Week in Pop: Cat Hoch, Mr. Husband, The Total Bettys, VA Violet

Sjimon Gompers

The harmonic pop mastery of Mr. Husband; oka the Brian Wilson for the new generation; photographed by Mrs. Husband.

The Total Bettys

One of SF’s current greatest groups—The Total Bettys; photographed by Nicholas Klein.

Screw whatever the pundits have been telling you about San Francisco & the Bay Area at large. Discard the technological obsessions that have made this little patch of peninsula a target for nefarious interests ever since the halcyon days of the Barbary Coast brought about an influx of anything, everything & everyone from all over the world here to make their name & mark here on these rough western shores. While much of the national & international conversation about the Bay has focused on the sadistic & vampirical start-ups that have driven up rents, spawned a series of eviction & housing crises across the board—this generalized overview completely overlooks the fact that the independent & progressive spirit of universal humanism is alive & well in the arts produced by artists that are not compromising their ethics, styles, beliefs, sensibilities & aesthetics in the face of technocratic civic interests (of which are more interested in the short-term developments of apps over local arts).

Exemplary of this spirit & all pursuits of freedom & happiness are The Total Bettys—San Francisco’s cool, queer, punk-pop queens who are readying the world for debut full-length album Peach available May 12 from Lauren Records that offers up some of the best & brilliant sounds from the some of the western coast’s very best. Comprised of Maggie Grabmeier, Bri Barrett, Chloé Lee, Chris Nolasco & Sami Perez; the culmination of the past two plus years of friendship & exchanges of creative & personal support have contributed to a catchy labor of love recorded/mixed & mastered at SF independent institution Different Fur studios courtesy of Grace Coleman. Peach is a representation of a life that truly is not all part of the peaches & cream cliche but rather takes subjects of enduring honesty that deals with everything from panic attacks, positivity, self-care coupled with plenty of self-doubt that depicts hosts of real-life paradigms in a frankness everyone can connect to in one way or another. A band based on respect, group hugs that are a critical component of practice, compassion, intimacy & group chat texts that close with the words love you Bettys—The Total Bettys’ follow-up to Connect With The Couch makes their biggest connection with the world with an album that could not have arrived a moment sooner.

Presenting the world premiere of their single “I’ll Fix It”, Maggie & The Total Bettys deliver the lead-off opening track from Peach that entertains everything from escapist urges, the subsequent pangs of anxiety & the ever-urgent desire to amend all inequities involved in sticky & complicated situations. Grabmeier, Barrett, Lee, Nolasco & Perez offer up a series of anecdotal instances involving all the interpersonal intricacies of social niceties, gestures, & the textual/verbal sport of calls & responses of discourse that propel & perpetuate various episodes, incidents & everything in between. “I’ll Fix It” breaks through the front gate of Peach with a blizzard of the most blistering & boisterous chords that churn out the catchiest hooks & darn near pop-punk perfection with narratives that revel in all our own & life’s lovely (and/or less than lovely) imperfections. Everything from going to the grocery store at midnight (as a way to avoid the general public), to shoulder-shrugs of cut-losses & frank dialogues make conscious efforts for honest communication with the earnest-intentions of trying to make everything better (as referenced in the song’s title). The back & forth internal debates of staying & going are reasoned with all the nervous & anxious thoughts that are met with desires to patch things up for everyone on the home front. The Total Bettys succeed in conveying the painfully self-aware lyrical approach to the infectious & barely controlled anarchy of the human experience & spirit that makes everything sound & feel ultra-real.

The Total Bettys’ recent single “Stay Here All Night”, previously featured/premiered via our dear friends over at The Le Sigh, entertains the infinite excitement of an evening of great times with best friends (and even making new best friends). It’s an example of The Bettys firing on all cylinders that offers up a feel of their live performance energy with the feeling of a sleepless & ecstatic summer—even in the swing of our current solar-kissed preview of wondrous holidays in the sun soon to follow.

