by Rick Dumont
A passionate and driven artist and showman, Gene Dante continues to lead the Future Starlets to new and exciting heights. Within a year and a half of the current band’s formation in 2008, they secured second place in the WBCN Rumble. That grabbed the attention of a longtime producer and with the buzz ever increasing about their live performances, these cats quickly became the cream rising to the top of the scene in town.
Leading man Dante is a performer. But more than simply being the amazingly gifted singer for an “adult” variation of a glam cabaret punk rock style band, Dante is also a musician and the primary songwriter. He has no problem picking up a guitar and plucking along with the rest of his mates, believing strongly that lead singers should also be able to play. But it’s Dante’s in-your-face persona on stage that commands attention. From the moment he steps on a stage, Dante reaches into your soul and holds it passionately in his pocket while he and the Starlets gently ram a full set of music down your throat—and you gladly accept it.
So what is it that originally fueled the fire of this musician, lead singer, writer, actor, showman? His affinity for superheroes of course.
“Rockstars are like superheroes,” the self-effacing Dante said, “Everyone always pays attention to them.” Dante grew up appreciating superheroes—both the fictional kind and his original rock idols, KISS and Queen, who really captured his attention. “Like superheroes, rock stars help people,” Dante said. Their music and shows provide a catharsis for the audience and like his idols of yore, Dante and the Starlets deliver that with their anthemic songs like “A Madness to His Method.”
“A lot of people have taken that song as their mantra—which is wonderful,” Dante said. With lyrics that appear to espouse an empowerment like, “I am gorgeous/ I am finally free/ there is nothing in this brave new world wrong with me,” it’s easy to see why. But Dante says the song came from a completely different frame of mind, like with many of his writings.
“That is the beauty of the creative expression,” Dante said. Artists from any field can create or capture something that means one thing to them, but often times the listener picks up a different vibe.
In the case of “Madness,” which opens the album The Romantic Lead, audiences “flipped it and it became positive,” Dante said. And that is okay with him.
“Every writer writes what they know,” Dante said. And this character knows how to not only write, but to entertain in that certain way that would make his glam forerunners most proud.
But it’s not just glam or grand theatrical rock that makes Dante’s fires burn. A local band that made a huge mark on the world stage has been given a couple of nods in his lyrics. Dante borrowed Aerosmith’s “Rats in the Cellar” and “Toys in the Attic” to add depth and meaning to the musical sagas.
Dante picked up a guitar when he was 15. He never took a lesson. “It was a vehicle to create songs,” Dante said. And he had written dozens of songs. “They were bad,” Dante said, “but I wrote all the time.” Over the years he has honed his ability to paint pictures and strike emotional reactions with the word or turn of a phrase. He also has learned how to own the stage from the moment he takes it.
The first incarnation of the band formed in 2006, but members soon grew in different directions. Two years later Dante and his original drummer, Tamora Gooding, began a reconstruction and they reeled in bassist Jim Collins. They rehearsed as a three-piece. Then one night while out having a drink with friend and fellow musician Ad Frank, a master lyricist of Boston’s music scene, suggested Dante try to coax former Mistle Thrush guitarist Scott Patalano out of retirement.
“A bell went off in my head,” Dante said. “I burned Scott a CD of my demo, built up some courage, went to his store and flat out asked him to give a listen.”
The winds of fate were blowing in the right direction and, much to the joy of Dante and the rest of the gang, Patalano joined up. Add in rhythm guitarist Erik Anderson, who joined after the album was cut and there you have it folks, a band. “I want to keep these guys with me forever,” Dante said. “Each one is a serious pro.”
“Patalalno is great at finding the space where his lead guitar should go,” Dante said. “Sometimes he’s the figure skater gliding on top, sometimes he’s the grout between the tiles.”
The Starlets’ name is part sci-fi, part Hollywood, and part gender-identity. The sound of it is optimistic and has forged their path. Fun times abound for this group of seasoned musicians. The bonding of the music with Dante’s impeccable voice has created a star quality.
This quality enabled them to land famed producer Peter Lubin (the Pixies, Peter Gabriel) and add his talents to their album. “My manager at the time had worked for Peter and stayed in touch,” Dante said. “When it came time to record The Romantic Lead, Omnirox Entertainment reached out and asked if Peter would be interested in producing.”
“I was interested in Peter because I love the Pixies and heard he wasn’t interested in creating some kind of Bowie knock-off,” Dante said. With the excitement of Peter Lubin on board, Dante needed to stay grounded. “He made sure I never start to enjoy the smell of my own bullshit,” quipped Dante.
“The bottom line is I never want to work with ‘yes’ men,” Dante said. “I want people around who challenge me.” Those people with whom Dante creates now are doing just that, pushing him to write and work smarter, and his bandmates, of course, have their own contribution to the songs. Dante might write the lyrics, have concepts in mind for the melody and music, but the band adds their two cents. “I always approach the band with a completed song containing the basics,” Dante said. “They bring their ideas into the studio then as a group we flesh out the songs to full band arrangements.”
Gene Dante & the Future Starlets have plans to take their show on the road, expand their fan base, and bring upscale glam-cabaret to the masses. This summer they’re on a tri-state tour through Portland, Boston, and Providence with the Zany Hijinx production of Hedwig & the Angry Inch. This is not the first time Dante has taken on the role of Hedwig. In October 2002, Dante’s portrayal at the Institute of Contemporary Art brought accolades and great press and landed him the recipient of the Addison Award for Best Actor in a Musical. For this tour, Adam Amoroso will be filling in on guitar for Patalano. Dante’s acting career goes beyond Hedwig—has also graced the stage in Rocky Horror, Rent, The Scarlet Letter, and currently Pussy Over the House. “I want to act in things I care about,” Dante said. But music is his true passion and he’ll stick with it.