Welcome back to another Fake Geek Girls Like Us interview. Fake Geek Girls Like Us is a feature on +5 Charisma where I interview some awesome geeky and nerdy ladies out in the geek world. This month I get to chat with Jen Usellis about Star Trek and her Kickstarter campaign The Pop Warrior Returns with Fierce Warrior Songs!
1. Hi there! Can you tell us a little but about yourself? How did you enter the Star Trek Fandom?
I’m Jen Usellis, a singer & actor & geek from Chicago. I got into Star Trek fandom fairly recently, which always surprises people. I like to say I fell in love with the fandom before I really fell in love with the show. I was an actor who got an acting gig cast in “A Klingon Christmas Carol” back in 2010. (It’s Dickens but entirely in the Klingon language!) I started watching episodes of Star Trek with Klingons for character study and then started watching Voyager because… well, female captain! During the course of performing in the show, we went to some conventions to promote it and we were given a hefty crash course in the Klingon language. I loved the craziness of the language and I loved that a show had such passionate fans to enable me to do something so fun. I loved the cosplay aspect and from there it all just sort of snowballed. 6 years later, I’m pretty obsessed.
2. Can you tell us about the Klingon Pop Warrior? How was the project created?
I give a lot of credit to Improvised Star Trek even though they’ll say I ran with a small idea. In 2013, the Improvised Star Trek podcast got in touch with the producers of “A Klingon Christmas Carol” to see if they could get some assistance translating Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” into Klingon for an episode of the show (Episode 59, Today Is A Good Day To Cry). They got the translation they needed, took a look at it, and were pretty much like “uh, do you have someone who could sing this, too?”
The artistic director of Commedia Beauregard suggested me due to my experience singing in bands and my experience with the language. So, I did the recording with Nick & Chris of IST and we listened back and couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t honestly know who said “we should turn this into a music video” but someone did. A few weeks later, I slapped on some ridges and jumped around in front of a green screen.
They did some editing and released it onto YouTube. Within 48 hours, we had almost 100K views and, crazier still, people LIKED it. We just had no idea that would happen. The internet hates everything but, for some reason, they didn’t totally hate this crazy video & song. 3 years later, I’m still floored. 174K+ views, over 1400 thumbs up and only 51 thumbs down. We talked about doing another song & another video but we all were busy & I think kind of overwhelmed at the time. I knew translators and some of them already had other songs they had translated but there weren’t quite enough to do something with just yet.
It took quitting my band the next year & getting some additional songs to really kick my butt into gear. I knew musicians from singing with bands. I had a recording studio I’d worked with previously. I ran the Kickstarter in the Fall of 2014 & hit my stretch goals. The first translation I got for the CD was Britney Spears, the ultimate ’90’s pop princess. Since no self-respecting Klingon warrior woman is going to dub herself a princess, I went with Pop Warrior…. And here we are today! 🙂
3. You have a Kickstarter running right now, can you tell us about it? What are you working towards? What are the rewards for donating?
I’m working on producing the next 5 song EP. Since I started performing at conventions and events, I had to build out my set list from 6 songs to be able to fill up to an hour of time. My guitar player & I have been performing together for over a year now and have these songs pretty well fleshed out. We want to have fun in the recording studio and give people who have been championing this project more music. I want to be able to pay the translators for their efforts.
I need to pay for the song rights, musicians, recording studio time, a graphic designer for the album art, CD duplication, and swag for the rewards. I have pretty reasonable reward levels – you can spend $5 and just get downloads. There’s the $35 t-shirt/CD/signed poster level, $40 for international backers gets a Skype session & a download, a listening party in Chicago for $80, and more. There’s these super cool commemorative plaques that I did with my last Kickstarter – it’s a framed copy of the CD front, back, and disc. I’ve got stretch goals for some enamel pins and a music video. My biggest disappointment this time around is the cost prohibitive nature of international shipping. I’m a small independent creator and had not anticipated international shipping costs to be so high.
4. How did you pick the songs for your EP? Are there any songs that you wish you could do in the future?
Some of the songs were dropped in my lap, especially with the first EP. This time around I got to ask for stuff which was just awesome. My guitar player suggested “Mother” by Danzig and I actually helped translate that one. I asked for Kesha’s “Die Young”. Someone had mentioned that a girl on the West coast had translated Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” so I hunted her down online to get the lyrics & permission to use them.
