Wetdog

by Kate Benny Rating: Release Date:

Wetdog are one of those of bands who can single-handedly restore one's faith in modern music. Why? Because they're an all-girl band with a sound that's a bit no wave, a bit riot grrrl and a whole lot of propulsive, ridiculously cool post-punker fun. They usually get compared to The Slits, but actually they sound more like an extremely miffed Raincoats with Mo Tucker pounding the drums. Last year's Frauhaus album (awesome pun!) made Soundblab's Best Albums list, its sound (for the most part) a slightly more accessible refining of their fuzzed-up first album, 2008's Enterprise Reversal.

When Soundblab catches up with them at The Well in Leeds, they've just played a fantastic set which was short and to the point but still managed to veer between new wave angularity, no wave abrasiveness, Britpop cheesy organ madness, and mutant almost-disco, all delivered with a soupcon of early Fall clatter and riot grrrl snarl. All these elements coalesce for just under two minutes on 'Wymmin's Final', an utterly thrilling and totally unhinged punk stomp with added athletic grunts and Minnie Mouse squeaks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all this makes Soundblab suspect they may be scarily intense, thousand-yard staring art-rocker types fond of issuing one word answers to gauche interviewers. How wrong can you be? Backstage, the three Wetdog ladies - Rivka (vocals, guitar, keyboards, great shoes), Billy (bass, sometimes vocals, amazing hair) and Sarah (drums, gradually emerges as the band's intellectual malcontent) - are friendly, charming and almost pathologically chatty, quite often talking over each other and veering off at surreal tangents.

What's in a name?

So, starting with the basics: where did the band name come from?

Rivka: It was joke, really. It was just a bit of an anti-glam, piss-about name that we came up with at home and then were stuck with. A lot of people hate it. There are a few other Wet Dogs in the world as well.

Indeed there are. These include a German band, a Scottish band, and a jazz-rock band formed by someone called Richard Searle who used to be in Corduroy and Doctor and the Medics (Rivka: "No way? Genius! We should get him in our band.")
Do they ever get mistaken for one of the other Wet Dogs? Yes, apparently. "We keep getting mistaken for the German one; it's very frustrating," sighs Billy. So is this why there's no gap between the Wet and the Dog in your name? "No gaps, no caps - that's my motto," winks Rivka, provoking the first of many laughing fits.

Can you fill me in?

Total irreverence is pretty much Wetdog's raison d'etre. Ask how they formed and you get a made-up tale in which our three heroes meet on the set of a Craig David video shoot. It goes like this:

Sarah: Didn't we have some comedy answers about a Craig David video shoot?

Billy: What, you mean the Craig David video shoot that we were on?

Sarah: Yeah, yeah, the one where none of us got the job.

Billy: (confidently) We all met at a Craig David video shoot.

Rivka: I got the job. I had to pretend to you that I didn't get it cos you failed the audition.

Billy: We all met at the Craig David video shoot but we didn't get the job then cos Rivka tried some other people out first but the draw of the Craig David eventually prevailed and…

Sarah: (sings) And then we were making music by Friday.

(Everyone in the room almost expires with laughter at this)

Billy: Thanks, Craig. We owe it all to you.

Typical girls

Now, being an all-girl band means Wetdog frequently get compared to other girl bands. In fact, they pretty much only ever get compared to other girl bands since it's an established fact that music journos just can't get past the tricky hurdle of gender. Being in possession of lady-parts apparently means Wetdog sound nothing like any male musicians ever. Soundblab is, of course, far more open-minded about this, but the question is still worth raising: is the all-girl thing something you feel aware of?

Billy: No. I feel like other people are more aware of it then we are.

Do you get asked that a lot?

All: Yes!

Would you let guys in the band?

Rivka: No way!

Billy: They can guest star here and there.

Rivka: No.

This misandrous stance is undermined somewhat by the fact they let a boy onstage with them tonight to add keyboards to one song.

Rivka: Supporting roll, then throw them away. Yeah.

Some comparisons to The Slits are understandable though, since Wetdog supported reformed queens of punk last year. Awesome much? "It was really good. It was the best. They were the best," affirms Billy. The band reveals they'll be supporting former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine, who declined the offer to rejoin the reformed band, later in the year. So what's their opinion on that most modern of pop phenomena: the classic band getting back together? Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be a rather contentious subject and, not for the first or last time, Wetdog elect to argue it out among themselves.

Rivka: It depends how they do it, doesn't it? Some of them can get away with, I think.

Billy: Ari Up can get away with it.

Sarah: But as she kept maintaining the whole time, they've never really been away.

