Pepper Fandango


Photographed by Jennifer Skeen and Lexplosive Pictures

Andrea Anderson bought her first banjo with student loan money in grad school. “I figured it was the only time I would ever get anyone in their right mind to loan me that much money, so I ought to spend some of it on a banjo,” she says. Andrea taught herself to play with a tuner and a chart of banjo chords. The first song she learned was “Modern Romance" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “I struggled with trying to learn how to play for a long time. Then in 2007, I met this cute, younger guy who seemed like he would be really impressed if I could play the banjo. So with that incentive, I worked my butt off learning how to play.”

Under her solo act stage name Pepper Fandango, the Huntington native puts forth her self-described style of “edgy blues-based rock with a twist of feminist sass.” She plays an electric cigar box banjo she built herself, and she also plays a drum kick-pedal on a snare drum and a hi-hat with her feet while singing and playing the banjo. “I like the sense of freedom and independence it gives me to play music by myself. I’m obsessed with the concept of ‘doing it yourself; ‘it’s why I make my own instruments. My secret fantasy is to be an inventor or a pioneer.”

The music of Pepper Fandango is like a native language to Andrea. “It’s what I’m most familiar with, and the way I feel most comfortable expressing myself. I believe it’s important to fight for women’s equality in everything I do,” she says. Most of her material is autobiographical and about relationships gone wrong. “I do think of Pepper as a bit of a character. She’s by turns braver and angrier than I get to be in day-to-day life.”

Working at Stray Dog Antiques and running sound at the Empty Glass in Charleston, Andrea spends her time making cigar box banjos and performing with two other groups, the Wayward Girls Burlesque and her new project, Chemical Cabaret. She and Cat Schrodiger from the burlesque troop were learning each other’s songs for burlesque shows and forming a band came naturally. Andrea says Chemical Cabaret is still evolving, and they have a new member in the works, Leo Tuxedo, who also performs with the Wayward Girls Burlesque. Overall, playing music in Charleston seems to be the right place for Andrea. “I’ve found people here to be pretty supportive. While I do encounter a bit of sexism on occasion, it mostly seems like people here are proud to see a woman from their community doing what I’m doing.”


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