Venus and the Lion

Venus and the Lion members: Maggie Johnson, Daniel Mench-Thurlow, Nathan Smerage and Colton Liberatore


Venus and the Lion members: Maggie Johnson, Daniel Mench-Thurlow, Nathan Smerage and Colton Liberatore

In the first of a series of interviews with student bands at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Jackalope Magazine talked with the musicians from Venus and the Lion. The band is made up of four Contemporary Music majors: singer Maggie Johnson, guitarist Nathan Smerage, drummer Colton Liberatore and bassist Daniel Mench-Thurlow. Saying that they’re going to be the first band to play on the moon, Venus and the Lion members talk about their experiences with music.


Jackalope Magazine:  How did you get interested in music?

Maggie Johnson: For me, I grew up around classic rock and roll. My dad used to listen to a lot of it. I’ve been singing ever since I could talk, I guess. As I got older, I started finding bands, myself, that I really liked and my brother gave me a lot of his old CDs. It’s just something I always loved and was interested in. It’s just always been a part of me, I guess.

Maggie Johnson sings during band practice

Maggie Johnson sings during band practice

JM: How did your band form?

Colton Liberatore: I was suitemates with Dan and immediately me and him started to hang out. We would jam for fun here and there. And then I was in King and Nate was the [desk assistant] over there and he was listening to my favorite album by The Black Keys and I got his number and we started to play together.

Daniel Mench-Thurlow: Yeah, and I started playing bass with them and the three of us started writing a handful of songs and then we went to a theater showcase and Maggie sang a song. It was some Joan Jett-esk tune and this chick dressed in leather just walked on stage and started belting it and Colton and I just looked at each other and were like ‘yeah.’


JM: Where did your band name originate?

DMT: For a while we went by another name, but unfortunately there was another band with that name. We were all in Colorado for a few weeks and I think it was just after Colton’s birthday and Colton and Nate are both Leos and Maggie and I happen to both be Taurus so I started doing a little research on the zodiac signs and I found out that the Taurus planet is Venus and the Leo animal is the lion so I came up with Venus and the Lion. It’s really out there and weird, yet it’s really personal at the same time.

Venus and the Lion during band practice

Venus and the Lion during band practice

JM: Maggie, what’s it like being in a band with three guys?

MJ: (Laughs) You know, it’s actually pretty great. It works out really well. I enjoy it a lot because when I was younger I tried being in a band with a couple girls and it really sucked. And yeah, it’s nice being in a group that’s really chill. It works out great because we’re all very similar and we just kind of complement each other, I think.


JM: What kind of music do you guys like to play?

DMT: Alternative hard funk.


JM: What is alternative hard funk?

CL: If you were to put Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all into one basket, that would be us. We’ve heard different things from everyone, though. I heard once that we were like Queen and something else. But everyone says something different.


Dan Mench-Thurlow jams on the bass

Dan Mench-Thurlow jams on the bass

JM: What’s your favorite thing about playing music?

Nathan Smerage: Adrenaline.

MJ: Yeah, adrenaline. It’s also cool to create something with other people. When we all come together and use our different skills and talents and knowledge of music and create something that wouldn’t exist without us is really beautiful.


JM: Why did you choose to come to SFUAD?

MJ: I actually didn’t want to go to school, my plan was just to start working after high school, but I found a booth about this school at an art college fair and it sounded really interesting. I liked that it wasn’t strictly a film school or a theater school; there was a bunch of stuff that you could try out. I visited and I liked the campus because it’s small and it was different from what I’ve always experienced. I wanted different and I got it.


Nathan Smerage and Dan Mench-Thurlow practice with a fog machine

Nathan Smerage and Dan Mench-Thurlow practice with a fog machine

JM: How is the Contemporary Music Program at SFUAD?
[Everyone]: Really good.

DMT: Yeah, Steve Paxton is the reason why I’m now a member of the CMP. His ideas and philosophies about teaching and music and just life, in general, are beyond that of many others. He has done an incredible job with the department


JM: Do you feel like you’ve grown as artists while at SFUAD?

[Everyone]: Absolutely.

JM: Do you guys have any current projects going on?

DMT: We have an EP coming out. It stands for extended play. It’s basically a mini album and it’s going to have five songs on it. It’s just a little something that we can hand out at shows.


Nathan Smerage and Dan Mench-Thurlow during band practice

Nathan Smerage and Dan Mench-Thurlow during band practice

JM: Do you have any future plans for your band?

MJ: Keep playing music. I would love to tour a lot.

CL: Yeah, eventually we will tour and I can’t wait. And hopefully we’ll have a full album out by then. And a dog. We’re going to have a band dog. But yeah, I can’t wait until we actually get to play around the country and show what we do.

Check out Venus and the Lion here!