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In the Pink

[whitespace] Preteens Preteen Beat: Preteens bassist Christina Espinosa (left) and guitarist Laura Davis (sans the third member, drummer Bert Garibay) give queer rock a pop-punk edge.

Santa Cruz's Preteens are headed for grownup success in a hurry

By Matt Koumaras

THE PRETEENS are probably the most promising local band you've never heard about. This queer-friendly Santa Cruz trio fuses luscious harmonies, to-the-point punk lyrics and churning electric riffs full of grit. At the Vets Hall Girl Fest '99 earlier this year, the Preteens were the first band to get the lazy people out of their seats and into a crisp pop groove.

Although the Preteens have played a sprinkle of local shows, they were one of only nine Northern California bands to be chosen by the suddenly now-defunct BAM magazine for a recent cover feature on up-and-coming artists. Labels have begun to woo the band. Not bad at all for a group that played its first show only last year.

The band's origins can be traced to Los Angeles, where guitarist/vocalist Laura Davis and drummer Bert Garibay worked together at Tower Records. Davis would get her daily caffeine fix at a coffeehouse down the street from Christina Espinosa.

One day Davis asked Espinosa if she could play bass; Espinosa "lied" to get into a band, although she was already a fairly accomplished guitar player in her own right. When Espinosa moved north to attend UC-Santa Cruz, the band, she says, was "nice enough to come with me."

Espinosa, who officially joined the Preteens in September, says she got the idea for the band name, "Sadly ... from an episode of King of the Hill where little Bobby says something about being a preteen."

The name ties in perfectly, because people are always mistaking Espinosa, Davis and Garibay for "little kids." When I first encountered the band--bursting with a postshow glow and selling tapes--I could just imagine them spinning the bottle with the hip Degrassi Junior High crowd. Despite their youthful teen-beat hues, Espinosa is actually 23; spiky blonde Davis is 24; and Garibay is the baby at 21.

Fashionably Queer

THE EVER-CONGENIAL Davis describes the Preteens' influences as "Social Distortion, the Ramones and Christine is into the Clash, but we're also into folk." Espinosa adds in her flowing soft-spoken manner, "Our influences are wacky. We're into a bit of everything."

Indeed, their sound walks the high-wire effortlessly through chunky riffs of sugar pop to properly planned mellow moments of sparseness. There really isn't a distinct starting point to play pin-the-tail-on-the-musical-influence with this trio, though--they just sound like the Preteens.

The Preteens' seven-song demo, Pink Rock (whose title, Davis explains, was derived from one her male co-workers' generalizations about "girl bands"), possesses the musical chops of a group way ahead of pace. Incredibly, it was recorded in just one day at Ton Records in Los Angeles.

Garibay hooked the band up with the recording studio through the connections he had gained by working at L.A.'s Cherokee Records.

"We just write about stuff that has happened," Espinosa says, modestly explaining the songwriting process.

"Earlier times," Davis adds in agreement.

Typically, the band molds its songs into desired shape by working them out "trial-and-error" style in the practice shed. The music evolves when both Davis and Espinosa feed off each other's heady successes. All of the Preteens songs are poppy and Cliff Notes concise but packed with depth and meaning.

"Save Me" is a pretty song with jangly, Byrds-like riffs that toss a much-needed lifejacket to a heart drowning in sorrow. Lyrics like "I need someone to save me, and you need someone to save" capture the essence of romance. The dual vocals at the ending epitomize the very meaning of catharsis.

"Fashionably Queer" zips along to a strutting boogie that makes me want to jig on down to Herland. With complex tempo changes and orgasmic crescendos, it's an all-you-can-eat audio smorgasbord. Davis explains the song's origins: "It's about all the girls at the bars who are gay for the night," the girls she encountered while living in Los Angeles.

The song combines witty nursery school-like lyrics ("You make me wish I was gay") with sturdy pop hooks. Garibay's snare work dishes out cerebral beats before swimming into the next song, the surreal "Sombrero."

"Here," an astute tale of roommate infidelity of the Melrose Place variety, has all the makings of a sure-fire hit, with sassy vocals by Espinosa and exquisite backing from Davis. The first-person frustration and clean verses sandwiched between a driving, distorted chorus somewhat resonate of the Chubbies or the Breeders.

"Simple" is a sad vignette of scrapping for change and ramen on poverty's floor. The chorus rings ironic with its rallying cry of "What happened to middle class/I can't believe I miss middle class." The song expresses the bandmembers' frustration with having a college degree and not being able to use it whatsoever. Davis graduated with a theater arts degree from the University of Arkansas and Espinosa earned a degree in environmental studies from UCSC. Both are currently drawing minimal wages at bookstores in Los Gatos (and trying to make the high Santa Cruz rents).

A fuzzed-out rocker in half-time, the aggro "Red Rover" will compel even the old folks at home to form a pink aerobics pit. I don't think even game-guru Milton Bradley could have really defined infatuation any better than the line "You're the Yahtzee, and I am the dice."

"It's about being in pursuit of someone who doesn't know you want them," Davis remarks.

"Semi-stalking," Espinosa chimes in.

"Yes. Stalking in a pleasant sense," Davis chuckles.

"Little Bird," a love song co-written by Davis and Espinosa, tickles the heart strings with tender, overlapping harmonies and an irresistible bass hook. The despondent "It doesn't surprise me that you don't care" is later answered by a consoling "God's got his eye on you" for rewarding effect.

Benefactor Wanted

THE PRETEENS are enrolled at the DIY preschool and prefer to keep things fun. The band diligently dubs copies of its demos before each show it plays. Eternal cool points are awarded to the trio for performing at a Free Radio Santa Cruz benefit recently and using its own car stereo speakers for P.A. monitors.

The Preteens unfortunately do not have any strong connections to the local band scene yet, due to their short existence and the fact that they're all newcomers to the area: Davis grew up in Arkansas, Garibay in Texas and Espinosa in Los Angeles.

"I don't really know anybody in any other bands in town yet," Espinosa says. "I hear about a lot of Santa Cruz bands, but I get the feeling that they're all guys."

The feedback they've been receiving from audiences has been a source of inspiration. They've only played San Francisco a couple times, but look forward to more shows. Espinosa expresses some concern that she doesn't want to see the band "limit itself," like queer-punkers Tribe 8, and not be able to play on more diverse bills.

Being stuck playing the same shows to the same audiences, as supportive as they are, is a serious reality and can permanently trap a band.

"But our audiences really help us out," Davis adds, referring to the predominantly queer audiences the band attracts. The Preteens fire poignant arrows of loneliness, lust and love that are not in any way exclusive. Adulthood seems inevitable for this precocious unit. A couple of indie record labels have already expressed interest in the Preteens after witnessing the band's energetic live shows.

"We're not really in a hurry for that," Davis says, referring to the business side of music. The band hopes to have a music career full time but is trying to keep things fun and not push too hard.

"Right now, we feel the need to play music and earn the respect it brings," Espinosa states.

They would like to release a full-length CD version of Pink Rock in the near future, "but we need to win the lottery," Davis says, to finance the musical venture.

"I need a benefactor," Espinosa jokes.

The Preteens play San Francisco's Girl Fest '99 with Santa Cruz's Fabulous Disaster among many others on June 26 at the Paradise Lounge (contact Shane Star Productions at 471-2830 for the scoop). To get a demo of the Preteens or for additional info, email [email protected].

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From the June 9-16, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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