But this single is no anomaly, as Peach presents one of the most exciting acts since Jay Som to wow the locals and the surrounding world. Real exchanges of earnest expressions are principle throughout the tape, heard on the battling statements of self on “Back Against The Wall”, the warning shots-fired on “You’ll Be Sorry”, to “Light As a Feather” that crushes with lead-weighted chords. Escapist instincts carry forward on the table turning “Quit My Job”, with the so over it sentiments raging on “Play Along”, to the air-clearing anthem of “Hear Me Out”, to the brutally honest hyper-real-life tales of “Is It Wrong” that would almost be hyperbolic had this break-neck closer not been steeped in the throes of reality.

Live with The Total Bettys’ Chloé Lee & Maggie Grabmeier; press photo courtesy of the artists.

Join us now as we catch up with Maggie Grabmeier, Bri Barrett, Chloé Lee & Chris Nolasco about the making of Peach & whole lot more in the following round-table style interview:

Tell us about how compassion, intimacy, regimens of self-care/self-doubt & group chats that end with “love you Bettys” & more informed the making of Peach?

Maggie: The songs on Peach are so introspective. They deal with really cyclical worries about being good enough, deserving love, lamenting how difficult it is to communicate complicated and unflattering feelings like jealousy, indecision, boredom, self-doubt. As a band, we are working together to support each other and make these conversations feel safe and normal. Giving each other love and validation creates an environment where we feel appreciated and capable. But also in writing these songs, I am hoping that other people feel like they are hearing something familiar in themselves maybe. Communicating and being vulnerable is very difficult, and I want to call out everyone who is struggling to express their feelings and let them know we are all working on it too.

Bri: As a band, I think it’s really important for all of us to feel understood and heard and that is honestly a huge part of how we interact with each other. We’ve always been a really tight band. We make an effort to hang out and have game nights for bonding, and we’re also very affectionate, hugging at the end of each practice or show and often saying we love each other. I feel very close to all of the Bettys and consider all of them my best friends. I think this love very much informs the tenderness that can be heard in all of our songs, as well as the playfulness of many of them. For me, how much I love all my friends in this band also makes all the time we spend together feel fun and easy.

Chris: Writing any album with the Bettys will always be an inspiration to me. What I really enjoyed about the album Peach are the memories created and the hard work we all put in.

Other thoughts on working with Sami Perez from The She’s and Different Fur’s Grace Coleman on the making of Peach, and conveying cool power chords of sweetness with lyrics that often stem from more serious situations?

Maggie: Wow, working with Sami and Grace was such an incredible opportunity. We were pretty nervous going into the studio with no bassist, but Sami brought a whole new perspective and creativity to the songs. I am a massive fan of The She’s, they are legendary in San Francisco, and when she agreed to play with us we were bouncing off the walls. She is honestly one of the most poised and confident—and well-dressed—musicians I have ever worked with. And Grace—I knew right away I was going to jive with Grace. Not only is she an amazing and talented engineer, but she is one of the purest and most un-ironic pop punk fans I’ve ever met. The woman loves pop punk. It was a total joy working with her, and her touch on the album was just perfect for us.

Bri: Different Fur is one of my favorite places of all time. From day one, everybody there has made us feel at home, and it was a really comfortable and fun place to record an album. We played a show there a few months after recording that to this day is one of my favorite shows ever, and they throw so many super fun events and shows. Sami and Grace are total angels and real pros. Sami agreed to be on our record pretty last-minute, as we found ourselves without a bassist mere weeks before our recording date. Grace asked Sami and thankfully she said yes. Grace is one of the coolest people I know, and made us feel really at home in our first real studio experience. She loves pop punk just like we do and that made me feel instantly comfortable. I think we felt really able to be ourselves and to be honest and experiment a little with different sounds, and for me, every second of it was fun and exciting. We didn’t have much time but Grace really put her heart into making this album sound so great and to also just giving us an all-around great experience. I still think about those days very fondly, and often. Sami is an amazing musician—as anybody who has heard the She’s would know—and learned all of the songs on-the-spot. I think she really added a lot of rhythmic complexity to the songs. She wrote some killer bass lines, my favorite being in “Quit My Job”. She’s super creative and also is a total sweetheart and I loved working with her and love the She’s and try to see them as often as possible.

