“I love the East Village and I’ve seen it go through many transformations. I used to live on Mulberry Street when it wasn’t Nolita. It was still Little Italy. John Gotti used to walk around the block and you could smell his cologne. He would take his walks around the block with his friends.”-Rew Starr
Multi-talented New York artist Rew Starr has been called many things by many different people. Cyber PR have proclaimed her and her weekly internet program (‘The Rew & Who? Show’) to be “Pure entertainment that will leave you wanting more, more, more!” The New York Times have called her a “firebrand”, proclaiming “A ‘starr’ is born!” when they caught her live in concert one sultry night in the East Village. Today, Rew Starr is as common a sight in the East Village as the infamous John Gotti once was, due to her regular spot as host of her weekly internet program as well as her reputation as one of the busiest and most popular performers in the East Village. Catch her live in concert on a night that she is smokin’ hot, and you’ll be inclined to agree that she too can be just as exciting and unpredictable.
When this writer took a stroll this month through the East Village, asking folks on the street what they thought of Rew Starr, their replies were no less enthused than that of Cyber PR and The New York Times. “She’s the jewel of the Village!” gushed a regular patron of ‘Otto’s Shrunken Head’: the famous East Village Tiki Bar from where Rew Starr broadcasts live her weekly internet variety show. Noted a “fashion forward” twenty-something gal, “She’s easily one of the best live acts to catch in the Village; in fact, in all of New York City!” Still another summed up Rew Starr in one word, “Wow!”
This week, Examiner managed to catch up with this exciting “firebrand” of an artist, as we sat down for an interview at Otto’s Shrunken Head, enjoying their potent “lovely libations”:
Shirley Pena: Rew, as a ‘native’ New Yorker, where were you born/raised?
Rew Starr: I was born in the Bronx, but never lived there. I was raised in Westchester, north of the city. I always lied and said I was from the city, because all I ever wanted was to be in the city. Thank goodness I raised two incredible, NYC kids.
SP: Who/what first drew you to music and steered you in the direction of becoming a performer?
RS: Well, my Grandmother was in Vaudeville and sang with Jimmy Durante, and my Mom was an understudy on broadway, so secretly all I ever wanted was to sing. I was pretty shy about it most of my life. I used to sing with a soap on a rope since I was a little kid and fantasized about it all the time. I turned everything into a microphone, but was petrified to do it in public. I loved show tunes and as a little girl would listen to Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl, Hair, Godspell, Pippin and so many more over and over again. When I was very young I had a babysitter named Paula, who sang like a bird. She would put me up on anything that resembled a stage and would make me sing to her. She passed away from leukemia when I was 12. I had mono at the time so I couldn’t visit her in the hospital. I often think she is one of the angels pushing me.
I had two older brothers who were always into the now and their music choices totally influenced me too. Crosby Stills & Nash, The Dead, Stones, Beatles, Bowie, Elton John, Cat Stevens, Carol King, James Taylor, Jackson 5, Frieda Payne. Diana Ross, the Supremes, the Temptations, just about everything. I loved top 40 and 77 WABC radio. My Mom was then working at a place that was a day program for teens who were addicted to drugs. We always had teenagers at our house and they really influenced the music. They (the teenagers) would get her albums of the day and we heard it all. Rod Stewart (who actually kissed my hand in London many years later!), Emerson Lake and Palmer, Bonnie & Delaney and the list just goes on & on.
After much of my life’s trials & tribulations of living in DC, London and Philadelphia, when I finally got to NYC (where I have never left since) I ran into someone on the street who I had met while living in Philadelphia: a girl named Sandy. I only knew her from clubs. She was with a friend of hers and she said to me, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m actually from here, I was just living in Philly.” She said, “Well this is my friend Paul, and he just moved here & doesn’t know anyone. Please be friends with him.”
