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You can kiss the usual questions goodbye when interviewing a band comprising a 17-year-old girl and her dad. Ask about the sex and the drugs and you'll find yourself retreating to something wholesome like the rock 'n' roll to keep from blushing before they do. Luckily, the novelty of a family act playing indie rock isn't lost on singer-songwriter Christina Riggins and her dad Greg, 46, proprietor of Phoenix's popular Emerald Lounge and, unbeknownst to many of his regulars and peers, an accomplished drummer. They're just as prone to blush when a question proves as potentially invasive as the Patriot Act.
Unlike other fledgling outfits with shallow world-conquest plans, Technicolor Bubbles is a band whose intentions are truly and purely altruistic. Christina plays guitar and writes songs because it's fun. Greg also cites fun and a host of other Kodak reasons Ashlee Simpson's dad probably didn't mention when he pushed his spawn into the lip-synch spotlight. It sure as Shinola wasn't so they'd have something they could do together.
And unlike that father-and-daughter enterprise, Christina's songs are actually good and actually written by her, with no multiple writing partners crowding the parentheses. The Bubbles' drums-and-guitar lineup can rock as indie-licious as The Kills but as pop melodic as St. Etienne. Judging from the band's early live sets, Christina's writing belies a music appreciation far beyond her young years. How many 17-year-olds would name San Francisco husband-and-wife duo Mates of State and Phoenix's own Les Payne Product as seminal influences? And how many dads complain that their kid still hasn't returned his Burt Bacharach and Elton John albums?
"I always wanted to play out with her because I thought that'd be a cool thing to look back on years from now," he says, settling down in the Rigginses' dining room. Christina, Greg's daughter from a previous marriage, calls this her home every other week, and it has an interesting mixture of retro chic furniture and things to make music with. The room leading out to the yard has a full band setup, and jamming has been a family activity since 8-year-old Christina got her first guitar, a Les Paul Sunburst, for Christmas.
"Learning to play music is a great rite of passage. Like, 'Now you've gotta read the classics,'" Greg explains. "When you're in a band, you acquire all sorts of life skills. If you go into business, you'll be able to stand up in front of a room or in a meeting and not be intimidated. Be a leader-type person. From a father's standpoint, that was what it was all about."
And Christina does lead the band. "I've never edited her lyrics -- that was the coolness of what she was doing. Young people say things that mean something different to adults than it means to them," Greg says. "I used to almost blush at some of her lyrics. There's just these weird-sounding lines, and you'd go, 'She's not really singing about sex, is she?'
"In the early days, like around age 8, I could just give her a title or suggest she'd write a song about Thanksgiving, and she'd go away and do it," Greg says, beaming with paternal pride before turning mock misty. "Now she doesn't listen to a damn thing I say."
"That's not true," Christina yells back, laughing.
"There are some older songs I wish we were still doing, but she gets bored with songs after she writes them. And if I can't keep talking her into playing them, they just go away," Greg says.
Since going against parental wisdom is rock 'n' roll tradition, it's fair to wonder if Christina has any songs like Brian Wilson's "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man" in her. Not so -- but it hasn't stopped Greg from interpreting songs as being chiefly about him.
"Every time I hear that song when you sing, 'You're so high and I'm so low,' I keep thinking it's about me," he says, cackling loudly.
Christina corrects him. "That song has nothing to do with you. I wrote it about a guy I went out with." But just to prove Dad makes it into the mix, she offers as an example of one song that goes, "You changed my world and I don't know how."
"Sometimes I write lyrics and I don't know what they mean at the time," she confesses. "But one time, my Dad and I were talking about religion, and for some reason after that whole conversation, I just went to my room and wrote a song about it." She turns to her dad and says, "You know that song you love that I will never play that sounds good with the synthesizer? That song's about you."
Needless to say, Technicolor Bubbles has a problem nailing down song titles.
Although they've jammed and recorded with other local musicians like Lovers of Guts' Chris Pomerenke, and Lance Lammers of Seven Storey, they always arrive back at what Greg describes as the "you and me against the world" dynamic that includes touching fingertips like ET before every show. And only a father and daughter could keep up with their crazy schedule.
In Christina's freshman year, her talent for swimming became a serious pursuit. Now she's getting recruiting letters from colleges. "She swims 12,000 yards a day," notes Greg. "I don't even walk 12,000 yards a year."
"When I told my swimming coach I played guitar, he said, 'That needs to be a hobby,'" says Christina. "It can't be a hobby! I'd rather music be the primary thing." To prove her point, she refers to five-time Olympic gold medalist Jenny Thompson. "She's never been married. She's 30 now and she doesn't have a boyfriend! She's committed her whole life to swimming. I'm not doing it for the sport. I'm doing it for college."
If her dad has his way, Christina will become a lawyer instead of a full-time musician. "I don't know how musicians do this and try to make a living. It's hard to get a booker to call you back -- and I know these guys," Greg says. The Bubbles plan to record and carry on gigging through next summer, before Christina goes away to college and this will all just be something to reminisce about.
But one thing they will never reminisce about is the Technicolor Bubbles playing at the Emerald Lounge. "That's kind of cheesy, playing at your own club," says Greg. "There's something a little too Branson, Missouri, about that."