What’s a recent film school grad to do when Hollywood rejects you? Become a rock n’ roll star, of course. Even Patti Smith once sang, “So you wanna be a rock n’ roll star? / Well listen now to what I say / Buy yourself an electric guitar and take some time to learn how to play” (well, technically The Byrds sang it first, but I digress). Maybe it was that simple when you could live in a squat on Bowery or the Sunset Strip, but considering we live in a time when the cost of living on this earth is unmanageable for most people and the job market is shit, being a contemporary rock n’ roll star takes a lot more elbow grease.
Just ask GUPPY, the L.A.-based, Boston-birthed band that consists of multimedia artists/recent Emerson grads/all-around hustlers Julia Lebow (vocals and guitar), Gabi Cohen (drums), and Marc Babcock (bass). Described by Out Magazine as the “gayer Green Day,” the band has existed for less than a year but is already making waves with their DIY debut EP In The Garage, which came out last month. Their sound is loud and dirty and completely devoid of pretense. In The Garage is equal parts goofiness and wit with an irresistible vulnerability at the heart of it.
We chatted with GUPPY about visual art, their talented cat, and the trials and tribulations of making a living as a rock n’ roll star.
Allston Pudding: All of you went to film school and Julia has been involved in stand up and comedy troupes—how has this influenced your musicianship?
Julia Lebow: It’s definitely influenced my songwriting and performance style a lot. I kinda turned to music during a time when comedy started to feel less safe just because of personal reasons within the community plus the world itself was kinda crumbling in a really ubiquitous way so it didn’t really feel great to make jokes. But music and songwriting let me be vulnerable but still maintain my sense of humor in a way that didn’t feel like I was lying to myself. I’ve since gone back to doing comedy stuff and that vulnerability has helped me a lot there too. I think both creative worlds kinda bolster each other for me and help me be creative + not get too caught up in my ego in either.
Marc Babcock: Film school was no doubt an influence on my musicianship. I love movies and studying screenwriting while at Emerson taught me to be a better storyteller and writer in general. Also, I was in the production Flapjack where I played bass and I also played drums in the stage play of American Idiot. Gotta give a huge shout out to the Emerson Hip Hop Society which was a collective that would get together every week and freestyle or share new music. Those meetings helped keep my mind fresh and helped me with improvisation in music a ton.
Gabi Cohen: I think going to film school and spending so much time doing creative projects taught me how to communicate feelings without just explicitly saying something outright. Doing film, you learn how to create a feeling through tone or colors or lights, and I think seeing that you can do that visually opened me up to the idea of doing that with sound and drums too. It also opened me up and taught me how to collaborate with other people on things that feel intimate. I like working by myself a lot, but having to work with other people forced me to learn how to effectively communicate my thoughts and feelings. That’s been really valuable in learning how to play with a band and write music.
AP: Do you feel like your work in visual media arts taps into the same part of your creative brains as writing music, or does it feel like a totally different thing?
MB: I think being in a creative setting and creating in any way definitely exercises the same part of the brain. Both music and visual media arts are such collaborative mediums and that feeling of group think and being on the same page is a huge component of both art forms. Music has always held a special place for me more so than anything else.
JL: Yeah I just love storytelling, and both music and visual art allow me to do that in a collaborative way both on my own and with the people I love.
GC: I think for me, the visual media stuff I do is more personal. Writing music is definitely personal too, but working with other people to communicate a feeling is different than sitting in front of a computer with your own thoughts. But I think the time spent working on personal work and on collaborative GUPPY stuff influences each other.
AP: Do you consider yourselves a Boston band in any way? What does it mean to be a Boston band and/or an L.A band?
JL: I mean we all spent a considerable amount of time in Boston so it definitely informs who we are as people. I wouldn’t say we are a Boston band just because we aren’t in the thicc of that community, but we all really admire the spirit of that DIY scene and it informs the kind of music and scene we want to promote here. In L.A. everyone feels so disconnected, so cultivating a community can be hard, but there’s such a need for DIY and bedroom art in a capitalistic L.A. landscape.
AP: What does rock n roll mean to you?
