The Barrettes Rock the Melodica
"It all just worked out really well," Crystal Rausch, also known as "Critter," says about the formation of The Barrettes' lineup.
The four members include Joey Zocher on guitar and the melodica, JoAnn Riedl on guitar and uke, the mononymously named "Joolz" on drums, and Rausch on cello and French horn. They explained the band's origin over drinks at the Highbury Pub in Bay View.
Zocher and Joolz had previously played together, and Riedl caught one of their bands, The Skexies, at a performance at Ladyfest in Michigan. Riedl was moving from Michigan to Milwaukee, and the organizer of Ladyfest suggested she check out The Skexies. After the band's set, the three met and discussed playing music together.
Zocher also skates with the Brewcity Bruisers roller derby league, and approached fellow skater Rausch at a league practice, asking if she'd like to fill out the band's low end on cello. The band played its first gig in 2007.
The Barrettes' sound defies convention. The use of eccentric instrumentation such as the melodica (a horn and keyboard hybrid mouth organ), cello, mandolin and French horn distinguishes the band's sound from being just another pop punk group.
Adding to this are the band members' musical tastes, which differ greatly between the four. When each member was asked for a couple of favorites, the answers included The Gossip, Gogol Bordello, the B-52s, Puddle of Mudd, Cocteau Twins, Ani DiFranco, All-American Rejects, PJ Harvey, and Peaches.
This eclectic mix results in a thrashy pop punk, which one of their fans described as "Le Tigre meets Dinosaur Jr." It's as close a description as you can probably get for the band and their recently released CD, A Whole Lotta Melodica.
"Our songs are so different because we all write them," Riedl explains.
"I think we sound like pop punk that doesn't take itself too seriously," Zocher says. "Some of it is kind of creepy and gloomy, but it is happy overall."
"It makes you want to dance," Riedl adds.
"They're usually afraid at first, but once one of these girls say, 'Get up here,' it's all about dancing," Joolz says of their audience, to laughter among the band.
A crowd favorite is to do the "funky Tut" to the band's punked-up version of The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian." The Barrettes recently performed a five-song set as The Bangles at "Spoof Fest," and the band got in touch with their inner Bangle, dressing in poofy wigs and '80s gear.
"I felt like I was in drag, I mean like I was a bad drag queen," Zocher says, laughing.
The band is looking forward to its next show, which will be an appearance at this year's PrideFest.
"We've been trying to get into the fest the last couple years, so we're excited about it," Zocher says.
The Barrettes will perform at PrideFest on June 14 at 3 p.m. and at Summerfest on July 1 at 5:30 p.m.