So we exchanged numbers (no cell phones then). Paul was the biggest Ramones fan I’d ever met, and he said he moved to NYC because of them and to make music. He said he played guitar, wrote melodies & had no interest in singing or writing lyrics. He also said he could tell I was perfect for that part. It really was a secret dream I’d never shared with anyone. So we met and met and met and wrote and wrote and wrote and eventually went to our first open mic; it has never stopped since. We started out as a duo called ‘Black Flamingo’ and the rest is a journey of a lifetime.
SP: At what age did you begin performing as a singer/songwriter/musician?
RS: I feel I started a little late, because I was getting my life experiences & stories of substance, I guess. I met Paul on Bleecker Street that May day when I was 23, and I was 24 when we did the first open mic. We had written a shit load of songs by then. After years of being the ‘singer/songwriter I got frustrated. Paul and I had split ways once we brought more people into the mix. It then turned into a band after getting a drummer and then another and then a bass player and then another guitarist and so on and so on. I went through so many concoctions of Black Flamingo for years. Getting pregnant and still performing (I have pix of this) and now I was the ‘singer/songwriter.’ I was frustrated because every time I’d think of a song, I would have to wait to let the band figure out how to play it. Finally I asked someone to teach me how to play my songs on guitar. Very soon after that I quit the band and started solo. That didn’t last long cause right away someone joined me on bass & off to another new beginning. Now at least I was able to play and was no longer co-dependent on the band.
So many people have played with me over the years, including one of my heroes, Billy Ficca. Many love him for the band Television, but I was the biggest Waitresses fan of all time and to be playing with the drummer from the Waitresses just blows my mind. I still play regularly with Billy when he is in NYC and not touring the world with Television or some other band he is in. I am so lucky to have recorded my full length release with him on drums, called ‘That*S*rite.’
Ricky Orbach is the most elegant of guitar players. He is the reason that Billy plays with me. They are old friends and exceptional musicians. Catch us at Otto’s sometime!
My band du jour these days is ‘The ReWd oNeZ’ and they are for sure my non-blood family. Although the members change at times, Donald Dixon has been playing bass with me now for years. He is my ‘dirty brother’ and has made my life so much sweeter. Dr Andi is on drums (the best chiropractor in the land too!) and Josh Creswall (my permanent Ashton Kutcher I say) on lead guitar.
‘U SuCK’ was featured on ‘The Bad Girls Club’ & won “Best punk song of 2011” from Pirate Radio of the Treasure Coast. I still know it hasn’t had it’s time yet. Someone once said this song should be an indie movie. Any takers out there?
In a way, I am happy I haven’t “peaked” yet, cause when I do I’ll be old enough to not worry about how long it lasts, ha!
SP: How/when did you begin your career as a talk show host, subsequently creating ‘The Rew & Who? Show’?
RS: ReW & WhO? is actually a spin off of ‘ReWBees World.’ I was in a band called ‘ReWBee’ and Bee (another person) actually asked me to co-host a show. This is when it all began. We started uptown at a place called Arizzma: a storefront recording studio that wanted to start doing web shows. We had a verbal, six month contract. The first ReWBee’s World was Feb 18, 2009. To the day, six months later, Bee decided he no longer wanted to do the show.
It turned into ‘ReW & WhO?’ on Aug 12, 2009. Since I had previously been the co-host, I figured I would have a guest co-host (the WhO) and that’s how it began. My bass player (Donald) and drummer (Dr Andi) were the first WhOs. Since then, the spot somehow gets filled with each show. I stayed uptown at Arizzma until Joey Ramone’s birthday on May 19, 2010. Afterward I moved the show to ‘Otto’s Shrunken Head’ where we have been ever since.
One year later, on Mar 17, 2011, we began our monthly Brooklyn edition, adding ‘The Branded Saloon’ to our family. www.ReWandWho.com has most of the shows archived. They’re also live on various youtube channels.. That’s another can of worms. The internet sometimes gets me crazy!
