10Qs with Natalie Oldham of Rotundo Sealeg

October is LGBT month and Factory Portland will be highlighting Maine-connected LGBTQ artists for the week of October 28th.

Natalie Oldham plays drum machine and keyboard in Rotundo Sealeg, a synth-punk band based out of Portland and Camden. She formed the band in 2006 and is joined by Jason Unterreiner (Wood Burning Cat) on guitar, second vocals, and somebody-to-high-five-with. Rotundo Sealeg will be completing their new album ‘The Moon And The Stars’ in November and will be promoting the record by early 2014!

Natalie Oldham

Where were you born?
I was born in Rockport, Maine. It was Friday the 13th!

What keeps you in Maine?
It’s a beautiful place and I know nothing else. A lot of my friends and family live in Maine, too.

Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?
I work with middle school and high school kids at an after-school youth center. I get to set up music and art programs, play video games, and make sure nobody is getting teased or bullied!

What was your most memorable gig?
This one is a really magical story for me. Jason and I were driving to Mexico, Maine to play at this DIY performance/living space called The Castle. It was like this unfinished apartment building that somebody’s parents owned, and it kept changing all around every time we played there, like Hogwarts staircases. On this particular occasion, we got a text on the way there from Anthony Bitetti (Good Kids Sprouting Horns, Great Western Plain) who was playing drums in the band at that time, saying that he couldn’t make it. We had no drum machine with us, and hooked up a tiny little Casio PT-1 to a huge bass amp for our rhythm section, thinking it was going to be the worst show ever. Instead, it was like this amazing unifying thing between us and the crowd! We were making due with what we had and having a really fuck-all good time, just like they were with their performance space in this middle-of-nowhere town! There was so much clapping along, singing along, and laughing. It made us feel great to be musicians, doing what we do. It made me feel great to be alive.

What was your worst gig?
This was probably the Christmas show we played at Slainte a few years ago. We had done like this mini tour of Christmas shows with lights and decorations and soynog and cookies – just this all-out holiday explosion kind of thing. We put so much into promoting and just like the production of the show to make it really special, and then just like four people showed up. It just felt like, what is the point, if people don’t care about what you’re doing? I remember telling Jonathan Merrifield (from Strawberry Allstars, The 500s, The Scrapes) that I wanted to quit music when we were packing up. He said, “Never give up!” like were in an afterschool special, because he is resilient and amazing. I felt depressed about this for a long time, but obviously I didn’t actually give up. I’m actually finding out that a lot of musicians have this same kind of experience, where they blame themselves all of the time for people not showing up. In reality, there are a lot of other factors involved, even if it is disappointing. We have a lot of songs about being disappointed, and then what you can do from there.

What album or artist has most influenced you as a musician?
They Might Be Giants’ second album, ‘Lincoln’, was their first tape I ever bought, after an older friend recommended I check out TMBG. After that, I just completely lived with that album! It really changed things for me. I was in like fifth grade, and really only liked pop country and the Beach Boys up until that point. I remember listening to Ana Ng on my walkman and being like, “Whoa. This is different.” They Might Be Giants has been one of my favorite bands ever since. Their smart phrasing and word choice, combined with their unique musical style, just really connects for me.

What’s the one piece of musical equipment you can’t live without?
My Casio CZ-1! It’s the top Casio’s short-lived professional synthesizer line from the 80s, and it is a powerful and beautiful machine! Jason saw it for sale at Buckdancers, second hand, and called me right up because I had been playing a lower-ranked CZ and loving it for years. I called the store and it turned out that it had belonged to Depeche Mode!! What better band to own a synth from, right? I knew then that it was meant to be! I use it for all of our recording and live shows now.

Any advice for a musician starting out?
Don’t let all of the shit bog you down. Keep doing what you do, because even when it’s hard, it’s important for both your own sanity and the future experiences of others that you share your special shine.

What was the origin behind your band name?
I misheard a talk radio program. I thought they had said, “Rotundo… sea-leg.” I liked how those words went together, but it knew it wasn’t actually what they had said. I still thought it sounded like Rotundo Sealeg ought to be something. So I decided to make it something! A band.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
I have a genuine enjoyment of the Spin Doctors’ ‘Pocket Full Of Kryptonite’ that always makes me say, “yessss!” under my breath when I hear one of those songs come on in the grocery store or something.

Bonus Questions

What was the first album/recording you owned?
I think it was a cassingle of Kokomo, by the Beach Boys. I remember listening to that when I was on vacation in Florida with my parents and feeling SO COOL.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Bomb The Music Industry!’s ‘Vacation’. Definitely one of my top ten favorite albums! You can download it for free or a donation at www.bombthemusicindustry.com along with any or all of their other material. It’s intense, synthy punk with this emotional content grabs ahold of your panicky heart and won’t let go. Or at least, it does that with my panicky heart.

What was the best concert/musical performance you’ve ever attended?
That would probably be the all-acoustic show that Fishboy did at 131 Washington when they were touring for Classic Creeps. I felt so lucky to be at that show – and we even got to open for them that night. Such amazing energy!!

You can find out more about Rotundo Sealeg by visiting Facebook.

Stephen Quirk

Prior to landing his dream job at Automattic, Stephen served as Associate Director of a Boston-based non-profit overseeing the organization's technology, visual design, social networking, and event planning. For twelve years, he worked in the Technology Department at his alma mater, Maine College or Art.

Additionally, Stephen has exhibited his photography in Portland, Maine, Boston, and California. He lives just outside of Portland with his wife, Megan, and daughter, Kate.