Iowa City, huh? How the heck does a (pick one) pop-punk/punk rock band end up there? Or start out, as the case may be?
Even before I started putting together The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore, I knew at least half the bands I wanted to be on it, and I was happy that almost all of them immediately said yes. But some of the most fun and satisfaction came from discovering new bands, or bands that I'd been hearing about, but for one reason or another hadn't gotten around to checking out yet.
Thankfully, I had lots of help from people like Adam Alive at It's Alive Records, and from the cognoscenti over at the Pop Punk Message Board. All of them had been raving about Lipstick Homicide, two girls and a guy hailing from Iowa City, Iowa, and the minute I heard a couple songs by the band, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted them for my compilation. Maybe it's because they're from a smaller town in a less-populated part of the country, maybe because they're young and totally non-jaded, but they bring a blast of energy and enthusiasm to the current punk rock scene that's impossible to resist. Guitarist Kate and Bassist Rachel sat down to talk with me about where they're from and all the places they might be going.
Rachel: Well, we all grew up in the Iowa City area and decided to start playing music together when we met in high school. We kind of just found each other because we were the only kids at our school into playing punk rock. We didn't exactly get our pop punk sound until after we had been playing together for a while. Then it just started coming out that way because of the stuff we started listening to together. We might be the first band of our kind to come from Iowa City sound-wise, at least that I know of. We're just playing the kind of music we love and is the most naturally fun to us.
Seriously, I'm sure Iowa is a great place, but it's not really famous for all the great bands it produces, is it? Or is that just my East Coast bias showing?
Rachel: There may not be as booming of a punk scene as Minneapolis or Chicago, maybe because we're not nearly as populated as those places, but there are a lot of active bands and musicians here. There's been a few really great bands from Iowa. Strong City and the Blendours are my favorite current bands here. House of Large Sizes and Modern Life is War are both sweet bands that came from Iowa. Also, the Everly Brothers are from Shenandoah, Iowa, the town I lived in as a little kid.
You seem to be friends with quite a few bands around the country. Is that because you do a lot of touring, or because bands come touring through Iowa, or both?
Rachel: We have met a lot of people out on tour that we've stayed friends with, and some of the bands we meet try to come play here with us when they can. So a little bit of both, I guess. And we meet people on the internet and stuff.
Do you have a lot of fans in your hometown, or do you have to head out to other parts of the USA to really get some appreciation?
Rachel: We'll play a really fun show every now and then in Iowa City. We grew up here so we kind of know everybody, but a lot of people have seen us play a hundred times. We can get people to come out to our shows if it's the right night. We have our handful of friends who will always be at our shows. The venues here let us book shows whenever we want. Doing weekend shows in Chicago, Minneapolis, St Louis, or sometimes Cedar Falls or Des Moines is what we like to do. We like to switch it up. We usually get the best reactions in places we've never played before.
What's better: to stay where you are and build up your own local scene or move somewhere where one's already happening?
Rachel: I can't really say because we've never moved out of our hometown. We've had friends move away to bigger cities, and that seemed to work well for them. We've thought about it, but we're comfortable here for now. We have a house where we're able to practice any time of the day, and rent is cheap. We can record our music here with our friends. The local scene here in Iowa City is mostly made up of "experimental" bands, and college students that are into college radio music, but there are a few decent bands scattered around eastern Iowa that we'll play fun shows with. We're able to travel enough that we don't get too bored. We're just a hop and a skip away from almost any major city in the greater Midwest.
It seems really dumb that in the year 2012 the question of being a female-fronted band still has to come up, but dumb or not, women playing in punk rock bands are still in a relatively small minority. My impression - and please correct me if I'm wrong - is that unlike some of the bands of the 1990s, you don't make a big deal - or maybe even any deal at all out of it - and instead just get out there and play your music. Is that the case? Do you feel that two of you being women has any major effect, positive or negative, on how you're treated or received?
Rachel: Being a female-fronted band has never been a gimmick for us, but it's obviously something that defines us and changes how people perceive us. Even I could say that I'm more likely to like a band if they have a girl singer. I just prefer the sound of a woman's voice sometimes. I can definitely say that people are always nice to us everywhere we go and it's really easy to find places to stay because, you know, our guitarist is really cute. Also, a lot of people seem to think we're 17 years old or something, so that always plays into how we're received by an audience.
