Austin-based Zepparella drummer Clementine had long wanted to form a band with San Francisco-based Hell's Belles guitarist Adrian Conner. But between the distance between their homes and Conner's fear that her tendency to be a stress-inducing bandmate would ruin their friendship, they held off.
But the intrigue of working with a peer she deeply respected and making music that would push her creatively was finally enough to win Conner over. One album in, and it looks like that collaboration — the outfit Beaux Cheveux — might just be the band she was needing.
On their 2018 debut record, Ro Sham Bo, Conner and Clementine tap into their many resources and talents to create a psychedelic spin on dream pop. Conner’s bass and guitar work feel effortless as she rips through little riffs and lays down funky bass lines, even if it’s not her main instrument. On the other end, Clementine slowly builds and layers booming beats and hazy vocals that complement as much as they stand out.
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There are elements within Ro Sham Bo that hint at Conner's guitar wizardry in the all-female AC/DC cover band Hell's Belles, as well as Clementine's knack for rhythms and beats, showcased in her all-women Led Zeppelin tribute band, Zepparella. But the new album isn't a nod or even a wink at the cover-band stuff. If anything, it's a release for both musicians as they struggle to find their audience without the safety net of playing forty- and fifty-year-old songs for audiences wanting precisely such music.
The songs are a bit outside Conner’s wheelhouse, as well, but stretching herself has given her a greater sense of enjoyment.
“Most of the songs are groovy and happy and fun, which does not come naturally to me if I’m the singer," says Conner. "I really admire Clem’s writing abilities, because she’s able to write meaningful, positive lyrics that paint a picture in your mind, and I get to add the music to it, and it’s fun. It’s fun to not be mad all the time but sound cool.”
It’s not as if Conner, a professional musician living in Austin, was starved for an opportunity or platform. But working with Clementine offered the potential to play and write with someone who could conjure something new out of her. The idea didn’t feel like mere politeness, or the fulfillment of some half-baked idea. It has been an opportunity for both women to fully invest in just seeing where things would end up if they committed to at least starting something.
“It’s hard not to build things up and then ruin it when you’re creating it in your mind," says Conner. "Somehow, I was able to just go into my room and sit down and pick up an instrument and just let all that stuff go and be there. Just play.
“I have my own band and write all the songs, and I know what it’s going to sound like when I start, because I’m the only one. When we got the music back from this album, and just kind of taking a step back, it’s like, wow, I didn’t know it was going to sound like this.”
The process of blending their two styles into one cohesive sound was as practical as working remotely. Connor and Clementine currently share files and small pieces of music with one another and then adjust and tinker accordingly.
Even as they mixed electronic beats and guitar solos for the new record, there was no need for a magic ingredient, but instead just a commitment to patiently put everything together.
The music videos weren’t even as complicated as that. Conner simply shot footage on her phone and edited the clips into a coherent, albeit occasionally unpredictable, series of stories.
Even with so many things working in their favor, there is a bit of a disconnect between the amount of recognition both musicians have received for their work in cover bands and the amount they desire for their own original music. They are still in the process of nailing down an audience.
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“It’s frustrating. It’s like you want to resonate with people, and when you do AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, it’s really easy to," says Conner. "Maybe because both of our bands are really good, and we’re good teams, it’s easy to throw a show that feels like a big party. So when you do the original stuff, it’s more like you’re convincing people of it. They’re really having to take it in and think about it.
“It’s not as crazy. It kind of makes you go, 'Are we doing the right thing? Are we reaching people?' But without the tribute bands, we never would have had time to make this music," she concludes. "We’re lucky enough to get to do music full-time, so they’re like our day jobs, and then we get to make this art.”