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Brooklyn’s all-girl group Sharkmuffin creates fast, two-minute songbursts, self-described as “noise-punk-meets-psychedelic power pop.” On their newest EP, 1097, they deliver four great new tracks. This comes after they played SXSW, did two previous releases and most recently, played seven showcases at CMJ 2013. We recently had the chance to speak with lead singer-guitarist Tarra Thiessen about the band and their latest release.
When did Sharkmuffin start?
Basically, I’ve always wanted to be in a band, so I’ve been trying to start a band since I was 12, since I started playing guitar. And I just had really bad stage fright for a long time, all through high school and college. I wrote a lot of songs but I always had another girl singer, so the singer ended up being the person that would go and like push people around and connect with people more. I thought that I couldn’t do that, but they always ended up being real crazy, so it ended up being more trouble than it was worth. Finally, in May 2012, I decided that I was just going to fix things myself. Natalie [Kirch, bassist] invited me to come up to her beach house, and I taught her a bunch of new songs. That house got destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, and that’s what the new EP is named after. That’s the number of the house.
When did the new drummer, Janet LaBelle, join the band?
In October, right before CMJ, because we were trying to find a fill-in for some CMJ shows since our last drummer quit in September.
So did you make a determined decision to become a girl band at this point?
Probably. I always wanted there to be more harmonies in the band, which was what the new stuff we’re writing is like, so it was good to get another girl to do that kind of stuff, like old ’60s girl bands like The Marvelettes and The Shangri-Las and stuff, to have some poppy kind of harmonies like that, and not just garage rock stuff, and that’s why it’s turned into a girl band.
How does your creative process work?
I try to write songs every day and then I have a lot of crappy garage band recordings and I send it to the girls and they tell me what they like and they go and flesh it out. Sometimes, things change between us and Natalie writes the bass line and I’ll write over that and often, we just all go on tangents. At practice, after we go over the set and go over different songs we jam and record all our practices.
Do you record at home or do you record at a studio now?
When I’m writing stuff in my bedroom, I just record through my laptop speaker into Garage Band. The stuff we recorded for the EPs, we recorded at our friends’ studios.
We recorded She-Gods of Champagne Valley [May 2013] at Soft Landing Studios. That’s in Williamsburg. That’s where the song “Soft Landing” comes from. The other one , we recorded at Audio Parlour.
You started touring as soon as you formed the band. Is that right?
Yeah. We were really excited; we released our first 7-inch and then we went down to SXSW last year, and toured on the way back up with the band Hey Baby, also from Brooklyn.
Did you book the tours yourself?
We book everything ourselves. We’re looking at hiring a booking agency eventually. It might be easier, but it’s fun doing house parties and bar shows. It’s great and there’s a lot of energy, usually, with people there.
Do you think you’ll continue doing short releases to keep it fresh?
I think we wanna record a full-length. We have enough stuff right now for like two full-lengths. We just have a lot to do right now. I think we’re going to record that and release it by next fall, maybe. And then we might release an EP or some short releases in-between. There’s not a solid plan. We’re just trying to get through. Like right now, we’re still recording videos for the 1097 EP. The plans are still up in the air.
You covered “Sister” by Prince. Is that one of your influences?
Yeah! That was my favorite video I’ve ever made because I found this Jerry Springer clip, like sisters were having sex, and also ‘cause Prince had these two girl bands. One was called Vanity 6 and one was called Appolonia 6, ‘cause Vanity 6 [their singer] went crazy, I think. So they have the same girls in both videos besides the lead singer, and I mashed clips of the two girl band videos together with the Jerry Springer clips. And they kind of look like the girls in the Jerry Springer clip, so I thought it was pretty funny. It fit perfect.
For a long time, I would watch the “Computer Blue” and the “Darling Nikki” scenes before I would play. I would watch those two performances from Purple Rain before I would have a show as inspiration. I was trying to channel Prince at first.
At the end of the song “Ten Ten,” you get pretty wild. It reminded me of the Theremin-guitar combo Jimmy Page did on “Whole Lotta Love.”
Oh, yeah, yeah. I had to put my Theremin in through a lot of guitar pedals. I put it through a reverse reverb that makes it sound like a spaceship and a really good delay, and I switched it back and forth with those, and I could play the Theremin with my guitar back. It’s so much fun. It’s witchcraft. It’s totally witchcraft. The Theremin is magic.
Were bands like The Ramones or The Pixies an influence since they did short songs?
I think it’s just my attention span, maybe. I can’t really sit through playing something for a really long time. Especially if it’s really fast, I guess it’s meant to be short. Maybe it was that Beatles song “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” That’s a really short song and I think it’s just the most perfect short song because you want to listen to it over and over and over again. It’s so short, it makes you want a lot more.
What equipment do you use?
I play a Fender Jaguar and Fender Telecaster electric guitar. I use a 1966 Fender ProReverb amp. I also play a Moog Theremin I run through a Digitech reverb pedal with reverse reverb and a Memory Boy delay pedal.
Natalie Kirch plays a series 10 AEB-1 reproduction of an electric bass guitar that was designed by Dennis Kager in 1966 while he was working with Ampeg. It has one soapbar pickup, and the holes were designed to carry the bass. We’re still working on finding the best amp for Natalie. We want it to be as big as she is. Janet Labelle plays a 1962 Slingerland blue sparkle kit with Paiste cymbals. Sharkmuffin uses a lot of crazy Death By Audio guitar pedals. They’re really loud. Fuzz War is the best in the world!
Follow the band on Twitter @Sharkmuffin