The Fresh Brunettes’ melancholy resolve is dusted with glitter, mesmeric vulnerability, and fog-chasing sadness. The San Diego band – comprised of Aleisha Burton, Jerry Ibarra, Alexis McAfee – deals in gossamer wanderlust. Playing at the Soda Bar with The End and Los Shadows on the 16th of this month, we spoke with the rad trio of musicians about everything from the local music scene to Swedish baseball – no stone was left unturned.
Rob Patrick: The crestfallen, hopeless, and affectionate lilt in which the vocals are sung reminds me of Saint Etienne, Low, or Radio Dept. – and yet they are entirely your own. Who are some of the bands that, growing up, you gravitated toward?
Jerry: Lots of Joy Division, lots of old punk, post-punk, proto-punk, new wave. Wire, Stooges, Misfits, Velvet Underground, Suicide, Richard Hell, Bowie. I can go on. But my favorite bands in high school were probably Sonic Youth and Pixies. But also lots of Mexican stuff my family would play at parties, and Billie Holiday.
Aleisha: Growing up my mother got me interested in classics like Led Zeppelin and Nirvana but also classical like Mozart. I remember really been into those sounds even though they were opposite sides of the spectrum. Then in high school, I started listen to 1970s punk but also musicians that experimented against the norm like Regina Spektor and Kimya Dawson. Their early stuff is so raw and whenever I played it for my friends or my boyfriend at the time, they would give me this face like “what the hell is this?”
The San Diego music scene has been growing, over the past few years, into a familial and interesting place that, maybe ten years ago, it hadn’t been in. What’s the band’s take on the city, culturally and musically?
Jerry: There always has been and always will be a great cultural and musical scene in San Diego. The only difference is now there’s a better beer selection. Ten or so years ago I’d go see 3 Mile Pilot, Black Heart Procession, I Wish I, Drive Like Jehu. Now I go see New Kinetics, Botanica Chango, Schitzophonics, Heavy Hawaii.
Alexis: San Diego is saturated with culture. I can easily find an event and community supported activities/events all over SD. There is a life of experiences in San Diego’s culture centers, drum circles, local band shows and lots more.
Aleisha: Culturally and musically I feel like San Diego is such a diverse and supportive place. Anyone can come here and find their niche but at the same time can be exposed to something they never heard before. I wanted to start my music here not only cause I have experience in the scene but because I knew we could find a place, we could find an audience and grow as a band. There is so much room for growth here.
Pitchfork.com: friend or foe?
Jerry: Ha. I read it religiously for years and years. I guess I’ve kind of outgrown them a little. But I still check in to their site from time-to-time.
Alexis: Any website, blog, Facebook account, etc., that wants to broadcast information about music is wonderful. Artists should be more aware of these resources to help stay connected with their audiences.
Aleisha: To be honest, I don’t really pay attention to it. Not cause I’m like “fuck those guys” but just because its not one of the sources I pay attention to. The only one I really do that’s generally popular is NPR. The thing about publications like Pitchfork and NPR really, is exposure. If you’re not in it, it doesn’t mean your music isn’t good. It just means your art is going to be exposed to that much broader of an audience and I think any fellow musician would be supportive of that.
The band’s songs are deafeningly sad, perceptive, and extremely well-written. There is a simplicity to the words of “Still Asleep”, and yet there is a complexity that lies within its lyrics. What’s important to the The Fresh Brunettes when writing songs?
Jerry: Aleisha and I used to play in a band called The Llamadors together. Even back then, I’ve always wanted to play in another project with her, because I’ve always loved her ideas and her songwriting. I just want to help Aleisha get her message across.
Aleisha: Every song in our line up has a particular story behind it. Songs like “Jacket”, “Still Asleep” and “Girl” were meant to heal and have real strong emotions behind it. Then you have songs that speed up like “Friends” and “Best of the Worst” that are about the dirty side of people which we all know is there. Those lyrics aren’t meant to stir up emotions. They are just saying “I have resting bitch face. Deal with it.” Then you have our songs like “Cats Against Feminism” which I wanted to write cause it had two of my favorite things, cats and feminism but I also wanted to make a point; cats don’t care if you’re gay, they just want you to feed them. Even though that song makes people laugh, that doesn’t mean that they are any less true or any less poetic. But seriously, I could go on all day about these songs.
