Straight from the Garage
Trickery and Dickery
A practice session with Russian Girlfriends
It's fucking hot. The kind of heat that makes you sweat from every pore, bits of it collecting in crevices you didn't know existed. The kind of heat that makes you faint. But there’s hope. I am, after all, waiting for Russian Girlfriends to show up to their practice space on Columbia and Gibson so I can sit in on their band rehearsal. If you can even call it a rehearsal. No, rehearsal sounds too formal for these guys. At their most basic categorization, their music can be described as punk, though there are instances of hardcore, even metal, tendencies littered throughout. It's amped-up, powerful stuff. Soon, guitarist Colin Dowell and singer Adam Hooks show up.
We make our way into the high-ceilinged space they share with another group. The paint-chipped walls hold memories of many a band that have played there. The space has brick walls, carpeted walls, a stuffed animal on a painted chair, guitar cases, chords, amps, a couple black-spray-painted squares with song names written in chalk on opposite sides of the room.
Soon, a couple more members show up (drummer Sasha Horn and bassist Jeremy Keith). As the band sets up for practice, singer Adam Hooks takes swigs from a bottle of Paranoia chardonnay. They're all in t-shirts, jeans (or shorts) and tennis shoes. I make a joke that I can help them fashion it up a little, and Colin says, “Yes! We need help!” The band has been together now for about a year, and they're gearing up to release a record within the next month. A small part of me is curious about their band name, so like any journalist would, I ask how they came up with it.
“Colin, [guitarist] Ian [Jarrell] and I were in another band and were up in French Canada. I had some pot I was trying to get rid of, and I was smoking huge joints, so I was stupid. This guy was talking to me and said he had a Russian girlfriend who was crazy. And I was like, 'Yeah man, Russian girlfriends.' And these guys were like, 'What the fuck are you talking about? You've never had a Russian girlfriend!' So yeah, our band name came out of marijuana and Canada.”
The guys are funny, rambunctious, loud. It's definitely reflected in their music once they get started. Colin: “Let's try Adam's new words.” At first they fuck around, with Adam play-singing AC/DC and Colin doing the “Highway to Hell” riff on his guitar. Afterwards, they start in on a tune that has a somewhat sinister guitar rhythm. Sasha chimes in on drums, and I'm immediately taken aback. He's one hell of a drummer. It's daunting how good he is, in fact. His style is primal and fast. He keeps the pulse going, the heart of the tunes beating. As they play, Adam holds a notebook with his new lyrics, scream-singing indiscernible words.
I'm immediately reminded of my forays into punk as a teen. My feelings of angst with no particular substance. Because, at the root of it, punk isn't about being great. It's about the grit, the energy, the mere passion of playing. And this band has that particular rage embedded within their sound, though I can't tell, at first listen, where it's directed? Is it mankind? Is it the establishment? Is it an asshole ex-girlfriend? They stop suddenly, with Colin and Adam attempting to map out the song's progression. It's still not quite there, not entirely finished. They play it again, and this time, I'm able to make out certain phrases: “Are you a journalist? Are you a veteran?”
Ian Jarrell (the other guitarist) shows up late, but he's packing beer, so it's all good. Once his instrument is tuned, they're all arranged into a crooked circle, almost like a ritual of sorts. They kick off the opening guitar riff of Rush's “Working Man,” before it turns into an all-out punk assault on the senses, with Ian giving his guitar a gnarly slide effect that fits perfectly with their sound. I'm thrown off for a second and immediately think, if trickery is their aim, they've mastered it.
I can see that Adam is a good front man. He's all over the place, absolutely dynamic. At this point, he's enclosed by the other four members, depositing elements of metal, of thrash, of punk into a stewy disposition that brings to mind punk shows I used to go to in my hometown. It's like a punch to the face, rather than a soft hand on the cheek. The sounds of Colin's guitar make me think of The Cramps at certain points. It gives the songs an extra flourish, making it not so much about being in your face, but more about getting under the skin, fondling a delicate artery. Then the tune is over. “That's some angry shit,” Adam says.
Next is a brutal hymn called “Tad.” Colin kicks it off with a vibrant riff, but quickly stops. Someone's screwing up. They start again. This one is more of an anthemic, pop-punk overture. It's the kinda shit my older brother made me hate when I was a pretentious teen, retreating to my room to listen to The Velvet Underground. But I like this song; the energy is palpable. Then it's another tune. I don't catch the name, but it's my favorite thus far. The band goes into a crazy break, the drums magnified, pounding, the guitars slicing, shredding, sweaty bodies careening across the floor, blood stains and promise dripping from the dirge's hooks. After they finish, Ian says, “You ever notice how much we sound like Velvet Revolver?” “You're a fucking asshole,” Adam responds with a laugh, “I'm gonna quit music.” “I'm just fucking with you,” Ian says. “Let's play 'Bones.'”
This one has a dynamic build. The chorus seems heartfelt, but I can't understand the lyrics. Adam's vocals are drowned out by dueling guitars. When it's over, Colin says, “I wanna sing the chorus with you [to Adam] to give it some harmonies.” “I'm always down for harmonies,” Adam responds. They do the song again, this time hooking up another mic for Colin to jump in on vocals. When it's over, Ian says, “I think we should do vocal harmonies as much as possible.” I agree.
Toward the end of practice, they start working on a cover of Nomeansno's “I've Got a Gun.” Though Sasha has to go pick up his kid, he sticks around a bit longer to try and nail the drums on the song. It's almost miraculous the way he pins down the rhythm, catches the beat and hammers it across the room. Adam: “You can't be better than Nomeansno! Stop showing off!” I leave right after Sasha and Adam. The remaining three stay to fuck around and jam for a bit. As I wait for my ride outside, I can't help but think about what I've just seen, the ferocious nature of it all. I'm thinking about their sound, how it's visceral and savage, confrontational. You don't even need to understand it. It's punk, after all.