Breanna Ahlgren and Jessica Mendez, former members of rowdy pastel-punk band the Corner Girls, are growing up...and making music about it.
The punk trio, which the two formed in their early twenties in 2016 with drummer Madi Pietruszka, was known for chaotic gigs and blunt lyrics offering an unapologetic take on young adulthood. But over time, the bandmates outgrew the project — both musically and in their lives, Mendez says. In early 2020, the Corner Girls decided to call it quits, bowing out with one last show at the hi-dive that February.
“It was a final goodbye to all the people who supported us, and a way to celebrate the end of a chapter,” Mendez says.
At the time, of course, they had no idea that just around the corner, a pandemic would put a hard stop to life as they knew it. But once COVID-19 shutdowns began, Ahlgren and Mendez focused their energy on creating music without either an audience or a stage. They hunkered down, writing and recording new songs. And while their lyrics had always been brutally honest, their music began to reflect the transformations they were going through.
“Breanna and I were messaging about our feelings and sharing what we were writing,” Mendez recalls. “Writing, for me, is a coping skill." Her lyrics often explore "inner monologues and change," she notes.
Squarely indie pop, the bandmates' new music was like nothing they had created before. They decided to form a new band to go with it.
When it came time to pick a name, they browsed a row of books on Ahlgren's shelves. They chose a list of words and began pairing them together, eventually landing on Waiting Room. Like their new songs, waiting rooms are reflective, transitory spaces. The name fit.
Shortly after, Ahlgren and Mendez reached out to guitarist and vocalist Stevie Gunter, whom Ahlgren knew from work at the Auraria Library and through Gunter's other band, TúLips. Waiting Room also recruited drummer and keyboardist Nathan Shamblin in the fall.
“Breanna sent a message asking if anyone plays keys or drums and wants to be in a band,” Shamblin explains. “I needed to be in a band, because the pandemic killed me on that front.”
The four members of Waiting Room began approaching their music collectively, taking on big themes of change and growth through upbeat melodies and danceable rhythms.
“It’s a really good sense of general collaboration, an intersection of different attitudes that’s getting stronger as we continue practicing,” Gunter reports.
“Jess and I wanted something more pop and a bit soft, but still fun,” Ahlgren says. ”I was very inspired by what everyone else was doing.”
“That environment did foster a ‘Let me try this out' kind of approach: 'Does that work there? Does that feel instinctually correct?'” Shamblin remembers.
“It’s mainly just us jamming together and discovering together,” Mendez says.
The resulting sound projects both breezy disinterest and growing self-awareness. The songs bounce with bright melodies and guitar riffs, driven by choice percussion and ambient embellishments. And the result is music far more polished and conceptually sophisticated than what was offered by the Corner Girls — one of the Denver underground's most popular bands.
The quartet has created easy-to-digest music built to inspire dancing — or at least that’s what the bandmates hope. Fans got their first taste in mid-July, when Waiting Room released its debut, Echoes.
“It’s pretty exciting to put something out and have people consume it," says Shamblin. "We’ve been working on this but haven’t had an audience to test it. It was completely insular. That was a really special thing to have and specific to the time, [but also] freaky. You don’t know if you’re doing the right thing, ever. It’s all subjective.
“We don’t know what our energy is going to be on stage," he continues. "Everything’s different as soon as somebody else is watching.”
The bandmates will soon find out how crowds respond. Ahlgren and Mendez will return to the hi-dive on July 25 along with Gunter and Shamblin, opening for New York City bands Catcher and Been Stellar.
“I feel like a lot of the songs that we work on, even if they’re sad, give agency to listen to the music and let it move through you,” Gunter says.
The former Corner Girls are hopeful that fans will embrace their new act, which is every bit as empowering as their previous band.
Although they're no longer making punk, they believe in being vulnerable and honest about their insecurities, notes Ahlgren. Little has changed between projects on that front.
"That’s how we are as humans," agrees Mendez. "And that’s going to impact the music we create."
Hear Echoes on Waiting Room's SoundCloud page. Waiting Room opens for Catcher at 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 25, at the hi-dive, 7 South Broadway. Tickets, $10, can be purchased at the hi-dive website.