Photo: Peter Anderson

On Fri., Sept. 9, the heavy violin and drum duo known as Cicadas will join the female-fronted retro garage pop group The 321s at Urban Lounge for SLUG’s Localized. Shoegaze indie band The Saintanne opens the show. As always, Localized is 21+ and only $5.

by Andrew Roy

Rebecca Vernon - Drums
Kim Pack - Violin, orchestration, noise, pedals, loops 

Let’s have a quick lesson. Today’s subject? Cicadas. You may have never had the pleasure of hearing, let alone seeing them, but if you have, they are tough to forget. Each species has its own specific “song” that they “sing” (buzz). They have been known to hide underground for up to 17 years before coming up for a few months to find a mate, then live out the rest of their lives in the trees. When they finally emerge from the dark, silent depths of the earth, they are tough to miss. They have been known to bite on occasion, and they can produce sounds up to 120 decibels, which can cause permanent hearing damage at close range.

But, enough about Kim Pack and Rebecca Vernon.
Levity aside, the relationship between cicadas and Cicadas isn’t a stretch. A group of cicadas in a tree can sound a lot like a violin going through a stack of fuzz-ridden amplifiers, but the irksome insects do this simply to attract mates, never taking the time to utilize their buzzing in a creative way—lazy locusts.

The sound of Pack’s brainchild, Cicadas, reaches infinitely beyond making noise for noise’s sake. “This is something that I’ve wanted to do for years, but I’ve always said ‘someday I’ll do it,’” says Pack. One fateful day after a Subrosa practice, Pack was messing around with her various pedals, manipulating the sounds in ways that turn her violin into a noise-making behemoth, when Vernon jumped on drums. “She just started playing these really solid, loud, straightforward beats and I kind of freaked out,” says Pack. “After about 20 minutes of this, I looked at Rebecca and said, ‘You are the one. This is going to happen now. It has to.’” Pack’s brainchild had a twin.

So, what does Cicadas sound like? “I play violin, and Rebecca plays drums,” Pack says flatly, too humble to brag. This description, over-simplified as it is, makes Vernon sit up straight to give a more adequate explanation. “It sounds like anvils dropping from the sky, falling on cows and baby grand pianos,” she says. “It’s bassy, loud and heavy, but sort of noise-electronica as well. And it’s all violin, and the loops Kim creates, and the frequencies she plays with.”

Initially, they were just experimenting with sounds. Pack would record ideas on her phone, then listen to them over and over again. The two of them would work to piece sections together, slowly building an actual set they could play live. When word got out about their project, their friend (and pseudo third Cicada) Jesse Cassar worked it out for them to spend a week in July touring the northwest with Loom. This was the perfect opportunity to see if these Cicadas could fly. “I almost backed out because I was too scared,” says Pack. “The tour ended up being one of the best weeks of our lives,” says Vernon.

Talking with these two, you’d think they were either sisters, or childhood BFFs. However, they only met about two-and-a-half years ago. During that time, they have developed a musical chemistry suitable for a two-piece band—an intimidating endeavor, especially after sharing the stage with three or four other musicians in other projects. “With just the two of us [on stage] it feels so completely exposed,” says Pack. They’ve learned that without a vocalist, they can actually share the spotlight on stage. While Pack wows the crowd with her fresh, one-of-a-kind violin virtuosity, Vernon will throw in a drum solo here and there to break things up a bit and get the crowd more involved in the performance.

“I play big, chunky, funky drums,” says Vernon. She keeps it straightforward, but makes sure to add diversity to the rhythms they explore. She’ll move from rock beats to party drums, death drums to Gene Krupa beats, all in the name of keeping themselves interested in what they are doing—and they are totally open to musical evolution. “This band could turn into dance music, or a mariachi band, or we could just play dark Ke$ha covers,” says Pack. The point is that they are making music that they want to listen to, without the pressure of worrying about how big the Cicadas fan club gets.

