Hanging out with Girls in Suede at a local taqueria is, like the band’s music, quite an adventure.
Over the course of an hour, our discussion hits on UFO sightings, Korn, hot tubs, midwives, Anthony Kiedis as Lord of the “Chups,” smooth jazz, Nigerian charter schools, YouTube wormholes, Ariel Pink, shopping for earrings at Claire’s and picking avocados with Tom Petty’s daughter. It’s a mirror of the devil-may-care attitude that pours through the band’s music, evident in the sly, rhythmic pop on their new self-titled album, Girls in Suede.
“A lot of our music is born out of being goofy and zany,” says guitarist and singer Nikos Flaherty-Laub. Though a little wild, Girls in Suede have spent the last couple of years working to develop three-part harmony skills and building on already sturdy songwriting abilities. It’s a step forward musically for a band that started playing while still juniors at Montgomery and Santa Rosa high schools, then took a five-year hiatus, only to reunite at the urging of drummer Eden Mazzola.
“It had a ‘going back home’ feeling,” says Flaherty-Laub. “When we got back together again, it just started up pretty naturally.” At the time, Flaherty-Laub was living in Los Angeles, but the band held epic, weekend-long practices until he returned to Northern California.
Still, Girls in Suede faced an obstacle beyond distance when second guitarist Dominic Agius passed away on Valentine’s Day 2011. Shocked and in mourning, the band had to make a decision whether to keep going. Eventually, the three remaining members decided to stay together. They bought a Roland PK-5, nicknamed “the Pickle,” an electronic contraption that holds down the low end while bassist Alexis Faulkner lets loose on the saxophone, an instrument not often seen in Sonoma County indie rock bands.
The new album was recorded at the home of Mazzola’s mom’s boyfriend, and without time limits, they were able to experiment. “It was a brilliant experience to remove the clock,” says Mazzola. “We got to add so many different things.”
Regarding influences, Mazzola and Flaherty-Laub agree that guitarist John Frusciante is an inspiration. Today, Flaherty-Laub is carrying around a copy of David Byrne’s book How Music Works in his backpack. Like Byrne’s band Talking Heads, Girls in Suede eschew genre while still maintaining a sense of melody. It’s a sound that’s changed since the days of being a high school garage band, when a tune might be crammed with multiple parts and few obvious melodic connections, and a turn toward “groove and beauty,” says Mazzola.
“They’re not so much Frankenstein songs anymore,” he adds. “We were more klezmer back in the day.”