By Brian Tucker
As a name, Norfolk, Virginia’s The Lonely Teardrops may belie the ferocity of the band’s spirited, let-it-loose garage rock sound they’re capable of. There’s more, like rockabilly, as the duo’s drummer Crash LaResh pointed out.
“(We) pull from all over the place musically,” LaResh said. “There’s a lot of late 50s early R&B soul in there as well as a ton of wild, early girl group craziness.”
Katie Teardrop, singer and guitarist for the group she founded several years ago, said their live show is about making energetic, hip shaking music for the dance floor. They perform at Orton’s on Saturday with local garage rockers Deadly Lo-Fi.
“Rock and roll that is played purely for the sake of rockin’ out, driven by nothing but sweat and inspiration, won’t ever be overlooked,” LaResh said. “When I play, I turn into the same eleven year old kid with two empty paper towel rolls jumping around his bedroom with Bo Diddley cranked loud as hell on the stereo, playing air drums.”
Such sentiments keep this music ageless and spirited, evidenced by the duo’s music they’ve posted on Reverbnation – “I Want Some of That” and “Surfin’ Monkey.” The songs illustrate a band bringing together fun music driven by surf and garage rock led by Katie’s scorching, R&B tempered vocals.
She recalls childhood memories of her grandmother listening to wartime entertainment music (The Andrew Sisters, McGuire Sisters) and her mother and sisters singing atypical versions of songs by girl groups like The Shirelles.
“I would always be pushed to the back when I tried to chime in,” Katie said. “Then I heard Dick Dale and Link Wray but never thought I would ever be able to play like that. So I never really attempted.”
Moving to punk rock as a teenager allowed her to learn how to play guitar. Today it serves as part of the aesthetic of The Lonely Teardrops, mixed with the surf guitar rock and girl group vibe. It’s found on “I Want Some of That,” a cover of a Kai Ray song. They give it a Jekyll and Hyde quality, going from cooing harmonies and jungle drumming to feverish girl group tempered vocals. “Surfin’ Monkey” is done with blow-the-doors-off abandon, marrying surf rock with the teeth-y punk angst.
Playing with different musicians over the years as The Lonely Teardrops, Katie explored different styles of guitar and vocals but never cemented the sound she wanted. Enter LaResh, a drummer she says was the missing link and who had a work ethic that she needed.
“When we first started hanging out and talking about music it was instant that we were on the same plane,” Katie said. “I think we both realized we were sick of wasting time. A good sauce takes time to simmer right.”
LaResh played with Dexter Romweber in Chapel Hill’s Flat Duo Jets for many years, joining after Chris “Crow” Smith left the duo. Soon after, they began calling themselves the Dexter Romweber Duo. Katie saw LaResh playing at the time and cites Romweber’s drummers as an equal part of Flat Duo Jets’ power as a live act.
“After playing with Dexter for years and dealing with a lot of producers, I feel (Katie and I) have reached a sound that I had been hoping for, for years,” LaResh said. “Katie’s vocals have a strong but very playful vibe. Her guitar style is super wild, but skilled. To me, it has all the elements of some of my favorite guitarists in the vintage surf/punk/garage genres combined with something new and modern without losing that original 60s vibe that makes our sound.”
LaResh had seen Katie playing as The Lonely Teardrops in earlier incarnations and quickly sensed what she was going for musically.
“And after I saw her massive record collection, I knew for sure what was up,” LaResh said. “And where this could go.”
Additional Q&A with Katie and Crash
Is this the sound you’ve been looking for (with LaResh)? Has it been about exploring styles?
Katie: It has been exploring sounds – guitar, vocals, and different styles. But all the while it seemed to take on a monster of its own, just seeming to have a certain style which I think Crash has been the missing link to. Plus, he helps out a lot more than previous band members and has conviction and dedication that I’ve never found before.
Is it that you just communicate better as musicians than previous collaborations?
Katie: When we first started hanging out and talking about music it was instant that we knew we were on the same plane but somehow it turns out wildly sensational.
Crash: I knew when I saw Katie playing with previous line-ups of The Lonely Teardrops that she was just barely missing the mark that I thought she was shooting for. And I think she just needed someone that understood what she was going for, and what she was capable of.
How vibrant was the music scene for this type of music in the past (and currently) in Richmond/Norfolk?
Katie: There was a huge punk rock scene in Norfolk and Richmond which I think we were both heavily involved in. Crash and Dex started doing something else around the area which caught a lot of people’s eyes. There were bands every weekend to see in Norfolk with Kings Head, Friar Tucks, Louis’s and Cogan’s. But, its funny that they stopped having bands and after ten years, we were the band they asked to play.
These places were so close to each other that you could catch three good bands in one night and get away with it spending under $20. Richmond had their scene too with Twisters, Fireballs, and Hole in the Wall. We played at this Chinese Restaurant called Chopstix some too which was always pretty funny. They had a disco ball. I met a lot of really great bands in both Norfolk and Richmond. I always thought that Norfolk was one of the most talented and collaborative places I’ve ever lived.
