"In the beginning, Melissa and I would just sit and play acoustic guitars," remembers Jane McBrain, on the origin of her Fairmount Girls. "And then we'd look at catalogs!"
On the eve of their second CD release, this band of merry shoppers is laughing about how little has changed. The band, though, during its sensational five year run, has seen almost constant change, all the while winning thousands of fans, here and in surrounding cities. They have done so by mixing increasingly impressive music with an infectious flair for having fun.
The Fairmount Girls have certainly been embraced in Cincinnati. Their shows are well attended and anticipation for their second full length, Tender Trap, has been building.
So was all of this success part of the design? Not exactly.
"The original idea was for us to start something where we could each try a new instrument," explains Jane.
"I moved from bass to guitar, Melissa (Fairmount) switched from guitar to organ/xylophone, and Dana (Hamblen), from bass to drums."
The three teamed with veteran bassist Marnie Greenholz in what was the first of many FGs' line-ups. Not convinced she could get enough Rock out of her one-stringed guitar stylings, Jane pushed for the creation of a fifth Fairmount Girl slot, which was then filled by a man, repeatedly. Tim Davison of Schwah was first, then Hooter (Jason Hounshell) was next, followed by current FG boy, Chris Schadler, who has done the most to perfect the role. So where did bassist/guitarist/vocalist Eva Destruction come in?
"She snuck in!" laughs Dana.
"Actually she filled in for Jane (who'd departed on 'maternity leave')," Melissa chimes in. She and Dana together offer a braided explanation: "She did Jane's parts, then Hooter's ... she basically learned everyone's parts. She was the only one who was always on time, and she's definitely the rockin'-est bass player."
With Eva Destruction and Chris Shadler in place for nearly three years now, the FGs have enjoyed their most stable line-up to date. Another change looms, however, as Donna Snake-Puncher readies to sub for Ms. McBrain, who invokes her second maternity leave later in July. Still, the prolonged stretch together has seen the Fairmount process refined. Schadler brings a range of different attacks that ups the musical ante, and seems to blend especially well with opposite guitarist, Jane.
"I don't know if it's the time we've accumulated or something in our personalities," Jane says, "but we seem to have an easy time playing together."
"It's the consistency," Melissa continues. "We know what to expect from one another. It affects the songwriting, how we order ..."
She's, of course, referring to what hell can be simulated, from the waitress' point of view, when a zoned-in troupe of Fairmount Girls decide to make her section their tea party. Which is uniquely them, these people have as much fun ordering, catalog shopping, deciding which boots to wear, as most people have on New Year's Eve.
Their themes are always dynamite. To keep individual shows special in their own right, the girls frequently select a fashion reference point to rally around. They've done sherbet-colored suits, flight attendant unis, space-age hairdos, garbage bag/tape dresses and loads more.
But to portray the band as a Josie and The Pussycats thing, however, would do them and their music a great disservice. As infectious as some of their tunes are, this is by no means bubble-gum. The music can be quite raw, as Dana and Eva combine to provide one of the most urgent sounding rhythm sections in the city. The apparent shoddiness of the band's gear not only contributes to their garage band sound, but also suggests that each tune could be their last. Through the rumble-and-squawk strain bare voices — not the voices of angels, or teenyboppers, but the voices of real women. Sometimes that's all you hear, like the first time I heard them do "Elbow Scrapes," a song where the dual lead voices courageously soar above the minimal accompaniment to stirring effect. It's also the case with the smash from their debut, Eleven Minutes to Anywhere, "1-900-FAIRMOUNT," when the question, "Why can't we just learn to get along?" is begged repeatedly.
A striking feature of the Fairmount Girls song list is the variety and scope of things they attempt. Keep in mind that, with the exception of Chris, everyone has learned a new instrument here, and they've learned them by playing with one another. The band has no principal songwriter, and seldom is it the case that anyone shows up at practice with a song ready to go.
"Nine out of ten times, it happens in there," Melissa shrugs as she points toward the playing room at the practice space.
With no clear leader, but with input obviously coming from five directions, it's a working Femocracy (when I announce this new coinage, all three interviewees cross their arms in front of them and clap on their biceps, in unanimous, but strange approval). To have songs as well-written as theirs just magically appear at rehearsal shows, what songwriting chops they possess, and to have five learning musicians craft such disparate vibes, is astonishing. They play sympathetically with one another, which is a quality missing from scads of bands with far superior skills.
The new CD, Tender Trap, shows a great leap forward from its cobbled together predecessor. The current band is featured on each track — the previous album included the work of at least three different lineups — and it was done over a much shorter period of time. The lyrics are better, the recording quality (handled by John Curley) is better and the packaging is perfect. You can get a free copy when the Girls team with new Dayton powerhouse Shesus and local Indie faves Readymaid on Saturday at the Southgate House. The theme is still in the works, but Jane McBrain has long been championing a "Let's Get Physical" motif. ©