Throughout the 20th century, beginning with early jazz performers in the `20s, all-girl groups have proven that front and center stage isn’t reserved just for guys. During the '60s, hundreds upon hundreds of all-girl groups formed and rocked audiences in both the U.S. and the U.K., including The Supremes and The Ronettes – just to name a few. The '70s saw the rise of The Runaways as all-girl groups continued to break down the stereotype that women couldn’t rock. The '80s saw The Bangles and The Go Go’s and the `90s saw the rise of Bikini Kill and The Donnas. But what about the 2000s? Well, that’s where an L.A.-based, all-girl rock band The Like comes in.
The Like formed in 2001 and released its debut album Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? in 2005. The band started out as a three-piece – each member the daughter of a music industry veteran – when the girls were only 15 and 16, but has since seen one girl go and two new girls join. So much has happened in the 10 years since the band formed, and now founding members Tennessee Thomas and Z Berg – alongside the two new additions Laena Geronimo and Annie Monroe – are ready to hit it big again with a fresher, more polished sound inspired by their favorite decade: the '60s. And it’s not just the music; the band is putting it all together with the fashion and the lifestyle, too – admitting to the likelihood that you’ll bump into them getting coffee in mini dresses and bouffant hairstyles.
With tourdates starting this week and The Like’s latest album, Release Me, due out on June 15, drummer Tennessee and vocalist/guitarist Z Berg took some time to answer questions (emphatically!) on their love for the `60s, working with Grammy-winner Mark Ronson, touring with Kings of Leon and Muse and how they hope to inspire girls to pick up instruments and start playing music.
[To hear the first single, "Release Me," off The Like’s new album of the same name, click here.]
Q&A with The Like's Tennessee Thomas and Z Berg
Release Me is your first album in almost five years. How does it feel to have a new album out and what kinds of things has the band been up since the first album?
Tennessee Thomas: After Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? came out, we went on tour for a few years, opening for bands like Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix, The Strokes, Muse and Kings of Leon. We spent a lot of time in the U.K. We took our time re-thinking The Like and what we wanted it to be. We grew up! And now we are back, with two new band mates Laena Geronimo (Bass) and Annie Monroe (Organ) who are incredible musicians. We spent a lot of time practicing our instruments
Z Berg: It is extremely exciting to have our record done and coming out! At long last! After we put out the first record we spent a few years touring, and then we basically broke up and reformed with two new members, a whole new vibe, and the same name!
What were some of the musical inspirations for Release Me? What records did you listen to when writing and recording the album?
Z: We realized before we made the record that we really just wanted to make a record that sounded like the music we grew up listening to, i.e. The Beatles, The Supremes, The Stones, The Shangri Las, The Kinks, The Animals, Jackie DeShannon, Leslie Gore, The Zombies, The Beach Boys, etc. I think we've always wanted to make a record that sounded like this, but we didn't know how!
Tennessee: We tried to imagine what it would sound like if The Supremes fronted The Animals! We listened to the Rhino girl group box-set Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found: One Kiss Can Lead To Another to death! And grew up with all the British invasion beat-combos (Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks) and kind of imagined what a female version of one of those groups would do. A lot of inspiration was also taken from the female songwriters of the 60's Carole King, Lesley Gore, Jackie de Shannon and Ellie Greenwich who wrote so many hits! Also working with the Dap-Kings was like going back in time to the Motown studio! We all grew up listening to Motown as well!
The Like worked with Grammy-award winner Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen) on Release Me. How does it feel to work with someone so great and how did Ronson help shape the album’s sound?
Tennessee: It was Mark's idea to introduce the organ, which really added so much to the band sound (we were quite limited before as a three piece). And he introduced us to the Dap-Kings Tommy Brenneck, Homer Steinweiss and Victor Axelrod who all helped us make the record. Their combined knowledge of the `60s studio sound really helped us to realize our fantasy of sounding like our favorite music! Mark also captured our powerful live sound, which we'd struggled to do in recording sessions beforehand. We recorded everything live in a room, at the same time, and as a result the music sounds alive, and real, like all those records from the 60s do. We didn't fix any of the mistakes, and those mistakes end up being your favorite bits! Mark definitely has a golden touch... I don't know how he makes everything sound so good! He may sprinkle fairy dust on it.
Z: Mark is really wonderful at listening to a song and hearing how it should sound to be the best song it could be. He makes everything and everyone the best possible versions of themselves in the studio. And he, along with the help of Alex Greenwald, and Tommy Brenneck, Homer, Steinweiss and Victor Axelrod (all currently or formerly part of the Dap-Kings), figured out how best to record and serve our songs to make the record we had always dreamed of making.
Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? was released on Geffen and your newest one will be released on Downtown Music. How was working with the two labels different?
