B is for Rebecca
After checking out Becky live at L.A.'s infamous Viper Room, I got a chance to sit down with Rebecca Lord, the band's lead singer. Here is what she had to say to me on July 18th, 2003, three full weeks before California caught recall fever and Arnold actually became a viable candidate for governor. Pay close attention to her predictions - they may turn out to be quite prescient. Also note how little of the conversation is about the band's bassist, Keanu Reeves. How did we do it? Journalistic integrity. A commitment to focusing exclusively on the facts. Not being star-fuckers. Hell, I don't know - just check out the interview.
Okay, there's one thing I want to get straight before we go any further. Do you prefer to be called "Rebecca" or "Becky"? I couldn't quite figure it out. And we have to get that right, you know - professionalism and all that.
Becky: Well, my name is Rebecca. I guess ever since the band became Becky, they've kind of renamed me. I prefer to be called Rebecca, but it doesn't really bother me.
I just don't like to piss people off by calling them the wrong name.
Becky: No, no… actually, all my friends call me Becky now too. The band name came up because we couldn't think of one. I had ideas, and no one liked them. It's hard to find a good name! My mom calls me Becky, and I always hated it, but then Robert, the drummer, started calling me Becky, and it became a running joke because I don't like it. Then everyone was like, "That's such a great name!" Our guitarist said, "Well, that's the name for the band, 'Becky.' It's a great name because it's so easy!" So we didn't have another name for our first show, and we just went with that.
It seems like you guys are doing pretty well so far.
Becky: Yeah, we're doing really well. We're playing a showcase next week at SIR. It's this recording studio - it's a really awesome place. It's amazing; it has the most high tech sound system! We're playing there for our label. Yeah, I'd say we're doing pretty well. We're productive. We're actually rehearsing in about 30 minutes.
So far, have you guys been playing shows around the Los Angeles area mostly, or have you toured?
Becky: Yeah, we play the Viper Room mostly. We've played there like four times. We've only played like seven shows - we've been doing a lot of recording. We played the Roxy and the Troubador…
Pretty much playing the Sunset Strip?
Becky: Yeah, but we're gonna get back to playing shows in Silverlake now, that's my goal. We don't go to Hollywood ever, so why go there to play? Plus, it's hard because our friends don't get in, which is a bummer. Our guest list people didn't even get in Monday night. I think we're going to start playing at Silverlake Lounge and Spaceland. I love Spaceland - that's my favorite club. I've never played there, but I've always wanted to.
You're originally from Virginia, is that right?
Becky: Yeah, I'm from Richmond, Virginia, and I went the University of Virginia.
Talk a little bit about how you wound up out here in the La Brea tar pits.
Becky: In the La Brea tar pits?
That's what I call Los Angeles, because it seems to me like once you move here, it's like a revolving door - you might leave, but you'll always come back, and I think it's because the tar pits are right in the center of Los Angeles. It's kind of a metaphor for what happens to people who move here.
Becky: Actually, I lived remarkably close to them. I used to live in the La Brea Park area, so I was about a block from the tar pits.
Oh, wow! So see, my metaphor works!
Becky: Yeah, exactly - it's very fitting. I spent my senior year in Italy, and that's when I decided that I definitely wanted to pursue art as a career, as opposed to academia. I did one of those reality shows, and I was like, "You know what? I have money now, and I'm going to just try to get something going." I moved to New York for a year and a half, and I made a solo record, kind of a pop record. I didn't love it, and I didn't really tour to support it, because I couldn't really have a good live show with that sort of music. It's good - I don't think the songs are bad - it's just not really the type of music I like to perform live, and it's no fun to perform songs you don't like to do live. I didn't have a band, but then I met a woman who was going to manage me. She had managed Jewel, and she lived in Los Angeles. She was like, "Well, it's a lot easier to get things going in L.A.," which I stand by - I do believe that. So I moved to Los Angeles, and I've been here for, I guess, two years now.
Do you like living here?
Becky: Yeah. I mean, I'm an East-coaster at heart, and I always will be, but there are definite advantages to living here. It's cheaper than New York, and there are artists everywhere, especially in Silverlake. Everyone's got some sort of artistic thing, which is cool. People have a really open mind, and different lifestyles. You can really live an alternative lifestyle - not meaning sexually - but you can do a lot that's not generally possible in a lot of areas. You can't really support yourself on the arts anywhere else, unless you're really fortunate. I do well here, and I like it because of the work. Even if (the work) is off and on, it's lucrative when it's on, so it's nice. It's still not my favorite place, but I think it's hard to find a balance between work and home - you can't always be happy in your home and your work. You generally have to find a compromise between the two. I mean, I love my house, and I'm really happy with what I'm doing now. It's about keeping balance, you know? Getting balanced. If I'm feeling out of whack, I go to Maine or something.
