THE BLURT AUTO-INTERVIEW Coco Hames of The Ettes

Fresh off a tour that
found her band opening for the Dead Weather, the distaff rocker has a
conversation with moi.

 

BY COCO HAMES

It’s hot as hell in The Ettes’ rehearsal space/recording
studio/Coco’s attic in Nashville, Tennessee, so we’ve offered singer/songwriter
Coco Hames a brief respite, down in her dining room, where she’s typing this at
her computer, to discuss, among several things, the band’s upcoming fourth
studio album.

 

***

 

HAMES: So the summer’s finally here. Happy summer.
HAMES: And to you as well.

You’re
currently recording The Ettes’ 4th studio album?

Yes, that’s right.  We don’t have a label for it, or
distribution or press set up or anything like that, but we’re recording it
now.  Basically, if we have the time, we like to demo first by ourselves,
giving Jem [bass] flight hours on production, then with Liam [Watson, Toe Rag
Studios] properly, in the studio, for the official LP.  We never spend
much time or money on recording, and this method is why.  And I’m playing
the drums on the demos. Because I don’t know how to communicate drum sounds
with words.  Do not be fooled; I cannot drum.  I mean, that’s not
totally true, I have rhythm, I just can’t move my upper body in tandem with my
lower body.  I cannot dance.  Often I have trouble walking. 
Thank God for Poni. [see current issue of Modern Drummer Magazine].

 

Well,
having heard some of those preliminary recordings… you know what I’m going to
ask next, don’t you?

I’m pretty sure.

So
you toured with the Dead Weather in the US in the Spring, like, last month?

That’s right.


Because, you know, there sounds like there’s a lot of influence here
from…

Let me stop you right there, just for a sec.  This is
why I agreed to come down here and talk with you; normally I get into the
creative mindset, production, and I stay there, I don’t let anything interrupt
me, so… you’re welcome for the face time.  I think that tour with the
Dead Weather was awesome, great crowds, great venues, great bill.  We were
a really compatible match, musically.  I mean you’ve got Allison pulling
mad shapes, howling around like I never really heard (or was interested in
hearing) her do with the Kills, also a good band, also a good match with The
Ettes, I think.  Then you’ve got Jack, the wizard, the genius, the man,
the maverick, you know, as far as I know, writing and arranging all the
songs.  Dean and LJ, you know, finally, this BAND… I mean, it just
seemed like the perfect outlet for Jack to have huge heavy drums and spooky
guitar and organ, and that bloodhound of a bass sound LJ gets… it’s like, the
perfect storm.  I watched almost every show; they are mesmerizing. 
The talent, the depth… the lighting!  Leif, the lighting engineer, I was
going to have seizures and I was going to be happy about it.  LJ’s bass
tone MOVED the air around me in, um, where was that, Albuquerque.  It was consistently loud,
intense, wonderful.

 

So
do you think you took any inspiration from that tour?

Absolutely.  It recharged us, all of us.  Energized us.  We were
so impressed and we enjoyed watching them and listening to the songs, the
execution, the musicianship.  I remember seeing the White Stripes in 2004
or so in LA and turning to Poni and saying, “We either need to get much
better or quit.”  I’ve always been a fan of Jack’s particular brand
of interpretation and presentation.  I completely lack whatever aesthetic
genius gene he possesses, but musically I understand a lot of what he’s communicating. 
I feel it.  I jibe with it.  So yes, seeing this project, where
everyone seemed so free to be THEMSELVES to the limit, you know, that was
impressive as all hell.  SO impressive.  I have to use this forum to
recommend to everyone: go see them.

I’m
hearing you say you definitely took inspiration from the shows and performances
themselves, but what about the songs?  Did you have a favorite song or did
any element of the songs themselves move you or stick with you?

