You’re wasted on your couch, half asleep, imagining a Quentin Tarantino surf movie that was never made, when your protagonist stumbles into a rock bar in an apocalyptic city. Your cerebral soundtrack pumps a savage, repetitive, almost militaristic beat. Then you hear what sounds like a coyote savaging the moon. Or maybe it’s the death cry of a wounded wildebeest. No. That’s actually a chick singing.
Bitch Bricks sound something like that. But with more bass.
The all-female three-piece primitive proto-punk outfit is more passion than precision, more energy than efficiency, more animal than urbane. At a recent all-day rock show at Lola’s Saloon, the largest crowd turned out for the Bricks’ 11 p.m. slot. Men and women moved toward the stage to get a closer look and listen. The group known for producing musical mayhem with a touch of surreal performance art didn’t disappoint, blasting out a fast-paced set that reached its conclusion with a howl. Frontwoman Schuyler Stapleton ripped out a primal scream, told the crowd, “Fuck you,” and leaned her still-hot guitar against an amp, making it squeal with feedback while the band left the stage. Stapleton describes herself on the Bitch Bricks website as a “sloppy bitch.”
I was recording the performance on my cell phone, and a really excited guy standing next to me said, “Please tell me you are going to post that video on social media somewhere! People need to see this!” This struck me as funny. The first time I had ever seen the trio play, also at Lola’s, more than a year ago, a guy sitting at the bar said, “Who the hell listens to this shit?”
I understood why somebody might ask. The Bricks are strange. But their raw, reverb-drenched, loud, and purposely retro sound mesmerized me, as did the sight of the fist-pumping drummer with the bright red hair, and the slinky frontwoman with the bleached-white hair and coyote voice who was scowling into the microphone.
The Bitch Bricks started out in 2012 as a two-piece punk outfit – Stapleton singing and playing guitar and Alena Springer pounding on drums. Both were young, new to their instruments, new to a band, new to the stage. That didn’t keep them from jamming. Jennifer Rux, co-founder of Dreamy Soundz Records, a local label and recording studio, liked what she heard. Rux had recently begun playing bass. She joined the band, and the three women spent a couple of years gelling and writing songs while getting out and playing the occasional gig. Rux recorded and produced the Bricks’ debut album, The I’s of Man, in 2014, released on Lo-Life Recordings. (The two labels would eventually combine to become Dreamy Life.) Fort Worth Weekly local music columnist HearSay listed the debut effort among his top albums of 2014, describing the collection of 11 songs as clanging, angry, and “sounding as if it had been recorded in a payphone.”
Typically, Stapleton starts fleshing out the original songs by coming up with simple chord progressions and lyrical ideas on acoustic guitar. She draws from her country roots for musical ideas, channeling artists like Johnny Cash. Then the band members sit together – sometimes Springer playing drums on her knees – and come up with lyrics, more chords, or whatever is needed in what Rux describes as “late night porch sessions.”
Add in some whiskey and whatnot, and by night’s end – voila – a new song or two is ready to be added to the set list. (I don’t recall Cash coming up with songs such as “DTF,” “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bobbitt,” “Shit Test,” “Looking Up a Dead Man’s Skirt,” and “Sincerely, Satan.”)
In the band’s early days, they kept songs short, moving from one to the next, partly to cover the fact that Stapleton wasn’t proficient enough to tear into intricate guitar leads to stretch out songs. She began relying on amp squeal and feedback to fill space. With practice, she became adept at controlling the squeals and molding them into unconventional leads that fit the Bricks’ sound better than playing a traditional-sounding pentatonic scale.
“I would just do whatever sounded and felt right,” Stapleton told me in a recent interview.
Rux and Springer would improvise while backing up whatever Stapleton was getting into.
“We were like, shit, that sounds awesome,” Stapleton said. “It kind of changed the way our songs were after that. We started feeding off of each other more.”
The “light” was being turned on one power chord at a time, and the 20-minute gig went great.
“We realized we weren’t as bad at our instruments as we thought,” Springer said.
The young women had little game when it came to self-promotion and marketing, and they still don’t. Not much has been written about the Bricks other than in the Weekly, and it took me a year to finally get them to sit down for this interview. Part of their reluctance is that they like mystery surrounding the band. Also, they are a bit shy publicity-wise, although the attitude comes across more punk.
“We don’t advertise ourselves very well,” Stapleton said.
Advertisement is occurring organically, one gig, one primal scream, and one story at a time.
Sat, Jan 28, w/Dome Dwellers and Ripped Genes at 515 Bar, 515 S Jennings Av, FW. Free. 817-338-0515.