The Wild Ones photographed by Collin Atkinson
Well, I’m just out of school
Like, I’m real, real cool
Gonna dance like a fool
Got the message that I gotta be a wild one
In 1958, the man who would go down in history as Australia’s first rock & roller, Johnny O’Keefe, recorded “The Wild One.” Its opening verse eventually become one of the most famous in early rock, thanks to Jerry Lee Lewis’ arguably more convincing version.
O’Keefe also recorded—twice—the song “Shout!,” getting his own hit version into stores only a month after the original landed on the charts. “Shout!” was picked up by the Shangri-Las for their 1965 debut album, Leader of the Pack. Then it was recorded again by Joan Jett on her 1980 debut album Bad Reputation, which featured guest appearances by two of the Ramones, Dee Dee and Marky. Years later, Jett would cover…”The Wild One.”
All things considered, it would have been cosmic injustice for Santa Cruz’s the Wild Ones to call themselves anything else. All of those influences can be heard in the femme quartet’s garage-girl-group sound. In the rootsier riffs and shuffling bass line of a Wild Ones song like “Stuck on You,” you can hear the echoes of rock’s frontier years, when every song was pretty much rockabilly. In their vocals are the ghosts of a thousand girl groups, but the Shangri-Las are the best DNA match. Not so much because they’re tough girls, exactly, but because the Shangri-Las were the only one of the girl groups that seemed like a gang, and that “all for one, one for all” attitude is a huge part of the Wild Ones’ charm.
As for the Ramones, well, they might be the only band idolized by all four members. The exuberant punk guitar edge has found its way into their music, as well. The Ramones made some of the most fun music ever laid to wax, which is ironic since actually being in the band seems to have been one long bummer.
That’s why Jett is such an important part of the Wild Ones equation. Her all-girl punk band, the Runaways, was famous for having all the fun the other punk bands weren’t having. And when she went solo, Jett was a lot more honest about her retro influences, turning her version of Tommy James and the Shondell’s 1968 hit “Crimson and Clover,” for instance, into a top 10 single.
In fact, Jett’s “Bad Reputation” was one of the first songs the Wild Ones set out to cover. The fact that another was Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothings” provides some insight into the Wild Ones’ scope. The fact that “Bad Reputation” was scrapped almost immediately after they got together eight months ago shows that they’ve always known their limitations.
“It’s simple, but if you want to play it fast, a song that was really awesome to begin with, you need to do it more awesome,” says bassist Hilary Weisert.
“Luckily, when I showed up, they had scrapped ‘Bad Reputation,’ because we weren’t really good enough yet,” remembers drummer Marisa Kurk.
Kurk came on to complete the line-up only a couple of weeks after the core had formed around Weisert, lead vocalist and guitarist Belle Potter and original drummer Rachael Chavez, who switched to guitar.
“Me and Belle had known each other for a long time, and we’d been talking about having a band for a really long time,” says Chavez, who was formerly in the Luxury Sweets and also drums in Up All Night. “Then we finally just decided to do it, and Hilary decided she would learn the bass.”
“Me and Hilary went to high school together, and she posted a thing on Facebook that just said ‘girl drummer wanted for rock band,’ or something,” says Kurk. “I could not help but respond to that.”
“Marisa wrote me ‘I was just about to get rid of my drums because I haven’t been using them for anything productive,’” remembers Weisert. “It was kind of perfect.”
It was only about a month later that they stepped on stage for the first time, kicking off a string of adventures that continues this week with a show at Blue Lagoon.
Like a lot of the current retro-rock revival that’s found its way into Santa Cruz via bands like the Inciters and the Groggs, the Wild Ones allow the DIY energy of 21st century indie rock to circle back to the sound of the 20th century greats. But more than that, there’s something about the Wild Ones that makes rock and roll fun again. It’s the perfect prescription for music lovers feeling jaded by the posing of Lana Del Rey and the bad disco of Lady Gaga.
With that in mind, here’s how to save rock & roll—the Wild Ones way!
1. Less Thinking
If the Wild Ones had thought about it too long, they might never have been a band in the first place. It was at a Groggs show last August that Chavez, Potter and Weisert decided to do the deed.
“Rachael texted Belle, ‘So guys, I hope you were serious, because I booked us a practice spot next week,’” says Weisert. “So Belle and I practiced a lot that week and then we all met up.”
By September, with Kurk on board, the Wild Ones were playing their first show at the Octagon.
“Rachael booked that show,” says Potter. “We kind of joked with a friend, ‘Oh we should totally play that show. And then I see on Facebook that there’s a flier with the Wild Ones on it. I pretty much cried. Then we decided that we had to do it.”
They played seven songs—four originals and three covers—in under 12 minutes. With buzz-sawing guitars cutting through an insanely fast beat, it sounded more like Shonen Knife playing the Ramones than it did the hookier, more melodic mix of decades their sound has since become.
