The Drendas are an all-female rock band, hailing from Norfolk, Virginia. The ladies; (above, left to right) Denise Lawrence (Bass, backing vocals), Holly Womack (Guitar, lead vocals), and Collette England (Drums, backing vocals) formed in the fall of 2012 and have since made quite a name for themselves around the Tidewater region club circuit, playing their blend of garage rock and surf punk. The band released their debut EP Boy Trouble, in May of last year and have recently released their sophomore EP; Stuck in Your Head. In between their frequent live performances, Holly tells me they plan on recording more songs in the near future with a few different producers in their home city of Norfolk.
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being the Drendas’ first “stranger interview” (as Holly called it, since they don’t know me personally). I spoke with them at their rehearsal studio, the “Drenda Den,” after a Tuesday evening practice session in which they video recorded three songs; one of which is from their new EP and two others that are yet-to-be released.
During my interview with the trio, I found out some things about the band, that the casual fan wouldn’t know but would be curious to, such as; how they got their name, they originally had a fourth member, and what each member enjoys outside of music. Above photo of the ladies in the Drenda Den, courtesy of the Drendas, themselves. The song you’re hearing now is “Meant For Me,” from the Stuck in Your Head EP.
HOLLY: It feminized it too, I think, adding the “da” to it.
|September of last year at the Hershee Bar in Norfolk. Photo by Beth Austin, who’s a big
supporter of the local music scene in and around Norfolk and good friend of the band.
CHRIS CHARLES: Do you ladies write all your own songs?
COLLETTE ENGLAND: All three of us contribute in the writing. Actually, we’re more of like a mash-up, than anything. One of us could have lyrics, Holly could have notes, Denise could have something, and we just really put it all together. So, all three of us write the lyrics and the music.
CHRIS: Who are your individual musical influences?
DENISE: As a woman, obviously Joan Jett, Exene Cervenka, Debbie Harry, and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. That’s the kind of stuff that I really dig. I love David Bowie!
COLLETTE: I can’t really say I have a particular one. I grew up loving Motown and old rock so I really like a lot of that, but I can’t say I have one single influence because I like too much stuff.
HOLLY: I’m really into songwriters. I like everything from Cole Porter to Carole King. I try to be as diverse as possible. I like punk music but I like a lot of Carole King-like songwriters. I like Gram Parsons. It doesn’t really directly show in my writing, but his influence as a songwriter is just really important to me. Neil Diamond! He’s a great songwriter. I like the songwriters, I do!
CHRIS: What bands were you in before the Drendas?
COLLETTE: I was in a band called the Crushes before the Drendas, when I first started, and that was actually where Holly and I started playing together. We played together for a little while and that’s when I first started playing and that was it for me. One band prior.
HOLLY: I went on tour in 2003. I played bass for the Strap-Ons, this local punk band from around here. I played with Katie and Idle (Edsel) and our drummer was Joey Image from the Misfits. He played in the Misfits when Bobby Steele played, so he was our drummer/roadie. So that was cool when I played with them. Another band with Idle was called the Hussies. It was like six months, it was very short-lived. A lot of Johnny Thunders. And then I played in the Crushes with Collette. So yeah, that’s it, like three or four bands (laughs).
CHRIS: Denise, how about you?
DENISE: No. (Other ladies laugh)
CHRIS: The Drendas is your first band?
DENISE: I tell people this is my mid-life crisis. I bought a bass and joined a rock band. It was cheaper than a car.
CHRIS: What was the venue for the Drendas’ very first public gig?
HOLLY: It was at Tap House. Basically, we had been like a four-piece with another girl who was singing for us, and we played a private party and after that she left. Laura opened her own store, she had a lot of shit going on. She had another band, anyway, that she was involved in, so she left. So, basically for like two months, from the beginning of May to the end of June, me and Collette and Denise practiced like three or four days a week so that I knew really how to play and sing at the same time (laughs). I could not do it before then, I could not, could not. True story.
DENISE: Our first gig at the Tap House was with this band called the The Gloom! who were the headliners and they asked us to come play with them and that was our first gig. We actually sold out the place and it was the first time that place had been sold out in a couple years and we were really proud of ourselves for our first show.
HOLLY: It was a good night, I can definitely say that.
|Modeling the t-shirts that are also available to fans|
CHRIS: So Holly covered the next question I had which was; “have you ever played with a fourth piece, either live or in the studio?” So, I’ll ask you; how did playing with the fourth piece go? I mean, did she fit in well?
DENISE: We’re all kind of different styles, and what ended up gelling was between Collette, Holly, and I. She’s a great performer, fantastic as a front person but she just wasn’t the right fit for what we wanted to do.
CHRIS: She was a guitarist, I assume?
COLLETTE: No, she just sang at the time.