Crash: Like most towns with a history of music scenes, Richmond and Norfolk went thru drastic waves of changes from the early 50s through the 90s. In the ten years I played with Dexter Romweber, we toured a lot, and we didn’t notice too much about what was going on in either town to a certain degree. All we would notice is how there seemed to be bands with different names every time we came through a town than the previous time that we come through.
There was a period in Norfolk, when we definitely noticed a sudden rise in bands that tried to play rockabilly and surf music after we came through. I don’t think this had anything specifically to do with us…there just seemed to be a nationwide rise in retro and neo bands. I’m so glad that The Lonely Teardrops don’t really fall into that category anymore. We are not a rockabilly band, but there are similar sounds in there at times, early rock n roll and whatnot.
I think most musicians that love that genre have now figured out ways to make what they do original and stand out. Thank God, it was starting to sour me on that world. The few bands that we have met in Wilmington have successfully taken those styles and made them their own, which is super cool… We’ve played with The Phantom Playboys and Deadly Lo-Fi and love what those folks are doing. Wilmington is such a rich scene, I hope the people appreciate what they got going on there right now. It seems to be an awesome time to live in Wilmington for killer rock n roll.
What are your memories of first hearing R&B or surf guitar rock music?
Katie: Memories of early childhood was grandmother listening to music in the kitchen that seemed like the McGuire Sisters, The Andrew Sisters, or Mary Ford style wartime type troop entertainment. I loved it and would sing along in the kitchen. Then my mother and her sisters would hang around the piano and do their “Lemon Sisters” renditions of the girl group stuff like the Shangri-Las and Shirelles and somtimes some pretty bad choices of music.
Crash: I have a brother fifteen years older than me and his girlfriend’s dad gave him a jukebox for his eighteenth birthday. I was three and we had to share a bedroom. The jukebox had a few 45’s by The Surfaris on it. I played “Wipeout” over and over and over until my brother got so pissed he put me in a pillow case and banged me against the side of our bed.
How does the band gets loud and powerful on record? Is it technique or the right equipment?
Katie: I think we found a guy, Tim Reynolds, who really listened to what we said we were going for. We just did everything live. We didn’t do any vocals and guitar separately. We really wanted to sound like we sound live. In one part we took another take that we had done of the song and used a little vocal to get a chorus effect, but that was basically the only time we used anything from any other takes. I like the sound. It’s a very big heavy lo-fi sound with jungle drums and heavy natural reverb from the amp.
Is it that a studio like Wintersound knows what those type of records should sound like?
Katie: Wintersound was a great studio to record in. Bob Gurske was very patient with us. I think his specialty was taking a punk or metal band and having the restraint to not over produce them. Finding a recording artist that understands what you are trying to sound like and actually achieving it is very rare. It’s like picking a compatible band mate. When you find it, you don’t want to lose that.
Crash: Most of my recording history was with Dexter. We recorded three CDs and a few 45s and a split 10-inch. In my opinion, the best recorded stuff with Dex was with Billy Miller of Norton Records at the helm. He also, in my opinion, did the best Flat Duo Jets recordings as well.
Katie, before playing with Crash, what’s your first memory of Flat Duo Jets?
Katie: First memory is them coming to one of my shows and standing off on the sideline, so I flashed them my panties. My impression of them live is that they are a demonic demonstration, a combination of many god fearing types of music followed by a confessional of human sentiment with a truly classy and unique technique. Dexter is just inspiring to so many people, but the drummers he plays with are an equal part of making that happen.
Crash: The aforementioned panty flashing was when I was playing with Dexter and people were still calling us The Flat Duo Jets. After Crow left Flat Duo Jets, me and Dexter called the band “DEXTER” for the first year and later changed it to the Dexter Romweber Duo even though we continued to only play songs that Flat Duo Jets had played for years…so venues and promoters ignored our name change…and continued to call it Flat Duo Jets,…for a while at least.
My first experience with Flat Duo Jets was in Athens, Gerogia in 1987. That’s when I first saw them play and I became fast friends with Dex that same night, and we continue to speak on the phone every single day.
Why does this type of music never goes away, always feels fresh?
Katie: Doing things the way you do it will always be completely different from the way anyone else does it. We try to come up with new ways to make each show one of a kind.
“I Want Some of that” is a rockin’ tune. How fast did that come together as a song?
Katie: Came along pretty quick, it’s an old cover of Kai Ray song we just learned and changed, of course, to make it sound like we wanted. Not many know that song or do it. We could probably take some more time to make that song better.
Crash: That song rules. I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a favorite of The Cramps. They used to listen to it before going out on stage to get them riled up for a show.…That alone should be enough to warrant covering it. Seems to have the same effect on our listeners as it did for The Cramps. It gets folks outta their heads.
What’s more fun to play for people –house shows or intimate club shows?
Katie: I like both, but there’s usually more people, better sound and lighting, and more room for wiggling at a club.
Crash: A packed room of people that is ready to utterly lose their minds and go all in. Our goal from the very beginning was to create something both visually and audibly designed for fun. The whole mission from the start was to throw a crowd into a rock n roll trance so they would feel totally free to cut loose and dance and forget about their daily lives, their fears, and insecurities for one night.