It’s like the Gully Boys haven’t seen each other in years.
Backstage at Icehouse, after an opening set for Tiny Deaths on one of this damp sham of an autumn’s many grim nights of drizzle, guitarist Kathy (and/or Kaytee) Callahan, drummer Nadirah McGill, and bassist Natalie Klemond have enough to say to make any planned interview questions moot.
The conversation darts from whether feats of athletic prowess might enliven their show (“every time you mess up, just do a backflip,” McGill suggests) to concerns that some of their debut album, Not So Brave, sounds too much like Lindsay Lohan’s band from Freaky Friday (“which is not bad,” Callahan clarifies, “but it’s not what we want to sound like”) to how an outbreak of whooping cough in Wisconsin caused Kaytee to sometimes (usually?) get called Kathy now (I’m... still unclear on the details) to a survey of the post-trial/pre-prison career of O.J. Simpson (“Did you know he did a show very similar to Punk’d,” Klemond asks, “and he would make jokes about murder?”) that leads to the band deciding to impulsively label their music “Punk’d rock” because why not?
Here’s the thing: These three have barely gone a week without seeing each other. And before that they’d been crammed together in a minivan on the road for weeks touring, listening to the Black Eyed Peas on repeat. (“Nothing amps you up like ‘Pump It,’” Klemond insists.) You’d think they might enjoy some time apart.
But for the three-headed rock organism that is Gully Boys, what some bands might think of as a vacation feels like a forced separation. Reunited, they froth with the excitement of forming a gang; they refer to themselves as “brothers” and call each other “mom.” They’ve each got “GB” tattooed within a heart, and they bond over rituals at each show: “A shot of tequila before. And a celebratory shot after.” In fact, if the right bartender happens to be working that night, you can ask for a Gully Boy at Mortimer’s and you’ll get a tequila with a pineapple back.
So tonight’s last-minute equipment crisis was nothing they couldn’t weather together.
“I don’t really know how to use guitars, I gotta be honest,” Callahan admits. “I don’t know how they work. I don’t get the tone knobs or whatever. And then I found this sweet spot in practice the other day and we had to take a picture of it. I was like ‘Nadi, what number is this at? I can’t tell.’ And I was so excited to try it out onstage—and then my fucking E string breaks.” She wonders what she would have done if there hadn’t be a loaner available.
“You would’ve sung your guitar part,” Klemond suggests.
“I use a lot of E string,” Callahan says earnestly.
It’s refreshing how frank the Gully Boys are about their rockers-in-training status, and it’s a conscious choice to be that upfront. “As women, there’s this huge pressure to be better than all the men,” Callahan says. “But I don’t want to pretend that we know what we’re doing all the time.”
“In Austin, some dude was like, ‘How long have you been playing your instruments?’” McGill says. “I told him, ‘Well, we’ve been a band for two years... so, two years.’ He was like ‘That’s so punk!’ and I was like ‘Uh, sure.’”
“We’re not punk,” each band member adds, in a staggered chorus.
But if all this proud talk of amateurism leads you expect a chaotic shambles onstage, the band’s taut “pop structures” (as Callahan calls them), with their memorable forthright choruses and jigsaw-interlocked rhythms, will clear things up pretty quickly. McGill’s a classically trained singer, and Klemond’s foremost a pianist, so they get how songs work, and translate that knowledge to their new instruments—the former produces a little extra cymbal action when the arrangement gets spare; Klemond’s bass adds melodic flourishes when the guitar grows noisy. And Callahan is a hell of a singer with an innate sense of how to make the solo she’s plucked out on her (or someone else’s) beloved E string memorable.
A three-gig-a-week schedule will tighten a band up that way, though the Gully Boys are trying to cut back on live shows. They’re working on their first music video and want to write some new songs, which is tricky given their work and school schedules. But if time is a problem, they say, ideas aren’t. Callahan brings them in; Klemond and McGill shape them.
“Sometimes it’s just a riff, and I’m like, ‘I stole this from a Mariah Carey song, please can we use it?’” Callahan says.
“She says she stole this and you listen and that means it’s like, in the same key,” McGill explains.
“You listen to a lot of R&B...” Klemond says to Callahan.
“And I translate it into punk music.” Callahan pauses, corrects herself. “Punk’d music.”