Checking In: Ashley Cromeens Talks Neeks, Def Rain

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When sitting in a beer garden with Ashley Cromeens and the rest of the Neeks crew for an interview, one should be prepared for anything at any moment. Statements like, "We're really into puff paint!" or "We want to tour America in a big bus like Midlake!" And they just might be serious about it.

Neeks may be a ways off from professional merch or touring the country in massive buses, but Cromeens and her band mates Craig Welch (The Fabulous Badasses, Brutal Juice), Theresia Munywoki, Sarah Alexander and Grant Ring have already gained momentum. Their live show is a mix of humor and hip-hop, and has garnered a ton of Tweets asking, "What is this?"

It's a fair question, considering their live show. Consisting of two emcees (Cromeens and Welch) a DJ (Ring), two back-up dancers (Alexander and Munywoki) and, sometimes, one auxiliary member who stands in the back corner drinking whiskey, Neeks' old-school hip-hop update elicits a fair share of question marks from the audience.

"We've never had any goals or anything," Cromeens says. "We just said, 'Hey, let's do this,' and it's worked out. It's all set now, but sometimes, Grant will throw in a song we don't know, or we'll do lyrics to one song with another beat, but it's rap so the tune doesn't really matter as much."

This is a turn for Cromeens. She spent the better part of the last decade fronting one of the loudest and best bands in North Texas, Record Hop. But when that band, and her relationship with guitarist Scott Porter, dissolved, it was time for a change.

"We just needed our space as a band," she says.

Face-melting metal to foot-tapping hip-hop is quite a transition, but she's not done yet. Her other project, Def Rain, is also making waves. Armed with nothing but a laptop and her natural charisma, Def Ran is a showcase for Cromeens' songwriting and ability to hold the attention of her audience.

While musically different from Neeks, there's the same charm that almost makes you wonder if it's serious, like when she dances in the puddle of spilled beer or fusses with the cable connection on her distortion pedal mid-song. But any doubt is wiped away when you hear the songs. Her set is short for now, but the mix of electronica and pop is arresting. Def Rain might be funny if it weren't so damn good.

For now, Cromeens is in a good place artistically. The members of Neeks recently got matching tattoos, and the band is already working on their debut album with, of all people, Brent Best from Slobberbone. It's an odd match on paper, but neither of Cromeens' current projects are concerned with being predicable.

"Everyone wants to be able to pinpoint why they like something," she says. "I remember a bartender at Double Wide asking us if it was a joke. We're serious about this joke."

Def Rain performs Friday, June 8, at Rubber Gloves with Wounded Infidel, Diamond Age, Vulgar Fashion and Able Youth.

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