Brooklyn’s Sharkmuffin releases a new Sandy-inspired EP
by Andrew Shilling
Dec 04, 2013 | 3668 views | 0 0 comments | 260 260 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tarra Thiessen at CMJ (Photo by: Deanna Wallach)
Tarra Thiessen at CMJ (Photo by: Deanna Wallach)
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Tarra Thiessen, the lead singer, guitarist, theremin player and pocket pianist with the Brooklyn-based rock band Sharkmuffin, thinks she has finally found the right mix of musicians to make it work in the complex New York City music scene.

With influences that come from a wide array of blues and rock artists, the group’s echoing intensity, howling vocals and garage rock guitar riffs are a sound truly their own.

Originally from the Jersey Shore, the all-female rock trio now lives in Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, and play their rough and tumbling rock shows throughout the boroughs for a growing cast of avid followers.

After being struck personally by Hurricane Sandy, the band released their latest EP, 1097, as a memorial to their former practice space and bandmate’s home on the Jersey Shore.

Thiessen and I discussed her influences and sounds behind the band over coffee this week at the Lodge on Grand St. in Williamsburg.

How did you put together a group with a name like Sharkmuffin?

Well in college, I was a band called Slutmuffin and then I was in a band called Poolsharks. I was living with my ex-boyfriend in Bushwick, he had a couple friends come live with us, they had some drug problems and the girls, to keep their mind off of things, decided to try and start Sharkmuffin.

When did you first decide to come to New York, and what was the driving force behind that decision?

I just wanted to play music and I just wanted to live in New York. I applied to all NYC schools and everywhere I applied to I got in.

What did you find most helpful about having your band in Bushwick?

There are a ton of places to play. That’s the main thing. There are a lot of good venues, even in Williamsburg too. I like Death by Audio, 285 Kent Venue and Glasslands and stuff. I also liked Silent Barn in Bushwick and Market Hotel. I think they’re reopening soon.

What was the reason behind starting a new band?

Well, I kind of wasn’t in a band for six months while I was trying to start something. I just had all these songs I had written so it was a good basis to start a band.

Have you always been in bands?

Yeah, since high school. I’m always writing. I try to write a song every day.

Do you have notebooks and books piled somewhere?

Yeah, that and a lot of Garage Band files and stuff too.

How do you write your songs?

It’s different every time. For me, I like walking around and I end up singing.

You’re not worried about looking weird doing that?

Nah, everybody is weird.

Was there an idea that came to you that said you needed to start a band?

I don’t know. The White Stripes just made it seem so simple and I was just such an awkward kid, and they were two awkward kids. I wanted to play guitar and do something like that.

What kind of music were you listening to at the time?

Led Zeppelin and classic rock mostly. Hole – I really liked Courtney Love – and the Pretenders. I learned how to play guitar because of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. I learned how to play those solos and stuff. Also The Ventures. One summer, a Ventures CD got stuck in my Jeep Wrangler and it wouldn’t come out, so I was listening to this top 40 Ventures album over and over again, and I was just singing all the solos in the car.

Do you remember your first guitar?

It was a Fender Stratocaster. I still have it.

What was your first band?

It was called Basic Cable. It was really bad. It was just me and my boyfriend at the time from college.

As a musician, how have you grown since then?

A lot. I was only playing lead guitar in that band and I was barely singing. It took me a long time to actually start singing.

Why?

I don’t know. I was never confident enough, so I would have all these songs and have other people sing for me.

Do you get any sense of independence or freedom once you started singing your own songs?

Yeah, once I got comfortable with it. I try to connect with people but it’s really hard, especially in this neighborhood.

Why is it so much more difficult to play in NYC than other places?

I think it’s because you can see shows every single night of the week, get wasted with someone every single night and just sort of not be impressed. They can see it all the time, so they’re just like, “whatever.” They don’t want to expend all that energy going crazy like some kids I know in the Midwest would.

So who is Sharkmuffin?

I play guitar, theremin, pocket piano and I sing. Natalie (Kirch) plays bass and sings, and Janet LaBelle is really new, but she plays drums.

Where did you meet everyone?

So, Natalie I met through another friend, Nate, who I met through my other friend Natalie. My middle name is Natalie so that was kind of weird. It was like a trail of Natalies to get to Natalie. She hadn’t been playing at all. She was just playing for two years and she just wanted to be in a band, but she has gotten a lot better. Janet LaBelle, we just found on Craigslist. She just sounded really cool.

What was it about Janet’s drumming that you liked so much?

It was just about how into it she is. Our last drummers were great drummers, they hit really hard and they were really fast. It’s mainly about hitting really hard and playing fast and consistent, but she’s just really into it, which is nice.

Where did you come up with the name for your new EP?

It’s called 1097. So during Hurricane Sandy, Natalie had this beach house at the Jersey shore that got destroyed. It was this amazing three story beach house from the 1930s, and when she first joined the band, we went down there and that’s where we jammed on a lot of the first songs we were working on and that was the number of the house. On the front cover of the album is her cat that was 17 years old and just passed away. So it’s kind of a sad thing, but it’s more of a memorial for those things.

Where did the songs come from?

It’s “Foul Play,” “Quarter Machine” and then “1010” and “Soft Landing.” A lot of them were her bass lines and then I write guitar parts over them or there were guitar parts and she would give me some suggestions on lyrics and stuff.

So it’s really a mutual songwriting relationship now and you’re not writing all the songs?

Yeah, not anymore. This is the first time it has been like that for me.

Are you comfortable now sharing that responsibility?

Yeah. Also, it’s really cool because she hasn’t been playing for that long, so she has a much more pure thing about her.

Because of the higher cost, are you worried at all about putting out a vinyl EP?

Well, that was why we only made like 200 copies of it so hopefully when we go on tour it will last us a couple years.

I would imagine it’s a lot more fun too?

Yeah, I also have a big vinyl collection at home.

When did you start collecting?

When I was about 17. I found my step dad’s record collection in the garage. There was also this good record store in New Jersey that had a bunch of stuff for like two bucks.

What’s your favorite record?

This Odetta and the Blues record. That probably influenced my singing style a lot. I just found it at some thrift store in Asbury Park. The Ventures in Space is awesome. It was really cheap but this thing on the back says, “All these noises have been made by real instruments and not any electronic gimmicks.” (laughs) I thought it was kind of funny.

Do you carry that same mantra with your group?

Well we use theremin, which is like the first electronic instrument ever. I think it was originally developed to detect bombs, but its like this wooden thing, it has an antenna here and an antenna here and then you play it by not touching it. I run it through a ton of guitar pedals so it sounds like a space ship. I play it and guitar at the same time now, so it’s a lot of fun.

What do you hope your audience takes away from your shows?

I just want them to move and at least just feel more energy. I just want them to feel something.

Check out Sharkmuffin at their 1097 EP release show at Live @ Shea Stadium BK, located at 20 Meadow St., on Wed., Dec. 11.

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