Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sharkmuffin: Fembot vs. Mermaid vs. The World

Hello Universe. We have the privilege of chatting with Brooklyn's Sharkmuffin. They are, I think, very close to the heart of what is rock and roll, the leather jacket, motorcycle, rebel darkness that lurks in the bone marrow of even the most innocent, precious, and pretty bands. Not that Sharkmuffin is any of those things; they are loud, aggressive and up front. They are playing with The Planes and Sunset Guns at our 5th showcase show, this Saturday at Fort Useless. They are going to be incredible. Here's the chat transcript:

Hearts Bleed Radio: Can one of you start by giving me a brief history of the band? When did you guys start?

Tarra: Well it actually all started as a completely different lineup in 2012 when a close friend of mine was recovering from an addiction and I started Sharkmuffin with her on lead vocals to help her keep her mind off of things, and that all went to shit pretty quickly. So by July 2012 it became a 3 piece with Natalie on Bass and me on lead vocals and guitar and a different drummer than we have now, who just recently left.

HBR: That sucks. But I think we're all happy we get to hear your voice.

Tarra: Sarah just joined the band last month actually. Has it been a month?

Natalie: Yup, our first show with Sarah was in a parking lot in Bushwick on June 1st.

Sarah: My first show was June 1.

HBR: How are you fitting in?

Sarah: Hah, well I'm a girl and have red hair so now we look like the Powerpuff girls. I think I'm fitting in pretty well.

There's nothing to fear in the ocean when you are the shark.

Tarra: We're still in the hazing process with her, I think.

Sarah: Lots of hazing

HBR: Do you all come from a similar musical background? Grow up loving the same stuff?

Natalie: I would say some of our shared influences are early 90's grunge bands, 50's girl pop, 60's/70's surf rock and punk, and some current noise pop groups.

Tarra: I asked Sarah to tell me a list of her favorite albums and as soon as I saw The Velvet Underground as one of her first choices I was like YES SHE'S IN!

sarah left the conversation

Tarra: But now she's gone :(

HBR: Are you guys hazing her as we speak?

Natalie: Oh shit. Did Sarah just quit? Must have been something we... typed?

HBR: Drummers, right?

Natalie: Well, now that Sarah is gone we can talk some trash... She is an awesome drummer and has an incredibly agreeable temperament. Don't tell her I said it, it will ruin the hazing process.

sarah joined the conversation

Sarah: Sorry 'bout that!

Tarra: It's okay. I just turned off your internet with my mind to fuck with you.

Sarah: I told you to stop that.

Natalie: She needs to shut off your internet so I can shut off hers with MY telepathic powers. I guess Stephen has reign over mine.

HBR: If you want to be in the chat, deep inside, you can never leave... It is one with you.

Sarah: Sounds like TRON or something...

Natalie: FEMBOT.

HBR: I could nerd out about bass stuff all day if it comes to that.

Natalie: Sure, or I can nerd out about influences. Whatever your heart desires!

HBR: To me, the fact that you guys were at the Rockaways is proof that you're not Fembots.

Sarah: What if I said we were doing our hair and working on our tans?

Natalie: Yeah, I guess you got us there. We are all mermaids, no robots here. 

HBR: Tarra, when you switched to singing, did you have to change your approach on the guitar?

Tarra: No, I just had to practice more. Because I've never sang in a band before. I was super self-conscious about my voice when I took over, even though all the songs our old lead was singing I had written. They all came from these two other bands I was in before Sharkmuffin that never went anywhere actually. Now we're finally writing collective material.  

HBR: Do you like it? (singing and playing)

Tarra: I always was a guitarist and songwriter but I always liked the appeal of having a front person without a guitar that's there to go crazy and connect with the audience. I really started to enjoy singing and playing once I felt I had more control over my voice and like, figured out how to scream all the time without loosing my voice and stuff. 

HBR: The main riff on Mermaid Sex Slave has a kinda watery reverby tone to it, that kinda reminds me of surf rock. Tell me a little about recording that track.

Natalie: Well, we recorded our first EP less than a month after we got together as a band. At that point, it was Tarra, myself, and Drew Adler on drums (Tarra had known Drew from a previous musical endeavor). All of those songs Tarra wrote, I learned them in a frenzy, then we recorded them live in a few takes- aside from the vocals which we recorded another day. Actually, Fembot was written during that first month so I got to see Tarra's process in writing that song.

HBR: What's the writing process like? Is stuff like, brought to the band? Or are things kinda jammed out? Stuff = songs

Tarra: At first I brought everything for the most part, from all these projects I had been in the past, to just get it started, and then I started writing stuff and bringing it.

Natalie: Every recording we have done has been very different, I would say. The first EP and our 7" Tarra wrote all the material, aside from the track Straight Grease which we wrote together. Our second EP has some co-written tracks by Tarra and myself, now we often all jam out. The process changes, it varies.

Tarra: We're really just starting to jam stuff out now that Sarah's here. But it feels like I usually will go home and structure it. And write stuff on top of it.

Natalie: Yeah, sometimes I will bring Tarra a part or we will all come up with something on the spot, then she takes it home to structure. 

HBR: Sarah, Can drummers write songs the same way that someone with a more tonal instrument can?

Sarah: Well, I think drums are kind of their own separate world. It's the beat of all songs, and it's almost like you can't go wrong as long as you're tight and get the mood of the song. It's completely different from tonal instruments because there's melodies there and harmonies and all that traditional music junk.

