Tarra Thiessen says that, by the time Hole's Patty Schemel came onboard, she and Sharkmuffin co-founder Natalie Kirch had already gone through a lot of drummers. A dozen drummers, in fact, the same number Spinal Tap ploughed through over the course of 25 years.
"And we've only been together for three years, so we're doing better," beams Thiessen, clearly pleased by this bit of trivia.
Thiessen is thankful that Schemel — who survived six years with Courtney Love and company — stuck around long enough to play all the drum parts on the Brooklyn garage-pop band's newly released debut album, Chartreuse. The 25-year-old musician had listened to a whole lot of Hole while growing up, and this was a teen dream come true.
"Live Through This was one of my favorite records," she says. "I remember when I was 13, seeing Patty playing drums in the 'Violet' video. And I was like, 'Holy shit, that's a girl! And she's like the coolest thing ever!'"
Thiessen and Kirch started jamming and writing songs together three years ago, on the Fourth of July, at a mutual friend's Jersey beach house which, according to Sharkmuffin lore, was subsequently destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, leaving nothing but a few Wishnik trolls and a Ken doll in its wake.
Still, the band played on. Its name, which was meant to be a temporary placeholder, is a hybrid of Thiessen's college bands, Slutmuffin and Pool Shark. "Actually, it does fit," she insists, "because Natalie is like a foot shorter than me. She's a cute blonde girl who's a pre-K teacher and super-sweet, so she's kind of like the muffin. And then I'm kind of crazy sometimes, so I'm like the shark."
It wasn't long before Sharkmuffin began connecting with punk and riot grrrl devotees, with one critic swooning over their "Patti Smith-esque swagger," guitar parts "forged from the fires of Jack White's mind," and echoes of The MC5, Chrissie Hynde, Team Dresch and Bikini Kill.
Thiessen says all of those artists are, in fact, influences, with the exception of Chrissie Hynde. "But my mom was always playing The Pretenders, so that might have been more of a subconscious influence."
After two EPs and a handful of singles, Chartreuse finds the band diversifying its sound. The 21/2 minute "I Called You From the Moon," for example, is all shouty vocals before dissolving, midway through, into a densely psych-rock guitar outro. But catchier pop elements creep in on tracks like "Straight Lines" and "Mondays." It's in the latter direction that Thiessen expects the music to go.
Which is not to suggest that Sharkmuffin are slipping into the mainstream. The album is, after all, on Little Dickman Records, and their new single is entitled "Tampons Are for Sluts."
"My grandmother said that sarcastically once when I was younger," explains Thiessen, "and I just thought it was hilarious. The song is about this one relationship I had, that was more of a hookup thing, which ended up falling apart at a bachelor party. And then it's also about having sex during your period."