I’ve also been getting ‘hosting’ gigs on other networks. I was hosting many events over the years. I have been an MC at multiple shows like MAMAPALOOZA, Music & Love, and I have produced lots of benefits & events over the years. I always say that my producer is my brother from up above. I am sure he produces ReW & WhO? because I never set out to do this. I always feel like it picked me and I have to manage it and keep it going.
SP: What is the aim/motto of The Rew & Who Show? Please describe your internet variety talk show for our readers.
RS: ReW & WhO? highlights “riZing starz & living legendz” and basically anyone who has a passion about something. We are based on Marilyn Monroe’s quote “Everybody is a star and deserves their right to shine” and want to promise Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” to all. We have been blessed with meeting so many amazing and inspiring people each week. I really love to spread to the world that there are infinite amounts of people doing good things each and every day. Our guests have included musicians, activists, artists, politicians, authors, photographers, playwrights, etc. The media is so overwhelming with the opposite, and I believe we need more good out there. So many talented, deserving people fall through the cracks and get no recognition. I as an indie artist only know this too well. If we can celebrate everyone with the same enthusiasm and respect, then it just feels like everyone leaves feeling as they should: fabulous!
We also ask every guest for a “Skeleton from your closet.” I believe in a skeleton a day to keep life interesting. Look, I’m not perfect, that’s for sure. We all do crazy stuff during our lives. It’s almost like a rock & roll confession! We get some really interesting stories sometimes, and then sometimes people play it safe. It’s all good on the show. We are all in this world making one experience at a time. It’s all we’ve got, so let’s be ok with our past and make a better future as we exist in the now.
SP: How/when did you begin your career as an actress?
RS: Well, I remember playing a bookworm in a play in Second grade, but again I was extremely shy to perform in public. Only in the past few years have I been truly acting. About ten years ago, a friend of mine who was an actress said I was a natural actress and should pursue it. I reached out and learned a monologue, but the time wasn’t right. Then a few years ago a young friend called me and said she was in a film and asked if I would play her Mother. She said I was the perfect person to play this part, and it was the director/writer’s second indie feature. His name is John Zhao and the film is ‘Alexandria Leaving.’ I played Alex’s Mom in prison. I really loved the character and the vibe. This was my inspiration to go further into this craft.
SP: What film and television work/roles have you performed in?
RS: After that film, I answered an ad for a country superstar for a short film called ‘Hipster Breakfast’ (https://vimeo.com/37403523) which was written & directed by Kyle MacDonnell. My character was ‘Loretta Lunch’ and I had to learn a song & four lines. I was like, “Sure I can do that!” So I did, then Kyle wanted to do a series about Loretta. We shot a pilot and it was a blast.
Since then, I have been in numerous student films, playing ‘Imma Shart’ (a late night TV host), a crazy has-been club kid grown-up in another, and a mom who gets killed by a zombie. I have also been featured in a couple of reality shows: Extreme Cheapskate and my big make-over in Love, Lust or Run. Both were filmed for the TLC channel.
LLorR asked me to write a song about the show, which of course they edited the shit out of, lol. They also made me say “I love my makeover!” Stacy London is wonderful, and later she came on my show as a guest.
I continue auditioning a ton every week; we’ll see what’s next . I have a few possible jobs on the back burner and look forward to more and more.
SP: Is there anything else that you’d like to let our readers know? RS: Yes! My new album, ‘Rew Starr: a Proper Release’ had its “official” release this month on the 3rd, after having its initial release last month on iTunes . It’s an EP and includes the hit single ‘U SuCK.’ It’s a “real deal” at just $5.94!
Past episodes of ‘The ReW & WhO? Show’ can be found at:
www.youtube.com/rewandwho www.facebook.com/rewandwho www.twitter.com/rewandwho
Thanks to James Maher at Ev Grieve for permission to use his quote as this article’s intro. You ROCK, James!
All photos courtesy of Rew Starr. Copyright 2015.