Band: The Crystal Pistol
Date: Friday, July 3 at 10 p.m.
Venue: Fins Bar, 1600 Bienville Blvd.
Dauphin Island, 251-861-2561
Tickets: $10 at the door
Hometown drummer Blair Shotts will bring his explosive sounds to Fins Bar on Dauphin Island July 3 along with local keyboardist Chris Spies, bassist Chris Severin (Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas) and percussionist Ameenah Kaplan — a combo known collectively as The Crystal Pistol.
Kaplan is taking time out of a very hectic schedule to perform the gig. Boasting experience in acting, choreography and percussion, Kaplan was tapped as Best Choreographer in the 2014 NAACP Theatre Awards for her work on “The Royal.” Many will recognize her from her acting roles, including the character Val from the U.S. version of “The Office.” For Kaplan, balancing a versatile lineup of artistic projects comes naturally, but percussion is her first love. She recently offered Lagniappe readers a peek into her busy life.
Stephen Centanni: You’re definitely a modern Renaissance woman. Between acting, music and choreography, what do you like to focus on more?
Ameenah Kaplan: Well, I think you said it better when you said I’m a Renaissance woman, I guess. Like DaVinci, I don’t have to choose. The guy was an engineer. He was an artist, and he was a scientist. So, we love him for everything he did and contributed. Sometimes, you can’t separate it like that. I don’t separate them. What I’ve done is try to consolidate them and make them work together. So, the stuff I do usually tends to involve all three, you know.
Centanni: With such a diverse background and resumé, how do you decide on your projects? Do you just wake up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll focus on acting for awhile”?
Kaplan: I think I kind of boiled it down the idea that if I could have been just an actress, then I would’ve been. I sure did try and go out to L.A. and do nothing but act. As we all know, acting and this business is about so much more than your desire and your talent and your looks. It’s a combination of many different factors that make the working actor. Rather than wait tables and do something else that I wasn’t so keen on, I wanted to make my living in the arts. I know how to play drums. So, that world opened itself up to me. It was more like that. When I wasn’t acting, maybe a drum project would come up. If drumming wasn’t paying enough or I wasn’t getting enough of those gigs, my dance background allowed me to do choreography for people. It was more of a relay race more than me getting up and picking something out. One of them takes center stage naturally.
Centanni: Of all of your different projects and accomplishments, which one are you most proud of?
Kaplan: I think it’s the drumming. I think I’ve been doing drumming longer than the other things. I started dancing around 10 years old. I have memories younger than that of me beating on things. I put it around age 9. Who knows, maybe I was beating on things before that. Drumming is the thing that tends to come and save me. It feeds my soul. It requires me to be humble, because it’s so much better than me. The art of drumming is so much better than I will ever be at it. It’s constantly challenging me to get better. I just always did it more so than dance. I’m not as proficient a dancer as I am a choreographer. With that, there’s a little block in me of fear. With drumming, not that I don’t have any fear, [but] it’s the thing I’ve always done. It’s like church for me.
Centanni: You’re going to be performing down here with Crystal Pistol.
Kaplan: Yeah! It’s going to be fun!
Centanni: How did you get involved in this project?
Kaplan: Blair and I work together a lot. I’m always trying to combine my skill set. So, if I’m directing a show, drumming will be there. Blair and I met as just drummers on the scene. He was such a solid individual. Anytime I have something that I’m doing, I’m going to call that guy. If there’s something that I can’t do and need a number one go-to person, I’m going to call Blair. Blair has been trying to get me to come down to Mobile for a few years now. It’s just now working out this year. So, it’s more that connection.
Centanni: You’ve done rock and hip-hop. What is Crystal Pistol’s focus?
Kaplan: I think it’s going to be a combo. We all come from such diverse backgrounds that I think it’s going be the funk/rock soup with some Latin. Blair and I both like Latin percussion a lot. There will be a heavy, heavy Latin influence in the music as well.
Centanni: Your members are all over the place. Spies is down here. Blair is in L.A. You’re in Atlanta. How are y’all getting ready for the show down here?
Kaplan: That’s why I think it’s going to be that [laughing]. Blair and I have played together so much that we read each other. We both beat drums. We both speak the same language. Chris Spies and I have jammed together before. Blair, Chris and I have all jammed before. So, there’s definitely a level of professional trust that if you speak the same language, then we’ll let it fly and see where the day takes us, which is always the most fun.
Centanni: What are you most looking forward to with this show?
Kaplan: I gotta say I am really, really looking forward to being in the city of Mobile. I’m so excited. I’m originally from the South, but I’ve lived away from the South for 20-plus years. I’m just so excited to be immersed in the culture that is the South and the freedom there is and the connection to nature. I’m looking forward to making good ol’ dirty Southern rock ‘n’ roll with a mixture of funk with my friends and eating some crawdads. I’m just looking forward to being in Mobile.
Centanni: Is Crystal Pistol a one-time thing or do you plan on doing it some more in the future?
Kaplan: Since it’s going to be my first time doing it and the first time I’m getting the opportunity in my schedule, I’m 99.9 percent positive that I’m going to be back, and we’re going to do it again, especially since I’m back in Atlanta and closer. I will answer that question again after that event, and we’re like, “we’re doing it again for sure!” Blair probably has big plans, but for me right now, I see the event ahead of me, and I feel for sure that we’ll do it again. I want to get this under my belt first.