HBR: Nothing worse than a drummer (even if they're awesome) who just doesn't get the song.

Sarah: Yeah right! Or they have this idea of what drums should be in their head and can't get around that.

The secret shark bunker?

HBR: Tarra, what's you're pedal situation? The guitar tone is great on all your recordings.

Tarra: I use mostly death by audio pedals for fuzz/overdrive/echo stuff and I have a tremolo that's used on Mermaid Sex Slave. Recently live I've been playing through a 1966 Fender ProReverb and this Kustom amp from the 70's. I don't remember the amp we used on that EP though, it was in my friend's studio, probably a Marshall. It just has to be loud.

HBR: Sharkmuffin almost feels like a bass driven band at points. Natalie, is it a unique challenge to hold a song together while Tarra goes off on solos? Y'know, as a 3 piece, without a rhythm guitarist.

Natalie: Honestly, I don't have much basis for comparison. This is actually my first real band so the role I am in is the only one I have known. It is definitely something I am conscious of and work at, trying to maintain a steady grasp on a song. Especially with songs like Big where Tarra has longer solos, or Soft Landing where there are parts that the guitar cuts out completely for prolonged periods of time. So yeah, I would say it is a challenge, but in a positive way. In a 3-piece situation, everyone has to hold their own I think in general. There's nowhere to hide if you screw up!

HBR: Haha. Yeah, but big loud guitar solos can be a lot more forgiving then tight bass lines.

Tarra: Natalie also had only been playing bass for a year-ish before she joined the band, so she's worked really hard since then learning those original songs and I tried to communicate best I can what the songs need. I'm super impressed by everything she's also written on her own, it's all so simple but really catchy and natural sounding.

Sarah: Natalie rocks.

Natalie: I have learned in the process. I guess in terms of what you were asking, I think the bass is unique in that it is generally an accompaniment to another instrument so it's role can be more rigid. And yes, I had been playing for a little under a year, and this past year has been my first time consistently playing so everything is sort of a challenge and a new learning experience.

HBR: That's incredible, cause like, I saw you guys a couple months ago, and I thought you (Natalie) were solid, so you must have been playing for less than a year... What is a Sharkmuffin? 

Tarra: What comes to mind when you say it, Stephen? It could be an adventurous pastry or a vagina with teeth.

HBR: I'd say a vagina with teeth. No lie, I was in the process of typing that.

Natalie: It is definitely female, that's for sure. But what is is exactly is up for debate... ha great minds!

Tarra: Or if you give it some social context, when an older women only dates younger men you call her a cougar, but what do you call a younger woman who only dates older men (without any financial gain intent) a Sharkmuffin? There's also certain characters that come to mind when I think of the word Sharkmuffin.

HBR: I think it brings to mind a duality, like, something dangerous and deadly, but also like, warm and sweet.

Tarra: Like Scully from the X files

HBR: Totally.

Tarra: She's a total Sharkmuffin.

Natalie: Yeah or certain associations with the words themselves... Duality definitely. Femininity paired with aggression.

Tarra: Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks. Total Sharkmuffin...

Sarah: Yesssss.

Natalie: So I guess a Sharkmuffin is a feminist? That is sort of what we are inadvertently stating here it seems. A Sharkmuffin is female, and it/she is forceful in one way or another.

Sarah: Has a bite...

Tarra: But also sweet and very intelligent.

Natalie: Yeah, you want to bite into her but she's also equipped to take a bite out of you.

HBR: Is it a political statement to be female in an aggressive rock band? I guess the question is, even if you wanted, can it NOT be political?

Tarra: I don't think this band is political at all.

HBR: No, and you don't come off that way...

Tarra: The song Big is about Pussy Riot, that's the furthest into politics our lyrical content really goes.

Natalie: So no to both; it is not intentionally political, but people will make what they will of three females playing punk, or whatever you want to categorize it as.

Tarra: Noise pop garage surf rock psych?

HBR: But since society always women as portrays passive, doesn't a Sharkmuffin like, buck traditon in a way?

Natalie: I always have a tough time answering the "what type of music does your band play?" question.
Stephen? Could you help us on that one ha?

HBR: Honestly, I think it's like a boundary between grunge and 70's power pop..

Tarra: But it's not like we're the first all female band to "buck tradition," women have been playing aggressive rock since the 70's.

Natalie: What good is a band if it is entirely traditional though? I think any solid band now, or ever really, is doing something a little outside the box.

HBR: Honestly, I don't really want to talk about it, cause it's such a tired topic.

Tarra: So I don't even really feel like it's much of a statement anymore. We're doing our thing...

Natalie: Yeah I agree with Tarra, I think that it's just that for one, girl groups are recognized and viewed as a genre automatically and now politics, specifically gender politics, in any type of art is an unavoidable notion.

Tarra: But yeah, ask us something else, ha.

HBR: Before you go, is there anything you want to plug?

Tarra: We are shooting our video for Mermaid Sex Slave next week, so that will be out by August. And our 2nd EP, "1097" will be available in October, so look out for a new single off that by the end of the Summer. <3

Cover art for "1097", due out in October
And that's a wrap. I would have gone on with these guys a little longer, but I had to jet to band practice. I'll track them down in October when their EP drops, and see if we can bust out another interview. See you at the show!

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