Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Q&A with Mandy from Garbo's Daughter
I blogged about Garbo's Daughter last year after I had accidentally stumbled upon their band while doing an interest search on MySpace for "girl groups" (nerd alert). I'm really happy to have discovered them... not only are they awesome, have several releases out on cool record labels (Surfin'Ki, Burger, Florida's Dying), but the singer, Mandy Mullins, is one of the grooviest girls in the pop music scene! I haven't met her in person (yet), but I'm hoping to meet her this summer and possibly record some over-the-top bubblegum jams with her that are so sweet, it will make all the teeth crumble out of your mouth.
After reading her responses to my interview questions, I realized we have more in common than I thought. While I'm not a preacher's kid, I grew up in a super right-wing, conservative, Baptist Christian house, with parents who also wouldn't let me listen to music that wasn't Christian. I eventually figured out a way to lie and tell them the CDs I wanted to buy or the shows I wanted to see were Christian bands. I've had my fair share of Michael W. Smith shoved down my throat. ...and not to be a one-upper to Mandy's Stryper story (cuz it's a real doozy!!), but I went to the same Christian summer camp as AMY GRANT'S KID. Who's the jealous one now??
**Live photos by Dan Savage
K: How did you get into the 60’s/70’s bubblegum sound and what were some of your early pop culture influences growing up?
M: Oh, boy! You are opening a can of worms, Kelly! Haha! I think I’ve always just been such a nerd for nostalgia. Though I’ve been thinking a lot lately that, now as I’m getting older, my love for nostalgia has shifted from “other people’s nostalgia” to my own. Like, I would seriously consider trading all of my 60’s teen magazines for all of the Sassy magazines from 1991-1992. And if I had a time machine and Garbo’s Daughter could play any TV show ever, I would probably more likely choose MTV Spring Break ’92 over Hullabaloo or Shindig. Haha! But my love for 60’s and 70’s music started when I was 15. Remember how ABC started airing commercials for the Beatles Anthology months before it actually started? I can clearly remember seeing the first one and thinking, “Hmm, I think I might check that out.”
But I think I’ll back up for just a second…
I’ve always loved music and TV and movies. Books and dumb magazines, too! I’m a preacher’s kid, so for my earliest years, my parents were pretty strict about what kind of music we were allowed to listen to. My first secular records were Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue and a 12” single of Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” My older sister Sarah and I became big Top 40 fanatics, but we still loved stuff like Amy Grant and Stryper. (I met Stryper at K-Mart when I was 8 and they autographed my jean jacket. JEALOUS?) My older brother Freddy always had amazing records, too, that we would listen to – stuff like T.Rex and The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. I remember The Slider was always at the front of his record stack!
I was (am!) a big TV nerd – definitely a sitcom kid! All of those shows like Full House and Golden Girls are still my favorites. My sister and I also loved any and every movie that had anything to do with music, dancing, and/or gymnastics – Hairspray, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and Dream to Believe were our favorites. I also snuck and watched my brother’s movies like Heathers, Track 29, Wild at Heart (not the best movie for an 11 year old!!), and River’s Edge.
Growing up, I really idolized my brother Freddy (I still do!). One fateful evening in 1992 (I was 12 years old), I decided to sneak into my his room and nab some of his tapes. I grabbed stuff like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. and Violent Femmes. I listened to them all night. The next morning, I decided to borrow his Dinosaur Jr. tee shirt to wear to school (it was purple with the cow design on it!). I know this next bit is going to sound sooooo dumb, but it was a total turning point in my young life: I was walking down the main hallway of Cypress Lake Middle School in that tee shirt and behind me, someone shouted, “DINOSAUR JR. RULES!” I turned around to see the cutest boy I had ever seen in my whole life. He was wearing a Sonic Youth tee shirt and he smiled at me. I swear, everything went into soft focus and “Dreamweaver” started playing from somewhere on high. And at that moment, my fate was sealed: I wanted to be a rock and roll girl. (For the record, that boy’s name was Steve Wood and he was one year ahead of me. I spent my entire 7th grade year terrified of speaking to him or even making eye contact, I’ve always been so shy! But my sister Sarah was in his grade and was friends with him, so I was able to spend one glorious afternoon with him that summer when we were on vacation at Ft. Myers Beach. He talked me into smoking a cigarette and he gave me the X-Men trading card that came with his Cracker Jacks - it was Wolverine and I still have it tucked away in one of my old diaries! Also, he drank a Clear Pepsi…just to really date this story, haha!)
Through my brother, I learned about so many bands. I remember the first mixtape he made for me. It had so much awesome music on it! It opened with “Neat Neat Neat” and “Brand New Rose” by The Damned. Talk about a double whammy, dang! Also, Freddy gave me Juliana Hatfield’s Hey Babe tape for Christmas ’92 and to say that I loved that record would be the biggest understatement ever! I remember some magazine calling Juliana Hatfield “the queen of unrequited love songs” and I actually think that I may have somehow cursed myself into nabbing that title from her by listening to that album so dang much! Haha!
