Amulet is a DC-based dark alternative rock band founded by bassist MJ Phoenix and vocalist Stephanie Stryker. The band’s lineup is rounded out by guitarists Bob Carr and Mark Schramm, keyboardist Alison Frane, and drummer Thomas Grothe.
The musicians represent an all-star lineup of experienced players with hundreds of gigs in multiple acts behind them.
House of Black + White, the band’s 16-track debut album, was released in April 2021 and is available on all major music platforms.
Amulet’s stage performance is highly visual and energetic using video, lasers, other visual effects, and fashion to create a unique, stylish and unforgettable show.
XS ROCK: Tell me about the latest band news? Any new projects coming out, live shows, or announcements?
MJ Phoenix: We are in gig mode! Now that playing live is coming back, we want to play out as much as we can. Right now we are looking at shows in the mid-Atlantic area but hoping to expand our reach soon. Currently, we have a show booked for April in Wilmington, Delaware, and one in May in Baltimore. We also have some super fun events cooking for later in the year, sign up for our mailing list and follow us on social media for announcements (amulettheband.com).
Stephanie Stryker: Along with that, we always have new creative projects in the works. Right now we are working on our next music video and designing some really cool merch. And of course, the music-making never stops, we are currently working with collaborators on a remix album along with several new tracks for our next album.
XS ROCK: So how long has the band been together?
SS: Technically October 2020, but we had been working on our album for about a year before then. When we parted ways with a musician from our previous band who wanted to work on other projects, we officially became Amulet.
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for originally starting or being in a band?
MJ: We were in a cover band together for ten years previously. We enjoyed playing music, but we wanted to write our own material. I wanted to write a concept album and thought Stephanie was a great vocalist.
SS: MJ had so many great ideas and they just kept flowing when we started to work together. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my musical ability at the time but working with him helped me with that a lot. It was super fun to work together. I jokingly said once “When MJ and I form our side project…” and then we did!
XS ROCK: What is your music background?
MJ: I started playing guitar when I was six, but switch to bass at age 11. I have mostly been a bass player since. I played in several bands in different genres, I have played a bit of everything. I don’t really play guitar or keys but I did enough to figure out a good number of parts for the album.
SS: I had been in the cover band with MJ for ten years as the lead vocalist, but had no other musical experience. Both my mom and brother are professional musicians, so I probably learned something through osmosis!
XS ROCK: What image do you think your music conveys?
MJ: Understanding that relationships can get messed up but recovery is possible.
SS: Dark times are just times that are dark (shout out to Animal Crossing fans). Embracing and exploring the beauty of darkness makes life so much richer and multi-dimensional. I like to use our band to express my appreciation of authenticity, beauty, and thoughtfulness. Someone once told us “your band makes music for thinking people.” I liked that, but I also want to convey feeling and emotion that people can connect with. Respecting and creating a balance between intellect and emotion is important to me.
XS ROCK: What are your current music career goals?
MJ: Have fun, sell records, find people who enjoy our music and connect to us. Can’t create art in a vacuum!
SS: I want to continue to express myself through this project and play out to folks who connect with our music. We’re trying to teach ourselves other styles of music production (especially EBM), which is really fun. Just following the trail of inspiration and acting on those moments of “yes” is so rewarding.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
MJ: Both are great, both different. The moment of song crystallization is just as amazing as connecting to your crowd in a show.
SS: I agree with MJ, they are both great! Really different feelings but both are spiritually fulfilling. The process of creation and the moment of interpersonal connection are both intense and wonderful.
XS ROCK: What are your songs’ lyrics about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
MJ: Dissatisfaction of different varieties. One long venting session! We’re bothered by extremism and damaged by too many tough relationships.
SS: As I mentioned above, we cover a lot of dark topics. Relationship issues are such a core part of the human experience so that is a big theme. I personally like to explore esoteric ideas and storytelling which can be seen in Last Ditch and Witchfinder.
XS ROCK: What is the single most important thing to you as a musician?
MJ: Self-expression and originality. Being able to write our own material is extremely rewarding. Art needs to be consumed as well as created, so having the audience engaged is super important.
SS: Seconded—I really won’t do anything I don’t believe feels right for our band or me. I use my intuition more than any other skill with music.
XS ROCK: Do you have any outrageous tour stories from the road? If so, please fill us in.
MJ: We’re just getting started with this band, but in a previous band at a show, we physically picked up a double-parked car that was in front of mine and moved it back in place like nothing happened. Would have loved to have seen that person’s face!