That’s a good question.  Um, to be honest, I didn’t
really know what to think when this project was initially unveiled.  It
sounded, you know, exactly like the outlet or project it IS, but I didn’t know
if it would work.  I’m such a fan of ALL of the members of the Dead
Weather, in all of their various projects, I was afraid to hear the
record.  When Horehound came out, they had a launch party and
secret show at Third Man Records [Jack White’s record label and HQ], here in Nashville.  Poni and
Jem went.  I stayed at home and watched a shark documentary.  It’s
the musical, aural equivalent of meeting your heroes, isn’t it?  That’s
what it felt like, and I was scared.  I still haven’t heard Horehound,
actually.  I shelter myself in that way; I am the exact opposite of a
music fan or record collector.  I listen to the same 150 records over and
over again, unless I see or hear something myself on the road that moves
me.  But yeah, their songs… Jack to me is a very nearly infallible
songwriter so whatever songs they were doing on stage every night, I loved
every minute of it.

 

Well,
stepping back a moment from the incessant and myopic Dead Weather references what,
do you think – as of June 1, 2010 – has influenced this undeniable change in
The Ettes’ sound?

Most definitely the addition of Johnny (lead guitar). 
He’s freed me up so much, because I’m not really a lead guitar player, I’m a
rhythm guitar player; any riffs I attempt sound like Billy Childish if you gave
him Junice’s tiny doll hands.  I’m not a shredder, it’s not in my nature,
but I LOVE lead guitar.  I love listening to it, I love seeing it
performed.  It fucking RULES.  I love blues, I love metal, I love
guitar.  And so does Johnny.  So considering I am a tyrant about
structure and about keeping things tight, I’ve got this interesting push and
pull with Johnny, what he can offer the band musically, in the studio and on
stage.  He’s got the skills and I’ve got the shiv; I can shank him on
either end of his performance, it’s a great addition, a really fun new element
for us.  I mean, you have to understand, I don’t give a fuck, we’re a
self-contained unit and what we do is created and expressed by us alone, and I
can just tell you honestly, it’s exciting and liberating to have a shredding
guitar player in the band, available to take a song one way or another, one way
this night, another way this night.  I love it.  I love you, Johnny.

 

That’s
the first question I’ve asked where you’ve verbosely responded with multiple
curse words.

Well, you shouldn’t really use adverbs, just kind of as a rule. 
But yes, I know, I get really ramped up when I talk about guitar, I love
shredding, for real.  And I love metal.  I mean it, I’ve read Lords of Chaos, I know about Scion, I’m friends with Brendan Small, ask
him.

I
will ask him.  And you’ll look stupid if he doesn’t say, “Oh yeah, I
know Coco.”  But didn’t you have the
guitar player of all guitar players, Greg Cartwright of the Reigning Sound, who
also produced your last album (Do You Want Power – 2009), play lead
guitar on most of your last album?

Just remind him that we used to do “The Tomorrow Show” and drink
together in LA where he first told me about this project Metalocalypse and I didn’t believe him.  Yes, Greg contributed more than just guitar on
that album actually, because he helped arrange the songs and he even co-wrote a
song with Jem on there.  Greg shreds with both hands, and he’s a
lefty!  But Johnny is more of an integrated member of the band, we’ve been
touring together since September, and when I wrote these new songs, I had him
in mind for sure.


So, forgive me, for a music writer these things are quite difficult to
understand but… if you already added a lead guitar player last year, m’kay, why
do these new recordings
for your fourth album sound so different from those recordings?  M’kay?

Well, let me speak very slowly so that you can make sure you’re getting the
words down, and then hopefully once you have the words inside your mind, you
will be able to self-arrange as you neurally need to and then understand
them.  Writing with space for Johnny in mind opens up a whole sonic airspace
that gives room for Jem to counter with some riffs HE’S been wanting to do, or
Poni [drums] a new wavelength to pound out a new or counter rhythm, or gives me
inspiration to sing differently or in a strange harmony with what I’ve already
written… it’s basically like we were three tracks before, and now we are four
tracks.  And there’s a lot you can do with one extra track.  That’s a
recording reference, by the way.  You can Google it if you need to, it’s
okay.


So basically, you just want to state for the record that you had all
these songs written before you toured with the Dead Weather and via this June
2010 interview are officially preempting and pre-acknowledging any and all
journalists and bloggers who cite that tour as an influence and mass-consumer-aimed
reference point when your 4th album does come out?

