#WCW Feature Interview: Julia Ostrov & Kristen Plylar-Moore

REVIVAL Recording (2) photo credit Harold Levine (1).jpg
Photo by Harold Levine | (L-R) Samantha Gillogly, Julia Ostrov, Lea Kalisch, Ugene Romashov, Kristen Plylar-Moore

There’s nothing quite like political unrest to incite real emotion… and unprecedented creativity. In recent years, we’ve seen artists scrap projects and create new, re-imagined masterpieces with the fuel of discontentment for the present, and fear of the future. In tumultuous times like these, it’s art we turn to give us strength to fight daily injustices. Enter REVIVAL: a spiritual, sociopolitical folk-rock music show turned album that has captured all of us at 6/8 Music with its warmth, passion, and uniqueness. REVIVAL was co-produced by Brooklyn-based artistic team Kristen Plylar-Moore and Julia Ostrov (songwriter and singer, respectively). The duo have released the REVIVAL album this past June, all with the hope of conveying the need for love and justice in such trying times. With such a weighty yet hopeful work under their belt, Ostrov and Plylar-Moore clearly have a lot of valuable wisdom to impart to fellow artists hoping to spread messages of love, light, and hope.

So without further adieu, please enjoy our chat with Brooklyn-based dream-team Kristen Plylar-Moore and Julia Ostrov!

For those who are unfamiliar with your music, please tell us a bit about REVIVAL and the show’s ensemble!
Kristen: I’m an educator and songwriter, and I began writing the music (that would later become REVIVAL) in 2015, in response to the dehumanizing political rhetoric of the presidential campaign. When I had enough music for a show, my wife Julia and I (REVIVAL’s co-producers) put together a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists for our first sharing, a 3 night run at the historic WOW Café Theater in the East Village. That initial ensemble was comprised of Julia (one of the vocalists), Lea Kalisch (vocalist), Thiago Fratuce Pimentel (guitarist), and Lucy Warrington (violinist, guitarist, vocalist).

Since those first shows in December 2016, our instrumentalists have changed – Thiago returned to his native Brazil and Lucy’s career is in social work (she did though make a special guest appearance for the recording of “Today’s Trouble Is Enough”). Our current ensemble includes our 2 original vocalists Julia (a soprano who also works as a cantorial soloist) and Lea (an alto who also works as an actor and dancer), violinist Samantha Gillogly (Bazaar, Spellbound Strings), guitarist Ugene Romashov (Dig In Trio), and guest percussionist Anna Wray (The Human Time Machine).

How would you describe your musical style?
Julia: We’ve been using the tag “spiritual folk-rock” to describe REVIVAL and the show’s musical style. You’ll hear elements of folk, rock, country, and a little bit of pop on the album, all with a theatrical through-line. Each song tells a story, and – the way that Kristen writes – it’s almost as if the musical style for any particular song grows out of the story that needs to be told – whether that’s in the form of a country ballad (“ Wherever You Go”), a whimsical pop-folk tune (“I Am”), or a more muscular melody (“The Ark”).

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Kristen: I’ll take this one as the songwriter. Growing up, I connected with country, pop, folk music and catholic hymns. Some well-known mainstream influences include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Johnny Cash, the Indigo Girls, and Garth Brooks; in the Jewish music world, Debbie Friedman; and in my own community in San Antonio, Patti and Rod Radle. Patti and Rod are most known in San Antonio for more than 50 years of community service through a non-profit organization that they lead. But they also put out a few albums in the 70’s and 80’s that speak to the values reflected in my own songs — community, peace, justice. I’ve drawn inspiration from their music my whole life.

Since we know Kristen, you wrote the music, Julia, you sing on the album, and that you co-produced the album together – all as a married couple – we’re curious: What came first, the marriage or the music? 🙂
Definitely the marriage! We’ve been together for 13 years, married for 6, and it’s only been in the past 2 years – since REVIVAL’s inception – that we’ve collaborated as songwriter (Kristen) and singer (Julia), and as co-producers.

