Clothes don't make the man (or woman). But a little style never hurts. And when you can back it up with spunky, kick-in-the-pants garage rock as the high-heeled, bustier-cinching rockabilly babes in L'Assassins do, it's all the better.
"We want to be the '60s bad girl, B-movie vixen[s]," says the band's lead singer, Tea Ann Simpson, an archetypal punk-rock pinup, perched at a Memory Lanes high-top before a recent tour-kickoff show at the bowling alley/rock club.
Aesthetically, L'Assassins look like runaway housewives circa 1958 who got their first taste of rock 'n' roll and ditched their white picket fences for guitars, tattoos and glam-punk accessories -- an eye-catching blend of camp and class. Onstage, they've got enough hip-shaking sass to make boys (and girls) swoon.
"Today there's too much stigma to want to care about how you look and get dressed up and present a feminine image," says guitarist Monet Wong, whose bright red lipstick matches the color of her gleaming guitar. "But for us, that's part of the fun of it."
While their image and association with the Reckless Ones -- the heppest cats in the Twin Cities' rockabilly scene -- often get L'Assassins lumped into the same genre, it's no end-all descriptor. Even though their founding notion was to start an all-girl rockabilly band, Wong notes their sound is more influenced by '60s garage bands and their descendents -- like the 18.104.22.168's, who they'll play alongside Saturday for this weekend's Girls Got Rhythm Fest. "That crazier, rowdier sound fit our personalities better," Wong said.
After spending time in coed bands, an entirely female lineup has its advantages (squeezing loaded suitcases into a cramped tour van not being one of them). Being of the same gender also shapes the social dynamic of the band -- at least in terms of practice-space banter. "We talk about different things, that's for sure," says drummer Angela Clark, cueing laughter around the table. Self-muzzling sets in before I could get the juicy deets, but for the record, L'Assassins do not condone shoplifting.
However, the band's cohesiveness is less about gender than it is about four friends connecting over a love of rock 'n' roll. L'Assassins marry classic surf licks with a mod-ish rockabilly swing, bolstered by Simpson's cute but commanding presence. Clark and bassist Ariel Dornbush's soulful and brassy backup singing, served over clattering "Nuggets"-y goodness, complement Simpson's feisty vocals. With assertive songs like "Gonna Git That Man" (a somewhat ironic title, given that Simpson identifies as lesbian), from L'Assassins self-titled EP, it's clear the frontwoman's petite stature doesn't stop her from being an empowered woman.
"I think we all have a little fight in us," Simpson says of her cohorts. "We're all very different but we're all very strong, and that's the image we want to portray first and foremost -- before all the hair, the heels and everything else."
Who says you have to choose between style and substance these days?