With their crypto-confessional brands of anti-pop, Chemise Cagoule and FEE LION are two acts that embody Chicago’s icy underground sound most cooly. After playing and touring together for years, they’ve alchemized their own take on psychedelic pop’s hazy masterpiece, “Some Velvet Morning.”
Originally recorded by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood in 1968, the song is a dance between singers who dream of, warn about, or claim to be the mysterious “Phaedra.” Fee Lion and Chemise Cagoule offer a concentrated dose of the song that is a strung-out high; a cold breath in vacuous spaces you can only know once you’ve ached for them.
The track is accompanied by photographer Jingyu Lin’s equally ethereal reinterpretation of Sinatra and Hazlewood’s original album art, giving Phaedra, ever taunting and aloof, new life 50 years later.
On the eve of the new track, INTO spoke with FEE LION and Chemise Cagoule about covering “Some Velvet Morning,” the Chicago queer scene, and their dream collaborators.
How did you get your start in music?
FEE LION: Maybe she’s born with it! Music has been a part of my life for as long as i can remember. I was born with a fully formed mohawk and by eight, was playing piano, singing in choirs, performing in musicals and writing secret songs on the side. When I didn’t get into college, I moved to New York City for musical theatre but I wanted to be a pop star and I hated New York. I moved back to Chicago and discovered Salonathon,a weekly variety show for underground, genre-defying art. I started performing my music there and immediately found what I was struggling to find in New York.
Chemise Cagoule: Since my family wouldn’t let me have dolls, I would cut out the models from my grandma’s magazines and organize little girl bands out of them. I think that’s how I got started, and my little world of these bands was like, agonizingly detailed. Music has always been my number one and I guess part of me just didn’t grow up. I never stopped organizing pop acts or singing in the mirror with a hairbrush.
How did you two meet?
CC: After staring in her windows for what seemed like years, she finally noticed me and let me inside.
FL: We both sort of stalked each other. I had just moved back to Chicago from NYC and was performing at Salonathon regularly. My friend Hijo Prodigo, who was a resident DJ, kept telling me: “You have GOT to meet my friend Jack. You guys would love each other. He wears a sequin blouse.” I was also wearing sequin blouses at the time so, naturally, I was jazzed. I became a fan of Jack’s music, he played Salonathon one night, we immediately clicked and I guess you could say the rest is history!
How did the idea for a collaboration materialize?
FEE LION: We were on tour in Texas a few years ago and “Some Velvet Morning” was our soundtrack on the road. I think shortly after returning from tour we arranged the cover in my studio and curated a show called Some Velvet Evening. That’s where we first originally debuted the song, but since then we’ve performed it in Chicago, New York, a strip club in Miami; it has had a life of its own. I’m so excited that we’re finally able to share it with our listeners.
What is the significance of this song to the both of you? Why Nancy and Lee? Why “Some Velvet Morning”?
CC: The original song is a masterpiece. The imagery, the mystery, the psycho-sexual aspect of it… all that I think plays well into the cannon of both FEE LION and Chemise Cagoule. Something about the song and our version of it makes sense to release now.
Words to describe the Chicago queer scene:
FL: That meme of a Dr. Marten boot duct taped to a lucite Pleaser but in a death drop. Blood, sweat and tears, baby! Chicago’s scene is raw and rich with Charisma Uniqueness Nerve and Talent. The community is extremely generous and welcoming. I haven’t experienced a scene quite like ours. It’s home to some of the most hard working artists I know. FEE LION was born here and continues to thrive with such incredible support. I love my Chicago girls.
CC: Punk! Punk as fuck, more creative and fucking balls-out than anywhere else. I live in New York now but spend at least a few months back home in Chicago every year, and it’s really cute how people still believe in this outdated idea of New York. I mean, NYC is definitely unparalleled in opportunity, but the creatives there are creative entrepreneurially. Chicago’s shit is creative because it has to be, and it comes bursting from the seams ugly, mean, earnest, unbridled, energetic. You don’t get that vibe in a city of such fierce competition, you get that in a place where you have to build the stage and hang the lights yourself.
Tell me about your shoot together:
CC: It was fun! Justina fronts likes she’s this professional-ass–okay, she actually is like the most on-the-ball bitch I know–but when we’re around each other we’re fucking idiots. We shot on film and I thought more shots would be ruined from us just trying to keep straight faces in front of the camera. Jingyu’s work is never not dreamy and dope, and working with her is an easy give-and-take exchange. We shot this on New Years Eve day so we had champagne which didn’t help the laughs but what can you do?
FL: We rang in the New Year buying “Some Velvet Morning” from a jukebox and shouting along in a half-empty dive bar in Boystown, gummy bear shots in hand.
Dream collaborator? (Other than one another, of course):
CC: Oh god, I know we’ll both say Johnny Jewel.
FL: Might as well have said it in unison! A trio collab with Johnny Jewel and Trent Reznor would be incredible. Pure Moods compilations are my actual jam though. I’ve been dreaming of a new-age, electro-orchestral arrangement with Jan Hammer or Angelo Badalamenti. Would definitely love to pull out my B.C. Rich and shred, or pretend to anyway.
CC: I’d give my left nut to work with Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper, aka Xenomania who did all of Girls Aloud’s stuff, or Richard X or Hannah Robinson, definitely Derek from Sleigh Bells. All these people crafted some of my favorite songs for some of my favorite acts.
What’s next for the two of you?
FL: I am tying up some loose strings before I leave for SXSW, followed by an East Coast tour with South Korean artist CIFIKA. I’ll be on the road for over a month and am playing the most consecutive shows i’ve ever attempted so that’ll be cute. I have some new music coming out and plans for a video as well.
CC: I’ve been working on putting together a pop act for a while now, something in the vein of A-Teens, Girls Aloud, Steps–my own take on these pre-fab bands from the early 2000’s. I’m also with a modeling agency that’s doing some interesting stuff, Zand Wagon.
Listen to the premiere of “Some Velvet Morning” below. Also available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music.