happy fangs

Happy Fangs plays rock n’ roll. Not exactly a revolutionary statement, but an increasingly rare one to see in an era when most bands consider themselves innovative, genre-bending hybrids that couldn’t possibly be classified but inevitably are, usually resulting in such circumlocutory labels as ‘electro/indie/folk/industrial punk’ or ‘psychedelic/doom/dream pop.’ Intriguing descriptions, yes, but sometimes I prefer the elegant simplicity of a straightforward statement such as, ‘Happy Fangs plays rock n’ roll.’

That’s not to say the band is simple, however. Happy Fangs has as many influences running through their veins as the most pretentious art school dropouts who refuse to be denigrated by a succinct label. Their debut LP Capricorn exemplifies that diversity–they channel punk ferocity on “Lone Wolves,” sludgy grooves on “Ton of Bricks,” Queens of the Stone Age-sized riffs on “Contagious,” and even charming quirkiness on “Hiya Kaw Kaw.”

Maybe Happy Fangs could be that band to revive the Big Rock Show, the one full of glam outfits, screeching guitar solos and bombastic stage theatrics. During my conversation with the band it became clear that the trio, made up of guitarist Michael Cobra, singer Rebecca Bortman and drummer Jess Gowrie, were definitely going to give it one helluva try.

The Bay Bridged: You all obtain very different musical backgrounds. How did you come together to form this particular brand of high energy rock?

Michael Cobra: I first met Rebecca at a rehearsal space we both played at and, at the time, we were in totally different types of bands, mine being heavy and industrial, hers was more indie pop. I was doing my own solo demos on the side and when Rebecca left her band and heard my demos, the idea of Happy Fangs began to form. From the very start I wanted this new project to have prominent guitar parts with lots of energy, no backing tracks or programmed beats, and a very live feel to everything. That’s something rare these days. A fully live band is almost a novelty.

Rebecca Bortman: We both decided that we should play music that feels like it was made in the moment. We wanted that live spark, that organic sound, and we wanted to see how far we could take those restrictions. How much could we do with one instrument and a voice? What could we do with suggestions from the audience at a live show? Those simultaneous creations are one of our core principles.

Jess Gowrie: Mike caught me at the perfect time. I was in a two-piece band before this one, but the other member was too busy and I was getting restless. I wanted another project to keep me playing and through a mutual friend heard Mike was looking for a drummer to add to his duo. I came down to jam, they liked my style and seemed to be a natural fit. They haven’t been able to get rid of me yet!

TBB: Do you ever fear that this type of guitar-driven, hard-hitting rock is going out of style?

MC: Things ebb and flow and you can never really tell what genres will come back into style. People do, however, want to hear new things. They’ll get bored if one genre or style is overplayed within a scene, and they’ll want a change.

RB: Yeah, if electronic music is big now, if the scene is over-saturated with those kinds of bands, now is the perfect time for our kind of music. A band like Nirvana broke big exactly because they didn’t sound like what all the more popular bands were playing at the time.

TBB: Then you don’t consider yourself a ‘throwback’ band, for lack of a better term?

MC: Not really. We all have some influences from the ‘70s and ‘90s, but I don’t really think we sound anything like those decades. We’re constantly looking for new sounds and new types of songs to construct within that three-piece rock limitation.

JG: That’s true. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sabbath on my drives to San Francisco, along with somewhat more embarrassing classic rock like Fleetwood Mac and Electric Light Orchestra (laughs). But we’re not necessarily defined by those past sounds. We always try to keep it fresh and I don’t think we really sound like anyone else out there, especially in San Francisco.

TBB: How do you fit into the San Francisco scene?

RB: It’s more like we’re working to create a scene for our kind of music. We don’t sit easily with bills now, and we’ve been paired with everything from straight pop groups to hardcore bands. There was a lot of screaming at some of our shows (laughs). So we’re still trying to figure out our place, but the response we’ve received from crowds so far has been really encouraging.

TBB: You place a heavy emphasis on the live show. Could you describe that experience to someone who hasn’t seen you live yet?

RB: Mike is incredibly serious about putting on a fun, entertaining, over-the-top show. He’s ferocious onstage and Jess is awesome. She’s the hardest hitting drummer you will ever see. You won’t believe she’s under five foot one.

JG: It’s five and three quarters! (laughs). Rebecca is all confidence out there. She lives for the stage. It’s all about getting the crowd excited and into the music.

MC: Each of us has been a front person for other bands, so we know how to have a presence and unique persona. We have a black-and-white visual aesthetic and wear war paint. We own the spotlight.  When we step on stage, we are a show.

Happy Fangs, The Trims, Survival Guide
Rickshaw Stop
January 31, 2015
9pm, $10, all ages