Venus In Furs, a local three-piece punk band, wants to get the Madison scene dancing to its speedy breed of surf-punk. But when the girls came to an interview with The Badger Herald, they were one member short.
“Vic [Victoria Echeverria, the guitarist] can’t make it; she’s doing roller derby in Indiana,” drummer Marlo Dobrient said as she sat down.
It’s no surprise the band members dig the derby – the female-dominated sport is every bit as fast, tough and physical as the band sounds. And while Vic is the only roller, the bassist Natalie Hinckley films the Mad Rollin’ Dolls with her production company, Hinckley Productions.
Needless to say, the girls are busy, which makes it even more necessary to let loose and do the band thing in practice and performing. They see it as a release.
When they hit the stage, it’s a high-energy catharsis for everyone at the venue. For the band and the audience, the physical demand of a show comes close to that of, well, roller derby. Audience engagement takes a high priority.
“It’s all about the show, performance and stage presence,” Marlo said. “We jump around, and Nat’s crazy – all over the place. She’s crowd surfed before with her bass and everything.”
Fan support is always important. But when that support turns physical, like when Nat plays literally on top of the audience, that takes serious rapport. And Venus in Furs’ fan base is expanding, according to Nat and Marlo.
“We hear at these shows quite often people say, ‘I don’t like chick bands, but you guys rock!’ And I think that’s a compliment,” Nat said.
Playing to a packed Frequency last month at the band’s album release show, they were excited and a little surprised with the active crowd presence.
“It was insane,” Marlo said. “There were people there that we didn’t even know who just kind of heard of us and showed up. It made us feel really good.”
The show celebrated the release of the trio’s first album, Welcome to the Club, which dropped in early September. Rotating between disco, dance and surf influences, the songs all have a few things in common: dance-ability, distortion and punk rock.
On the album, they sought to emulate the live energy that fuels them on stage. They recorded all the tracks together live in a basement, rather than recording the instruments individually. While Nat mentioned they could have played better at a few points, perfection wasn’t the goal. What fans see at a show is what they hear on the record.
“We wanted to capture the energy of a live show so you wouldn’t hear the CD and be like, ‘This is really good; really well produced,’ and then you’d go see us and the music is totally different,” Nat said.
It’s easy to slap a girl-punk label on them and group them with bands like Le Tigre or Bikini Kill. But according to Natalie, different comparisons, even in a show’s lineup, emphasize different aspects of Venus in Furs’ sound. Opening for a total surf band, for example, brings out its edginess, while following a heavier punk or metal band makes the sound lighter – a little more “Mr. Rodgers,” according to Marlo.
The album is an archive of where the songs were at the time they recorded them, and there is always room for improvement, they said.
“We kinda tweak things as we get better and change our preferences,” Marlo said. “So we listen to [the album] now and think, ‘Aw man! That’s not as good as we play it now!'”
Welcome to the Club came after two years of the girls playing together. It all started when Marlo and Nat met in 2009.
Marlo had played drums for most of her life, and even tried out for the UW marching band – but the marching and high-stepping weren’t for her. She said she missed the music, though, so when Nat suggested they start a band she was more than ready to jump in.
“I ran into Natalie and she was like, ‘Let’s get together; let’s play,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,'” Marlo said.
But it was one of those cases where you can’t tell just how committed the other person is.
“Then [Nat] was like, ‘No, I’m … serious. I really want to play with you,'” Marlo continued. “I said ‘Yeah … I’m serious too.'”
Simple as that, they started playing together and found guitarist Vic, former baritone sax player for ska band Golgo 13, shortly after. A few months later, in April 2010, they stormed Madison venues, leaving a trail of sweat and ringing ears in their wake.
Now, the top priority for the three musicians is to distribute their album, to make a name and spread it. Hopefully, they said, they’ll be able to set up a regional tour and keep expanding from there: maybe even play at South by Southwest music festival someday.
For the immediate future, however, Venus in Furs has a Halloween show to prepare for.
It’s a rock tribute night at the Crystal Corner Bar, where local bands dress up and play as classic artists. As Nat put it, it’s the only night where it’s cool to be a cover band. Venus In Furs will be masquerading as classic punk rockers The Cramps – their costume from last year as the Misfits (or the Missfits; note the extra “s”) was taken. But it rarely hurts to learn some new material from an old band.
“I think it helps as a musician to learn something you wouldn’t normally listen to or play, to come up with new ideas,” Marlo said.
They aren’t so much worried about learning the songs, which they said are relatively easy. The challenge will be emulating the stage antics of a band whose lead singer once smashed his head through a bass drum during a performance.
If Venus In Furs is able to channel some roller derby aggression to its already wild performances, it shouldn’t be too much of a departure.
If you want to see how Venus In Furs gets down, check it out this Sunday at the Frequency. Tickets are $10, and the show starts at 9 p.m.