Your favorite KSPC volunteer Olivia Wood is back with a new series of exclusive interviews featuring local and independent bands! She hopes you enjoy this inside scoop on French Vanilla, a female-fronted post-punk band from LA.
What are your names, where are you from, and how long have you been making music together?
Ali: Sally (Vocals), Daniel (Bass/Saxophone), Ali (Guitar/Bass), & Max (Drums). We’ve been a band for about 3 years. Max is from the LA burbs and Sally is from the Bay Area. Sally, Max and I all met in college at UCLA. Dan and I became BFFs in high school after I moved from the LA area to his hometown of Lompoc, CA.
How did French Vanilla get its start as a band?
Ali: For me I feel like there was this special bond between the four of us that needed to be tapped. We’d all been like going to shows for a long time, and we all liked the same kind of music so having a band kind of was the natural answer. We also felt like we wanted to add to the scene here and thought we might have something interesting to contribute. We knew Jeffzilla with COOLWORLD PARTY from going to shows and he was so nice to give us our first show without even hearing us. COOLWORLD is great, they always feature queer/women-fronted/poc acts and like book bands that are new or don’t get to perform often.
You all have a really great stage presence—do you make a conscious effort to be engaging onstage, or does it just sort of “happen”? What’s the thought process like among the band as you play a show?
Ali: Thank you, we appreciate that. Yah, I think at the beginning it was just a major struggle not to fuck up, and a lot of our thoughts were wrapped in that! It’s still kind of like that really, at least for me. Sometimes we have a brainstorm before a show about topics to bring on stage, but it’s almost always dumb jokes about current events. Honestly those make the cut a lot. In a way it does “just happen” though because we work off the chemistry we naturally have together. And Sally is like a natural-born performer, she always brings it.
Sally: I want people to engage with our music, but sometimes they’re just standing there in a stupor so you have to get in their face. Then they’ll react, because they’re the ones being looked at in those moments. I am all about breaking the 4th wall so that the audience becomes part of the action, as opposed to passive observers.
One thing I really liked about your live show was how much fun you all seemed to be having on stage. How do you go about creating and preserving that palpable sense of joy?
Ali: It’s easy to create a sense of joy because we really do have so much fun together. I guess we kind of hope it’s infectious. We want the audience to have fun too. A lot of our songs really toe the line between serious and tongue in cheek, and I think that goes with everything we do, including our stage presence.
Sally: We are having fun. We make each other laugh. I also take seriously the potential of our music in the world. Feeling proud and excited about what we’re working on is important for preserving the sense of fun. Pushing my own boundaries in performance is both fun and rewarding.
You incorporate saxophone into your sound—something that isn’t very commonly seen in rock these days. Any particular reason for the sax?
Ali: Well, there’s definitely a rich history of post-punk bands with sax, especially women-fronted bands, so there was an influence there. But also Daniel was the star of the high school jazz band on sax, and it would be a damn shame not to put that talent back in the spot light. He was also drum major, just FYI.
Who and what are some of your creative/musical influences?
Ali: Umm we draw from a lot of influences, probably mostly 70’s/80’s post-punk, disco, electronic, dance, etc.
Sally: I remember Ali and I were listening to Nina Hagen when we first started talking about forming a band. Diamanda Galas’ vocal style was super influential for me personally.
What’s your process like for writing music?
Ali: We kind of just try different things out until we all agree something sounds cool. We usually start with a bassline, and Sally will bring a ton of lyrics, and then we all starting adding things, cutting things, re-working… it’s a long editing process. We have to all be happy with each element, and it can take a while. Some bands are like, “we just banged out 4 songs in a practice!” That’s totally not our style haha.
What are your plans for 2016? Can we expect new French Vanilla music?
Ali: Definitely! 2015 was kind of a lost year for us because a lot of pretty serious life stuff got in the way. But we’re working on new songs for 2016 and who knows maybe we’ll have a real release!