So when I was 12 and 13, I constantly read about music and tried to learn all that I could. Sassy magazine was like The Bible to me at the time, and I learned about girl bands like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. When I was 13, I started to get really into all of that kind of stuff, buying lots of 7” records from Kill Rock Stars and K Records and labels like that. I remember this amazing record distributor called Septophilia that was run by two sisters. I would spend every single penny of my allowance getting as many records from them as I possibly could! I was mostly into girl bands, especially bands like Heavenly and Mambo Taxi and Slant 6 - so many I can’t even remember now in my elderly age, haha! I also loved all of the amazing fanzines going on at the time! I had 2 different fanzines when I was 14 and 15. It changed my life big time to be able to get in touch with other girls my age who were into music. Between all of the record mail-ordering and fanzines, I lived to get the mail back then!
I also began to get really into old movies, particularly from the 20’s and 30’s. I loved Greta Garbo (naturally!), Jean Harlow, Clara Bow, Myrna Loy, all of those great actresses. Nostalgia strikes again! (I eventually became a little annoying know-it-all about all kinds of film – especially silent movies and British films of the 60’s and 70’s. And Woody Allen!)
So I guess that brings us back around to 1995 when I started to see those Beatles commercials. At first, I was casually thinking, “Oh yeah, I’ll check that out.” But as the advertisements became more frequent, something just took over my brain and I could not wait until that the night when the first part of the Anthology aired. I just remember sitting there minutes before it began, thinking, “Why the heck is my heart beating so fast? Why am I sweating? What is wrong with me?!” Two hours later, my whole world had been turned upside down. I lived and breathed The Beatles for a good solid year – it was insane! They were everywhere I turned, it was like magic! And I was madly in love. Naturally, I wanted to learn about other bands from the 60’s, too. So by the time I was 16 and 17, I was really getting into buying old records. Bubblegum was a natural favorite for me – I love anything that makes me smile and sing along! It was quite a while until I learned about the more obscure bubblegum stuff, but I definitely kicked things off at that time.
K: Were you in any other bands before Garbo’s Daughter?
M: Yes! I received a guitar for my high school graduation present and started a band with my friends Evi, Whit, and John called The Bang Bang Bang Society. We had lots of fun together! I guess you could describe us as psychedelic pop, mainly because Evi played with her flanger pedal on AT ALL TIMES! Haha! We always wore crazy matching outfits and had really nutty stage antics. Evi built a 6-foot tall rocket ship out of chicken wire and aluminum – it had windows and blinking lights and everything! We made picket signs with silly slogans on them that our friends would carry around. We also made about a dozen or so baby dolls with matching outfits that we gave away at our first show. Oh, and we ripped off John’s Children and threw around pillowcases full of feathers! We were together for about 4 months, from August to December of 1999, and recorded 10 songs together before John moved to Boston. I’ve since kinda lost touch with Evi, but Whit and John are still two of my dearest friends. Whit even played piano on and recorded the earliest Garbo’s Daughter songs and will be recording our 7” this weekend!
A while after that, I started playing music with my friend Jason (who is currently playing with Nobunny!). Jason was a longtime friend of my brother Freddy. I got a drumkit when I was 15 and my brother kinda “borrowed” it when I was 17 (I just got it back officially last year!). Jason had used my drumkit for quite a while. On my 21st birthday, he offered to record some songs for me as a thank you for letting him use my kit. We recorded one song and it came out great and so we decided to keep going. We played a bunch of shows as a two-piece and later with our friend Travis on bass. Travis also released all of the recordings that Jason and I made on his label Go Zombie! Records in 2004. All of those songs are going to be re-released on a cassette for Burger Records later this year! When Jason moved in late 2002, my buddy Mikey took over for him, and my friend Brian eventually joined us on drums. That was a really fun time! Our friend Kyle dubbed us Mandy & the Seducers! I played my last show with those awesome guys in early 2003.
Then it was about another four years before Garbo’s Daughter started.
K: How did you come up with your band name?
M: There is a great song called “Motorboat” that Kim Fowley wrote and recorded under the name Jimmy Jukebox. Steven McDonald of Redd Kross covered the song on his solo EP from 2003 and that was the first time I had heard it. There is a line in the song that goes, “Hey babe, can you float on water/You move like Garbo’s daughter.” The second I heard that line, I was like, “Oh, man! That would be a great band name!” So I held onto it for a few years until the band started in late summer of 2007.
K: Who are some of musicians that have influenced you the most and why?
