If you hail from the greater Midwest, there’s a solid chance that you’ve been roped into shelling out cash for somebody’s bake sale during your march into adulthood. Think of them as the original crowdfunding platform, albeit with perks that taste a hell of a lot better than an MPR tote bag.
While the archetypal bake sale calls up a sense of wholesome Americana, the three ladies that make up the Bombshells got their start hustling donuts at underage basement punk shows as a benefit for the groups they followed. No offense, but I’m taking that over your little cousin’s mission trip to Guatemala any day of the week.
After putting in their time slinging snickerdoodles and screen-printed merch, the Bombshells formed in May of 2014 when high school friends Alex Lothrop and Maggie Stearns bonded over french fries and pinup fashion with mutual friend Brittani Dyrud at Mall of America. Lothrop handed out matching Moleskines for each member to capture band name and song ideas, and the group “practiced” nearly every day last summer, although those sessions sometimes involved more time in malt shops than rehearsal spaces.
“We all had some kind of musical background, but not enough for it to really make a difference for how well we played,” Stearns explains ahead of her group's release party Sunday at Triple Rock for debut their album, Bake Sale Hotties. “At the beginning, us practicing was us just talking about the song, but being too nervous to play with each other. “
“Sometimes we would give up and go on fry dates,” Dyrud adds. “Cheese fries and malts, and sitting on the bed watching YouTube videos of bands that we wanted to be like.”
SoCal surf-punk of groups like Peach Kelli Pop formed the Bombshells’ initial template, reflecting Lothrop’s time spent as a vocalist for the trio’s spiritual brother-band, Stereo Confession. With a little prodding and encouragement from the Stereo boys, the Bombshells grew more confident as players and songwriters, steering into heavier territory reminiscent of Bratmobile and L7. The lead single off Hotties, “Who’s to Say,” was written during one sweltering practice in Lothrop’s bedroom, altering the band’s trajectory towards a tougher, more spartan sound indebted to their feminist punk forebears.
“We had taped a microphone up to a lamp with yellow duct tape,” Dyrud says. “And we were shaking the room, all the windows were rattling.”
“We felt like we could actually sound like a kick in the teeth,” Stearns adds mischievously.
A few well-timed gigs opening up for Stereo Confession helped introduce Lothrop, Dyrud, and Stearns to Ali Jaafar and Graham Barton, songwriters for local groups Hollow Boys and Some Pulp, respectively, who were blown away by the trio’s precocial talent and stage presence. Jaafar would eventually engineer the tracks that would comprise Bake Sale Hotties, while Barton assumed the role of producer, taking cues from the trio’s riot grrrl influences by piling on sludgy guitars, bedrock drumming, and snarky samples from Clueless.
The resulting cassette is a glorious blast of youthful exuberance clocking in just under 20 minutes, with Lothrop and Dyrud taking turns howling about badass babes and scummy dudes like a junior-varsity version of locals Kitten Forever. Barton’s loose, hands-off approach is a perfect match for the record’s warts-and-all charm.
“When you listen to our album you hear coughing and laughing,” Dyrud explains. “We kept it in because that’s who we are, that’s the band.”
Don’t mistake Bake Sale Hotties for an after-school special, however. There’s an undercurrent of angst, especially visible on the spooky “Blood Boils,” drawn from the often frustrating experience of being a woman under 21 just trying to play a damn show. The Bombshells have to jump through a variety of hurdles just to get a gig, and when they arrive, there’s a split chance they’ll get heckled, catcalled, and then given the boot the second after they unplug so the bar can avoid liability.
“When I’m singing about my emotions and being so honest with [the audience], and I’m getting catcalled while I’m playing, it’s like ‘This is what this song’s about. It’s about YOU’,” Lothrop says. “How is that OK in any universe?”
Beyond the standard-issue scumbags, there’s also an army of wannabe Kim Fowleys lurking in the shadows with thinly veiled agendas.
“A lot of people feel really possessive over girl music for some reason,” Lothrop says. “Like, ‘Hey, come here, you should do what we think you should do,’ rather than just helping us, and that makes me uncomfortable.”
The good news is the Bombshells aren’t the only women at their shows, at least not as often as they used to be. As their profile has grown, they’ve received an outpouring of support from older musicians across the gender spectrum. They've also helped cultivate a small scene of like-minded lady-punks like Bruise Violet and Housewives, with whom they set up an all-ages, all-female showcase at Intermedia Arts earlier this year. Moments like that take things back to the camaraderie that brought the trio together in the first place, and make all the abuse worthwhile.
“When you’re playing shows where guys aren’t taking you seriously, it’s hard to remember that there are other women that are trying to do the same thing, and going through the same process,” Stearns says. "It’s comforting to realize that you’re not alone in all of this."
With: Real Numbers, Stereo Confession, What Tyrants
When: 8 p.m. Sun.
Where: Triple Rock Social Club.
Click here for tickets and more info.
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