AROUND THE CAMPFIRE "I'm really vulnerable and sensitive, which all of my bandmates will tell you from all my various bands," says Banditas singer/guitarist Hayley Thompson-King (center) with Candace Clement (left) and Molly Maltezos.
Simplicity is not always easy, but sometimes it's the surest path to style and clarity, especially when we're talking about three girls, three instruments, three singers, loads of reverb, no solos, basic blues beats, high-and-lonesome harmonies, and killer songs dying for a smoke. On Save the Rats, the debut album from Boston trio Banditas, garage-rock simplicity is done right. And with the homespun, spirit-driven country and girl-group harmonies that are coming out of these hollows, I'm not sure what could be wrong with this picture at all. In fact, the only thing that might be wrong is that it will not be legally possible to smoke cigarettes in the basement of the Cantab Lounge during Banditas record release party next Saturday night. Got a light?
No one is more fired up about the release of this record than Banditas songwriter/guitarist Hayley Thompson-King herself, who was as effervescent as her fizzy lemonade when telling me about her songs and the vision she shares with bassist Molly Maltezos and drummer Candace Clement (also of Northampton's Bunny's a Swine). A Viking-blonde Floridian who moved to New York to study opera at NYU in her late teens, Thompson-King has way more optimism and warm fuzzies about the world of rock and roll than you'd expect from someone with her life experience. For years, Thompson-King tended bar at the Middle East, witnessing night after night of the best, worst, and most mediocre that nightlife has to offer. Nevertheless, as she moved further away from her passion in opera (she continued her studies at New England Conservatory), the singer began to sink deeper and deeper into the comfy cushions of rock and roll. Whereas opera was about serving the composer and nailing the performance, Thompson-King (who also sings for Major Stars) found the individual catharsis that she was seeking through Banditas' three-chord hymns to the street. Self-help through better rocking.
"I'm not all that interested in me in my normal life," says Thompson-King, musing on the idea of her stronger, more bad-ass alter-ego that she finds in Banditas's songs. "I'm really vulnerable and sensitive, which all of my bandmates will tell you from all my various bands." Tracks like "Harmony Glass" and "Mine To Lose" take the boy-meets-girl back-porch melodrama of early Everly Brothers songs (like "Bird Dog" and "When Will I Be Loved") and gives the genders a spin: good girls worry about what their bad boys are doing while planning violent revenge against men-stealing women. These songs aren't necessarily all about individual melodramas, though. "Virginia" highlights how the Banditas ladies' voices twine together as one and intersect ("cross-voicing," jokes Thompson-King) in some sort of twilight, street-corner Alan Lomax affair. "When I'm with Banditas, I like it when we all kind of stand in a line and there's no one of us. People ask, 'Who is the lead singer?', and I say, 'All of us.' "