Badass Bands Blog, July 2013
It’s rare to find a band fully comprised of chicks, and badass chicks at that. These ladies peaked my interest not only via their amazing talent and well-written, fun songs, but the fact that they are all teachers. Badass Band 78 is No Small Children.
I happened upon NSC one night at Silverlake Lounge, I caught only the last few seconds of their set but was assured by the bartender, Mario, that they were a band I needed to know. Nicola (Drums) came to chat with me after and was kind enough to give me a CD. As we talked, she told me all three of them were teachers and that instantly bonded me to them (If you all didn’t know, I was a teacher for a few years). I knew after listening to their EP later that I needed to see a full set from this band. Their live show is exactly what the five-song EP “Dear Youth” portrays, humor with a touch of seriousness and a lot of rad chicks rocking hard. Lisa plays guitar and is lead vocals, Nicola is on drums, and Joanie plays bass and does backup vocals. What I also love is that, no offense to my own gender, but the few chicks I see playing instruments do so with little emotion. That is definitely not the case with NSC. It is clear these ladies have fun on stage and that forces the audience to gravitate to them.
Notable tracks on “Dear Youth” include “Wenches and Bitches”, “Salad” and “Dear Youth”. “Wenches and Bitches” boasts seriously heavy guitar lines and deep rhythms. It reminds me of an Irish or Scottish drinking song. It’s especially a killer listen for women with this punchy chorus, “Some people say we’re wenches and bitches, living our life even though we’re kind of old, it might be true, we’re wenches and bitches.” Lisa’s vocal range in this song makes it not only pleasing to listen to, but fun to sing along to. “Salad” on the other hand, is true to the classic punk sound, fast everything. The chorus boasts the fastest and angriest parts of the song and there are parts where the backup vocals are perfectly and crisply executed to give extra punch to important lyrics. It’s a badass song about not being happy with eating like a “fucking rabbit”. Finally, you have “Dear Youth”. This one, though sticking to the classic punk roots, reminds me more of surfer punk. There is a psychedelic aspect to portions of the song. Lyrically, anyone can relate to this one. It’s about being able to understand yourself and hold your own. All five tracks are absolutely killer and “Dear Youth” is easily worth the $4.99 on iTunes.
The ladies of NSC were lovely enough to grant me some time on a Friday night to have a chat. Read on to enlighten yourselves about how these teachers came together to start a punk band, the serious issues behind the name, and why even drunk, creepy guys are welcome at their party.
How did you all meet?
Nicola: These guys are sisters.
Lisa: Yeah, so we’ve known each other for a while now.
Nicola: Lisa and I started teaching together at the exact same moment. We met each other at the orientation.
Lisa: We worked together for years before we had a band.
Joanie: Lisa was trying to get me to come out here for a really long time, and I have kids, 3 sons, who are all adults now. Lisa and I had been working on some songwriting projects together and I had been coming back and forth for about a year. Then, in February of last year we are sitting out in the breezeway at her house and it’s gorgeous and I was getting ready to leave to go back to Boston. She’s like, “When do you think you’re going to want to leave Boston, here it’s 68 degrees, there it’s about 11.” I said I think now is a good time.” I went back home and my husband picked me up. I asked what he thought about making the move to LA. He said let’s do it. That was it, there was no “Well, let’s talk about it.” So we sold our house. I had worked here over the summer in a Performing Arts program that Lisa was teaching at and runs. So I was doing that while my husband handled selling our house on the East Coast. I started picking up more work at the school they teach at and now I am there Monday through Thursday.
Lisa: We had the band sort of up and running at that point with another bass player that wasn’t working out. I told Joanie, “You can probably play the bass, you play the Cello.” And she started dabbling as a sub. So she started learning the bass and the other bassist didn’t work out and she ended up joining the band. The timing of it couldn’t have been more perfect.
When and why did you start playing music?
Lisa: This is just what I have been doing with my life. I have always been drawn to playing instruments and then I just did. Anytime people play, I always pick it up and am like, “Oh what’s that!” Also, being a Music major lends itself to that. Now I pass the joy on to other people.
Joanie: We’ve been playing instruments ever since I can remember. There are five kids in our family, so it was a very noisy family. We all played multiple instruments, especially Lisa and I. It was just something that was always around. I just thought that every family did it, it never occurred to me that it was unusual or special in any way. The town we grew up in, the earliest you could start was I think third grade. That was when I started actual study. There has always been a natural curiosity about instruments. I like being new on something, I think it is important to learn something new.
