This week Clabbergirl, one of Cincinnati's prime Power Pop trios, releases their debut album, I Feel Pretty. The long-awaited album has been in the works since January by the tuneful trio, who formed in 1995.
Sean Rhiney (bassist/lead singer) met Brian Halloran (drummer) in law school. They met Al Valvano (guitarist/singer) at a psychodots show and soon after the three collaborated to form Clabbergirl. The trio says that there wasn't much thought into figuring out what the group's name would be.
"The three of us were drinking at a bar one night, and I just saw it on a sign on the wall ... Clabbergirl," Rhiney says (Clabbergirl is a brand of baking powder). "And it has worked for us ever since."
Clabbergirl had its previous recorded efforts documented by four appearances on local Modern Rock station WOXY's 97Xposure compilations (1995's "Happy Again," 1996's "Missing Ramona," 1997's "Be Around," and 2000's "Wait"). In addition, the band released the five-song EP Sinkhole in 1998 and a Christmas single in 1999.
Since then, the band has appeared at Popopolis 2000, the Our Music fest in 1999 and the Indie Pop Overthrow in Indianapolis, as well numerous gigs with some of Cincinnati's best Pop Rock acts including Promenade, Crosley, Saving Ray, Gravy 8 and the Simpletons.
Recorded and mixed between January and August of 2001 at Covington's Backstage Studios, I Feel Pretty consists of 13 tracks ranging from Power Pop gems like "Wait" and "That Girl," to more subtle arrangements like "Fly" and "Would It Matter." Some of Cincinnati's finest musicians, including respected songwriters Mark Messerly and Brian Ewing, offer graceful touches of mandolin, accordion, viola and harmonica to the album. Other special guests include fellow Pop songwriters Bill Donabedian (Crosley) and Eric Diedrichs (Simpletons) who lend their harmonious vocals to "Fly."
"With this album," Rhiney says, "we attempted to rise above the sound of just three boys making noise and give new life to some of (our) previous Pop Rock compositions. Playing live tends to be local, sloppy and one dimensional, but with the recording we wanted to make it sound good."
While several of the album's tracks date back nearly two years, close to a third of the album resulted from a songwriting burst in February of this year. The occasion? A weekly songwriter challenge hosted by the Simpletons' Eric Diedrichs at Allyn's Café. The process of writing songs week in and week out by Rhiney, resulted in four new tracks for the slated release.
"Key influences on the album came right from our backyards," Rhiney says. "They are the guys that we play with: Crosley, Rockets to Mars, Ass Ponys and Guided by Voices. Songwriting here in Cincinnati has definitely gone up a notch, and the music scene in Cincinnati is thriving with talent."
Since the group's formation, they have had to sacrifice practice time due to Valvano's move to Indianapolis. But the quality of their sound has remained strong and true.
The idea for the album cover and title came from the movie Blue Velvet, starring Isabella Rossellini. The cover, which resembles Rossellini, exemplifies a woman with fair skin, blue eyelids and red lips. The damaged beauty portrays the saying, "I look pretty, but I don't feel pretty."
"The album covers a broad spectrum of my life," Rhiney says. "The 13 tracks on I Feel Pretty catalog the thoughts and feelings, both pretty and ugly, that accompany loss, longing and starting over. This is the hardest thing that I have ever done because the work is really personal. It is what it is; experienced, seen and felt."
CLABBERGIRL's CD release party is Saturday at The Mad Frog.