By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"I actually thought the idea was funny, the whole concept," says Petra, who plays the violin. "I don't know. I relate. I see how strongly Anna feels about it, and I like how we could all make it work musically and lyrically. I like how we can tell a story through music. I kinda feel like I'm in a children's book or something."
It is a remarkable short story from that little girl to the wise, weary woman whose words lie at the center of Totally Crushed Out. Just two years ago--not long after Waronker and the Haden sisters began performing in Anna's bedroom, spending their spare time weaving their voices and instruments into this rich, haunting acoustic sound--the band released a double seven-inch single on the Magnatone label. Shortly after that, they garnered some radio play on Los Angeles' hep eclectic KCRW-FM, thanks to former KERA-FM music director Chris Douridas. Douridas, working as a scout for Geffen, helped get them signed to the label, and almost immediately they were dropped into the studio to record their debut album.
When the band released their debut last year, they were immediately hailed as the Sassy-est band around, setting off that magazine's "Cute Band Alert" with such songs as "Punk Rock Girl" and "Family Functions" and "Paid Programming"--all beautiful, all rocking, all wry and funny. But there was no mistaking the all-ages universal appeal of that dog.'s music, which was grounded as much in the beautifully orchestrated pop of Randy Newman (whose music was frequently heard in the Waronker household, Anna's father Lenny having been the legendary head of Warner Music) as in the low-fi, no-frills world in which that dog. came of age. There was never anything kitschy or gimmicky about that dog.--their stories being so immediate, their presentation being so otherworldy--and they transcended the "indie-rock" genre sound by being so classic and classical all at once.
"People think a bunch of girls and a violin and Sassy lyrics means that it's a big gimmick or novelty," Waronker says. "They sort of ignore the fact we actually put a lot of time into this and care about it a lot and put a lot of effort into making a record and making the songs."
"And that perception also does apply a lot more to what we were back then and our readiness ourselves to be serious about that," Tony adds. "Now, we've grown up a little bit and we're ready to deal with this."
As a sign of that, Waronker, Petra and Rachel dropped out of college (at least temporarily)--Anna was studying filmmaking at the University of Southern California, Rachel was attending Santa Monica College studying psychology, and Petra studied violin and singing at Cal Arts--to pursue their music.
"What I'm doing now is what I'm supposed to be doing," Petra says of her reasons for leaving school for a while. "Obstacles make us stronger." Rachel describes her school experience as "miserable," though she also insists she will go back.
Waronker is not so sure. Right now, she is content to write the band's songs, doing so on her acoustic guitar and only later taking them to the band to fill them out as "rock songs," as she likes to call them. Rachel and Petra, daughters of renowned avant-jazz bassist Charlie Haden, then add their parts, which only makes that dog. that much more of an unique entity: the bass-playing Rachel, for instance, spends most of her free time listening to classical (Glenn Gould and Arvo Part are two favorites), and her classically trained sister Petra, who recalls spending considerable time at the symphony as a child, adds her part on the violin.
And so the songs are created from these dramatically different places--punk rock assembled by people who do not necessarily listen to it, pop music created by a band that does not really play it.
"But I don't really think of us as a rock band," Rachel says. "The way we all arrange the music, there's definitely rock in it, but it reminds me of movements, and then when Petra plays violin and puts 10 tracks down, it's more like an orchestrated thing. And then there's the electric stuff that comes in and makes it 'rock-sounding,' but even then, the way Anna plays, it reminds me of like a harpsichord or something. I don't know," she laughs. "It's kind of like Bach in a way, the way it sounds."
"We like to rock out, but we don't want to lose the quiet thing," Waronker says. "So I tried to mix everything together. And it actually scares me because they turned into major 'pop songs,' and I'm not sure if that's so great. Well, it's OK. It's weird."
Much of the band's musical growth came on tour last year (on many of the dates with longtime friend and labelmate Beck), during which the band members became confident in their abilities. They found, during the course of touring, that it was easier to hide behind the amplifiers and distortion, that the songs were equally as powerful turned up or toned down.