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
MJ: In a previous band, we had someone insist we play Electric Slide OR ELSE. He soon realized that the band had seven guys on stage…he made off rather quickly after that. While I was a funk bassist at the time, with all due respect, Amulet is the polar opposite of Electric Slide!
SS: As a female on the internet, I get a lot of weird requests. Several people would like me to sire them as my vampire brood, HA. During one live show, a girl came up to me and begged me with cash to play Bette Midler’s Hocus Pocus rendition of “I Put a Spell on You.” Shows you how much folks expect live cover bands these days!
XS ROCK: Are your friends and family supportive of your choice to play in a rock band?
MJ: Yes. Kids were unsure about having a “cool dad” at first but they’ve come around to it. My colleagues are supportive.
SS: Yep, everyone has been super supportive! So grateful for them (group hug).
XS ROCK: What advice do you have for new bands trying to get started?
MJ: Get basic recording equipment: a laptop and a direct input. Make sure your recording is tight in time. Record everything you do, and keep it. Get recordings as clean as possible. Keep voice memo on phone, immediately record new idea. Keep files very organized. Record vocals in the studio (not at home) and hire a real engineer. If things aren’t working with bandmates, get new ones. Don’t waste your time. Learn marketing. Don’t be shy. Have a ton of content and a consistent brand. Look good—anyone can look good, present yourself well.
SS: MJ pretty much covered it. Get out there and make friends, people want to hear good music, they just have to know about it first!
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
MJ: Over You and Vampire. Vampire is easy to play and sounds consistently good when we play it. Over You is the same but allows more improvisation and I can go crazy on the bass.
SS: Witchfinder!! Hard as hell to do but super fun.
XS ROCK: Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
MJ: Led Zeppelin for their showmanship. Also Blondie, she was a great inspiration.
SS: Nick Cave. Anyone who has seen him knows it’s like a goth big tent revival spiritual experience. The connection he makes with the crowd is unlike anyone else I’ve seen. Super inspiring!
XS ROCK: If you could design a dream tour for your band, who would be on the bill?
MJ: Sisters of Mercy, Amulet, Evanescence.
SS: Let me go back in time and open for Type O Negative during the October Rust tour. Dream!
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
MJ: Releasing our album and performing the entire album live.
SS: Agreed, our album! But just having the guts to form a band and really put myself out there. I’m a pretty private person so going public has been a little challenging. But so far it’s been great, our fans are amazing and supportive!
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
MJ: Wildlife conservation, because that’s the career I actually do have. It’s my day job and I like it.
SS: I daylight as a graphic designer, so I’d probably still do that. I have a degree in fashion design but don’t actually apply it professionally, so that would also be fun.
XS ROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
MJ: Fender Aerodyne black jazz bass, red UV strings, BOSS pedals (distortion, tuner, flanger, noise suppresser). Sometimes compression sustainer.
SS: I love my Sennheiser e935 microphone. I also use the BOSS VE-20 Vocal Performer for some fun live effects. And shout out to my Coffin Cases, they are so cute and awesome to cart all my stuff around.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
MJ: It’s a shambles because of show cancellation. Greatest and worst time to be a musician. Easy to produce and release, but it is easy for everyone else also. You have a million times more competition. So much music out there to sift through.
SS: I don’t love how commercial and formulaic it has become. But then again, there are a lot of amazing bands coming up that are very talented and put their soul into their work. We have so many musicians now, it will never be boring! A glut of art is never a bad thing, but you do have to figure out your niche.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
MJ: I’m a bird photographer that travels the world looking for rare birds.
SS: I’d like to be the goth Martha Stewart and live in a Second Empire Victorian mansion with some black chickens and a couple of Pomeranians. Basically, be Lily Munster. But then, what goth girl could resist that!
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
MJ: We love you! We’ll see you live soon, keep playing and sharing our music and supporting independent artists.
SS: Yes, thank you so much for the support! Join our mailing list and follow us on social media to get updates on our latest crazy plans. We are coming out with new music, photography, music videos, live shows, and more.
Our website is amulettheband.com, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook @amulettheband.com
XS ROCK: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us at XS ROCK!
MJ Phoenix – Bass, guitar, keys, composition
Stephanie Stryker – Lead vocals, composition, styling, design
Bob Carr – Guitar, vocals
Alison Freyja – Keyboards, vocals
Thomas Grothe – Drums
Damian Himeros – Guitar, vocals
Check out Amulet Online: