When the members of Sick of Sarah went looking for a fifth member to help fill out their sound last winter, they never even considered adding a guy instead of a woman. But it wasn't because they're all about girl power or anything meaningful like that.
"One of them probably would've wound up dating him," drummer Brooke Svanes said, pointing to her (laughing) bandmates. "We don't want any fornication going on in this band."
It certainly would've been difficult to spark up any romance in Sick of Sarah's rehearsal space last week, a sweltering and cramped room on the third floor of an old warehouse overlooking University Avenue in St. Paul, where the quintet has spent much of their summer. In addition to a battle of the bands contest they won at Milwaukee's Summerfest last month, the women have been getting ready for next week's release of their self-titled, radio-friendly debut, which they're promoting with a CD party tonight at the Cabooze.
Sitting beneath posters of the Flaming Lips, Ratt, Van Halen and the Cows, the women of Sick of Sarah made it clear in an interview last week that their all-female DNA is not a thing, per se. It just is. But that doesn't mean they're not proud of it.
"We all love the Go-Go's, Bangles, Sleater-Kinney, Tegan and Sara," said singer/guitarist Abisha Uhl, 26. "We like it being an all-girl thing. We want to be a band that represents, for sure."
Added Svanes, to more laughs, "It can be a double-edged sword. My favorite is when people come up to me after a show and say, 'You're really good for a girl drummer.'"
Guitarist Jessie Farmer, who switched from bass when Jamie Holm joined the band earlier this year, cut her teeth with one of the most revolutionary all-female rock bands of all time, Babes in Toyland. She played bass on the trio's last tour in 2000 -- or "last official tour," as Farmer carefully put it.
"I was a 20-year-old living the dream," she said. "I got to play with my favorite band ever."
Farmer helped form Sick of Sarah in 2006 after Uhl and guitarist Katie Murphy started playing together. They named the band when a roommate of Uhl's, Sarah, declared one day that she was tired of her name. That ex-roommate also happens to be an ex-girlfriend of Svanes.
"She still comes to the shows and loves it when we point her out," Murphy said. "'Hey, guys, that's Sarah over there, walking toward the bar.'"
The humor in their band name and rehearsal space also comes out on Sick of Sarah's album. Songs like "Daisies" and "Mr. Incredible" are emotional kiss-off songs in the vein of Alanis Morissette or Vanessa Carlton, but with Katy Perry's sassy kind of man-crushing humor.
"You know he wanted it/ He really really wanted it/ But he always wanted what he couldn't have," Uhl snarls in "Daisies."
While Uhl writes most of the lyrics, she said the songs come more from shared experiences within the band than her own autobiographical tales. One particular song that the members all lived through is the stormy CD closer "Breakdown," which they worked up last year after their van left them stranded for two nights in Metropolis, Ill. As for the other songs, Uhl said, "We've all had some bad breakups, not just me."
Uhl does have the unique experience of growing up on a military base in Japan, where her father was an educator. After high school, she followed an older brother to the Twin Cities based solely on his praise for the local music scene.
"I think it gave me more drive," she said of her isolated upbringing. "I was essentially living on a rock, and would only see bands on American TV. I picked up a guitar when I was 13, and I knew that's what I wanted to do."
Uhl and her bandmates are doing pretty well, too. Their CD was made at the hi-fi Winterland Studios in New Hope and is coming out on a Los Angeles indie label, Adamant Records. They also have a manager in Los Angeles and a booking agent who has them on tour for the next month.
The best indicator of their early success, though, may be the hordes of mostly young women whom I saw singing along to their songs at an Uptown Bar gig last fall. They also went over well playing before En Vogue during Pride Weekend in June.
"There were ladies in, like, camping chairs waiting for En Vogue, and when they saw us come up they were like, 'Oh, great,'" Farmer recalled. "But by the end they were like, 'Yeah, you go, girl!' If we can win them over, I'm confident we can win a lot of people over."Who's Cronies?
Not counting "In Rainbows," it's been a few years since any Radiohead-sounding album has stood out from the pack. But that's only one reason Yer Cronies' debut album, "When I Grow Up," is such a pleasant surprise. The other is the fact that the band of ex-Apple Valley childhood pals still hasn't played out much.
Yer Cronies' big coming-out set was opening for Sub Pop newbies Fleet Foxes at the Entry last month -- a gig reportedly earned through a recommendation by Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell, who has been residing in the Twin Cities in recent months. Not a bad guy to have in your corner (or in your town).
Starting with the pulsating, ethereal opener "'Divi Divi' Tree," YC frontman Casey Garvey immediately stands out as an adept, lonely-guy howler, and the band on the whole balances taut elegance with unbridled electricity. Deeper in, the album flows from the bluesier bouncer "Daniel Day" to the piano-plucked orbital rocker "Apollo" to the haunting, sea-chantey-like outro "On & On." We definitely have a contender for local debut of the year here. CD party is Saturday at 7th Street Entry (9 p.m., $6).Fertile bluegrass fest
With nontraditional bands like Trampled by Turtles and Pert' Near Sandstone helping to make the banjo cool (again?), not to mention the weekend weather forecasts, this should be a good year for the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival.
The 29th annual pickathon and songwriters' showcase kicked off Thursday and lasts through Sunday at El Rancho Mañana campground in Richmond, 90 minutes northwest of Minneapolis. A few hot young touring acts with national record deals are on the bill, including Virginia's Mountain Heart and Cajun-ized act the Balfa Toujours (led by the daughter of the late great Dewey Balfa), along with Mike Seeger (Pete's brother) and regional favorites such as Monroe Crossing, Bill Isle, Brennen Leigh and the Roe Family Singers. More details at MinnesotaBluegrass.org.Random mix
Following up its rock-opera "Idigaragua," Fort Wilson Riot has set about writing a score for the 1909 silent film "The Devilish Tenant" for next weekend's Square Lake Film & Music Festival. Other acts down to play the movie/music/cycling-nut event include Happy Apple, the Owls, Black Blondie and Spaghetti Western String Co. (who accompanied "The Red Balloon" there in 2005). Details at SquareLakeFestival.com. ...
Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover and Charlie Parr are all down to play the Turf Club's acoustic night Sunday (9 p.m., $5). It doesn't get much better than that. ... That last band down for Saturday's Pizza Lucé Block Party in Uptown, Crossing Guards, is a garagey new band led by Martin Devaney with familiar faces Sean Hoffman, Eric Kassel, Steve McPherson and Josh Peterson. They'll have a three-song debut EP available at the party. ...
Ex-Minneapolitan and Rhymesayers cohort DJ K-Salaam has issued a new CD with his New York production partner Beatnick, "Whose World Is This?" A track featuring Buju Banton, "Street Life," recently topped the iTunes reggae chart. Other guests on the disc include Young Buck, Talib Kweli and Luciano. ... M.anifest's set Saturday at the Pan African Festival outside the Nomad comes as the Ghanian rapper is finishing three different albums, including his sophomore disc, "Coming to America," and a collaboration with former Black Blondie co-leader Sarah White. ...
The big ProVention rally concert planned during the Republican National Convention, previously moved from a Lowertown block party to a Midway Stadium gig, has now been downsized to an indoor/outdoor event Aug. 31 at O'Gara's in St. Paul. Hey, we can't all be Rage Against the Machine and charge $60 for our big anti-capitalism gigs.
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