(originally published in Star News, with additional Q and A below)
February 18, 2018
By Brian Tucker
When Shoot to Thrill, an all-female AC/DC tribute band from Raleigh, shows up at a venue with their boyfriends to play it’s often assumed they’re the girlfriends.
“No, we’re the band,” says guitarist Wendy Brancaccio with a laugh and no hint of animosity.
They return to The Monk, following a well-received show there during the recent snowstorm.
“We called that day – are we cool (to play)? A lot of people showed up and we had so much fun. People stayed the whole night.”
Formed seven years ago after friends bonded over learning AC/DC songs, the fun graduated to playing shows. The band has since amicably seen a rotating group of players.
“It just stemmed from one person loving old AC/DC. They hung out in the living room for a year every Tuesday night and learned songs, just to do it and have fun. They had a great idea, but a lot of them moved away. It has a nice legacy in our area.”
At shows Shoot to Thrill covers both eras – singer Bon Scott’s boogie-filled period during the 1970s across six albums and Brian Johnson’s steely tenure after Scott’s passing. In 1980 AC/DC followed the tragic death of Scott with a successful career starting with 1980’s Back in Black and signature tunes like the title track and “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
“I had Back in Black and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Brancaccio said, recalling albums from both eras. “My sister and I were really little and my cousin was ten years older. She stayed with us and played (the song “Dirty Deeds”). We sang it, but we didn’t understand it until years later.”
Brancaccio was playing guitar in Viva la Venus when she caught a Shoot to Thrill show at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theater. She loved the band, remembering the power because they played so well. When their guitar player left for Australia she was asked to join.
“She’s our very own Malcolm,” says drummer Kate Martin.
Brancaccio plays rhythm guitar, like AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young who passed away in 2017. In learning material she’ll look close at the song, from the music to subject matter, any background on it.
“We try to emit that when we’re playing. A lot of the Bon Scott stuff was storytelling.”
It’s more than learning and watching YouTube videos, it’s also nuances to playing in Malcolm’s style – “On “Thunderstruck” (Malcolm is) picking and strumming, he tucks his pick under so he can pick and strum. You wouldn’t know from listening but when you’re trying to emulate, oh my gosh. I think with them silence is just as important as riffs. “Back in Black” wouldn’t be the same riff without the silence. So it’s the space and the groove. We work it on it all the time, I’m not gonna lie.”
Though they’re paying tribute to one of rock and roll’s great bands they bring themselves as well. Lead guitarist Susan Darney dresses like a schoolgirl, rather than Angus Young’s schoolboy, giving it a Catholic schoolgirl makeover. At shows there are requests for deep cuts. The band knows the songs, having learned much of their catalog. But each show is about gauging the audience, and about having fun.
“It’s not that deep. We all have jobs, bills to pay, things to tend to. It’s so fun to play music about rocking and drinking, whatever, to keep it light and having fun with it.”
More with guitarist Wendy Brancaccio
You have a new singer?
Brancaccio: Six months, Kara Damboise. She is amazing, sings definitely more bluesy, the bluesiest we’ve ever had. When I first asked her, because Tara was getting married, I called Kara and said you should do this. She said I don’t think so, that’s too raspy, no way. I said, what if you come to a practice, meet the girls and sing like you. Nobody really wants to hear you screaming like Brian Johnson. She loved it. She never saw herself in that role. And her voice is so amazing.
I don’t know that we ever had a singer that could be that naked and sing so beautiful but still have balls. She’s got a bluesy voice but a little bit of a growl. Kara is definitely got an amazing take on it. She’s not pushy, she’s singing it, telling the story, that’s important, being invested in it.
For you, what different about the two eras?
Not only are they tuned different, it’s also a style thing. I feel like the Brian stuff was harder and driving and Bon’s was storytelling – here’s a story, and then here’s a riff that goes with it. A lot of them were stories, his stories or stuff that happened to them. With Brian I feel like they were a little more rocking and the Bon stuff has a little more swing and story vibe.
When was your first time seeing AC/DC?
I saw them at the Lincoln Theater in Raleigh. I was playing guitar in an original band and thought the all girls band was so good. When their guitar player moved to Australia one of the girls asked me to play. I said absolutely. I really liked AC/DC but when you learn the music you get into their mindset and appreciate it even more. I feel like they appeal to your average person. They don’t have this air about them, have always (been a workingman’s band). The riffs are so great and its amazing to me people will come to our shows with their kids.
What’s tough about learning the songs? The nuances?
We do acoustic shows once in a while. It’s a great way to get your guitar stuff down. Doing it acoustically you have to be dynamic – it’s not about your volume knob, it’s about your hand. It’s really hard on your fingers. It makes you learn the song in a different way, we don’t change them to much, just swing a little different, maybe a little bluesier. Finding those nuances, a lot times there’s a lot of little upbeats here and there.
Especially in the Brian Johnson era. If you didn’t sit down and look at or learn the music you might not have caught it. It’s cool when we find those things, really exciting. I think that “Touch Too Much” is a song that’s very dynamic, and it changes, each chorus is different. There’s an interlude that’s different form the rest of the song. Listening to it its smooth, it really comes down for the verses, fairly quiet, and keeps growing and then coming down and growing.
I would say “For Those About to Rock” is a little harder too. It’s real big out of the gate for singing. That one has a lot of pauses so we have to get creative with some of that stuff. A lot of sections and cues. The first verse is half as long as the second verse, and the first chorus is twice as long as the second. It has a little bit weird layout.
“Beating Around the Bush” is one of the hardest songs we ever learned and don’t do it that often. We practice it a lot. I love “Walk all Over You.” I think it depends on what venue we’re going to. We try to be picky about sets, not kill people with too much they know. I feel like I get requests, like, I know you’re probably not going to do this, but I wish you’d play “Sink the Pink.” I get that, it’s a cool song. “Squealer” is one we get requests for. We know those songs, we’re not unprepared if someone yells out a song. We just really try to think about who our audience is gong to be at that time, for that gig, and we work the set around that. There’s some stuff we’d love to do. I love stuff off albums like Flick of the Switch. There’s one our singer loves, “Night Prowler.” She’s great at it.