CHRIS: Ah, so she was just a singer. So that’s not really a fourth piece. So then, I’ll ask you my original question: Have you ever played with a fourth piece, I mean an instrument, either live or in the studio?
DENISE: We’ve had people sit in a couple times. We’d just see what would go on and how it would work out and then, when we were recording, we added some keyboards to one of our songs on our most recent EP.
HOLLY: Well, it kind of works best as a three-piece, that’s how I feel. (Other ladies concur) If we did add somebody, it would be like a keyboard or something weird ….not with a lead guitar no, I don’t want another role and singing and jousting with a guitar player. I don’t even want just a singer. I just don’t.
|June of last year at the Taphouse Grill in Norfolk|
CHRIS: Well that pretty much covers my next question, but I’ll ask it anyway: Would the Drendas ever consider adding a fourth piece to the band or do you intend to always remain a trio?
COLLETTE: We honestly have no plans for anything to but we don’t really plan for things anyway. If we would happen to maybe come across someone, we’re open to it but we’re not seeking it. I think if someone would fall into our lap and work out ….so we’re not close-minded to it, like Holly said, we wouldn’t mind at some point maybe to get a keyboardist or something like that, we’re not stressed about it, if you want to put it that way, but we’re not totally against it either.
DENISE: We’ve worked really hard to fill out our sound as a three-piece and come off sounding full, so we wouldn’t have to rely on a fourth person, so if it happens, it’s great but we don’t need a fourth piece.
CHRIS: What are some of your favorite venues to play?
DENISE: Well our very favorite place to play is this gay bar in town called the Hershee Bar and it is a predominately lesbian bar ….
HOLLY: There’s a gay dude’s part in the back called the HEBar
DENISE: In the back, the HEBar is where they have the drag queen shows and things of that nature but they have a great DJ, it’s very comfortable there, it’s very welcoming, and we just always have a blast. So, we’ve played there about four times. We’ve also played the outer banks of North Carolina at this place called Port O’ Call, which has been around for 30-something years and they have a giant stage, a wonderful sound system, a good sound guy and that’s always a blast.
COLLETTE: I like the Tapper too. The Taphouse is a good one.
CHRIS: I know the Drendas usually play their own stuff but you also do some cover tunes. What are some of the songs you usually cover when you play live?
COLLETTE: Oh, Yardbirds, “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds. Uh, what else did we have before that ….Dion, The Wanderer ….we covered the Supremes, even, right?
DENISE: No, Leslie Gore.
COLLETTE: Leslie Gore! I’m sorry ….and the Kinks, and the Cramps.
DENISE: Yeah, a lot of older stuff that we can put our own riffs to and change the arrangements around.
CHRIS: Okay, here’s a little more in-depth question: In the music industry, do you feel there are any disadvantages to being an all-female band?
HOLLY: Why yes, I do. I don’t mean to all, but it’s true. It’s been a lot harder. We know the pocket to fall into, where we don’t have to worry about it. I think it’s just like how you’re perceived.
COLLETTE: It can work both ways.
CHRIS: So, on the other side of the coin, do you feel there are any advantages being an all-female band?
COLLETTE: Um, yeah I feel there are advantages, only because we are less common than all of the male-dominated bands out there and the fact that we are unique.
HOLLY: The fact that we write and record and play our own songs and we don’t do that many covers, like the other chick bands do like, covers.
DENISE: Yeah most of the other girl bands around here in this area are cover bands.
COLLETTE: Not that that’s bad.
CHRIS: You ladies have some great retro-type of artwork on your flyers. Do you do it yourselves?
HOLLY: Yeah, Collette does a lot of the flyers. She’s really good at graphical art. I’ve done a few. Denise drew the black and white background design work on our EP cover. All three of us collaborate on our direction. It’s really a collaborative effort.
CHRIS: Do you ladies plan on touring to other parts of the US in the near future?
DENISE: Right now we have a show in northern Virginia, which is about a three-hour drive, like near DC, this weekend. Stuff like that and like North Carolina, Richmond, DC, New York City, we plan on playing. We can’t go on tour because both Collette and I have really tight schedules with our jobs, so it would have to be like a three or four day weekend, max.
CHRIS: Ahh, okay. So I guess I won’t be seeing you ladies here in San Francisco in the near future.
HOLLY: I’m the irresponsible one of the group. (Other ladies laugh). I have no responsibilities to tie me down. If you asked me to go on tour, I would go on tour. I would go! I’ve done it before with Strap-Ons. I had no ties, so I could do whatever I wanted to do. My mom said, “Holly, don’t you want to go on tour? Then Go!” So I did.
CHRIS: Yes, when I was playing in bands, a musician with no ties was always a big plus. So, I assume you ladies don’t have any endorsement deals yet, so you probably don’t own any companies any plugs, but would you like to mention the equipment you use?