M: It’s kinda hard to pick out “influences,” because really EVERYTHING is an influence when you think about it. But some of my big favorites are:
Paul McCartney - I love Paul! I am definitely not an argumentative person, but I challenge any anti-Paul people to get into a discussion with me about him. I defend him like a warrior, haha! He has written some of the most amazing songs in the history of the planet (both with John and without). If anyone disses him, I just say, “Go listen to Ram. Just SHUT UP and go listen to Ram!” Haha!
Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry – Talk about a dream team! They made so many amazing records together (and so many even after they parted ways). I love Ellie so much, she is my hero of heroes! Her solo album from 1968 Composes, Produces, and Sings is one of my all-time favorites. And honestly, like 99.9999% of the time, if I look at the sleeve or label of an album that I really love, Jeff’s name is on there somewhere!
Joey Levine – What can’t this guy do? He has the most amazing voice ever and he wrote, um, like EVERY single awesome song ever, haha! And all when he was so young! Then he went on to write some of the most famous jingles ever! “Sometimes you feel like a nut”…truer words were never spoken.
The Ramones – DUH. DER. DOY. The Ramones rule, enough said.
Twinkle – Twinkle is my homegirl. Her songs are so amazing and so heartfelt and beautiful and personal. I know that she is best known for her early hits like “Terry” and “Golden Lights” (which are both totally amazing, of course!), but her shelved 1974 album Michael Hannah is probably my favorite record ever. It’s so touching and beautiful and sad. I have listened to it a bajillion times and it still touches me heart and gets the waterworks going every single time.
Lori Burton – Lori and her writing partner Pam Sawyer wrote tons of amazing songs like “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” “Try and Understand,” and the legendary “Nightmare” by The Whyte Boots. Lori released her own solo album in 1968 called Breakout and it is all killer, no filler! Her voice is so soaring and soulful and passionate. I just love her! I recently learned that she had a Facebook page and when I saw it, I totally got goosebumps! I wrote to her and she was so incredibly nice! I actually cried when she wrote me back, I was so happy! (Nerd!)
Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour – Dream boat city times two, holy moley! I absolutely love both Dwight Twilley Band albums – Dwight’s songs are so incredible and the way that he and Phil sang together and played together was just magical (and Bill Pitcock IV, too!). I loooove hearing those two sing together! Suh-woooon. I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on tons of crazy rarities of theirs, both from the Dwight Twilley Band era and before that, when they were called Oister. Oh my gosh, those early recordings are so amazing! I love those guys so much!
Lou Christie – Oh, wow! What a weirdo! I love Lou Christie! His writing partner Twyla Herbert was like 30 years older than him and a self-proclaimed gypsy, mystic, and psychic. How amazing is that? They wrote the coolest songs…mainly about the summertime and about gypsies and stuff! I love Lou’s crazy voice and when he had the Tammys backing him – whoa, look out! And all of the songs he and Twyla wrote for the Tammys are incredible, too.
K: Garbo’s Daughter used to be an all-girls band up until semi-recently when there was a line-up change. Tell us about the new members!
M: I feel super-lucky to be playing music with two of the greatest guys in the U.S.A.! Rich Evans plays drums and Zac Jaggers plays bass. I’ve known Rich for almost 10 years and he is, without a doubt, the coolest guy you will ever meet. He is a true-blue rock & roller and a great friend. Rich also plays drums with Slippery Slopes and Hungry Gayze. And he runs the amazing Floridas Dying record label and owns the coolest record shop in Orlando, Vinyl Richie’s Wiggly World of Records. I met Zac back in February when his band Telethon played with my friend Jenny’s band. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and a really awesome musician. Both of the guys also sing back-up vocals and they are AMAZING! I have always wanted to have girl-boy vocals and Rich and Zac just go for it 110% and they sound so flipping awesome! Every time we play together and they’re vocals kick in, I just grin from ear-to-ear because they sound so great! It just tickles me pink every single time!
I love these guys dearly. They are both just so talented and sweet and so much fun to play music with and spend time with. I feel really blessed to have them as bandmates and doubly blessed to have them as friends, too.
K: What kind of guitar do you currently play and what’s your dream guitar?
M: I am the worst ever when it comes to knowing about which guitar is which! To be totally honest, I have never been super-passionate about playing guitar. I think I’ve always just seen it as something that I do because I write songs. But my dream is to be in a band where I can just sing and write the songs and have a totally awesome guitarist to play for me. I know that sounds so lame! I wish I was a stronger guitar player, and I think I’ve definitely become better over the past year or so, but it’s still not something I get the hots for. As far as dream guitars go, I usually just pick by color. LAME, I know! Right now I am playing “the pink one.”
K: I love your cover of Private Party by The Nightingales which was featured on a Girls in the Garage compilation LP. What are some other songs you’ve covered and what songs would you like to cover in the future?