“I was pretty nervous, cause I’d never played drums in a band before,” says Kurk. “My stamina was not really anything. By the third song, I was exhausted.”
“We were scared shitless, and then it was probably the most fun that we’d ever had,” says Weisert.
2. More Drinking
Specifically, day drinking. The Wild Ones have a song celebrating it (titled, of course, “Day Drinking”). Though they claim they’re not a party band per se (“Speak for yourselves,” says Potter), they do talk about the day drinking quite a bit. The song came out of the band’s ongoing tradition of going for beers to the Rush Inn after practice on Sundays.
“We just like to get beers there together,” says Potter. “Right when we started, I came up with this song and didn’t know what it should be about.”
Day drinking, she explains, is so much better than night drinking—a position shared by all members of the band.
“In the day, people are at work,” she says. “You could be at work, but you’re not. You’re getting drunk. You’re having a great time.”
3. Crazier Tours
Despite only a short time as a band—and the fact that all four work jobs and two also still go to school—the band has managed to do some short tours. In Canada, their “brother band” from Santa Cruz, Up All Night, got stopped at the border and detained for…being a band. It’s true: bands are not allowed across the border if they’re suspected of planning to gig.
“We totally underestimated how strict it was,” says Kurk. “Luckily we were in a pickup truck, not a van. We just said we were visiting a friend. The boys showed up in their leather jackets, crazy hair.” The girls went on in to Canada, the boys were banned from the Great White North.
The Wild Ones also made it down to Tijuana.
“Tijuana was also a fabulous time,” says Chavez. “We ate a lot of tacos. We met up with this band called Mercado Negro, which is an old ’80s punk band from Tijuana. We met their families.”
“We played in their studio, which was sort of underneath their family’s house in an old adobe-style building that was really makeshift with crazy doors everywhere,” says Weisert. “They had this weird studio set up with old Ford windshield windows. It was really Do It Yourself. It was them and their families and their kids were there. Then young other bands came. It was really fun.”
Another band that had heard there was a show happening turned up out of nowhere with their equipment and played after them.
“I think it was pretty much just that they told everyone on their block they were having a show, and people just walked down the street to come to us,” says Kurk. “It wasn’t like a punk rock show, it was just like a neighborhood show in this studio. It was so cool.”
4. No Rules
“Vocals I wouldn’t say is our forte,” says Potter. “In fact, we all enrolled in a voice class and dropped it. We were like, ‘I don’t think we’re cut out for this.’”
“It wasn’t very rock & roll,” agrees Weisert.
No one in the band is a perfectionist, Potter says, and the band prefers catchy low-fi over the famous production wizardry that girl groups like the Ronettes were famous for. “I think we’re not so much Wall of Sound as we are just a garage band,” she says.
In addition, anyone can write a song. Potter writes many of the guitar parts and lyrics, Chavez writes others, but all the members contribute to most of their tunes. The only song that Chavez wrote solely on her own has a punkier quality than the rest of the band’s repertoire and is called simply “Rachael’s Song.”
“I’m really bad at naming names for the songs,” admits Chavez.
5. Big Dreams
It would be a mistake to confuse their pretty punk attitude toward process with a lack of ambition. They’ve already recorded a seven-track set of songs (laid down entirely in one day and handed out on cassette tapes) and are planning to go into the studio for another run at them now that they feel more comfortable on their instruments.
They also want to tour as often as possible, and now that Kurk is getting a motorcycle, they can fantasize about a life beyond the Toyota Tacoma.
“We can hire a roadie to drive a car full of equipment and all of us just ride motorcycles,” says Kurk.
“That’s our plan,” seconds Weisert. “One day we’ll ride motorcycles with someone following us. It’s gonna happen.”
Bonus: Love Your Band
If the “can girls rock” argument is still going on in some corner of the Internet, the Wild Ones don’t care. They know they can rock, and they don’t plan on ever having a guy in the band.
“For me it’s huge,” says Chavez of their all-girl line-up, “because my last band was all dudes. The first time we came into here [their practice space] and we were playing together, I had this stupid fucking smile on my face. They both thought I was laughing at them, but I was just so happy to be surrounded by women. You definitely get bagged on for being a chick in a band.”
“We thought she thought we sucked,” says Weisert, who feels the same way about the gender issue. “We tried out an amazing drummer who was a guy. He said he was down to dress in drag and everything. But it was just not what we were going for.”
More than that, the Wild Ones simply love being bandmates.
“Every time we play I look up and I’m like, ‘This is the coolest thing ever,’” says Kurk.
Chavez appreciates that no one in the band slacks off or assumes that the rest of the band will do the heavy lifting. “Everyone is willing to contribute and pull their own weight,” she says.
“We have such a fun time together,” says Potter. “Any time we have a show, it’s just crazy fun.”
THE WILD ONES with Kamikaze Queens, Fast Asleep & Smoking Ponys
Wednesday, March 28, 9pm
The Blue Lagoon