Julia: We did actually meet in a creative context though, at a women’s and trans theater collective (the above-mentioned WOW Café Theater). Kristen was directing an all-women’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo and I did props for the show. Music and theater have always been part of our lives – Kristen worked as a drama educator for many years, and I have been singing Jewish choral music for about a decade now – but this project has been especially meaningful because we’ve been able to combine our interests, talents, and strengths into one ongoing, ever-evolving project.

Congratulations on the release of your album, REVIVAL, on June 21 of this year! Tell us a bit about the process behind its creation.
We’d been performing around NYC for a year and the question came up during talk-backs about whether we had any plans to record an album. At the end of 2017 the time felt right to do it. We were fortunate at that point to have a community of folks who had seen the show and believed in the music enough to put their resources behind it. We crowdsourced funding for the album through an Indiegogo campaign and got started recording right away.

REVIVAL ensemble -- Photo Credit Harold Levine
Photo by Harold Levine | REVIVAL Ensembe (L-R) Ugene Romashov, Lea Kalisch, Julia Otrov, Samantha Gillogly

We’d love to hear a bit more about the process of co-producing and how it affected the result of the album.
In the process of working together to make this album, we’ve relied on each other for input about pretty much every decision – artistic, logistical, financial. If we disagreed or got stuck somewhere, we didn’t move forward until both of us were on board with next steps. Ultimately, this had everything to do with how the album turned out – it’s very much a product of collaboration.

We love the fact that REVIVAL includes such clear, focused commentary about socio-political issues that are affecting the US, and the world at large. Why was it important to you to include those messages in your album?
Kristen: It’s really been an organic process. The very first song I wrote during the presidential campaign back in 2015 was “You Were Strangers.”  That summer Trump announced his candidacy, with hate-filled, anti-immigrant rhetoric, just as global awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis was increasing. The picture of the young boy — Aylan Kurdi — who washed up on the shores of Turkey was a devastating image, it shook me. Is this who we are? Is this what we do? What are our values? I was pulled to sacred text – to root the answer in ancient tradition because so many people in this country claim the bible as their source for guidance. The chorus of the song is based on a passage from the Torah – Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

I did a lot of advocacy in my previous career as an educator, and I hope that this music can be a source of nourishment and replenishment for those working as social justice activists. My intention with this album was to create a vision of a world rooted in love and justice; not just as a reaction against hate and intolerance, but as a proactive imagining of a big tent held up by the values of inclusion and compassion.

Selecting a favorite song from an album is like choosing a favorite child, but if you were to select one song from REVIVAL that best represents your sound and message as a group, which song would it be and why?
The first song on the album, “Tent Revival”, serves as a big tent under which all of the other songs naturally reside. It opens, grounds, and frames the album’s overall message and vision.

What was your favorite experience thus far on your musical journey?
Kristen: Ongoing artistic collaboration with the ensemble has been the most meaningful part of the process. Lea has been with REVIVAL from the beginning. She’s a passionate and playful person who brings that energy to rehearsals and performances. Ugene and Samantha both joined several months later and added their own energy – skilled musicians, grounded and thoughtful. It’s an amazing thing to hand over something I’ve written and watch it brought to life by incredible artists who imbue the music with their own creative spirits. And when those artists are genuinely wonderful and kind human beings, it makes the process that much better.
Julia: Ditto what Kristen said, and also, making connections and building relationships within the different spiritual communities that have hosted the show.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in music? Any advice for other female artists out there?
Kristen: It means another woman’s voice is added to the mix of voices responding to the world through art. Women – cis and trans – are more powerful than we’re often given credit for being. And this perceived lack of power can infiltrate our own subconscious, creating doubts about whether we’re entitled to occupy certain spaces – whether in music, film, athletics, science labs, etc. My advice to other female artists is: you have something to say, and it’s worthy of being heard.

Keep up with REVIVAL on their website and on Facebook. To support the incredible project, listen on YouTube, and purchase on CDBaby.

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