When a local bartender hosting an all-female art show expressed interest in having an exclusively like-gendered band play the opening, Annapolis native Carolyn Krohn immediately signed on as bass-player. The only catch: she first had to learn the instrument.
“I had a lot of fear in the beginning, playing the bass,” admits Krohn, who concentrates her solo practice in consumer bankruptcy. “[Even now], I know I could be a much better bass-player, [but] I hate practicing!”
Having been “in and out of bands” since her 20s, Krohn had prior experience on keyboards and violin when Jenn Reichwein – Krohn’s bandmate from another ongoing musical project called Crosstown (www.xtownmusic.com) – set about putting together a lineup for the new band, including guitar, fiddle, bass, drums and keyboard, which they envisioned playing “gypsy, jazzy kind of stuff.” And with that, in April 2005, The Hypnotic Panties (www.myspace.com/thehypnoticpanties) were born.
“I wanted a name that clearly conveyed that we were women,” explains Krohn, “so obviously that’s where the word ‘panties’ comes from. It’s a name that has gotten us a lot of recognition.”
Over the last three-and-a-half-years, the Panties’ have built an ever-growing local fan-base by playing two or three gigs each month, in places like 49 West Coffeehouse, The Whiskey and Ram’s Head On Stage (where the band will play December 16 as part of the venue’s annual Christmas show). “The venues in Annapolis have their favorites,” she notes. “It’s almost like a musical clique, and it’s very hard to break in. Some of the venues do care about having quality live music, but obviously it’s a matter of numbers, too. You have to bring people in; otherwise, they’re not going to ask you back. [But] the Panties have been really lucky. The gigs have come to us. I don’t know why – maybe it’s the all-girl thing.
Bassist Carolyn Krohn (left) poses for a publicity shot with her band, The Hypnotic Panties. From left: Krohn; fiddle-player Miriam O'Connor; keyboardist Erin Lewis; and guitarist Jenn Reichwein. Band members not pictured: current keyboardist Charlotte Byrd and drummer Kammi Cottrell. [Photo courtesy of Carolyn Krohn]
The band’s members come from various professional backgrounds, including homeland security, hotel management and adolescent psychology. Their unique blend of swing, blues, polka, tango, gypsy and country music, Krohn explains, draws fans in their 20s straight on through to their 70s. Their repertoire, like Crosstown, consists of “almost exclusively cover music.”
“We deliberately choose obscure music,” says Krohn, “but [it’s] music that we think is going to have an appeal for a wide audience.”
Songs are selected by democratic vote. “One person will bring a song to the table, and then we all decide if we like it or not,” explains Krohn. “It can cause some hurt feelings sometimes, but that’s just the way it is. It’s the same with a gig – if one person doesn’t feel confident playing a song for whatever reason, we don’t play it.”
Despite her musical history, Krohn admits to still having moments of stage fright. “I don’t necessarily feel comfortable being the center of attention, so I like to hang back a little bit,” she says, adding that she prefers singing backup rather than lead vocals. Krohn likens her nervousness onstage to the feeling of appearing in court.
“It’s the same kind of anxiety, or fear,” she notes, “which I think is absolutely natural. I think if you care about the outcome, you’re going to be nervous and excited.
“I have a love-hate relationship with practicing law: I love it until I hate it. It’s such an incredibly stressful profession, because we are not expected to do our best anymore. We are expected to be perfect. Music is a very good stress outlet for me.”
Nevertheless, Krohn prefers to maintain distance between her legal and musical careers. “The band will sometimes crack jokes during gigs – ‘If you need a good lawyer…,’” she chuckles, “but the truth is I really don’t like to mix the two. My attorney-self and musician-self – I don’t really like the two of them to meet very often, if it’s possible.” However, she concedes that this is not always possible in a town the size of Annapolis, recalling an incident involving a woman attending one of the band’s performances at Armadillo’s in Annapolis.
I was up on stage, and she started screaming, "That's my lawyer! That's my lawyer!" - Carolyn Krohn
“I was up on stage, and she started screaming, ‘That’s my lawyer! That’s my lawyer!’” Krohn laughs. “It was so embarrassing.” Moreover, an Internet search on her name turns up hits for both her law practice and musical ventures. But while she doesn’t make a habit of informing clients of her double-life, Krohn notes that “the few who have said anything to me about it find it to be interesting.”
During her tenure with the Panties, Krohn’s abilities on bass have steadily grown – so much so, she explains, that she has become far more proficient at it than any other instrument. Still, she feels there’s always room for improvement – if only it didn’t involve practice…
“I always hated that part of playing music,” she laughs, “which is probably why I’m mediocre at so many instruments.”