Billy: I don't think you should have to 'go away' just because you're not successful anymore. I mean, I guess there is the thing of 'oh, they just got back together to make some money', but even if they have, then, so what? If that's what you do then why shouldn't you? And if people want to see it -

Sarah: (interrupting) Yeah, but surely it can turn into a completely sort of disingenuous spectacle like The Sex Pistols reforming.

Rivka: Apparently, PiL were quite good… without any of the members. Surprisingly. When we went to see Blur, that was something that was so heavily drenched in nostalgia that you couldn't even objectively look at it cos everyone was like 'WAAA!'

Sarah: In a way, there was no pretence of anything else other than that really. Did they even do a single new song? I don't think they did.

Verdict: If you're Ari Up, reforming your band is definitely a good thing. If you're John Lydon… Maybe not.

Arts and crafts spectacular

So who would Wetdog cite as influences? "We all like completely different things," insists Sarah. Why is Soundblab not surprised? "I remembered one earlier that I always forget: Elastica," Billy pipes up. When Soundblab tells her we were listening to Elastica before the gig tonight, she smiles, "Really? Bring back Elastica, that's what I say." Rivka: "Breeders. I keep listening to the Breeders, actually." Sarah chips in to say she's never been a big fan, which elicits a groan from Rivka.

Sarah: I love Morrissey; I listen to lots of Morrissey.

Rivka: I had a spiritual moment with Elliot Smith on the way here in the car.

Billy: Talking Heads. Who doesn't like Talking Heads? Kate Bush.

Sarah: Tickly Feather. This is my new thing. She's really good.

Surprisingly, they don't name any riot grrrl bands as an influence. Just not their thing, according to Billy. How about peers, then? Who are Wetdog checking out now?

Billy: Electricity in Our Homes. Micachu and the Shapes.

Like Mica Levi, who once build a guitar out of a CD rack and plays vacuum cleaners on stage, Wetdog like to make use of unusual instrumentation, such as the futon we hear Rivka took to pummeling on Frauhaus track 'Night Come Down'. True fact?

Rivka: Yes! It's in my garden at the moment. My boyfriend's mother gave it to me. We chucked it in the garden but I kept it upright and played like, erm, well, I don't know, what do you call it?

Billy: Really, I thought that was a joke?

Rivka: No! It was madness.

Billy: It sounded like a fucking huge radiator.

Rivka: Yeah, it sounds like hitting radiator pipes, which is what I was going for.

Billy: We didn't bring it tonight.

Rivka: It is big. I think it is an Argos Classic (laughs).

There's also Rivka's rather spiffing handmade guitar, put together by her boyfriend from detritus found in the London borough of Richmond. Excitingly, and conjuring images of Spinal Tap-esque rock magnificence, the guitar started life as a double necked behemoth, before evolving into a separate guitar and ukulele. Where did the raw material for such an arts and crafts spectacular come from, we wonder? "Maybe it's Mick Jagger's old floorboards," jokes Sarah.

A fist in your head…

One of the reasons Soundblab thought Wetdog were going to be scary is the song 'Fist Face' off Frauhaus, which includes a description of "stroking your hair while I smother your face". Billy wrote this song, apparently, so what's the deal, Billy? Wish fulfillment or true life story?
For once, she seems to struggle to find the words. "I don't know where that came from really. It's not really…" She thinks for a moment. "I have wondered myself; I thought 'Ooh, that sounds really fucked up'. It's about the frustration thing that you have sometimes, but I don't go around beating people up." There's a slit-second pause before she adds: "Anymore."

So are Wetdog angry people?

Rivka: No! No I don't think so, not at all. I want the third album to be happy.

Sarah: You have an obsession with music being happy and if ever music is anything other than happy you think it's cheesy.

Rivka: No…

Sarah: You do. You think anything remotely dark is sort of emo.

Rivka: No way.

Sarah: You do! Yes! If anything has a minor chord in it, you think it's all dark and emo-y and cheesy.

Rivka: I think people should eliminate their weaknesses! (Much laughter)

Anger is an energy

Soundblab asks what makes the band angry. At this point, Sarah unexpectedly emerges as a force of righteous moral anger, suggesting she would make an ideal candidate for a show entitled Grumpy Young Women.

Rivka: Number one - working. Work.

Sarah: How long have we got? People who walk in front of you, they sort of shove in front of you to walk on the pavement, then they walk slower than you. That's just one among many.

Billy: People who rustle bags.

Rivka: Having to work.

Sarah: People who troll on websites to be annoying.

Troll?

