What do you do when the drummer of your band suffers an injury and has to drop out? If you’re lucky enough to be Sharkmuffin, you just wait for the ex-drummer from Hole to call you out of the blue and offer to step in.
Just before they split town for Austin and further points, we caught up with guitarist/vocalist Tarra Thiessen and bassist Natalie Kirch at their sendoff show at Shea Stadium, supported by local faves Dead Stars and an absolutely blistering set by the Yin Yangs.
“A couple days after [drummer] Janet LaBelle got injured,” Natalie said, “we were supposed to leave for L.A. to go tour. Right before we left we found out that Janet couldn’t come. So we called the engineer and we said, ‘help us out, send out your feelers.’ Patty Schemel ended up emailing the band’s email and said ‘Hey, I listened to the tunes, sounds cool, do you still need a session drummer?’ And we were obviously thrilled because we’re huge fans of hers.” Schemel stepped in, filled out some dates, and played on the LP Chartreuse, which will be released this summer (the mastering was just finished last week).
After playing with a rotating list of fill-in drummers including Leslie Hong from Haybaby and Rebecca DeRosa of Fisty, Sharkmuffin is now on tour — of course doing shows at SXSW — with their new live drummer, Nasimiyu Murumba.
When asked about changing drummers, Tarra said, “It’s nice to play with lots of drummers. It’s like we have this big extended Sharkmuffin family.” Natalie said that while they’d also been playing with Jordyn Blakely, Nasimiyu Murumba — “Simi” — had been playing with them for several months, and added that she’s “really charismatic, lots of fun,” which bore out in the band’s energetic set that evening.
This will be Sharkmuffin’s third visit to SXSW, and the band contends that it gets easier as their circle of connections grows. “Tarra and I book all the tours ourselves,” Natalie said. “I feel like the biggest thing with booking is making friends in different place and playing with bands you like and keeping in touch with whatever musicians are in that band. You help them out when they come to your place, and they help you out when you come back around. I feel like you gotta be nice if you wanna book a good tour, because if you’re an asshole no one’s gonna wanna put you up, or book you with their band.”
Sharkmuffin toured with Dead Stars last year, and there they were, supporting Sharkmuffin. By temperament, Sharkmuffin fit right in to what still seems to be a local scene, that Williamsburg/Bushwick ragamuffin crowd of mellow cats and chicks who are most at home in a venue like Shea Stadium, with its mom’s-basement vibe. In a neighborhood so fragmented and frayed, the smudge of distortion still bleeds the lines, connecting like-minded bands. If Sharkmuffin have drawn comparisons to Hole and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, one could easily compare them to Slothrust, with the short attention span of the Ramones. “We’re Brooklyn-based, essentially,” Natalie said, and Tarra added, “We practice in Brooklyn.”
Standing outside on the balcony of Shea, the conversation turned to the ever-present topic of all-girl bands. Tarra contended, “We’re just a band.” Period. Natalie added, “Our first drummer was a guy, and I feel like if we had dicks our music would sound the same. People make such a big deal about it because, for some reason, they don’t expect people that don’t have dicks to make this genre of music that we make, which is ridiculous at this point. It’s 2015.” But — playing devil’s advocate — doesn’t being an all-girl band get them a little extra attention?
“The sad thing is enough women still aren’t playing, at least in our genre, so it definitely does get us more attention,” Natalie said. We were just written up in this Billboard article, 20 all-girl groups that you need to know, so if there are 20 that you need to know, there’s gotta be at least a hundred others that you don’t know.”
After talking about the role of women in seminal punk, and the preponderance of all-girl Motown groups in the ‘60s alongside their all-boy compatriots, the core members of Sharkmuffin were asked whether cute male groupies offered themselves up at shows. “No,” Tarra said, “sound guys do, though,” and laughed.
Natalie added, “We do get some cute ones, but I feel like the people that are usually bold enough to are usually in the more creepy realm.” They both laughed, and Natalie said, “Yeah, Tarra has a thing for sound guys.” More laughter. Tarra: “I feel like all sound guys like the Breeders a lot, and then they always play them after our set.” It was true — the sound crew at Shea played the Breeders’ “Last Splash” as Sharkmuffin was setting up.
Asked about the breakup of legendary rock couple Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Natalie said, “I can’t imagine — I know Tarra has done this before, but I can’t personally imagine being in a super-active band with someone that I was romantically involved with. I can’t imagine all of the extra stressors. People tell Tarra and I that we’re actually married, and we don’t sleep with each other every night.”
But with the tour starting the next day, and the band preparing to move into a van, Tarra had to admit, “Tomorrow, we will be sleeping next to each other.”
“With pajamas on,” Natalie added, to much laughter.
Bradley Spinelli (@13_Spinelli) is the author of “Killing Williamsburg” and the producer of “#AnnieHall.”
Correction: This post was revised to correct errors, including the spellings of The Yin Yangs, Jordyn Blakely, and Tarra Thiessen; it was Sharkmuffin’s third, not second, visit to SXSW.