Basically.

 

On
another front entirely, what can you tell us about the album you and the other
band members recorded not long ago in Nashville
with Greg Cartwright?

You are speaking of Strychnine Dandelion, the debut album from The
Parting Gifts a band we are in with Greg.  It comes out in September on In
The Red Records, and we’ll be performing it at Goner Fest in Memphis.  It started as a one-off 45
that Greg and I were going to do together.  I was supposed to write a song
and he was supposed to write a song, and then we were going to do a 45. 
It turned into 15 songs, and we recorded it at the same studio where the Ettes
did Do You Want Power here in Nashville.  Patrick
Keeler from the Greenhornes and the Raconteurs played drums, Poni played drums,
Greg played drums, Jem played drums.  Jack lent us timpani, the Get
Behind Me Satan
timpani, which was totally rad.  Lots of awesome
drums.  Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys dropped by and played some
guitar, that was awesome.  And this hipster chick string trio came by, and
this really cute pianist dropped in, his name was Kai… it was Music City USA
in action, man.

Weren’t
you out on tour when Nashville
got flooded? What did you return home to?

Yes, we were somewhere in Texas. 
It took us forever to get home, all the roads were shut down.  When we got
here downtown was totally underwater.  The whole town was shut down. 
It was pretty serious, a lot of classic gear got destroyed, people lost their homes. 
A friend lost his whole studio.  People are in FEMA trailers.  It’s
not over.  We did a clothing and food drive at our local bar, we’re punks
with big hearts.  The town really came together to help people who were
affected, I was proud to be a part of a community where people just so
willingly rolled up their sleeves and helped strangers, it’s still going on.

You
recently returned to your old stomping ground of L.A. to attend a wedding – were people coming
up to you and acting all “wow, rock star!” at you?

Kind of.  I mean, I hate weddings, HATE them.  I do not behave, so
that’s probably what people usually “wow” at, you know.  I also
do not know how to dress like a normal person, and I see no reason to try and
learn how to.  So I stand out like the freakish sore thumb I am. 
It’s okay, I am used to it.

 

What
— in one long, grammatically incorrect “sentence” — would you like
to make sure is known about The Ettes when this is published later this month?

That we’re not a girl group, or any kind of “Be My
Baby”-ass beehived throwback band (that schtick gets hella old), we’re
just a band, a rock band, we’re not rich kids, we’re just rockers, Poni and I
love ’90s hip hop and both wanted to be Fly Girls, we’re all fiercely loyal
friends and are secretly really funny, just witness Poni in interviews, or
Johnny, at Foobar, or anywhere you see him, I take most of the credit for
writing all our songs, but really just read the liner notes and see how many
Jem’s actually cowritten, I say it’s like 90/10 but really it’s more like
75/25, though he’d say 60/40 and be WRONG, and for reference I do think
we sound more like the Cramps [good ol’ Rolling Stone did call
them “the new Cramps” back in 2008 – Ed.
] than the Go-Go’s, but we didn’t
tour with the Cramps, we toured with the Go-Go’s, and we also tour with artists
as disparate as Girl Talk, Kings of Leon, the Black Keys, The Gossip, Greg
Cartwright and, you know, the Dead Weather.


Thank you, Coco.  Now you get on
back up into that sweltering attic and finish your record, you scamp! (
pats
self on tush
)

You got it.

***

 

This is the first in
our new series of artist-originated stories “The Blurt Auto-Interview” (with
apologies to late, great rock zine
Trouser Press); collect ‘em all. Meanwhile, see
THE ETTES live at Goner Fest 7 in Memphis September 24th with The Parting Gifts
– their new band with Greg Cartwright whose debut will be in stores around that
time via In The Red Records –  and
elsewhere on the road this year.

 

More Ettes at BLURT:

 

2009 feature: “Power Ball”

 

Review: Do You Want Power

 

Review: Danger Is EP

 

Coco Hames’ Blurt
Blog: “Look At Life” (June entry: “Santified and Girli-fied”)

 

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