“We like the theatricality of old show tunes, the humor of Cole Porter, the raw spirit of 60s rock n' roll, and the purity and unbridled sincerity of outsider musicians like The Shaggs,” Natalie Ribbons, 27, one half of Austin’s female duo Agent Ribbons, tells me when asked to describe the band’s sprawling sound and one-band-fits-everything aesthetic.
“We have a tendency to collage our favorite time periods and musical stylings into this synthesis that is what we are ultimately looking for in the world but end up creating ourselves since, sometimes, it doesn’t exist in quite the way we’d like,” she explains.
Packed into a new seven-song EP, Let Them Talk, the band’s many influences, mixed with sincere lyrics and Natalie and Lauren Ribbons’ jazzy vocals, swirl together and smooth out, even in a song as jaunty, fun-loving, and completely unhinged as “Fucked Up,” a vinyl-only cut that started as a shaky show stopper.
“We wrote [‘Fucked Up’] to conclude shows that maybe went a little rocky because we played a couple wrong chords or got a little off-beat,” Natalie explains, adding unapologetically, “We’re just having a good time together, and if we fuck it up a little, we don't care because that's just the way it is. This song is about embracing mistakes and having fun doing it!”
From more meditative numbers like the slow-dancing “Never Not Gonna Be Ready” to the vintage island exotica of “I Can’t Believe You’re Real” to the bare roots, clap- along “Shoe Shine Boy” that showcases Ribbons’ soulful, crisp voice, Let Them Talk is stuffed with feel-good, unpredictable, and earnest songs, brief as it may be. The Austin transplants bring back the best of an old school cabaret act in their EP, all slithering siren sounds, tongue-in cheek humor, and triple winks.
But even after seven years together, the twosome has bigger plans on the horizon, including a third full-length album next year. “We realized that we want to take a lot more time to construct our next full-length album because we want our ideas to flow and feel like a curated set–not quite as fragmented as our last two albums,” says Natalie. “The EP is an appetizer.” An appetizer sample, she must mean – delicious and crowd- pleasing, full of a refreshing variety and vitality.
Let Them Talk is due out tomorrow, September 11, in three different ways: as a five- song digital EP and a limited run 7” via Antenna Farm Records, and as a limited edition cassette via Portland's Cassingle And Loving It. Both the vinyl and cassette editions have added bonus tracks.
Your songs have a great sense of pause, and it’s obvious you love playing with words…did you write poetry when you were younger, or do you still?
Natalie Ribbons: Ha, well…yes. When I was younger, maybe around 15 to 17 years old, I think I took myself a little too seriously and I used to tell people that I was a poet. Honestly, that sounds kind of ridiculous to me now…to be a self-proclaimed poet. But I do enjoy writing lyrics and feel that I hold myself to a relatively high standard when it comes to songwriting. I've always had the deepest connection with music that had interesting, clever or just very sincere and real-sounding lyrical content, and I throw away anything I write that doesn't live up to what I would want to hear from someone else.
Your profile on Riot Act! describes you as “post-feminist dreamers.” What does that phrase mean to you? Do you think of yourselves as feminists?
NR: I wish that everyone thought of themselves as feminists! Yes, of course we are feminists. “Post-feminist dreamers” specifically refers to this space that we currently inhabit–being in a band, traveling, art-making…doing what we want, basically, but in the spirit of embracing and talking about the female perspective in a positive and exciting way. We want to be appreciated for who we are, and even though we aren't burning bras (I only have two!), we command respect and we have a valid perspective that we would like to share.
Do you feel like you relate more to female or male musicians, or is there no difference? What ladies do you listen to (from today and the past), and what men have inspired you?
NR: Lauren and I both have a proclivity towards female-fronted music, I think, but we are influenced by plenty of male musicians as well. My all-time favorite band is The Zombies and I can't get enough of Colin Blunstone's vocal stylings. I think I was also heavily inspired by Roy Orbison in my teens…but I like female musicians such as Mirah, Chris Connor, The Raincoats, Nico, Joanna Newsom, Lena Lovich, etc. Lauren has introduced me to a lot of things over the last seven years that I love, like Kleenex/Liliput or White Magic. We both also love Captain Beefheart and Os Mutantes…we're both really excited about all kinds of things.
Lauren Ribbons (aka Mama Hess): I mainly listen to female musicians because I'm drawn to the point of view, the freedom, strength and variety. My favorite female bands/ performers are the Slits, Mary Timony (especially with Christina Files drumming-love! ), Team Dresch, Essential Logic, X Ray Spex, Henry's Dress, Lower Dens, Yoko Ono, Grass Widow, Dolly Mixture, Kate Bush, Liliput/Kleenex etc etc!
There are many male musicians that are highly influential to me as well, such as Lee Ranaldo, the guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo, The Zombies, lots of 70s punks bands, kraut rock stuff and many other dudes! I mainly draw influence from more experimental or punk bands because I've never taken lessons and relate more to just letting energy and experimentation take over. I like interesting rhythms that lend another voice rather than a straight up beat.