As musicians, what do you think that local publications – The Reader, CityBeat, U-T – can do to increase their music coverage? How have those specific platforms played a part in San Diego music?
Jerry: I think they do a good job, especially CityBeat and the Reader. The U-T once had a great local music blog called Amplify SD that they need to bring back. Right now I read Owl+Bear, Sound Diego and SD Music Wire.
Alexis: Attend shows. Get out and meet the local bands, and interview their followers. I believe local publications play a vital role in getting news about events to locals. Music isn’t the only discipline influenced by these publications though, poetry has a huge voice through them too.
Aleisha: The Reader and CityBeat play a huge part is getting the community involved in the San Diego music scene as much as possible. Everyone can’t make it to every show even if they wanted to so they look to magazines like those to say “so whats happening in San Diego?” I mean, I found out about one of my favorite bands Le Butcherettes first in CityBeat and now they have toured with the Melvins and Best Coast! I would have never found that out if I wasn’t interested in what was going on in the scene. While I do think they are doing a great job, I think a interesting idea to increase their coverage would be to get people in the community to do freelance articles about shows or bands. Maybe people from other bands or San Diegans that have moved on to bigger and better things. I know Destin Daniel Cretton is getting bigger and I would love to hear his opinion of what band I should look for next. He has great taste in music if its any indication from his films.
Would you ever consider scoring a film, and, if so, what director would you want to work with?
Jerry: I actually have helped score films, but for like student films, independent films, etc. But if Richard Linklater, Allison Anders, or Errol Morris ever wanted to work with us…
Alexis: I don’t know who TFB’s music could be used in, but I like Quentin Tarantino.
Aleisha: Quentin Tarantino, are you serious? I would fucking love to score a film. Any project that could get TFB out of its comfort zone would be incredible. I imagine it would be like a Dancer In The Dark situation. Like everyone expects this crazy Bjork sound but out comes a musical. Like I said, Destin Daniel Cretton has wonderful films and excellent taste in music so seeing what we would come up with would be fun. Mike Mills is another one. For Beginners he choose a mix of old 1920s music for this modern love story. So different but amazing.
Many of the band’s photographs, pins, and album covers there are flecked with gold. What about that aesthetic speaks to you?
Aleisha: There were two things about the gold that were on my mind when I was making them. The first was that I love glitter. Just something about it. Even the word “glitter” and “sparkle” make my senses jump. The second thing is the whole idea behind the music, the album title and all of the art is something that I basically grew up with in Portland. You find people doing something that generally looks a little tough, a little raw, a little grunge but then you have something that makes it pop, makes you notice and makes it cool. Sometimes its a floral dress, not too crazy but then knee high platform boots or someone wearing a tweed suit but oh wait, they have a bright hot pink tie with it. We try to make the music as punk and garage as we can but then we paired it with a sweet voice. The album Crass with Class follows the same idea. We try to do crass music but with a little class. Then the pictures, they are normal pictures but there is one thing that is different, that makes it sparkle, that makes it cool. That is what TFB is all about.
What’s something that you can tell us, right here, that your bandmates don’t know about you?
Jerry: I led the Swedish Baseball League in stolen bases in 2008. True Story. Long story.
Alexis: I’m not really a brunette, I’m dirty blonde.
Aleisha: I’m actually a virgin.
Tell us a little about your fan club, The Fresh Heads.
Jerry: Well it just got started by Pepe, a great guy who plays in Los Shadows, a great band. And I’m sure he’s gonna do great things with it…
Aleisha: Number one fan (we have a few of them) is probably Pepe from Los Shadows. That guy has gone to more of Fresh Brunettes shows than I have and I’m the singer. But whenever someone hears the band name they say “well what if you’re not a brunette?” and to them I say “brunette is a state of mind.” Anyone can support TFB and become a fresh head. I’m a fresh head, you’re a fresh head. He she are fresh heads.
Finally – and least academically – what’s the best place in SD to grab Mexican food?
Jerry: My mom’s house. But if she’s not around, La Fachada on 25th and Commercial. It looks, feels, and tastes like you’re in downtown Mexicali, especially at 3am after a night of drinking. Just don’t tell my mom.
Alexis: El Zarape’s in University Heights.
Aleisha: El Zarape (drops the mic).