Say "chick rock" and you die
By Amy Dalness
If there’s one thing The Ettes aren’t, it’s a chick band. While both their lead vocalist and drummer are of the female gender, that doesn’t fit them squarely into the “chick” category, and they’d like you to know it.
Coco Hames (vocals/guitar), Poni Silver (drums/vocals) and Jem Cohen (bass/vocals) are The Ettes. They got their start in Los Angeles, where grassroots rock is all but dead and appearance is close to everything. Coco and Poni became The Ettes after bonding behind the counters of Miss Sixty—the Italian denim superstore on Melrose Avenue—and taking their love for straight-edged rock to the stage. Once Jem joined the band, their sound was set and they hit the road. During a stop at South by Southwest, the Alibi caught up with Coco for some girl talk.
How’s the music scene in L.A.? You mentioned there aren’t a lot of garage and rock bands.
It’s not fun. We’re kind of alienated there. I don’t think it’s personal; it’s musical. There’s a big indie sound like The Shins, who are influencing everything that is coming up in L.A.—kind of dreamy, kind of whatever—it’s good, but when you want to hear that you don’t want to hear what we play and vice versa. There are a couple of garage bands that are party bands—really kitschy, throwback stuff to the ’60s--and that’s about as close as we get to some kind of musical camaraderie.
It’s been difficult coming up because they’re like, “Oh, girls.” And then they put us in the girl genre … that’s painful. People don’t really know where to put you and I think we just stand right there. It’s weird but we’re used to it. … I don’t really know what the scene is out there—I don’t understand it.
Did the "girl thing" change when Jem joined the band?
Maybe a little bit. Poni and I were really influenced by ourselves and we really like Thee Headcoatees. It was more about being friends and playing stuff we wanted. We didn’t really make a conscious decision to be all girls, we just didn’t know any boys we liked and felt like playing with in a band. It was a kind of detrimental choice for a while there because you get lumped into that chick thing, which is just unbearable. I think we’ve gotten through it enough to the point where that part of it exists but it’s not the forefront of our music.
How’s the tour going?
Great. We’ve gotten a lot of great weather, like blizzards and sleet storms and crazy freezing rain. There aren’t a lot of bands touring up in the Northeast for a good reason. We’ve played some places we’ve never played before. The kids and the papers have been giving us a shot outside of the chick thing, for once. This is a new thing for us.
How have the different cities responded to you as opposed to your experience in L.A.?
Rock is more alive in any town than in places like L.A.—it’s an industry town. You go through places like Memphis, Salt Lake City or Athens, Ohio--cities that aren’t known for industry or the bastardization or commercialization of rock ’n’ roll—they have a place for it. … Rock ’n’ roll is best in every other town, and that’s why we enjoy touring.
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-