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In 2010, former Sleater-Kinney guitarist and NPR blogger Carrie Brownstein announced she was starting a new band. A MySpace page went up. No music, only a cryptic message: "What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG."
"It is nice to build a sense of mystery," says keyboardist Rebecca Cole, laughing.
But the mystery attracted a lot of folks, thanks to the band's roster: guitarist Mary Timony of Helium, drummer Janet Weiss (who played in Sleater-Kinney with Brownstein), and Cole, who put in time with Elephant 6 group The Minders. People wondered how it would sound, with '60s pop, noise rock, and punk all sharing space in the members' musical pasts.
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"I didn't know how it would sound, either," Cole says.
"It wasn't like we had some big idea planned. We didn't have a lot of information to give people. We didn't know how to describe ourselves, either. That was just a natural piece of us being a new band, coupled with the fact that there were people interested in us right off the bat."
The band worked up a set of songs and, before figuring out much in the way of a business plan, hit the road.
"People have commented on that. Like, 'Oh, wow, you played shows before you had a record out.' It's like, 'Yeah, well, like, most bands do,'" Cole says. "I think for us the tour was a way of testing — we had been together in the practice space, [but] the tour was a way that we could actually play the songs live, which is not the same thing playing a song in a little eight-by-eight room, with just the four of you in there. You don't really know until you go out and play some shows, interact with each other on stage. It's a totally different thing."
The results are careening and ecstatic. "Endless Talk" has the bounce and synth lines of a classic Cars jam, while "Something Came Over Me" nicks a line from Ocasek and crew; "Short Version" is a guitar rocker; "Glass Tambourine" borrows California psych moves from vintage Jefferson Airplane.
"It was pretty loose," Cole says of recording. "My experience in The Minders, we did tours as a three-piece, as a four-piece, and as a five-piece. With more people in your band, you have an element that is looser there; you can let go of things you might have to hold down in a smaller unit. The number helps create a lot of space . . . There was a real element of surprise and discovery. I really enjoyed that a lot."
The resulting record is one made by rock 'n' roll professionals, four women who know the ins and outs of a band, who need it to be joyful to be worth doing. The feeling is summed it up in "Romance," with the lyric: "Sound is the blood between me and you." It's a plain idea, but still vague, still mystical. Still mysterious.
"Mystery is always good . . . unless it's food. Sometimes food mystery is not so good [laughs]. I like to know what I'm eating most of the time."
Something like that hamburger/hot dog combo?