FALL ARTS: Fall is here, and women are ruling the Bay Area rock scene
What do Canadian tuxes, temporary tats, TLC, and touring by pickup truck have in common? They're all pleasures, guilty or not, for the Splinters. The soon-to-be-bicoastal Bay Area all-girl combo is all about fun and friendship, gauging the laughter levels as guitarist Caroline Partamian and vocalist-tambourine player Lauren Stern sip PBRs by the hideaway fireplace in the back of Oakland's Avenue Bar. Some other choice subjects: seedy green rooms, messy Texas shows, honey-dripping Southern accents, and bandmates that make their own thongs.
"Sometimes being girls has gotten us out of trouble," says Stern, chuckling. Like that time at an Austin house party when the Splinters got grossed out by the bathroom and decided to go pee next to their truck instead. "We had baby wipes," Partamian explains. "And we had the truck doors open."
"So we're all squatting in a row, and this guy walks out with his dog and his friend," continues Stern, "and he's like, 'You guys are peeing in front of our house!'" Girlish oohing and aahing over his pooch saved the day, and the aggrieved dog walker ended up replacing the truck's brake pads at a drastic discount.
Likewise, positivity and camaraderie infuse the Splinters' all-fun debut, Kick (Double Negative), though "Sea Salt Skin" injects melancholy into the garage-rocking shenanigans and "Oranges" levels its gaze at girl-on-girl violence with a withering Black Sabbath-style riff. "Cool" and "Dark Shades" flip the dance-party ethos on its side, playfully critiquing the hip crowd like wiseacre modern-day Shangri-Las. No surprise, then, that these women were friends and fellow students at UC Berkeley before they started playing together in late 2007, inspired by Partamian's four-track birthday gift. The first show was an Obama house-party fundraiser. "It was $5 for a 40 and a corn dog," Stern remembers.
The ensemble has turned out to be much more than an end-of-school lark. A New York City move is next for Stern and Partamian — the latter will be starting the museum studies graduate program at NYU. But the Splinters will stay together, in part for four female superfans who sing along to all the Splinters' songs, and for a Bristol, U.K. father and son who have bonded over their affection for the group.
"I don't know, we just love playing music together," says Partamian.
"It's so much fun," Stern adds. "Almost in an addictive way."
YOUNG AND FUN: THE TWINKS
Whether you see the term as sweet talk or a slam, the Twinks' name couldn't be more appropriate. After all, as drummer Erica Eller says with a laugh, "We're cute and we like boys!"
True to form, they're young — the foursome's first show took place last month — and fun. The Twinks are all-girl, rather than a band of adorable and hairless young gay men. Their sugar-sweet, hip-shaking rockin' pop unabashedly finds inspiration in the first wave of girl groups — vessels of femininity and Tin Pan Alley aspiration such as the Crystals, the Shirelles, the Dixie Cups, and the Shangri-Las. But in the Twinks' case, girls, not the producers, are calling the shots. Tunes like "Let's Go" and "There He Was" are tracked by the group on a portable recorder and overdubbed with Garage Band. It's a rough but effective setup, capturing keyboardist and primary songwriter Kelly Gabaldon, guitarist Melissa Wolfe, and bassist Rita Sapunor as they take turns on lead vocals and harmonize with abandon.
The band came to life amid an explosion of creativity, when Gabaldon, who also plays in the all-girl Glassines with Eller, wrote a slew of songs last winter. "All of a sudden I had a burst of inspiration," Gabaldon marvels. "I'd email them a new song every day." The numbers seemed less suited to the "moodier, singer-songwriter" Glassines, so Gabaldon got her friend Wolfe and finally Sapunor into the act.