M: Thanks so much! I’m glad you like that cover, it was always super fun to play! Right now we do a cover of “Two Faces Have I” by Lou Christie. It’s so much fun to play and sing! In the earlier Garbo’s Daughter days, we covered “Give Him a Great Big Kiss,” “When Christine Comes Around” by Grudge (super creepy weirdo song!), “Part of Growing Up” by The Tammys (Kristin sang killer leads on that one!), The Crystals’ “Oh Yeah Maybe Baby,” “Let’s Dance,” 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “When We Get Married” (we played two wedding shows!), and probably a couple more that I’m forgetting!
I love playing covers and I could probably make you a list a million miles long of all of the songs I’ve thought would be really fun to play! I want to cover EVERY song, haha! My friend Sam recently suggested we cover “Dumb Head” by Ginny Arnell. I had never heard the song until he told me about it, and it’s so great! I think it would be a really fun one. Some others I would love to learn: “Sweet Magic” by Rock Candy Mountain, every Ronettes song, “Big Bad World” or “Mr. Heartbreak” by Cathy Saint, “I Can Tell” by Reparata & the Delrons, “All You Gotta Do” by Solid Gold Band, “Caroline” by Twinkle, and “2 EZ 2 LUV U” by Thee Makeout Party.
K: I carry around a record want list in my wallet for emergencies. What are some records you’re dying to have but haven’t found (yet)?
M: That’s a great idea, Kelly! I always try to make a list before record conventions. It never fails that you walk into a record shop or a convention and your mind instantly just goes totally blank! I would love to have a complete Joey Levine 45 collection! I want the Bohanna 45 so bad and his first one (under the name Joey Edwards). He has so many and they’re all under different names, but I wish I had every single one of them! Same thing with Ellie Greenwich’s early singles, I want all of those. I have one Twinkle 45 (“Micky”/”Darby & Joan”), but I wish I had all of hers, too! I think I just jinxed myself because I know I could list a million records, and yet I cannot think of anything right now! My mind is totally blanking out on me! Argh! I do need to make a list and keep it with me at all times!! I am super-thankful for the internet and for all of the cool buddies I’ve had over the years who have made me zillions of mix tapes and mix CDs and shared mp3s with me. I wish I could wave a magic wand and every single super-obscure mp3 I’ve ever heard would appear before me in its original vinyl form.
K: This is a tough decision for me because on one had David Cassidy was SO dreamy and they had some really catchy tunes, BUT Crazy Horses is so mind blowing and can override most songs from either party due to its serious ass kicking. What’s a girl to do? I’m gonna make you pick, Mandy!!! The Partridge Family or The Osmonds? And WHY?
M: Oh my god, THE OSMONDS! Hands down! You are so right, “Crazy Horses” just rules the planet, doesn’t it? Funny you mention it, because our mutual friend Cathy De La Cruz was the first person to introduce me to that song via an awesome mix CD she made for me years and years ago. I remember that she wrote right next to the title of the song, “Why does this crazy song even exist?!” Haha! It’s one of those songs that you feel privileged to play for someone who has never heard it. Like, “Dude, have you heard Crazy Horses? No? Oh, man! Well, get ready to have your MIND BLOWN!” A couple of years ago, I had this HUGE crush on this guy and we were on the phone one night and I mentioned “Crazy Horses” to him and he interrupted me and started SINGING the guitar solo! Haha! I was like, “Oh my gosh, I AM IN LOVE.” I love the Partridge Family, too, but they just can’t hold a candle to The Osmonds. Also, I think I’m more partial to Shaun Cassidy than David Cassidy. I mean, he covered Eric Carmen songs and made a record with Todd Rundgren! I keep hoping that recordings of Shaun’s first band Longfellow somehow surface…and that they are amazing. Judging by photographs of Shaun from that time (when he was 15, yipes!), I expect nothing less than ABSOLUTE BRILLIANCE! Haha!
K: I know you’ve done several podcasts. Where can we hear them?
M: I’ve made a nice handful of podcast for the awesome Popshifter online magazine, all with former Garbo’s Daughter bass player Jaime (former GD drummer Kristin is on a couple of them, as well!). We always have such a blast making those podcasts! It’s like having a fun radio show. My friend Leslie is the editor of Popshifter and she is one of the coolest and nicest people in the whole world! You can find them all at www.popshifter.com.
K: What can fans expect in the future? New releases? Maybe a cute music video? We Want more!
M: We are recording a 7” for the awesome Italian label Surfin’Ki Records this weekend! I’m really excited about it! We’ll be recording 3 songs – “Mascara Stains On My Pillowcase,” our cover of “Two Faces Have I,” and “He’s Good at Everything (But Being Good To Me).” Eventually, we will be recording a full-length for Burger Records, too! We are planning on going out to California for a little mini-tour in October, too, which I am beyond stoked about! Stay tuned, there are lots of fun things coming down the line!