MB: It’s a hard thing to define. It’s whatever you want it to be I guess. To me though it’s that feeling of being at a live show and just yelling and screaming and dancing just not giving a fuck. It’s telling the world that they can’t stop you.
JL: Rock n’ Roll to me means expressing my feelings in a totally unchecked way and unashamed way.
GC: Yeah, pretty much just doing what you want, having fun with it, and not being embarrassed to do so.
AP: The theme has come up in your song “Hollywood Rejection” but I was wondering how you navigate the intersection of your Showbiz Careers and your work in DIY? Do they influence each other?
MB: I just accepted a job as a gym teacher at the YMCA and have been working here and there on some sets but now I’m just hopping into the music grind. Both take hard work and a lot of dreaming though so we are just out here working hard and putting in our time, just having fun.
JL: Yeah my showbiz career is mostly rooted in post work and freelance gigs which means weird but flexible hours. This helps a lot in allowing me to pursue different creative pursuits while still bringing home that BACON. Also it means that like most people in L.A. I’ve encountered a lot of frustration and fear surrounding my own financial security and purpose in the world which definitely informs my songwriting.
GC: Most of the stuff I’ve been doing in terms of “showbiz” is all freelance and working sets every now and then. I guess the intersection of “showbiz” and DIY for us is just the fact that we ultimately do have to navigate Hollywood and Los Angeles scene. It’s balancing whatever career goals and images we have to have in order to live and thrive out here with the attitude of our music and how we want to actually express ourselves.
AP: Julia, I’m obsessed with your Therapy Dog EP from last year. How do you transition from writing for a solo project to writing for a band (i.e. an immediate audience)?
JL: Hehe thank you. It’s been a really natural transition in that it kinda all just happened over time without me ever really having to think about it. I started to get more ambitious with the stuff I wanted to do with sound so I knew I would need more people to help me achieve these ideas and expand on them.I definitely feel like my time in collaborative comedy settings like writers rooms made it easy for me to start working with other people creatively and approach them with my ideas and ask for feedback. Plus, Marc and Gabi are actually two of my closest friends plus true creative talents in their own right, so it was kinda a no brainer in terms of who I wanted to work with.
AP: As you mentioned in your Out interview, some of you only started playing music within the past year or so—what drove you to start?
GC: I just started playing drums in March because I was hanging out at Julia and Marc’s house a lot. People were always hanging out in the garage and jamming together, and one day Julia just asked me if I could sit behind the kit and try it out. I can get kind of obsessive when I’m learning a new skill, so for the next month I went over every day when I had a spare minute to practice. It really just came from a desire to hang out with my friends and do something fun. I never thought I would get to play in a band or record an album or anything, so it wasn’t that hard to convince me to try it out.
JL: I’ve been playing guitar for almost 11 years now, but I only started songwriting a year ago. One day it just kinda clicked that I could manipulate my guitar and create a story in that way. Honestly I think I was just bored at the time, and every time I get bored I end up with a new skill or hobby. Most are much less useful than this one.
AP: You guys blend a lot of distinct styles, like bedroom pop and ‘90s punk—is this a conscious choice or just a natural fusion of your influences? Is there anyone you’re consciously trying to emulate?
JL: I think we only really discuss style and influences after the fact. Going into it we just have an idea of what the chords, lyrics, and pacing are and we go from there. We really just do a lot of trial and error and see what sticks.
GC: Yeah, exactly. We just bring whatever we have in our heads, which a lot of the time is music we grew up listening to, and bang it all together until it sounds sick.
AP: What’s next for GUPPY?
MB: More music, more shows and more shreds coming soon to an earhole near you.
GC: LOTS of shredding.
JL: We got a music video in the works. We’re also gonna be doing a performance on a cable access channel that’ll be posted on the ~internet~ in about 2 weeks. Other than that we’re just focusing on performing as much as possible and writing our next album.
AP: If your cat, Toni Hawk, had opposable thumbs, would he be in the band? If so, what instrument would he play?
JL: We are teaching him to play theremin right now. No opposable thumbs needed.
Annie Fell is a New York City-based bad girl, business bitch, and elusive chanteuse. You can follow her on twitter @zitremedies