Chris: Recording at Different Fur was very exciting to me. As it has been a while since I’ve been in a studio. Grace made the whole recording process very fun and easy going. The atmosphere was very comfortable and I learned a lot working with her. At the time of the recording, we were in-between bassists. Sami was a relief as she picked up the songs so quickly and provided me with her honest feedback during recording. I feel grateful for her contribution to The Total Betty’s and the making of Peach.

Tell us too about the jump from your Connect With The Couch debut EP to Peach, and what has been going on with The Total Bettys in that time.

Maggie: Connect With The Couch was our first EP, and when we made it, the band was only me and Bri! I’d say we’ve come a long way since then—written tons of new songs, we met our beloved bandmates Chris and Chloé, we are planning tours, playing shows with some of our music idols…but we still can’t bring ourselves to stop playing our first two songs at every show (“No Kings” and “Earthquake”). Something about those songs reminds me about when and why we first started jamming together, and how the band was formed on moving to a new place, feeling completely out of place, but making those intense and lasting friendships that made the whole thing worthwhile.

Bri: Maggie and I recorded Connect With the Couch in my living room. We did it all backwards—recording rhythm and lead first and then having her brother Joey do drums on the tracks remotely, we started recording before we met Chris, and having Matt Reagan mix remotely. This made everything very difficult and labor-intensive, and we were very much amateurs when we did it. But I’m super proud of how it came out, and I think we learned a hell of a lot about recording in that process. In the time between when we released the EP and when we recorded the album in September 2016, we played so many great shows around the Bay Area, and also went on a mini tour of SoCal. We played with so many bands, that when we recorded the EP, I would have never dreamed we would have gotten to play with, including local greats Pity Party, Long Knives, Forget It., Jay Som, and Hazel English, as well as some awesome touring bands including Dressy Bessy, Dyke Drama and PWR BTTM. I’ve loved every minute of it and can’t wait for our tour this summer, as well as some other awesome shows we’ve got coming up!

Chris: Since I’ve joined The Total Bettys, it’s felt like a steady forward pace. We’ve played numerous shows and made a number of new fans which have encouraged us to improve our performance.

Chloé: For me, the biggest thing to happen during that time was becoming the newest member of The Total Bettys!!! I’m elated to be so lucky as to have the opportunity to join this little family full of creativity and love.

What continues to inspire you all about San Francisco & the Bay at large?

Maggie: Mostly, I’d say the local bands here. There are so many incredible local bands in the Bay Area, and they have inspired our songwriting, but also our hustle. For real, please check out Scrim, SOAR, the Shanghais, dot vom, Dirty Denim, Hazel English, Jay Som, Horrible/Adorable, Plush, Long Knives, Pumpkin, and the countless other bands that are tearing it up in the Bay right now.

Bri: It’s hard and expensive to play music in SF, as it is in many large and expensive cities. Practice spaces are expensive and hard to come by, there is no parking anywhere, and if you leave your gear in your car even for 30 minutes it is very likely to be stolen. What inspires me is seeing all the great bands that we’ve gotten to know that keep doing it and keep pumping out amazing music. Some of my bay area faves are Plush, The She’s, Jay Som, Hazel English, and of course, the aforementioned loves that we’ve played with 🙂 I think there especially is a great scene of women and queer folks making some great music around here and that is by far my greatest source of inspiration and excitement.

Chris: I was born in the Bay Area, it’s where my friends and family are. Growing up here I learned a lot about different styles of punk music.

Chloé: I have never lived in a place where there is such a collective value of extreme individuality. This community encourages and supports self-expression of all kinds, no exceptions. I think some of The Total Bettys songs come from this same place and speak to those who don’t relate to what is portrayed in mainstream media.

In conversation with The Total Bettys’ Bri Barrett & Maggie Grabmeier; press photo courtesy of the band.

Rumor has it that this current tech bubble may be plateauing/declining/whatever. What are everyone’s thoughts regarding the current tech-struggle situation & hopes for life beyond this current Silicon Valley trend?

Maggie: This is a really tough one. I moved to SF in 2015, and I acknowledge how me moving here and taking up space as a white person is problematic. I love this city, and I wanted so badly to be surrounded by queer people and artists and diversity, but when I moved here, it took me a while to find my scene. But I did find it. For all the press about the wasteful, willfully ignorant rich people moving in, there are punks thriving and gigging and meeting each other and making amazing music together. In spite of the opportunistic government officials and greedy landlords and startup bros, there is a growing counter-cultural music and activism scene. Since Trump got elected, I have only seen it strengthen, and yes, I am hopeful that our resistance will lead to a safer and more affordable Bay Area.

