The first sound anyone heard from Classic Cult was a persistent buzz that grew ever louder. It wasn't played by any of the band members on any stage, but by their manager Tyler Rougeux of Whiskey Folk Ramblers, who strummed Facebook like a Stratocaster, generating excitement and “likes” for the band before they set foot on stage.
In the normal course of things, the likes and friends and shares come after a show, an mp3 … something that lets listeners sample the goods. Classic Cult started with a Facebook page and posting promo shots. From there the excitement started to build, and a spate of shows was quickly announced.
And no one had heard anything until the night of August 27, when Classic Cult stepped onstage at Club Dada before a packed house — something rare for a first-time show. Blasting through a 20-minute set, the band ate up the attention of a crowd there to experience them for the first time. It was a sort of musical blind taste-test — the Classic Cult Challenge, if you will.
They passed the test.
The Observer got a first taste of the band — ex-Spookeasy members Stephanie Burns and Adam Locklear, former St. Philistine guitarist Aurora DeWilde and newcomer Miller Pyke — at a rehearsal in a small studio in Bishop Manor two weeks before their first performance. Some serious nerves were at play while the band worked through their material, trying to get a feel for how to best approach each song. None of those nerves were evident onstage at Dada as the band ripped through their material to mass applause. The music will connect with music fans who like to walk the line between the pure punk insanity of Party Static and the surfy vibe of their BFFs in Sealion. In other words, it’ll work in Dallas, and unlike what some might say, it sounds nothing like the Runaways.
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Beyond the fact that Classic Cult is mostly made of girls like the the Runaways, the comparison likely also has to do with how the band started — that is, as an idea of Rougeux's. “I have a wife and two boys, and one night I was talking to her about how I wanted to start a side project, but that all the guys I wanted to work with, including me, were too busy at the moment," Rougeux recalls. "Then I just kept thinking about how I could pull some type of Phil Spector situation off — minus all the drugs and hookers and threatening to shoot people, and so on.
“I knew Miller from when we both lived in Fort Worth and knew she did musicals, and knew she'd make a great front woman. But I started with guitar, and Aurora, who I just knew from the music scene, was instantly on board," Rougeux continues. He knew Burns from her time in Spookeasy, who had played shows with Whiskey Folk. Little did he know, Burns and Wilde already knew each other from work as well. "I knew if [Burns] got on board, it'd be a real band and I would would feel awesome about that lineup. It was just a weird idea that came to life."
The band has had a series of drummers over the six months it has spent putting its material together, but Rougeux says that's a plus because three drummers who know their songs can step in.
Despite the Spector-like beginning and the social media marketing, Classic Cult is not some sort of all-girl novelty. DeWilde, who cut her teeth playing in groups in which she was the only woman, says talent is the key to Classic Cult. “It’s different being in a band with girls, but good different. With Tyler’s guidance, and our raw talent, I don’t know why the moon can’t be the limit.”
Music history is filled with prolific musicians who write so much material that they pass off their ideas to others to explore. Pretty much every R&B band that came out of Minneapolis in the '80s had Prince’s fingerprints all over them. What’s unique is how Classic Cult has been left alone to fully explore the music on their own.
“I love bringing music to life, and I write different genres than what I write for Whiskey Folk, so while trying to showcase some new songs and styles, this band came to life in a much cooler way than I had anticipated,” Rougeux says. “At first I just wanted a band that I wasn't in, just to see if I could, but by now it's become a band of hard-working musicians that might not be in a band otherwise, at the current time, and a band that I love and can't wait to see break out. This broadens the aspects and limitations as to what can happen when you work on your ideas, instead of just having them.”
Sitting in Off the Record just four days after their debut, the nerves had faded and the band was in high spirits. “It felt really encouraging having such a great response. I was worried we’d play to an empty house,” Pyke says as she sips a Moscow Mule.
“I expected for us to have to come from the ground up, but there we were with this big crowd. I’m happy we matched the hype.” Burns says.
"The praise has kept up all weekend, I've been out and people keep telling me how much they liked the set." Pyke says.
"Yeah, I've been getting messages from people saying how they want to jam and talk pedals" says DeWilde.
The band talks about how great it is to have the first performance under their belt, how the jitters of living up to the hype are gone. All four compliment each other at every turn.
Motioning to his ex-Spookeasy bandmate Burns, Locklear says, “It was nice how it clicked from just playing together before.”
According to the band, the fact that Rougeux has written the material hasn't been that difficult a situation to negotiate — even for Pyke as the vocalist. “I had a conversation with Tyler about how he writes from a female perspective, but also how we can make it our own," she says. "There was a lyric that went 'I feel like smeared mascara' that I subconsciously changed to 'I feel like I smeared my mascara' because I’ve been there, I’ve lived that.”
“I feel like he has extreme respect for us as people, but also more so as musicians” says Burns.
Of course, a mostly female band put together by a man and marketed heavily on social media is bound to draw some shots. Rock music loves a good origin story about bands that come together organically. Someone — a man, most likely — was going to mention that the women in Classic Cult are attractive, as though being attractive, talented and managed by a man are somehow mutually exclusive.
The Fort Worth Weekly's Steve Steward stepped up to the plate before the Dada show:
I’m all for female rock bands that crank up the amps and the sex and everything else Classic Cult’s social media presence suggests they are about, but the hype over this band… geez Louise! Here is a new band, made of hot babes, (who possess faces that are “familiar to the scene” including a lead singer described as “ever theatrical”), that has never played a show, nor has any music available, but has already had several photoshoots (here’s their Instagram). Also, it’s “written and directed” by someone else. DOESN’T THAT SOUND LIKE THE FAKEST, MOST DALLAS SHIT EVER?!?
I’m not trying to be a dick; I know a couple of the women in this band, and they are both more than competent at making and performing music; moreover, I am genuinely curious to know if Classic Cult is any good. But other than the visual evidence, I have no way to evaluate them.
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Pyke shrugged it off.
“We’re able to focus on just being in the band, we don’t have to book or worry about marketing. We get to focus on making the sound our own. It’s not the norm for a band, and that’s why it works.”
What’s next for Classic Cult? They play their second — count it, second — show on Friday, September 11, with Moon Honey, Party Static and Blue, the Misfit at Three Links, and the band is working on demos so there will actually be something for people to listen to online.
"The hope is to save a little money and then we'll have a single, and maybe a video with it." says Pyke. One thing is certain, so far the band has cycled from being a hyped unknown, to living up to their hype on stage, and if the size of the crowd and the crowd’s reaction were any indication, the hype is going to grow.