HOLLY: I use a Fender Frontman 212R amp. It’s 100 watts. It’s pretty good. I bought it from Mark over at at Guitar Center on Virginia Beach Blvd. Plug! (laughs). He was very helpful, he’s a good guy. And I play, normally I have a Epiphone Gibson Dot Deluxe with ’57 classic pickups in it. I also have an Epiphone special that I don’t play that much. And I also have a Teisco that my dad gave to me. Probably early-70s model. It’s pretty cool, it’s a 20-fret guitar. Most guitars are 22-frets or 24-frets and this is the only 20-fret so this is like an era-made guitar.
DENISE: I play a Fender Precision bass and an SWR amp. No cab. I might add a cab one day.
HOLLY: Once you get that endorsement deal.
COLLETTE: I’m simple. I play a pretty sparkly silver Ludwig kit and basically whatever cymbals I like and I can find on sale (other ladies laugh).
DENISE: She has a single rack tom, a single floor tom, she has an awesome bass drum head with the Drendas’ logo on it.
CHRIS: Yes, I was going to ask you that. Who is the model in your logo?
COLLETTE: Well that is actually just a JPEG I got online, and I just really loved everything about her when I saw her.
CHRIS: Outside of the band, what are your interests?
DENISE: I like to go see bands. I’m a huge supporter of local music and when national acts come through and I’m interested, I like to go see them. So that’s one of my biggest hobbies and takes up a lot of my time. And I like art. I draw and I take pictures and I write poetry and lyrics.
COLLETTE: I do actually a lot of things outside of this.
DENISE: You play drums?! (Holly laughs)
CHRIS: I also know you like to dance alone at home because I’ve seen some videos of you doing that.
COLLETTE: (Laughs) I do! I actually write as well, for sketch comedy, I do sketch comedy and improvisation with a local group called Absolute Uncertainty, and photography, I’m just artsy. everything I do is related to the arts, so everything I can get into, I get into, pretty much.
DENISE: You’re into cosplay.
COLLETTE: Yes, cosplay, costume design, and poetry, like Denise. Also, why I thought it was kind of cool when you brought up who I remind you of from Saturday Night Live is because sketch (comedy) is also one of my favorite things that I do.
HOLLY: I like writing, I’m a writer. I do all kinds of art. I like sketching, painting. I like design work. And drinking! I like to drink. Drinking is fun. I like to find cheap places to drink, Is that a hobby? I think it is. (Other ladies laugh)
|Collette taking a break during a rehearsal in the Drenda Den (and looking a bit like
Cecily Strong from Saturday Night Live here, rather than her usual Susan Sarandon)
CHRIS: Well it’s been a pleasure talking with you ladies this evening. In closing any plugs, promotions or shout-outs to anyone?
COLLETTE: I’d just like to thank people who support local music in general because really without them we wouldn’t be able to do anything. That is just whoever’s involved in that in any way, whatsoever. I will actually say one thank you to my friend Brian Vance for everything that he’s done for us because he’s helped the band with recording our EPs and I’ll tell you, that man never asks for anything in return and he does it strictly because he enjoys us and what we do. So, just like I said, anyone who’s supported us, I can’t thank enough.
HOLLY: My boyfriend, he’s a fantastic person, Greg Wise. My parents. My brother Greg, who was a big influence on me with music and art, he meant the world to me growing up. He passed last summer. Katie Teardrop for teaching me bass which eventually led me to guitar. My girl Sue Panique for being a shoulder to cry on and also quick to say, “FTW do what you need and get it out of you girl!” And my two bandmates because really until we meshed, I didn’t think I could do what I do now.
DENISE: I would like to thank Debra and Paul at HardCoreNorfolk.com, a website that promotes local music in Norfolk, Beth Austin, rock n’ roll photographer at BethShoots.com or her Facebook page. She did the photography on our most recent EP and has always supported us. Jeff Maisey with Veer Magazine, (Veemag.com), who booked us for a festival and has reviewed both of our EPs. Sean Epstein, Jim Prell and Crizti Walsh are a few of the radio DJs that have included us in their playlists. There are too many fans, bar owners, booking folks to mention and we appreciate them all. Of course, I would also like to thank my man, David who has been unfailing in his support and is always spoiling me by carrying my gear! I couldn’t be in this band without his help.
(Author’s Note: After the interview and not being able to resist, I asked Collette if many people have told her she looks like Susan Sarandon [they have] and asked her to speak a line from the film Bull Durham, just to fulfill a burning desire I had. She graciously obliged.)
Recent video of the ladies in their rehearsal studio, performing “Nobody’s Fool.”
(No, it’s their own composition, not a cover of the 1986 Cinderella song of the same name.)
“Meant For Me”