Nicola: I studied off and on. I tried violin for week and that didn’t work out. Piano for a year and that didn’t work out. Then I started on drums in seventh grade, but more classically trained snare. I stepped away for a while. Then I studied music in college and was a drummer in college. I was really just messing with it, I was the only female in the department. I just didn’t know myself well enough. Just by chance I stepped into teaching and it was like the skies opened up and were like, “You’re supposed to be here right now!” I moved away from music for 20 years. After I turned 40, I was like, “Fuck it!” and I started playing again with another group. It was great but it just wasn’t enough. I started studying again and I was such a different student than I was. Lisa and I started playing and I switched bands and we decided to do this.
Lisa: When I say I have been playing instruments my whole life, I have but it was really when I started singing that I felt like I had a voice. All the sudden you have a voice that comes from somewhere inside of you and it represents who you really are. When it happens all the sudden the whole world opens up and there is this confidence that you wish you had your whole life. I never would have sang in high school. Now, you can’t stop me. It’s all good, fuck it all and what better way to do that than a punk rock band?
Joanie: My personality matches my voice. I am bombastic, which I take as a compliment. In a way I am on the other side of what she said, I have been out in front my whole life as a performer and now I get to step back and be more in a support role. It’s good for me as a musician. You have a different appreciation for it when you step out of one role and into another.
Which musicians do you admire?
Lisa: All of them. Its true. There is not any genre that’s off limits. Who are the favorites for me? Louis Armstrong, Black Sabbath, Pat Benatar, you know all these things where you go back and listen to the music and start to analyze it.
Nicola: Strictly speaking on drums for me its John Bonham and Elvin Jones.
Joanie: There are really too many people to name. With singers my influences are different. I love soul like Aretha, Sam Cook, etc. Its more of a influence of sound, not necessarily one player.
Nicola: And as we are out and about there is such a good community of people in LA, we influence each other.
Lisa: We have our songs, we are a song band, but we aren’t shredders. We are into making our songs come alive.
Joanie: I agree. Talented musicians can only make a song sound so good, but a great song is always a great song. I think what appeals to a lot of people is A) We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and B) We have a lot of fun doing it. There is nothing phony. The third thing is talking about what people can relate too. Like when Lisa sings how she is pissed off that she feels like she has to eat salad. You look around the audience and see people thinking, “Hey! Me too!”
Why the name No Small Children?
Nicola: For different reasons. Before we started playing together we were joking about how we are in school where all the focus is on kids, and then there is the rest of our life. There is time to really devote to everything you want to do. I was in a band before with wonderful men, who are great husbands and great fathers but they all had lots of kids so we didn’t play that much. I was ready to bust out.
Lisa: It’s funny because it’s a bit of a sensitive subject. I mean the whole idea of motherhood was a big part of this. Nicola and I, neither of us have children and we were on campus with kids all day. Our friendship was partially built on that because she could feel the loss too. We were feeling it and we thought that we should do something together. At the same time there are mothers that feel left out as well. People at home with their children feel like we are out having a blast and they are stuck at home. So it’s kind of like as time went on, that evolved the whole thing. It started because we bonded over this issue that is really hard to deal with.
Nicola: People always say, “Don’t you wanna have kids?” and that’s not the issue. It’s not about not wanted. Now our friends with kids say all the time, “How do you have energy to do it?! You’re working hard here all day and then you’re going home and working just as hard!” But whether you have kids or not, we as women are still relevant and should be having fun at all ages no matter what you’re doing.
Lisa: So the name has really evolved. Joanie was a single mother, she raised two boys on her own before she married her husband. To top that, she took in our nephew and raised him as her own. How to you not praise that? I also have step kids so it’s like the name is a living thing. Then we are teachers. We need a place to go where it’s not all about the kids.
Joanie: Even though their stories have more similarity, one thing we share is that we love kids. That is something that we take great pride and joy in. The other side of that is that you are a complete and whole person on your own, separate from all that. For me, I became a parent early in life; during a time I was figuring out what I was all about. So it was like, “Well, I am about this (motherhood).” Then my sister had a brain aneurism, and she had been a single mother, so I took in my nephew and raised him as my own. I also have a stepson the same age as my two kids. They are about the same age, all grown at this point….I also got thyroid cancer last year, and once that was all done, you learn that in life you never know what is going to happen, so you might as well enjoy every bit of it, all the time….Me coming here meant that this was a chance for me to do all the things I never had done before. Also a lot of the fear that was associated with not taking risks before was suddenly gone.
Nicola: That is the final thing about our name. None of us are young but we bring that age into it. My husband jokes sometimes, “Oh you’re No Small Children.” But that’s just it; I don’t give a fuck. We go for it because life is short.
Describe your show visually and musically for someone who has never been.
Nicola: We wear really tight dresses.