Every now and then we have to deal with a door guy assuming we're just somebody's girlfriend, or a sound guy assuming we don't know anything about our own equipment, but there's always going to be assholes wherever you go. Being girls almost always works to our advantage, though.
In your opinion, did the riot grrrl bands of the 90s have a major effect on the punk rock scene, in the sense of inspiring more women to pick up instruments and of changing the environment to one where women playing in a band was no longer such a big deal? Do you feel any kind of connection to those bands, or did you more or less find your own way and your own musical voices?
Rachel: I know I can say that I was inspired to play punk rock at a very young age when I heard all those bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, and Bratmobile. Something in my head just clicked when I started getting into those bands. I'm not sure if I would have ever realized that I'm capable of singing in a band if it weren't for them, although the songs I started writing were always more on the poppy and concise side. I obviously wasn't there before the whole riot grrrl scene came into existence, so I don't know what it was like for girls trying to start bands back then, but I think it's probably safe to say that it did change some people's idea of a girl's role in punk rock. At least most of the girls I know that play in punk rock bands are influenced by those bands. I can't speak for everybody, though.
It might sound like a strange comparison, but your song on The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore kind of reminds me of 39/Smooth-era Green Day. Am I just imagining it, or are you fans of that sort of music?
Rachel: Totally. Early Green Day is one of our biggest influences.
This June you'll be playing the Ottawa Explosion and then the Insubordination Fest in Baltimore, and from what I hear, you were one of the stars of last year's Awesome Fest in San Diego. What's it like for you playing festivals? Do you like them better, or do you prefer the old-fashioned kind of tour where it's a new town every day and you never know exactly what to expect?
Rachel: Apart from Awesome Fest, we haven't really played any other festivals yet so we're really stoked to be part of both Ottawa Explosion and Insubordination Fest this year. Right now we're about to leave on tour to go play Stay Sweet Fest in Richmond Virginia, and we'll be playing a bunch of random shows on the way there and back, so we'll be mixing it up a little bit. Some of the shows we know will be a blast, and some we're not sure what they'll be like.
Kate: Awesome Fest was the most fun thing ever. We are so excited to play more festivals this year, but we also love playing in new places, too. If it's worth the trip, we are just happy to play whenever, wherever.
How long have you been playing music? Is it something you think you'll be doing long-term, or maybe even for the rest of your lives?
Rachel: For sure, I've been playing music since I joined the orchestra in 4th grade, playing the upright bass, and then I started playing more bass guitar and writing songs on my guitar when I was about 14. Music has always naturally been the thing that I'm most focused on in life, and I haven't figured out yet if there's anything else I would be happy doing. Who knows, though? Hopefully I'll still be rocking out when I'm an old granny.
Kate: I started playing guitar when I was 12, and since then all I've really wanted to do is play music. I can't imagine myself ever doing anything else unless I turn into a completely different person.
What kind of lives do you have apart from music? Are any of you students? Have jobs or careers? Secret lives that you want to share with us?
Rachel: Nothing too exciting. None of us are in school right now. Just working for the man long enough to save up money to go on tour. I make pizzas and Kate and Luke both work at Panera Bread. We're pretty glamorous.
Is your music mostly about fun and expressing yourselves? Do you feel like you have some kind of message to get across? Or are you just in it for all the money and fame?
Rachel: There's no message in any of our songs really. The songs that I sing are mostly just me complaining, or about relationships. If people want to take something else out of the lyrics, that's cool with me. I just really like to play bass and sing, and I don't really take too much time to think about the words I'm singing. I know it sounds cheesy, but I honestly only do this because it's fun and I like traveling with my best friends. Being able to pay for gas and food by playing shows is great, but besides that I'm not planning on punk rock paying the rent anytime soon.
When you started getting into music, were there any musicians, bands, labels, or scenes that especially inspired you, where you'd look at them and say, "Yeah, that's the way to do it, that's how I want to do it?"
Rachel: I just wanted to be in a band that sounded kind of like the Josie and the Pussycats movie.
Kate: The Beatles were my first favorite band and I only listened to them for like 3 years, and then I was really obsessed with Nirvana. I just wanted to be Kurt Cobain. Thankfully during that time I got my Jaguar guitar, which I am still happily rocking today.
Mixtapes or Gooningtons: which of these bands really speaks for the punks?
Rachel: Mixtapes are killing it right now, but I'm gonna have to go with the Gooningtons on this one.