Armed with war paint, a guitar and a powerful yet chipper voice, San Francisco duo Happy Fangs unleashes flurries of pop energy and punk grit. Since the band’s conception, the driving force has been the claws of Mike Cobra’s guitar riffs clashing with the sweet, piercing vocals of Rebecca Gone Bad. The band will be unveiling its new drummer, Jess Gowrie, at its Noise Pop show at Slim’s on Friday. Before the show, Happy Fangs sat down with The Daily Californian to talk about adding Gowrie to its lineup, ’60s doo-wop and what it means to be punk.
Daily Cal: Do you think that adding Gowrie will drastically change the band’s dynamics?
Mike Cobra: Yes, but for the best. Rebecca is the lead singer for this band, I’m the lead singer and guitarist for a different band and Jess is the lead singer and drummer for another band — so we’re all front people, and that persona definitely comes across.
The only way you can create a band larger than life is to get everybody in the band to be a character and to be really great at what they do onstage and have fun doing that.
DC: Black and white as colors are a recurring theme for your band. Why is that?
Rebecca Gone Bad: There’s no greater contrast than black and white, and there’s no greater contrast than Mike and Rebecca (laughs).
MC: We always say that, of the group, she’s the happy and I’m the fangs of the group. The black and white was always a visual representation of the name. I’m a big fan of ’60s French pop, and there was a lot of black and white in that mod kind of look.
DC: I know you’re inspired by ’60s doo-wop music as well; could you talk about how you got into that?
MC: That stuff came from my mom — everything from ’60s doo-wop to Nudie-suit country. Nudie was a guy who made all those rhinestone cowboy outfits. It’s catchy, fun and playful and seemed like something that was approachable, though now that I’m older, I’m finding there’s lots of sexual innuendos in that kind of music.
DC: You have also mentioned that you’re inspired by the noir art scene. Could you elaborate on that a bit more?
RGB: I think it comes from this idea that our songs are very dramatic to begin with, as well as some members of the band …
MC: Not to name names or anything …
RGB: (Laughs) Maybe if I spoke French, those films would seem less dramatic, but everything is presented in this grand way. Despite our energy and enthusiasm onstage, I think we still try to aim for that dramatic presentation of the spotlight, and everything else is dark.
DC: Are matching things that contrast musically and visually part of that?
MC: Yeah, definitely. You can either create something that’s uneasy and makes people uncomfortable or you can create something that’s interesting and intriguing that people want to pay attention to, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do.
DC: What’s an example of that that you two do?
MC: I think the “Lion Inside You” video is a good example of that. It’s approachable, contrasty and pretty messed up in some parts. There’s some dark and twisted things in there, but it still seems super fun and happy at the same time.
DC: What does punk mean to you?
RGB: At the essence of punk rock is this idea of doing things your own way and solving your problems in a unique way, and I think we try and do that. We try to evaluate what’s been done before but also know that the solution for us may not be the norm.
MC: Musically, punk to me is a faster version of doo-wop and rockabilly, the early punk down was just super stripped-down versions of that. They were catchy, hooky and grabbed your attention
DC: What is the message that you’re trying to send out?
RGB: I think a lot of our music is about self-actualization and the power of knowing yourself and hearing your inside voice scream as loud as your outside voice can. For example, my parents only feel comfortable with the fact that I live in an urban area because I can do this really loud, shrill sound, like a built-in rape whistle. Since I was a kid, my parents would always say, ‘If you’re in danger, just use your rape whistle!’
MC: Did they actually call it that?
RGB: Yup, since I was a little kid.
MC: Glad I’ve never heard it (laughs).
RGB: But I think that’s kind of a metaphor for our music. What do you have inside you that you can release, and what does it feel like to release it?
Ian Birnam covers music. Contact him at [email protected].