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Blueberry

You could say, nominally speaking, that Blueberry is the delectably glam dance band that provided the New York City downtown music scene with a fair helping of its glittery funk groove during the latter stages of the 1990s and into the new century. In a more fundamental sense, however, Blueberry simply is songwriter and producer Gwen Snyder, one of the key cogs in a loose but cutting-edge musical family that has also included Church of Betty, the Hand, Johnny Society, Dr. Snitch, and Mr. Forky, among others.

After graduating from NYU's experimental drama wing, Snyder dove straight into NYC's downtown theater and film scenes, staging her own pieces at venues such as PS122 and the Knitting Factory while also performing off-Broadway roles, including a piece by avant-garde composer Meredith Monk and a lengthy stint in Steven Brantley's Distortion Taco. Simultaneously, she was making oddball, makeshift four-track recordings of her own songs and plugging away both independently and in the improvisational accordion trio Box A**. Eventually, Ryuichi Sakamoto's engineer, programmer, and mixer Fernando Aponte (Deee-Lite, Towa Tei) caught one of her solo shows, and he asked Snyder to collaborate on an album, which in turn led to work with the award-winning composer himself.

Her home recordings also drew the enthusiastic notice of Chris Rael, who would soon ask Snyder to join his acclaimed Indo-pop band Church of Betty on accordion. In 1999, she auditioned for the open bass position in Johnny Society (once occupied by Rael himself) and joined the combo in time to record its third album, Clairvoyance. She continued playing with Johnny Society officially over the next three and a half years (and, unofficially, off and on thereafter), and with its drummer, Brian Geltner, also toured with former Soul Asylum leader Dave Pirner throughout 2002. The next year, Snyder joined the band of ex-Brand New Heavies vocalist N'Dea Davenport mainly on keyboards and backing vocals, also serving as a songwriter and co-producer on the soul diva's second solo album, recorded at Old Soul, the studio co-founded by Blueberry and Johnny Society's Kenny Siegal.

Through it all, Snyder's primary artistic outlet, whether in its full-blown incarnation (in an early incarnation, a live eight-piece with complete horn section) or increasingly as a solo project, remained Blueberry. With Siegal, she recorded an unreleased first Blueberry album, The Devil, in 1998. The following year came her official debut, Twilight, recorded as a trio alongside Geltner and Siegal. Several of its songs eventually found their way into episodes of the television shows Roswell, Felicity, and Providence. In early 2003, Snyder recorded her sophomore album, Have Another Pillow, essentially on her own, but with guest appearances from Siegal, Geltner, Zach Alford (B-52's, David Bowie), Adam Widoff (Lenny Kravitz), and Lonnie Hillyer (Bernie Worrell, Billy Joel). Beyond a mere musical undertaking, the album was accompanied by a short film and a lavishly illustrated book, and later that autumn, transferred by Snyder onto the stage as a live mixed-media event. ~ Stanton Swihart, Rovi
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