adlt grrrl exceeds his “personal record”

photo/Ada Bonnevie

My favorite thing about seeing a band is seeing their group dynamic. It’s a unique vulnerability – when a band plays together, it shows the audience exactly how they feel about each other. Sometimes it’s awkward; you can really tell when the people on stage aren’t getting along. But the best groups are those whose members seem to have fun together up there.

This is what attracted me the most to adlt grrrl, Portland’s riot grrrl, an art-punk trio. I first saw them last summer at Sun Tiki Studios, which I later found out was their first public performance together. The band members smiled easily during their set, joking among themselves and engaging with the room, all stage fright unseen by the crowd. And on top of the good vibes, they really know how to rock.

After seeing their set, I met them in their rehearsal space, tucked away in the hallway of a welding shop. Tapestries hung loosely above fluorescent lights to dim their glow, pizza boxes rested on metal storage shelves. The carpets are superimposed on the floor, as well as the posters and drawings on the wall. If there’s a place in Portland where feminist, eco-friendly punk is written, it’s here.

adlt grrrl started when guitarist/vocalist Ada wanted to start playing originals. They knew drummer Sarah from playing together on an all-female Nirvana cover show and had wanted to play with bassist/vocalist Asher for years. The three musicians exchanged different ideas on what the collaboration could be. “I believe the exact words you said to me were, ‘Hey, I want to make a weird electronic band,'” teased Sarah Ada.

They found their place in grunge, and just like their rehearsal space, they made the genre their own. Their song “Bleed Me Dry” would fit perfectly between La Tigré and Dinosaur Jr. on any playlist. Each chorus of the song has different lyrics, and it’s hard to tell which one hits closer to home: “If they’re watching, I’ll die”, “It keeps me ali-i-ive”, “You can bleed me dry. -yy. Adlt grrrl’s lyrics are cathartic and honest, tackling climate change and self-sabotage with a clever sense of humor and an even smarter sense of rage. Guitar tones are sharp and hazy like a hot day, soaring through a steady, ever-crisp rhythm section.

Just as the trio started cooking on gas, the COVID lockdown began. “It was a really scary time,” Ada told me. “We really took care of each other. And that cemented the relationship that we have now, going through this together.

They didn’t know whether or not there was a future for adlt grrrl – or for live music in general – until the snow started to melt last year. When the warmer weather arrived, Ada, Sarah and Asher couldn’t wait to put something together. “At the time, I was renting a house,” recalls Asher. “We just ran a bunch of extension cables around the backyard.”

They started working on their first EP, personal record, recorded in the great outdoors of South Portland. “I look back on that time with such fondness,” Ada shared. “There were birds chirping, and we kept seeing this little kid, like, coming up in the bushes. Then this grown man comes along – we thought he was going to yell at us because he was too loud. And he was like, ‘Hey, I just want you to know that, like, my son wants to play drums and he’s really excited that there’s a rock band playing next door and that you sound good!’

Passing the rock ‘n’ roll baton is important to adlt grrrl – the band has been a place where every member feels comfortable being themselves, musically and otherwise, and they want their audience to see that as an invitation to do the same. It didn’t always happen naturally.

When asked how the band writes together, Ada said, “If I haven’t painstakingly finished something that I consider perfectly complete, I sometimes have a hard time putting it on the table.”

“I think the most important thing is probably finding a workflow,” Asher added. “How to bring in ideas and be comfortable with them not being fully fleshed out.”

“These two speak a musical language that I don’t really understand,” Sarah joked at one point. “Then I just hit some stuff and everything falls into place.”

The process brought songs like the marching “Personal Best” and longing and the nasal “Summer Beach Hit” out of their “Agoraphobia”. single, released at the end of last year. Their upcoming release Desperate times, desperate measures, a “quasi-concept album”, was released in early September. “A lot of songs are about the times we live in, but so many about our internal and external responses to that time,” Ada explained. “Our approach has always been to write music that we enjoy playing and that makes us feel good.”

“I hope people like it,” added Ada, “but I’m also happy we I like this.”

adlt grrrl performs an album release show September 2 at Sun Tiki Studios (375 Forest Ave., Portland) with Tiger Bomb and Five Feet.

AC Howard is a writer and zinemaker from DownEast Maine. They write essays on music, nature and queer life in their newsletter, THE DEAL, at thedealwithcamille.substack.com.

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