Tennessee: They're both great! We are very, very lucky to be on Downtown! They are so fantastic at getting new bands off the ground, and because our first record came out so long ago we really feel like a new band! Today is such a different time for the record industry, and I feel like Downtown really knows how to handle it. They've got their finger on the pulse for sure!
Z: Well, Downtown is smaller to begin with; I think we've probably met everyone who works there which is great!
Do you still find that there is a negative perception of an all-girl band in the music industry? Or have we kind of gotten past that already?
Tennessee: People are still surprised when they see us live and realize that we can actually play! There are very few all-female bands who have been taken seriously as musicians. It's still seen as somewhat "gimmicky" to be a fully female band, which is ridiculous! It's very rare that a band of all women, who write their own songs come along, but I think it's becoming more common. If we can inspire other girls to pick up instruments that would be fantastic! There's a lack of honest, raw, rock and roll with a female perspective. It's also rare because we're not tom-boys, we wear dresses, and we are very feminine. Having played with men, I find playing with girls to be a lot more comfortable, supportive, and emotional (in a good way). We really feel like a girl gang out to prove something!
Z: I don't think we're past that at all. Even I had a negative perception of girl bands before I was in one! But now I must say I'm excited as all hell to do my best to break down those negative perceptions and hopefully inspire some other girls to do the same!
You guys have been playing music together for almost 10 years. How have things changed?
Tennessee: We've both improved a lot as musicians! We are much more confident now.
Z: A lot changes in ten years! We used to be rather timid onstage, which I can pretty safely say we no longer are. And what i wrote about was pretty different since I had very little to write about! Since then I've had enough heartbreak, fun, and madness for a few lifetimes, and read a library to match. I think we've grown up; we know who we are, what we like, and what we want to say. And now that I'm 23, it's the first time I feel my own age and like I just wanna play fun wild shows and not take myself too seriously.
Z Berg contributed vocals on Bright Eyes’ album Cassadaga and Tennessee was the touring drummer for She & Him in 2008. How did you go about getting these different gigs?
Tennessee: Zooey Deschanel saw me play the drums, and asked me if I'd go on tour with her! It was really fun!
Z: Basically we only know musicians. All our friends are musicians and we're very lucky to know as many talented ones as we do and that they've asked us to participate in some of their musical endeavors.
The band went on tour with a few big names like Kings of Leon, Muse and Arctic Monkeys. How has being on the road with these great names change and inspired you guys?
Tennessee: Every tour has taught us something different and inspired us on different ways. Muse are amazing to see on our because after ten plus years of being a band they still love each other and really have fun touring and doing what they do. The Arctic Monkeys are unbelievable players who really made us want to have that much energy on stage. Kings of Leon taught us how to drink. I'd say we've gotten a good well-rounded musical education from bands who were kind enough to take us on tour.
Z: They're all fantastic musicians who play their hearts out night after night, which is so inspiring! They all also started very young, and have worked so hard to get where they are, which made us want to work harder. Also, having toured with a lot of bands, we noticed how much more fun it was when they were actually friends with each other, and made an effort to explore every town and have fun traveling together! It's really inspiring to see a band like the Arctic (Monkeys) who has evolved so much!
You obviously have a very 1960s retro vibe going on with the band. What about that decade most inspires you? Is it the fashion, the music, the lifestyle?
Tennessee: Everything! Artistically it was such a magical and revolutionary time! A beautiful time, I imagine.
Z: It was the birth of a genre of music, which made the music of that time so exciting and so great because it was new. The Beatles were both the best and the biggest band in the world. Every single Motown song was great and was a hit. Pop songs were intelligent and soulful. And there was still an attention to detail and decorum. You did not walk around in sweatpants that say juicy on your ass, or with your hair disheveled. You wouldn't leave the house without "putting your face on". I like for everything to be beautiful and for life to be as much like art as possible.
The band is conceptually well-put-together ─the music, the look and the image. In 10 years time, will the band’s look still be the same? Will the music still be influenced by the 60s? Where do you see the band in 10 years?
Tennessee: Can't imagine 10 years into the future! We definitely want to record our next album in the same way, hopefully back at Dunham studio with Homer and Tommy (if they'll have us), I am envisioning a slightly darker freak-beat feel, but along the same lines as Release Me. I think now we have definitely found our sound!
Z: I'm no fortuneteller, but it took us 10 years to cultivate this entire package and to remember this is what we love. I think we'll stick with it for a while because it's who we are. The funny part is that Tennessee and I look and dress and like the same stuff we did when we were 8! I think I'm still wearing the same dress size!
Do you guys dress up like in the `60s every day? If we were to bump into one of you at a coffee house in your regular daily outfit, what would it be?
Z: We dress up all the time. We're kids who like to play dress up and ladies who like to elevate the standard of decorum. I make art because it applies order to the chaos that is life. It reminds you how beautiful life could and should be. So I like every aspect of life to reflect that every day.
Tennessee: Yes! We look like this every day! F