Everybody's "Fools": Rebel Kind
“They call us the rebel kind” goes the chorus of the 1966 New Zealand garage-rock jam by The Chicks that gave Rebel Kind its name. But the Ann Arbor band also takes other cues from The Chicks: spare guitar lines, bold but sweet vocals, and the earnest DIY swagger that has launched a million punk bands.
Rebel Kind is celebrating the release of its new album, Just for Fools (Urinal Cake Records), with a record-release show on Saturday, January 7 at Arbor Vitae in Ann Arbor. The LP is a solid jump from 2014’s Today and the cleaner production allows you to hear how much tighter Autumn Wetli (vocals, guitar), Amber Fellows (drums, vocals, etc.), and Shelley Salant (bass, etc.) play as a unit now.
But at the core of Rebel Kind’s appeal are Wetli’s songs, which are personal without being overconfessional. She often takes a kernel from something in her own life and writes lyrics around it while exercising the artistic license to add fictional details as needed.
Rebel Kind largely sticks to a jangly sound reminiscent of 1980s indie guitar music, particularly bands from England, such as Television Personalities and The Pastels, and New Zealand, such as The Clean and The Bats (both of which recorded for the legendary Flying Nun label). But with the full-time addition of guitarist Alex Glendenning (who performs on two Just for Fools tunes), Rebel Kind is becoming a little noisier, a little punkier ... a like more like The Chicks, at least in attitude and spirit.
We talked to Wetli about Just for Fools -- and embedded the album for you to hear -- as well as her wanderlust, what happens when the songs dry up, and why she’s put music on the backburner.
Q: I saw the Dolly Mixture and Flying Nun Records influences listed on the record label's promo sheet, but how directly did they -- or anyone -- influence your sound versus “this is our sound because this is how I can play”?
A: Our influences come from all over, but bands like Dolly Mixture and Flying Nun artists are definitely an influence on everything we write and play. It is kind of inseparable because those bands laid a groundwork for the sort of sounds, style, etc. that I think musicians like myself and Amber and Shelley are into and emulate/feel inspired by.
Q: Is “Pop Star” about any particular musician?
A: "Pop Star" was just a fictional song I made. It may have come out of some of my own feelings of not being into touring or the independent music scene on a larger scale. Sometimes I get into moods where I just want to move away to Wyoming, where I have family, and escape from being around lots of people.
Q: Why did you leave NYC and return to Michigan? And then California to Michigan? Where to next?
A: I wasn't happy in NYC. My job was really stressful, the city was stressful, I didn't make a ton of money to be able to live there comfortably -- and that would especially be true if I was still there now! I moved out there because an ex was, and I also had the opportunity to live there very, very cheaply for the time. I like being closer to nature and being able to escape to it easily when I want. When I went out to Los Angeles this past spring, the trip and experience solidified the thoughts I have had about going back to grad school. I didn't want to start at entry-level, bottom rung anymore. I didn't want to hustle. I felt fully prepared, mentally, to settle down some and pursue a career. I left for California because my life felt stagnant and at a strange point and I sort of impulsively made the decision to just do it. After I graduate in a couple years, I plan on applying to jobs out West, Southwest, Down South. I like milder, warmer climates.
Q: You’ve said you put music on the backburner focusing on school and career, but you also seemed to be indicating that when music was your main focus outside of work, it stressed you out. Why?
A: When music becomes stressful to me, it isn't fun and the whole point of doing it and the enjoyment I get out of it is when it is fun. I don't like to tour. I don't like the pressure of trying to make it into something more, something bigger than it just naturally is.
Q: I read an interview where you said, “I feel sort of dried up on ideas in terms of songwriting at this moment.” But you were very prolific for a few years. Why do you think it’s dried up in some way?
A: I've written a lot of songs in the past 7 years. At this point, I feel a little bored with my style. I want to try new things, but the inspiration of writing comes and goes. I've been writing some new things for a new project with my boyfriend called Gloria Rabbit. It is a little easier having the two of us writing together. I'm not going to push myself to come up with new stuff, but just grab a guitar occasionally and see if anything works out.
Q: You recorded Just for Fools a year ago. How have the songs changed in the time since you recorded them and when you play them live now?
A: Our friend Alex, who is on the record some, has joined our band full time as second guitar and that has really fleshed out a lot of these songs live. We have a couple new songs we've been playing and they sound more punk and noisey to me, in a good way.
Q: This was the first record you didn’t make with Fred Thomas. Was it a conscious decision, or was it simply because Fred had moved away from Michigan? What was it like working with a new producer?
A: Shelley is friends with the couple who run Key Club [in Benton Harbor, Michigan] and we had some band money saved up, so she really wanted to try recording with them. Fred is my favorite person to work with. He just gets it and gets me and my sound. We had access to a lot more different sounds and instruments at Key Club than ever before, so that was neat. I am glad the album is different than Today, but I am personally not as into the high fidelity, clear and crispness of it all.
Q: Early last year, just after you finished recording Just for Fools you released a solo mini album, Let's Keep Things Strange. What was it about the songs that you thought, “These aren’t Rebel Kind songs”?
A: Fred was back for the holidays and I wanted to take advantage of that time to record some old things I had been sitting on, try some experiments, and record these two new songs I had written in reference/inspired by Lora Logic. I had always wanted and talked about starting a post-punk band like that and it has never happened, but I finally sat down and tried writing songs for that and that is where "Deja Vu Romain" and "The Flowers and the Trees" came from. We are actually playing these songs live now. It is a lot easier with Alex joining us, I think, because the second guitar and his leads give it a different sound than previous Rebel Kind stuff. He is super-talented and loves all the same music as us.
Q: The singing and songs on Just for Fools sound more fleshed out than on Today, and the playing is tighter. Is that simply a matter of all of you having played together for a while now, or were you focused on trying to make things a little more polished, relatively speaking?
A: We spent a couple days at the studio in Benton Harbor working on this album, so we had a lot more time to do multiple takes and such. I think we had more full, fleshed out ideas for what we wanted on Just for Fools. Today was recorded very quickly at Fred's old apartment in Ann Arbor. Maybe one day to record, one day to mix? If I remember correctly. We were rushing to record songs for a tape for a Lexington/Nashville weekend we did in 2014. I think we have also all grown at being better musicians in this band since Today, too. At least, I know I have.
The record release party for Rebel Kind's new album, Just for Fools, happens at Arbor Vitae (336 S. State St., Ann Arbor) on January 7 at 9 p.m. The concert will also feature Rachel Epperly and Mike P, Toys and Toysier, Bonny Doon, Isaac Levine, readings from Leah Xue, and DJ Silas Green.
Christopher Porter is a Library Technician and editor of Pulp.