Thomas Lauderdale is confused. On the one hand, he’s in a successful, long-running dream band with enough money to keep making music. On the other hand, a large part of the band’s success comes from a medium he absolutely loathes: television.
Lauderdale’s 12-piece band Pink Martini formed in 1994 in reaction to a horrible group of anti-gay marriage activists called the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance. The Oregon Citizen’s Alliance was, at that time, trying to make it legal to discriminate on the grounds of homosexuality in the north western US state.
In response, Lauderdale organised an elderly three-piece act called the Del Rubio Triplets to go and play in nursing homes, singing country versions of 80s hits and throwing in a bit of support for the gay community. When they needed a support band, Pink Martini was formed.
I couldn’t get through to the surf band we’d originally hoped for, so I had to come up with something else, he said.
This commitment to the cause -“ be it environmental or social -“ has continued, and Pink Martini has spread the word all over the world in the past 10 years. But it’s the attention from major corporations that has paid the bills.
We did the Citro?car campaign, Lauderdale says. It basically paid for my building. But when I’m forced to watch TV, I’m just struck by how cruel it has become. Everything is mean.
Pink Martini’s music has confused reviewers. What Lauderdale calls musical wallpaper is actually a beautiful collection of summer songs, perfect to play at a party or do the vacuuming to. And it has a wide appeal, which is the point, he says.
Nobody likes to go to a party where everybody is the same, he says. Our gigs are a huge hodgepodge of grandparents, hipsters, gays and everyone else.
Pink Martini has toured widely, playing at the Cannes Film Festival (where, according to the story, Sharon Stone danced on stage) and travelling to such exotic locales as Taiwan, Turkey and Lebanon. Lauderdale says he asked the rest of the band if they would feel safe being Americans in Lebanon, and they all wanted to go.
It’s a liability to be an American in so many ways at the moment, he says.
But that also means it’s so much more important to do tours like this.
Pink Martini’s new album Hang On Little Tomato is out now nationally through Inertia Recordings. Sympathique will be released in February.