, Virginia), where I played original compositions and an eclectic mix appealing to all generations and musical tastes. I was selected to be the accompanist for the Loudoun School of Ballet in Leesburg, Virginia, in October 2014. I’ve accompanied or music-directed 23 musicals for seven theater programs in the past 15 years (including two rock musicals, two I arranged, and one I composed). I’ve also self-produced a CD and concert of original music (“Midpoint“) which is available on iTunes. I am also an event pianist all over the D.C. metro area. My event pianist business has brought me to perform for corporate and private events at notable venues such as The Organization of American States, The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, The National Press Club, and Union Station.
This is will be the second time playing at Champion – what’s your impression of that room? How does it compare to other venues in and around the area?
Altieri: Champion is well known as one of the top – if not the top – place to play in Frederick. They are well known for booking the top acts in the Mid-Atlantic region, and we’re proud (and at the same time humbled) to be included in that company. Their commitment to live music is exemplary, with excellent sound and lighting, and the setup is the premiere location to take in live music. The food is great and the servers/bartenders know how to keep the good times flowing.
What’s your perception of the music scene in Frederick? What are some differences between here and other places, like, say, even Baltimore? Do you see it growing?
Altieri: Definitely, it’s growing! Between Champion, Bushwallers, Olde Town Tavern, JoJos, Cafe Nola, The Raw Bar, Jekyll and Hyde, and others, there is always a place to catch great live local music in Frederick. It’s a proven fact that people come out for good live music, be it cover music or originals – as an artist, you just have to be willing to play what people want to hear and not push your own agendas. As for comparing it to Baltimore or D.C., it’s hard to say. We haven’t played in either of those zip codes … yet.
What are your plans for 2015?
Altieri: Plans include adding new music to the setlist that we haven’t been able to touch without a keyboardist. We also want to play more locally, and hopefully be in the mix for “The Best Of Frederick”and “The Best of Loudoun County” for 2015. We also have our eyes on playing Alive at 5 and Frederick’s In The Street.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
Altieri: My influences include the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Duran Duran, for the simple reason that each band has been globally relevant while featuring amazing bassists. Very funky, each.
Warren-Baker: Motown soul artists like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin for their soul, groove, and attitude. Carole King and Stevie Nicks for songwriting. Tori Amos for her classical-alternative fusion. French composers like Faure and Debussy, and romantics like Chopin and Rachmaninoff … for their passionate musical voice.
Where are some of your favorite places to play (cities/venues) and why?
Altieri: Champions was our destination gig – when we played there, we knew we had the talent and the following to compete with all of the other touring bands. But Bushwallers and Olde Towne Tavern have been extremely important in giving us our early foundation – they give the new acts a chance. If you find yourself in Virginia country, there are three places that party the way Ghost Pepper likes – Ri Ra in Arlington, Spanky’s Shenanigans in Leesburg, and The Light Horse in Old Town Alexandria. We’ll be playing Ri Ra for St. Patrick’s Day, and that place is incredible. We were the feature band for New Year’s Day and it was one of the best shows ever.
Warren-Baker: The Salamander Resort lobby was an amazing place to play. I’m not familiar enough with the band’s venues yet to select a favorite.
Could you give us some names of some great local original artists we might not already know? Who are you a fan of locally and who should we keep an eye on?
Altieri: For an elegant solo pianist, you can’t do better than Jen. She is a musical chameleon – rock to Bach. But we run in the cover music circuit, so we want to send shout-outs to Quasi Flannel and the Woo Yeahs – both bands are a great way to spend an evening.
Warren-Baker: Mateo Monk is a songwriter, composer, and cover artist who does cool things with a loop pedal and layering.
And finally what can we expect from your show on Valentine’s Day? Do you guys have anything special cooking?
Altieri: We’re kicking around playing a slow tune or two for those who want to hold their special friends close. It will be the first time we’ve ever played a slow number. We usually rock out, so it will be fun to challenge ourselves this way.