Lisa: All three of us have really big boobs. We thought we should dress up and we all got dresses in the same sort of genre. Then we decided we should match. We started dress shopping together and that was really fun. So now we have three matching sets, but the dry cleaner recently lost my favorite dress. We are always looking for the new dress.
Nicola: When it comes to the show though, what we always try to remember is it’s just about this (all of them together) first. Our motto is, “Just don’t suck”. If this is not connected then it’s not going to work. All our energy goes into it.
Lisa: We always try to remember why we do this. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in stuff.
Nicola: We also come from long working days, we have to be up really early and some people ask, “How do you do it? How do you get up so early and have the energy to do all this? You’ve never had more energy since you’ve been doing this.”
Joanie: I think the thing that is most visually interesting is that we don’t try to look cool or try to look serious. We just play the songs and have fun. We do have a choreographed dance. When I say choreographed it’s like four simple moves, but we really think it’s fun. We just play the songs, try not to suck and have fun. When you see us smiling while we are playing, that means we are really having a good time. It’s not complicated to play and have an awesome time.
Lisa: We do this because we love it and anyone who wants to be part of the party can be.
Nicola: We are all creating the moment together. These guys are good at reading the energy of the room, you do that as a teacher too. It doesn’t matter where anyone is coming from, if they come out for music that night, they are choosing to be there and people want to feel part of a community. Let’s go along on this ride together.
Lisa: Everyone is welcome at our party, even drunk creepy guys. We actually have a song called ‘Drunk Creepy Guy’.
What has been your greatest opportunity so far?
Nicola: A couple that we are excited about. We were asked to open for Mike Watt from The Minutemen. We grew up respecting him. Last summer we were excited to play this beautiful music festival in Vermont. It’s in it’s fifth year now and its three days of music in a really cool setting with really cool people. It’s the Tweed River Music Festival. Last year they invited us to play on good faith on Friday at 5pm, which is when people are rolling up. We had a blast. We were asked back and this year we were asked to play Saturday form 9:30 to 11. The people are so awesome and they just love music. We built a tour around it in August.
Joanie: Lisa and I are form the Boston area so it’s a chance for our friends and family to come out and see us.
Lisa: The way that the band is, we are all about progress. The opportunities keep popping up and the greatest is the one we don’t even know about yet. The harder we work, the more that comes out of it.
Nicola: It’s not about the venue, it’s about the moment. It’s one step along the way in the moment. We talk about our set after and think about it.
Lisa: We talk about things to re-work and we are writing and working on it all the time.
Joanie: The joy is in the middle. It’s getting to each new point. Our energy is focused on that, not on our ego or getting famous. We want to get better and we want people to find joy in it.
Nicola: We love when our friends show up and we love meeting all the new people. It’s exciting meeting people you have never met before who are connecting with you through the music. Then you stay connected and you’re all in it together.
Lisa: It’s really flattering when people show up to your show.
Joanie: Especially because we know people are so busy, so it’s just amazing when people show up. As a musician, the most flattering thing is seeing someone dance and sing the lyrics to your song. It’s awesome.
Lisa: Or when people wear the T-shirt. It’s beautiful.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
Nicola: It is hard not to just want to go on the road. We love our day jobs, but we get along so well on the road together. I haven’t laughed that hard in so long. Getting back and finding that balance is hard. Then you get back and have a good teaching day and you remember why you do that also.
Lisa: For me, the challenge was everything before this band.
Nicola: We are really hard on ourselves; we are never satisfied.
Joanie: Chemistry is really, really important in this business. It may be the most important thing. When you find a dynamic that really works it is worth hanging on to.
Nicola: Also, there is an online presence and we are grateful to the people who stay connected with us. But there is a certain responsibility and we are all teachers so we have to be very aware that it’s a public space. We don’t want to jeopardize our careers as well.
One song you never get tired of.
Lisa: “Cheap Wine and Cigarettes” by Darkbuster or that song “Sorrow” by Bad Religion
Joanie: Every Aretha Franklin song
Nicola: Anything by the English Beat
Best live show you have ever gone to.
Lisa: Darkbuster at The Middle East downstairs
Joanie: Toots & the Maytals at the House of Blues in Cambridge, Aretha Franklin, believe it or not – Bobby Brown, and Van Halen.
Nicola: The Clash opening for The Who, that was amazing.
Favorite things to do NOT musically related.
Lisa: I like playing badminton, the dog park, the beach and travelling.
Nicola: I like all of those too. I like going into the wilderness and hiking/camping.
Joanie: I like to travel. Our husbands really love movies. I love to go to restaurants.
If you ran BBB, who are some bands you would feature?
FU Marilou, The Spreewells, Black Empathy
FIND NSM HERE: