by Kevin Finn
Would you like some punk with your disco? Perhaps you would like some synth with your punk. Either way, Petty Morals just might be the group for you. The band members (Tai on lead vocals, Chrissy V on guitar, Chrissie T on bass, Lauren on drums, Helen on backing vocals, and Nazli on synthesizer) are strangers to nobody, familiar for their stints in such fine acts as Tijuana Sweetheart/Vagiant, the Grinds, and Cult 45. The ladies, minus Nazli, were kind enough to meet me in Lauren’s basement studio after practice to talk about their new band, Ocean State Job Lot, Radio Shack, and the hierarchy of the malls in the Danvers area. We’ll save the shopping discussion for volume two of this interview.
Lauren: If there was a question about us being classy, cross it off the list. We are not classy.
Noise: Oh crap! That was like question twelve through sixteen. But since we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk a little bit about how the band formed.
Lauren: Chrissie T and I were in a Joan Jett cover band. One day, we were listening to music at practice and a Metric song came on. I said that I love this kind of music, and I want to start a band that sounds like this. When Tijuana Sweetheart broke up, I was pretty much the next day saying, Chrissie, remember that band we were talking about?
Chrissie T: We thought long and hard about how we wanted to put the band together.
Tai: You scouted us?
Lauren: We lined up mug shots, and we were like Tai’s pretty cute, but I don’t know. She’s a little short, so let’s see who else is out there.
Tai: When I got your email, I was so excited I ran out of the room. I was like, it’s happening; it’s happening. I’m going to be in the girl band I’ve always wanted to be in.
Chrissie T: We had a fistful of songs ready when we first got together. Within a month of us practicing, we had a photo shoot lined up. We had a video shoot lined up. We recorded a demo. We moved along pretty quickly and then we launched our Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp.
Chrissy V: The most efficient band unveiling I’ve ever been in. It was pretty awesome.
Helen: These guys wanted me to front the band. I was going to do it and went to a few of the early band meetings, and I was like (fake crying) “I don’t want to do it.” When I heard they got Tai, I wanted to back her really badly. Chrissie T actually called me while I was in the supermarket. I was buying Brussels sprouts. I was like, ugh, I guess I’m going to cook Brussels sprouts today. I was so bored. She asked me to come to practice. That was my moment.
Noise: Had the idea of being in a dance-oriented band been in your minds before?
Lauren: I’ve always liked that kind of music. I like all kinds of music. I’d always listened to that kind of stuff, but I had never previously thought I should play in a band like that.
Chrissy V: I had friends that would discount my opinion because they’d say all you like is punk rock, but that’s not true at all. That’s all I could play. There’s a difference.
Lauren: When I started playing drums, I learned how to play punk and that was it. I didn’t really expand much.
Chrissy V: I hit that plateau when I was like twenty. I started playing guitar when I was sixteen, and I was like all I need to know is this? But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I wanted to learn more things.
Tai: I’ve always loved dance music. I’ve always sung rap and pop. I knew one day I’d be a pop star.
Helen: I don’t ever know any of the influences that they are talking about. I’ve just been winging it. It’s been really weird and fun. People are like, “I didn’t know you sang diva vocals.“ I didn’t either. It’s like putting on a costume. It has really reinvigorated my creativity in a lot of ways.
Chrissie T: She’s got a megaphone.
Helen: That part’s fun. I’m still getting used to it. There’s a lot of feedback. There’s probably an easier way to make that sound effect happen.
Lauren: There’s got to be a pedal for that.
Helen: I wanna step on the pedal that makes me sound like Tina Turner.
Noise: You guys did a super catchy three-song EP, The Cotton Candy Demo EP. What was the recording process for that?
Helen: We recorded them very quickly with Ian Clark. We did them in like half a day down here, lo-fi.
Lauren: He has a very old school 24-track recorder that literally he’d have to be like, “Wait wait wait, hold on,” beep, beep, and slide all these things.
Noise: He did a good job. It definitely doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a basement in half a day.
Lauren: The reason we bought this house is because of the basement. This is practice space, show space, everything. But we didn’t think of it as a recording space because it’s a shitty basement with drop ceilings; we thought it would sound horrible. We had our first show here last Halloween, and we realized it sounded really good.
Helen: It was fun to walk Ian through what the sound was. He was like, so really garage-y, really heavy guitars? Nope, not at all. I couldn’t even describe it. I don’t think we even knew what we sounded like.
Noise: You’re recording again in September, right?
Lauren: We’re recording with Paul Gallo. We’re going to re-record the songs from the EP just to do them professionally. I think it’s going to be six to eight songs.
Chrissie T: It’s overwhelming how many songs we have.
Noise: That’s a good problem to have.
Chrissie T: I have ideas all the time, but I never come in with a full song.
Chrissy V: Yeah, but you come up with the most amazing titles, and we just write songs around them.
Chrissie T: Titles and choruses.
Helen: You’re the voicemail hook queen. You’ll say, “This is all I have (sings a catchy tune),” and we’re like, “Yes, that’s amazing.” If I have a dream where I wrote a song, and I wake up and still remember it, I’ll take the iPhone while I’m doing my morning pee. You’ll hear pee and toilet flushing mixed in with the singing.
Noise: I think that’s a fairly typical way of writing songs. It’s pretty much a cliché at this point.
Lauren: You thought that was a really interesting story, but it’s not. He’s heard it before.
Noise: Is it usually the case where someone comes in with a song part way done and others weigh in on it?
Chrissie T: Chrissy comes in with whole songs. We all jump in and add our own little flair to it. Chrissy is really good at letting us work out our own parts and lets us do things to her songs that maybe she didn’t think of. She’s got no qualms whatsoever, even if the song turns out totally different than what she initially had in mind. If anyone wanted to put their foot down about anything or really wanted to stick to their original idea, all they have to do is say it. There’s no bickering or power struggles. It’s just a big democracy.
Lauren: I think we have three different sounds at this point, and the EP encompasses each. “Radio Action” is pop. “Girl Gotta Do” is ’60s girl group, garage-y. Then “Get Me Loose” is the electro side.
Chrissie T: Sometimes you hear a band, and they’re kind of branded as one sound. Even though all their songs are really great, they’re all in the same vein as the one before it and the one after it. I think all of our songs sound different from each other, but we still sound like us.
Lauren: What’s hard is booking shows. We want to book shows with bands that also have dance songs. I can never find the exact niche. Oh, this band is very danceable, but they sound like Madonna. Why would they want to play with us? There are bands that we used to play with when we were in punk bands that have also grown up a little bit. Would we mesh with them? It’s really hard to figure out where the hell we fit.
Chrissie T: Plus, we can’t really describe ourselves very well at this point either, so it’s hard to use words to describe to people why they would want to play with us.
Noise: That’s how you end playing with a DJ instead of other bands.
Chrissie T: We played last weekend at The Pill, and people were hearing our songs for the first time. We each have our own crowd of friends and fans, but I think a lot of the people that were there were there for the DJ and the dance party. Those people had never heard our songs, yet they were singing our songs back. We got tons of new fans from that show.
Chrissy V: The cool thing is that our old friends were like, “I can totally hear your influences. I can hear that rock ’n’ roll and that punk rock in there, but it’s different and it’s cool.” That makes me want to play music again.
Noise: There were people dancing at the show. That has to be a drastic change for you guys.
Chrissy V: Usually, we look out and everyone’s all stone-faced looking back at us.
Helen: If I got a head nod, it was a big thing.
Chrissie T: There were no shirtless boys, which is really funny.
Lauren: Sad, that’s sad.
Chrissie T: We’re used to sweaty, skinny, shirtless boys looking up at us.
Lauren: Maybe at our next show, all the boys will be like, “I read their interview, and they just want us to take our shirts off,” so….
Helen: We’ll just have to write a song called “Take Your Shirt Off Now, Skinny Boys.”
Their next show is at T.T. the Bear’s on November 2 with White Dynomite, Hey Zeus, and the Suicide Dolls.