There is certainly a punk rock DIY ethos running through Betty Petty‘s debut EP – Desperately Seeking Satan, but the pop chops present here should have BP on every “buzz band” list out there.
The six songs here cover a wide range of sounds from garage pop (Lions), 70s power pop (Smoke), a bit of late-80s Slowdive shoegaze (Wheels), 90s girl punk like The Breeders, and man I even hear some classic rock riffage; Rockets takes me to China Grove if you know what I mean.
Anyway, Betty Petty is from Los Angeles and is a project of one Caitlin Danenhauer (as an aside, Caitlin will be writing for us soon so we’re trying not to be biased!) but this is a very strong opening shot from a promising young band.
We connected with Cailtlin to get the lowdown.
I’m Caitlin, I started the band and usually write the bare bones of the song and the lyrics. Then I bring whatever I’m working on to the dudes — Austin Ash on drums, JJ van Lieshout on lead guitar, Toast (Artisan Bourgeoisie) on the bass.
They’re all very technically proficient, which I am not — I have always written poetry and lyrics and come up with melodies, but I only really started playing guitar a few years ago, so it’s nice to have a solid group of musicians to bring a really simple song to that can make it sound awesome.
For instance, ‘Lions’ and ‘Wheels’ each only have a two-chord progression throughout the song, but they sound much bigger with everyone playing, and it leaves a lot of room for everyone to leave their mark on things.
How did you become Betty Petty?
My first attempts at playing live I went under the name Kybele and I played acoustic super slow sad songs. I eventually ended up having a band under that name, but the members were never steady except for a guy who I eventually ended up dating. We all know how that usually turns out, so at this time last year when I was about to release my first EP as Kybele we broke up as a couple and as a band and I was really frustrated because I had worked so hard, I just wanted to release something.
At the time I was hanging out a lot with the Cigarette Bums and Steven, the frontman, asked if it would help if his band backed me. So we ended up going on tour opening for the Bums up the west coast after practicing for like a week. It was amazing though, because I had been working on the same five songs for Kybele for what felt like two years and then all of a sudden I had a new band and all the songs that I had wanted to work on but never got to started coming to fruition. It happened much more quickly without the romantic entanglement.
I wanted the project to be called something new, because Kybele has a long-winded explanation and it’s not easy to spell or remember. I also wanted to stop writing bummer music and to see if I could write more upbeat, danceable songs. Betty Petty seemed like an easily-remembered name with its own implications that people were sort of free to interpret. It’s kind of a wink I guess…like, ok, I’ll be cute and petty and write fun songs — but it really did turn out to be a lot of fun so I don’t mean it in a derivative way.
Tell us about the scene in LA…
It’s tough because so many people move here to follow their dreams and the people that grow up here are just inherently sort of edgy and creative. There are usually like two or three genuinely good shows to go to every single night. Everyone has their own band or art to promote.
I wouldn’t say that it’s competitive because 99% of the musicians I’ve met and know here are amazingly kind and supportive. If you’re standing alone at a show people will say hi and ask you your name. They’re people that have, generally, sacrificed the stability of a predictable income and the 401k and maybe even the possibility of having a family, and often the respect of mainstream society just to pursue their unique vision, and there’s something inherently unifying in that.
I love playing outside of LA because people will dance and have such a good time because it’s a little more rare to see a really fun band. People get excited about it.
Here I think it’s not that people are necessarily jaded, but it really is exhausting to try to support all of the local talent and work on your own project, and then also pay rent and become self-actualized and have relationships and all that jazz. So people will come to the show, but they won’t necessarily dance — and I think it’s just more exhaustion than lack of enthusiasm.
Describe your sound as a cocktail – what’s it called and what’s in it?
I’ll go with an old fashioned, because if I’m going to order a cocktail that’d probably be it.
The whiskey/bourbon because it’ll make you feel stuff, bitters because there’s definitely some bitterness in a lot of the lyrics, water because it’s not too harsh, and the citrus/cherry because it’s got that lush feminine touch. I don’t like sweet drinks, and I don’t think this EP in particular has much sweetness to it.
Tell us about your live show…
We have a lot of fun. Our set has been really tight and almost exactly what you hear on our EP, but as we’re working on our next album we’re throwing more songs in. There are definitely more transitional points in our live show that are more improvisational and almost psychedelic/shoegaze-y, where I get to play with making my pedals do weird stuff while the dudes jam. I like really dumb jokes, like dad jokes, so I usually have one or two of those locked and loaded if there’s a break somewhere. We keep it pretty light and don’t like to be too self-indulgent. It’s nice when shows run on time. I never want someone to become bored during our set or feel like they’ve heard the same song twice.