They are currently troubleshooting their way into the studio to capture the mammoth sounds they create live, which is tougher than it sounds. “We thought about doing things like they did in the 1920s where if you wanted to hear the music, you needed to see it live,” says Vernon. But, rest assured that recordings will come. They have plans to head to the studio before the end of the year. In the meantime, watch out for their live shows where you can see these two masked maestros make more noise than a thunderstorm in a megaphone factory. Prepare yourselves for the Cicadas’ buzz.

The 321s
by Jeanette D. Moses

Kris Fenn – Vocals
Christopher Stevenson – Guitar
Liam Hesselbein – Bass
Tyler Ford – Drums

The 321s play sugary sweet retro pop music that calls to mind doo-wop groups of the ’50s and ’60s. Fronted by the lovely Kris Fenn, you’d never guess that up until approximately six months ago, the last time she sang in front of an audience was during a fourth grade Christmas pageant. “My parents bribed me,” she says regarding the pageant.

The 321s formed in March 2011 and played their first show at the Main Library as part of their Music at Main concert series at the end of June. Although Fenn lost her “band virginity” with The 321s, the other members have played in local groups like The Annuals, Blue Sunshine Soul, The Heaters and Calico.

The initial idea for The 321s actually came from a botched Heaters reunion—of which Hesselbein and Stevenson were both members. “We thought [the reunion] was fun, so we thought, let’s do that again,” says Hesselbein. He recruited Ford to play the drums and the group practiced once before the original singer of The Heaters, Joe Denhalter, decided to move to Seattle. At the time, Stevenson and Fenn had been toying around with some acoustic songs for about a year. “It just became more and more apparent how well Kris could sing—never having been in a band before—it was really awesome,” says Hesselbein. Everyone in the band agrees that it is Fenn’s addition as a female vocalist that makes The 321s what they are. “It made the band worth doing,” Stevenson says bluntly. Hesselbein adds that he doesn’t think they would be able to pull off the songs with a male singer. “You could do it, but it’d just be, ‘Oh there’s some band.’ This is what makes it special,” Ford says.

Stevenson does the songwriting and The 321s’ songs focus almost entirely on falling in love, losing love or looking for love. “Most songs that I tend to write are usually kind of sad and heartbroken,” says Stevenson. “It’s perfect for this genre of music—the doo-wop and girl groups. That’s what all of the great old songs are about.” Although the songs may be written about seemingly sad topics, Fenn’s soulful voice makes “My Baby’s Gone” shimmer sweetly and “Animal For Your Love” pop in all the right places.

Part of The 321s’ success is their willingness to shed any negative preconceptions about pop music. “All the bands that I’ve been in were kind of afraid of grabbing pop and giving it a hug and maybe even giving it a hickey—because that’s what you do with pop,” says Ford. Although Fenn might be the only “newbie” in the band, the creation of The 321s marks the first time that every member has cuddled up so closely to the infectious melodies of the genre. “I’ve been a pop whore my whole life. I like a good melody. I don’t care what kind of music it is,” Stevenson says.

The music’s enjoyable vibe permeates the group. “It’s nice to have a fun band when you’ve been in some more serious-music bands. It sounds fun and he’s so funny,” Hesselbein says as he gestures towards Ford.  Ford adds, “With this band, people don’t leave band practice with a headache. Well, we do when we drink way too much while we’re practicing.”

Not surprisingly, Fenn’s freshness to the world of playing music makes it fun for the other members, too. “I feel like I’m almost experiencing being in a band vicariously through [Kris] and her virginity of being in a band,” says Ford.

Although The 321s have yet to release any official recordings—after all, they’ve only been playing shows for three months—you can download tracks for free on their facebook page, facebook.com/the321s.  Check them out Sept. 9 at Urban Lounge with Cicadas and openers The Saintanne.

Photo: Peter Anderson Photos: Sam Milianta