Sarah: Yeah, people who go on feminist websites and write 'Get back and wash the dishes woman!' and stuff like that. There are so many of those people. People who go on a vegetarian website and go 'Oh, I can't wait to tuck into a nice burger'. Or they'll go on the Guardian website and say some racist things or… Those are annoying.

Anything else?

Sarah: Hang on, I'm thinking!

Rivka: Do you wanna do a bit at the end?

Sarah: I've just warmed up. I'm just warming up; I'm just getting into my stride.

At this point someone - perhaps a Wetdog member, perhaps their roadie - announces an intended loo visit, providing the inspiration Sarah needs.

Sarah: Going to the loo! People who use the toilet roll and they leave it dangling on the inside of the wall not on the outside or not going over.

Billy: People who go to the toilet.

Sarah: People. Absolutely hate people. Hate people.

OK, so maybe Soundblab was wrong about Wetdog not being scary…

Wymmin's Final

Is feminism important to you?

Sarah: It is to me, yeah.

Do you think of yourselves as feminists?

Sarah: Well, I do. I think it's quite a personal thing really.

Rivka: I think it's annoying that you still have to but I think you do still have to. I think it's still necessary.

The Slits have talked about how they actively strived to develop a sound they felt differed from the 'male' traditions of rock music. Is this something Wetdog have tried as well?

Billy: We listen to our wombs. (Laughter)

Rivka: I play along with my menstrual rhythm usually.

Billy: We've got a special womb frequency sonar pick-er-up-er thing and we hold it… (Demonstrates)

Sarah: I think people might suspect certain four-four drum beats of being a masculine thing. I wonder if there's actually any truth behind that.

Your drumming is really, really powerful

Sarah: You saying I drum like a fella?

No! I was thinking more Mo Tucker actually

Sarah: I think because often women aren't quite so confident at playing music because of the way people are brought up. It's probably changing nowadays. I think men can get quite geeky about playing instruments because it's the masculinised thing to do. And as a result, I think women tend to perhaps do more interesting things when they're playing drums because they probably haven't been taught and they probably don't try and do certain drum skills that they think they're supposed to do.

Rivka: They might not have the same idols as men.

Do you ever feel 'oh, I can't do that or I don't want to do that because -'

Billy: I haven't got a penis? (Laughter)

Sarah: Sometimes I just think 'I can't do that or I don't want to do that because it's just a bit trad, boring'. But I don't know if the sort of things that are 'blokey' are actually 'blokey' anyway really; they're just tradition really but I don't know, I think that's just people doing what they think what they're supposed to do, if you see what I mean.

We do. As in their music, Wetdog are very persuasive in conversation. So what's next? A tour of America, which they're very excited about, although they prophesise some periods of poor hygiene along the way. It'll be great if they achieve a degree of success over there, and it'd be great to see them achieve some more over here. It should happen because, even though they might not see it themselves (and why should they?), Wetdog are flying the flag for a certain brand of fearsome, fearless, intellectually explosive female-generated rock. But you know what? They're a whole lot more besides. If you've got to the end of this interview and haven't checked out - do it now. And be glad they're rocking in the free world, special womb frequency sonar pick-er-up-er gizmos or no.

Richard Morris and Kate Benny

Wetdog/Grass House @ The Well, Leeds 04/02/2009

Thursday night was the opening of a new gig night at The Well, Leeds called Hello Nasty. The acts they have playing are definitely worth seeing: Wetdog, for the opening and the Blood Oranges on the 4th of March. Despite being on a school night, the high standard of talent the organizers have booked makes this an excellent opportunity for those looking to broaden their knowledge of the music scene without having to trawl through the numerous array of Leeds bands in order to find something good.

First up is Grass House, a London band who singer sports a bushy moustache. This kind of statement facial hair gives you a good idea of what they sound like: they've got art school band written all over them like a rash and they're music is too fussy and mannered to really get into, coming across as form over content.

Wetdog, an all-woman trio from London are awesome live, with dark bassy sound and a drummer who drums standing up! Rivka, the guitarist and vocalist has a sweet rhythmic voice that can stand up for itself. They are energetic and catchy with interesting change in cadence, use of call-and-response shouts (such as on 'Lower Leg' and 'Fist Face'), and use of the voice as an instrument, allowing them to produce complex, original sounding songs, which do not tire easily opposed to the type of catchy tune which really means, 'I can't get this fucking song out of my head and I wish I could'.

Although there will be little opportunity to see the band live as they are playing in London and Brighton in the next month and then they are touring the USA, it is definitely worth checking out their new album, which on a personal level I enjoyed so much that there was a trip involved from Leeds to Manchester to buy it from Piccadilly records.

Kate Benny

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