Right. To see the trees!
Becky: Yeah, I do that a lot. I go to Northern California all the time, because I'm not a city person in general. I like to be in nature.
Sure. L.A. is kind of just one big parking lot - the cement never ends. So you do have to get away to nature every once in a while.
Becky: And I find that where I live is very healthy, in the sense of just getting away. I live in a Spanish-style house, and it's sort of a compound, with a little garden and a fountain, and it's very isolated. And the neighborhood is very laid-back. The bars are good - I like to go to the more low-key places.
What was the sequence of events that brought you all together?
Becky: I first met Robert in January of 2001 at the gym, which is really funny, because we don't go that often. We just started hanging out, because we were both musicians. So we kind of just got together, and he played keyboards, and I sang, which is fun - we were just screwing around with it. And everyone in our band is a really big hockey player.
Becky: Yeah. So Robert knew Keanu - he was in a band with Keanu called Dogstar for like twelve years. They met through hockey. I guess they both had hockey jerseys on, and they started talking about hockey or something. So we just started writing music, and then one day this goalie came over from a pick-up hockey game that Robert played, and he was a guitarist. We were at the studio in the house, and we just all started playing and singing and stuff. Robert played drums, and Paulie played guitar, and it sounded really interesting. It was a different type of music than I've ever done, but I liked it.
And so Paulie was the goalie, right?
Because he looks like a goalie.
Becky: Well, he's got every personality trait of a goalie. Okay, so Keanu was away - he was in Australia doing the Matrixes - but he came back about four months after we had started jamming, and he just fit like a glove. It was great.
That's cool. So, how does the songwriting process usually work for you guys?
Becky: I write the melodies and the lyrics, and Paulie writes the guitar, Keanu writes the bass - everyone writes their own parts, except that I write the melody.
Which comes first when you write - the chicken or the egg?
Becky: I do them simultaneously. I'll hear something, and then come up with a melody. We're really fast songwriters - I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but we can usually write two or three songs in an evening. Obviously, they're not all going to be perfect, but we've come up with a lot of our favorite songs that way. It's simplistic writing, but I like it. I'm happy with the songs.
I know that most artists hate to be compared to anybody, but I'm going to take a risk here and say that, from what I've heard, I think you have a wide range of vocal styles, all the way from a Hope Sandoval type sweet sound all the way down to a Courtney Love kind of gravelly growl.
Becky: Yeah, I like doing that. I think it's an interesting mix. I think it covers a lot wider range. I actually love being raspy and coarse - I think in my mind, I'm a lot tougher than I actually am. I don't want to be Courtney Love, by any means, but I like the idea of a woman with strength in her vocals - I like that. It's fun. And I like combining that with the sweet thing, because it's not done enough. It's not often done like that. I think it's interesting.
Yeah, I would definitely agree with you. That's one of the things that struck me at the show - I was very taken by the fact that you could move back and forth between those two extremes, as well as a couple of places in between.
Becky: It's hard, but it's actually fun, because it's really kind of an emotional roller-coaster. I don't mean that in a dramatic way, but it's really interesting to delve into that, even as a writer - just going through the gamut of emotions. We have a song now on our second demo called "I Adore You," which I wrote some time ago. It's the only song that we actually play that the band didn't really write all together. Well, I guess Paulie added some stuff, but almost all of it was written beforehand. I remember when we were recording it, it just kind of shifted. It was a love song, and it became really dark. It's really hard to perform a sappy love song live - it's just like "yuck, jeez!" But then you can make it really interesting by adding a different element. So you have the guy die in the bridge or something, so there's more of a dichotomy, and it's not so cookie cutter - you can be raspy and like "AAAH!" and the rage comes out. I think it's just a matter of choice. But I like that angsty feeling - I think a lot of people feel like that. I don't know. I guess I like the dark side.
Talk for just a few minutes about your experiences singing, from when you started singing to when you started taking it seriously to today.
Becky: Well, I sang in high school, and I loved it. I've always loved singing. My brother used to punch me all the time to shut me up. I sang in college a little bit. I think my influences have been any guitarist that's been around me, because I just kind of followed them with writing - if they played something a certain way, I would write songs over that. So if they played folky stuff, I'd write more folky stuff. And I think that was generally my influence until I really came into my own, like "Okay, this is what I like, this is what I want." But it takes years to figure out what your thing is, and I still haven't fully found out what my thing is. At first it was kind of folky, and then after that I moved to Italy, and it got a lot more poppy. Uh, not really comfortable performing the poppy or the folky. Then I started doing more solo stuff, but not really loving it. Then when I started doing the more aggressive rock stuff, I loved it! It was like getting into a warm bath - it was like "Aaah, this is nice!" All of a sudden, I was able to perform better and I was more confident. I felt like we had more depth, because it wasn't so predictable.
