Destined: Effi Briest
EFFI BRIEST - "Phoenix"
"It’s just a name," insists EFFI BRIEST drummer Corinne Jones. The all-female band from Brooklyn is named after the titular character in Theodor Fontane’s novel, which deals with the subordinate role of women in late 19th century Germany. “I’ve read it,” she continues, “it is a great book, and it is a ‘plight of women’ story. It’s all about this girl that has no life and all these terrible things happen to her. But we’re all about free will and great stuff happening, so it’s just appropriating a name in a way.
"Also it’s a Fassbinder movie,” she adds, “not one of his best, but I love Fassbinder. I just thought it was a great name for a band.”
No other member of the group has read it, vocalist Kelsey Barrett points out, “but we do consult the book when we have important questions.”
“You just take the book,” Corinne explains, “and you ask a question and then you open it and point to one thing and then it tells you something.”
“It’s our oracle, we asked it some questions about a year ago,” percussionist Jessica Stathos recalls, “and it was right on.”
The band’s line-up has changed significantly since it began holding informal practice sessions in a friend’s basement two years ago. “There were 11 people when we started,” remembers guitarist and backup vocalist Sara Shaw. “Twelve,” Corinne corrects her. At this point, the group has been pared down to seven. “Only half of us are from that era,” Corinne goes on, “and for me the band really became complete when the other half, Rebecca and Nicky — and now Elizabeth — joined.” Elizabeth Hart, who also plays in Psychic Ills, recently became a member after bassist Alianna Kalaba left to concentrate on her other band Coyote. Another previous bass player had a baby and moved away from New York. “They’re cursed,” Elizabeth jokes.
“Snacks and wine were the main feature of practice and then we also played music sometimes,” Sara says of the band’s early days, “it was just kind of hanging out.” “We knew each other,” Corinne remembers, “and we said hey, let’s try this, let’s do this.”
From the very beginning, they knew that they weren’t interested in striving for any kind of gender balance. “I’ve played in bands with ladies before,” Sara explains, “it’s less competitive interpersonally.” “It’s really just more fun,” Corinne adds, “and probably more social.” “Being friends comes first,” Sara concludes, “we try to keep the social aspect of it important.”
Kelsey had some experience as a vocalist when EFFI BRIEST was formed and Sara was already a member of the Occasion, but several other members of the band were brand new to their instruments. Corinne was a visual artist but she’d never played the drums. “I thought at first I could play one drum,” she admits, “so I bought a marching bass drum and played that for a while.”
Jessica hadn’t played in bands before either, but she comes from a musical family. “The castanets were my grandmother’s,” she reveals, “she toured with Xavier Cugat in the 30s.” “I had never sung before, I just started doing it in practice when we lost a singer” whispers Rebecca Squires, the band’s soft-spoken multi-instrumentalist. “I played the piano growing up, and the clarinet,” she says. “Our old bassist owned a vintage store and she had this beautiful old accordion,” which Rebecca continues to play. She recently started playing a melodica on some songs as well.
Sara comes off as the most experienced musician in the band, but she seems to take great pride in her bandmates’ varying skill levels. “It can be really refreshing and different,” she boasts, “when I was first learning to play guitar there were so many things that I wrote that were more exciting and unique than I’m able to write now. I think this band is able to tap into that because we’ve been learning everything as we go.”
“We’re not striving for a kind of tight musical perfection,” Corinne chimes in. “People have told me that Corinne’s drumming style seems like it was made specifically for the band,” Kelsey interjects, “and it was. I think that’s really special.”
The band is dumbfounded to learn that a couple of people who’ve heard EFFI BRIEST’s self-released Phoenix EP — including WFMU Music Director Brian Turner — have compared it to early Siouxsie And The Banshees. “We never set out with an idea of what we wanted to sound like,” asserts acoustic guitarist Nicky Mao. “When I first saw them I went up to Kelsey and said ‘Grace Slick,’” Elizabeth laughs. The comparison is apt, if only for Kelsey’s deep voice, impressive stage presence and striking appearance; a review of one show compared her to the Jefferson Airplane frontwoman and also to Nico. “I still think about Christian Death sometimes when I sing,” Kelsey admits, “they have that psychedelic guitar but then it’s sort of dark.” Both Nicky and Corinne concede an affinity for Krautrock bands, specifically Can and Amon Düül. “We’ve all shared a lot of music that’s all over the map with each other,” Nicky says.
While the band hasn’t played much on the east coast outside of its hometown of New York, EFFI BRIEST has already begun to make a name for itself on the other side of the country. Several band members hail from California, and friendships with members of Sunburned Hand Of The Man led to a brief tour together last spring. “We had pretty good reception on the west coast,” Kelsey says, “and made a lot of connections.” They returned to California in the fall to play at the Arthur Nights festival alongside artists like Boris, Six Organs Of Admittance, OM, White Magic, the Fiery Furnaces and Devendra Banhart, who according to Kelsey has been “a big support.”
The two songs on the Phoenix EP are the entirety of EFFI BRIEST’s recorded output so far. “Those were the first two songs we wrote,” Kelsey says. They’re eager to begin working on a full-length later this year. “We’ve evolved so much as a band since we recorded that stuff,” Sara enthuses, “and that’s exciting to me, to record new things.” “Piece-by-piece we’ll be recording an album,” Corinne promises, “as far as who could put it out, that’s in the air.”
Loog Records will release EFFI BRIEST’s debut 7” in the UK in 2007. The band is currently considering offers from undisclosed domestic labels.
By Rob Hatch-Miller