How does your songwriting process work?
It’s always different, but more often than not something will just get stuck in my head and I have to write it down or make a voice memo on my phone, otherwise it’ll be gone forever. I’m one of those people who believes that we’re just channels for ideas to be realized through, so I don’t take 100% ownership of anything that I write.
So I’ll usually start with just a riff or a phrase that’s stuck in my head and then I’ll lay it out in GarageBand at home with my guitar until I figure out if I even like it or not. If I do, I’ll bring it to the guys and we’ll make it a song. Sometimes it’s a cool song but it’s just not a Betty Petty song.
If it’s too much of a struggle or the energy isn’t right, we’ll just move on. If it works then I’ll nail down the lyrics once it’s been arranged. I don’t think you can be a sane creative person if you believe there’s any shortage of new songs or new poems or new paintings or whatever it is out there, so I think it’s a good idea to move on quickly if something isn’t fun or exciting right out of the gate.
What influences the band lyrically?
I write all the lyrics for the songs — if there’s one thing I feel confident about musically at all it’s the ability to write poetically. I’ve been writing since I can remember – it’s the one thing that always makes me feel connected to myself. Before I wrote songs I would just write in journals. It makes me feel less lonely. When I feel awkward at a party or something I’ll write in my phone. There’s always something interesting happening if you take the time to notice it, and recording it always feels sacred to me.
Knowing what words to put with what song is really a physically intuitive thing for me. It either feels right or it doesn’t.
If you could pick any time to travel back to for music, where would you go and what year would it be….
Besides being a French pop star in the 60s, I really would just stay put. Los Angeles is an incredible place to be for a female musician right now. There is so much talent being recognized and there’s this community among the young women playing music that’s really supportive. Also just the way it’s set up here and with indie music now, it’s easy to go to the Echo or somewhere and see a band you love and then meet the musicians afterwards and hang out. Even though I’m newer to the music scene and my band is new, every single time I’ve reached out to a musician that I admire, even if it’s on Facebook, I’ve gotten a really warm and encouraging response. This is definitely where I want to be.
What tunes are currently on heavy rotation for you…
I’m working on a West coast tour for us for May, so I’ve been listening to a lot of local bands from Portland, SF, Seattle, etc. There’s a really cool band called Cat Hoch in Portland, their music really stuck with me. I literally have a huge list so it’s hard to narrow it down. I’m hoping we’ll play with the She’s in the Bay area if scheduling works out.
For more mainstream stuff though, I have always been an unabashed lover of pop music. I asked for Rihanna’s Anti for Valentine’s Day and I listen to “Desperado” pretty much every morning right now. I’ve been taking pole dancing classes and I love that the girls are always playing songs from Anti and even her older songs like “Red Lipstick” and “Skin”– her slow sexy songs. She’s such a confident and powerful person and I feel more confident and powerful when I move to her music. Also Dum Dum Girls “Jail La La” has been in my head for like three days. I don’t think I’ve even heard it recently but I’ve been singing it, I don’t know if that counts.
If you could tour with any band right now who would that be and why?
I would love to get a giant school bus and gather all my favorite female fronted bands and tour everywhere. I’d take Blood Candy, Cellars — I recently connected with the girls from Ramonda Hammer and Draemings and I love all of their music. I don’t mean to exclude male-fronted bands but I’m the only girl in my band so it’s just kind of a fantasy of mine to have a big vagina fest tour like that. Bands with all dudes can come too though, it’s not a separatist thing. I’m getting far off from the actual question though now so I’ll move on.
If you could only bring ONE record in the tour van/bus/plane what would it be?
I love Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison record. I think that record really captures the humanity of people who are generally forgotten or scorned, empathy always moves me. I love listening to the dialogue between him and the inmates between songs. I also always feel really soothed by his voice and the simplicity of his lyrics and melodies.
When you’re not playing and have some time off, where could we find you…
I teach yoga to elementary schoolers and I freelance as a video editor. I do a lot of freelance gigs, working for apps like Lyft and Postmates. I’m trying to get more into doing vocal session work. I also love to sit at home and watch Bob’s Burgers or 30 Rock or the Office indefinitely.
What’s up for the rest of 2016?
We’re working on our next EP, which we’ve gotten a pretty good start on, and on going up the West Coast in May. We have some exciting stuff in the works that I don’t want to say too much about until things are real. But we’re adding complexity to our sound and writing fresh material. It’s cool because most of the songs from our first EP were mostly my songs that I brought in, and we’re writing more as a band now. I’m not sure exactly what will happen but I feel really good about it.