To kind of follow up a little bit on that earlier Courtney Love/Hole comparison… thank you, by the way, for being so gracious about that. I know most people, even if they don't mind being compared to other artists, if you're not a huge Courtney Love fan it may not be the best thing to hear…
Becky: Oh, I don't mind. I don't really know her at all. I know that she's sort of an exhibitionist, and that's definitely not what I'm going for. But I don't mind comparisons; it's always interesting.
It sounds to me like a lot of the stuff that you guys have written so far - at least the stuff I've heard - has a pretty solid connection to a punk sound, and a lot of the riffs remind me of early Hole stuff, especially with those power-pop chords. Can you pinpoint the origin of that punk influence? I mean, I can hear it, and if I'm wrong you can tell me. Are you guys all pretty big fans of punk?
Becky: Oh, I love punk music. Robert's not as much… but he loves the Clash. Paulie - it's kind of funny, because a lot of the bands he loves, I'm not really into - loves Blink 182 and Green Day. But I love the Kinks. And I feel like a lot of the things we do have a good Kinks-ish sound. I love the Sex Pistols, and the Clash, and I like a lot of the mod bands. I love Joy Division. And Keanu has remarkably similar tastes to mine - almost identical, which is cool, because his melodies inspire a lot of my writing. He's a really gifted melodic writer, and he writes a lot of melancholy stuff that I love, and it's an interesting marriage with all these pop chords. But all of our influences are very similar.
I was going to say, too, you've got the harder, faster songs, and then there are songs like "Evangeline" that are a lot more mellow…
Becky: See, that's more like what I used to do - more slow songs. But I've tried to put something into all those mellow songs that's more angsty, and I've tried to develop them more. And I used to be so tentative about playing those. The show you saw had more slow songs… we'd never played slow songs in a show. We just hadn't done it yet. And we just took it and experimented to see if it would work. I don't know if it did, because I'm not in the crowd, but it's interesting. Usually, Keanu and I are vehemently opposed to playing them, because it brings everything down a lot. But Robert and Paulie are fans of doing something a little more dramatic. I just try to put some power behind them. I like slow songs - I usually just like to listen to them, not necessarily to play them. But there are some songs - like "Evangeline," which was inspired by a woman that passed away this year - that I love, you know. And so when I sing that, I don't really mind, because on some level it doesn't bore me. We're all over the place with that, but I think that's okay, because it all comes together at some level.
Keanu's obviously an actor in addition to being the bassist for Becky, and I understand that Robert is an actor as well. In fact, at the show, I recognized Robert from an episode of Melrose Place, believe it or not.
Becky: Oh yeah? He probably did do one of those, I have no idea.
Are you an actor as well?
Becky: No, I'm not. Well, I did one reality show, but I don't consider myself an actor, by any means.
I meant to ask you - which reality show did you do?
Becky: I did "Real World Seattle" and the "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" or something like that.
What about Paulie?
Becky: No, he's not an actor.
Any other entertainment connections? Theater? Comedy? Ice shows?
Becky: No, everyone's really into hockey and music… no, everyone's really a musician at heart. Reeves obviously has a lot of things he's doing, but he's actually a musician at heart, too - he's a great musician.
I noticed at the show on Monday that Keanu wasn't playing with you guys.
Becky: Yeah, he was away - he's coming over in like ten minutes, but he just got back at about 3:00.
How hectic is scheduling for you guys?
Becky: It's okay, because we're not adamant about playing out until we have a record. And it's nice to play locally. He's actually really good about playing whenever he has time. We do have to do a lot around him, but we still play when he's not here. So we don't base our band around him, by any means.
How do you usually deal with that - do you have a back-up bassist?
Becky: Yeah, the back-up played the other night. He's a really good friend from New York, and that was the first time we've ever needed him.
Does he practice with you guys to learn the songs and everything?
Becky: Well, he has been since Keanu's been gone, but normally Keanu is around enough that he practices with us.
Very quickly - what are your three favorite bands at the moment?
Becky: Interpol, Coldplay… and I'm going to have to say Joy Division.
Your forecast: Will George Bush be reelected in 2004?
Will Gray Davis be recalled?
Will Arnold actually become governor?
Becky: Is that legal?
Yeah, he can become governor. He can't become president, but he can be governor.
Becky: That would be a very sad day.
Do you guys have plans to release an album?
Becky: We're shopping right now. We've got a lot of interest, which is great, and we're showcasing, and we just finished our demo. We'd like to have an album out, but we're not rushing to anything.
Okay, last question then: If you had to characterize the state of the U.S. right now, would you say "Stupor" or "Super"?