Bri: Well, that would be nice if it eased up and they stopped building so many ugly condo skyscrapers, but personally, that’s hard to bank on given that so many folks are still getting pushed out. I work in schools in San Mateo and we’ve lost many of our families this year because of the boom that from that ground level, does not seem to be declining. But I guess we’ll see. Until then, there are a lot of people working on housing rights advocacy, and that is an extremely important cause in this area given the ugly history of predatory rent pricing, unfair evictions and forceful gentrification. I’d also really like to see San Francisco especially adopt more humane strategies for helping homeless folks. There are never enough beds for homeless people in this city, and as it is now, police will sweep encampments and impound the belongings of homeless people just to get them out of a neighborhood, likely in response to some rich white people’s complaints. That is just completely atrocious to me, and obviously it does nothing but brutalize already oppressed people.

Chloé: The tech boom is a result of the current macroeconomic climate and San Francisco historically is a place of boom and bust. I think that technology continues to isolate us a humans, more recently by putting a tiny screen between us and the other humans around us. But I think that group experiences have become more valuable and meaningful. For example, seeing a live show with a bunch of strangers creates community through the shared experience, if just for a little while.

With the whole world feeling weird, unstable & more; what are the most important causes locally/nationally/internationally that the folks at home can get involved with?

Maggie: There are some obvious, hateful political decisions being made at a national and international level every day, and I know that it sometimes feels unstoppable and impossible to change. Firstly, I want to say that for a lot of people, it might not feel safe to speak their opinions, and I want to take a second to respect that. Minorities, people of color, immigrants, trans people, and so many others feel physically unsafe in this climate, and as a white American citizen, I want to fight on their behalf. People of color and trans people have been pulling a massive weight by writing and speaking about their experiences on social media, teaching us all valuable lessons about our internalized racism, misogyny, and transphobia. It’s now our job to listen, read up on their experiences, and to not stand by when we see examples of oppression in our lives (and we ALL see them EVERY DAY). This article explains a lot of really cool topics in intersectional feminism, and it comes with a lot of sources and extra reading.

Bri: Number one for me is dismantling white supremacy, as that ugliness is what brought us to the situation we found ourselves in. I think any cause that works on the protections of any oppressed group at this time is obviously important—immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, queer and trans folks, women. I think local causes are especially important, but on a larger scale, it is important to let legislators know very loudly that we will not just sit by as our fascist regime further brutalizes people that have already been oppressed and brutalized over the entirety of this country’s history.

Catching up with The Total Bettys’ Bri Barrett; press photo courtesy of the band.

What artists & arts do you all want to recognize right now that are making a difference?

Maggie: I did mention a few local musicians that are fighting the good fight out there, but I will also happily shout out the safe and queer spaces in the Bay Area where people can come together: Qulture Collective, Anti Lab, and the groups advocating for more diversity and empowerment in the music scene: Women’s Audio Mission and SF Girls Rock Camp to name a few. It sometimes seems like an impossibly huge task, but these spaces make it possible for us to support a culture of inclusion and safety in a misogynistic and sometimes dangerous scene.

Bri: I just saw Jay Som’s sold out show at the Rickshaw Stop a few days ago—Melina is such an amazing songwriter and musician and a completely captivating performer, and Jay Som is a very talented and tight band. I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love with all of her songs all over again. I’m so happy to see her career taking off in the way that it is. There are so many others, of course, with my main squeezes at this time including Charly Bliss, All Dogs, Bully, and Dyke Drama.

Chloé: PWR BTTM—we had the privilege of opening for them at Noise Pop and their message of inclusiveness and empowerment was inspirational.

Parting thoughts of wisdom & knowledge?

Maggie: If you are not currently in a band, I urge you to start/join one! It is the best thing I have ever done for myself. I met some of my best friends through The Total Bettys and these past two years have been literally the most fun of my life.

The Total Bettys’ debut full-length album Peach will be available May 12 through Lauren Records with cassette pre-orders available now.

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