I’d actually really love to do another Disney song. The Mouse can be intimidating but they were surprisingly gracious about my recording of “Let It Go” on the first EP so I have someone currently looking into translating “Colours of the Wind” from Pocahontas. I just think it’d be funny to hear a Klingon talking about “how high does the sycamore grow? if you cut it down, then you’ll never know.” when I’m pretty sure that it was the Klingons terrible mining practices that exploded their moon of Praxis. I suppose even Klingons need environmentalists?
I had started a translation of RuPaul’s “Glamazon” a couple years ago that I’d like to finish at time point and I think I’d like to do some Cher though I haven’t quite pinned down a good song yet. I guess I’m kind of a Klingon drag queen in some ways?
5. What has been your favourite event to perform at so far? What events would you like to do in the future?
This year, I got to perform at the official afterparty for C2E2 here in Chicago at Reggie’s Rock Club. First of all, Reggie’s is a great venue for music in this town so telling my non-geek musician friends that I was playing at Reggie’s as the Pop Warrior was awesome and hilarious. Second of all, it was an event where the headliner was Time Crash, who are this absolutely killer Doctor Who band. Third, I got paid. I was in nerd heaven that night. I really enjoy playing conventions because I like attending conventions! I’d like to play Starbase Indy one of these days and maybe do a set for the Chicago Star Trek convention… but what I’d really love? Have someone contact me & tell me they want a Klingon wedding singer. Who wouldn’t want to process down the aisle to “My Heart Will Go On” in Klingon and then recess to “Love Is A Battlefield”?? I think that would be the ultimate.
6. What do you see in the future for Klingon Pop Warrior?
I’d like to do another music video and just keep on playing conventions. I have pretty modest goals. This is so much fun and marries all the things I love to do – sing, act, and nerd the heck out. I just want to keep doing it as long as people are interested in having it exist.
7. Who is your favourite female character on Star Trek?
I love Beverly Crusher on Next Gen. 1) She’s a redhead & as a natural redhead who grew up picked on for it, I love redhead representation! 2) She’s deeply principled and stands by her convictions. 3) She’s a mother, a widow, chief medical officer, and a Starfleet commander. She has the power to deem the Captain incompetent to run the ship. That’s powerful stuff. This year, I built a Starfleet uniform & lab coat & went as Beverly Crusher to the Chicago Star Trek convention. I got my picture taken with Gates McFadden and she was just delightful. It was one of the highlights of my year. This answer may change by next year when I finish watching Deep Space 9 all the way through.
8. What are your thoughts on the more recent Star Trek movies, Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness & Star Trek: Beyond? Are you a fan of the more recent movies?
One of the blessings of coming to Star Trek so late is that I was never fully married to any one series before those movies started rolling out. I enjoyed the first 2 for the flash and fun (though the lens flares were ridiculous). Star Trek Beyond was my favorite. It felt like all the relationships slipped into place for that movie.
9. Are you excited for the upcoming Star Trek television series “Discovery”?
YAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSS! I’m sorry. Do you need more of an answer than that? 🙂 Seriously, yes. Female lead and, last I read, there will be Klingons. I’m a happy girl!
10. What advice can you give to other people who may be interested in launching their own Kickstarter?
First, you really have to want it. It’s work to promote and get the word out and you really have to leverage your network of friends, coworkers, community, etc. If you don’t support any Kickstarters, support some! Invest in the community so you understand the community. Do your research on fees, shipping, etc. My Kickstarter is pretty modest in the grand scheme of Kickstarters. My first was only $1900, this one is $3200. I’m not interested in turning a profit but some people might need to and it all takes effort no matter what your goals are.
I promoted it during my Extra Life charity Twitch stream. I’m doing 2 conventions this month & bringing my laptop with me so that, hopefully, people can back it right in front of me. I’m trying to line up podcasts & blogs to get the word out. I’m editing video from my Extra Life stream & posting to YouTube to keep fresh content going. You have to be persistent to the point of annoying and look for every avenue to get yourself in front of people who will be interested in what you are doing.
I also believe the adage about spending money to make money holds kind of true. Get a website & make sure it’s easy to navigate & find information about you. Buy nice business cards (pay for a pro logo if you need to), & then give them to everyone & talk to everyone! Also, make sure you understand the potential tax implications of what you’re doing. Not to be a Klingon talking like a Ferengi there but there’s no such thing as free money on Kickstarter. I think independent creators with an exciting idea often forget about that piece of the puzzle.
Thanks to Jen for chatting with us! Make sure to check out her links down below. Make sure to support her Kickstarter if you can! Thanks for tuning in! Fake Geek Girl Like Us is an interview series on +5 Charisma where we talk to girls in nerd culture. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be featured!