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Walking through Mo Neuharth's Phoenix home, you don't get the sense that you're in the house of a 23-year-old artist and part-time server. She has roommates, but the place is immaculate — like a catalog for redux vintage design. She and her bandmates, Emily Hobeheidar and Sophie Opich, shuffle around with cords and other equipment in the kitchen, taking a Popsicle break while setting up.
"It's probably going to get hot down there," Neuharth warns.
Trailing behind the three women to the home's cellar turned makeshift basement, you see there's just enough room to fit the group's gear. They look at each other and Hobeheidar begins to sing, "I've got an angry woman . . ."
At this point, we probably should address the big, foxy elephant in the room. Anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, who's seen Numb Bats play would have no qualms telling you it's a trio of beautiful young women. Don't get too caught up in it. Sure, each member's seemingly effortless sense of style is jealousy-inducing, from Hobeheidar's gender-ambiguous baggy tanks and Ts to Opich's feminine, French-inspired look, but you have to wonder whether any of it would even matter if they were a trio of stylish dudes.
"Sometimes, it's obvious people think we're going for some sort of look and that it's contrived," Neuharth says. "It's not like we met up and had this idea to start a girl band."
Numb Bats wasn't even always a girl group. Originally, the lineup featured Isaac Parker, who plays bass in Boss Frog, but they recently replaced him with former Love Me Nots bassist Sophie Opich due to "scheduling conflicts." But even when Parker was in the band, Numb Bats still was called a girl group, Neuharth says.
In just two short years, the band has been compared to just about every female-fronted group imaginable, from Le Tigre to Best Coast to Hole. But to call Numb Bats a girl group is a disservice, not just because the band sounds nothing like the aforementioned acts. The phrase "girl group" delegitimizes the band's role in Phoenix's underground rock scene and undercuts the impact of the music.
Neuharth acknowledges that calling Numb Bats a "girl group" does make her and her bandmates feel marginalized.
Hobeheidar adds, "Are we special? Do we need to be pulled into the pool of only 'girl groups' or can we play with the boys, too? Listen to us; tell us what you hear, not what you see. We sure as hell can shred just as hard as the 'guy groups.' I like to have just as much dirt on my shoes and stink just as bad."
The music of a girl group, as Neuharth sees it, more often than not boils down to pretty songs with catchy melodies and angsty lyrics about dudes.
However, Numb Bats, with Hobeheidar on guitar and lead vocals, more recently has resembled psych-revivalist acts like Brian Jonestown Massacre with a strong dose of surf and grunge in the mix. Add Opich's catchy bass lines and Neuharth's don't-give-a-fuck style of drumming and you have something that, at moments, is reminiscent of Pixies. When the trio sings in unison, it's hard not to think of bands like Vivian Girls— because the droning, harmonic vocals share similarities, not because those acts also comprise women.
Neuharth and Hobeheidar both played in the band North Dakota with singer-songwriter Michelle Blades, who since has gone international. Their time in North Dakota wasn't always rosy, because they often felt edged out of the spotlight by Blades' established presence in Phoenix's music scene.
"Any time we'd get write-ups about us, it'd be about Michelle's new project. It was a little bummy," Hobeheidar says. "I would feel uncomfortable if I was the leader of [Numb Bats]. When [we] play, there isn't a spotlight on one person."
North Dakota was directly influenced by the riot grrl movement, with shouted vocals and a synth-punk element. For Hobeheidar and Neuharth, Numb Bats is completely different, with a grungier sound highlighted by vocals that are sung rather than shrieked.
Leaderless but determined, Numb Bats is pulling from influences like Nirvana, "noisy dream pop," and even Rick James (because it's summer, after all, Opich says) to create a sound that isn't ever just one thing. Thus, the band plays a variety of shows, like a post-punk gig at Wallstreet, a bigger slot at Crescent Ballroom, or playing with garage rock or noise bands at Parliament.
"I like not being part of a scene. We feel pretty independent," Hobeheidar says. "I like when some metal dude will walk up to me after a show and says, 'That was awesome.'"
Now the band is focused on stripping down songs to a more minimalistic sound and perfecting every element, sometimes exhaustively going over vocal harmonies for hours.
"Every time people have seen us, they say it sounds so much better. Everyone can really tell the difference in the sound, which is nice . . . because it means people are paying attention," Neuharth says.
Of course, they're paying attention. If being young, attractive, stylish, individual, cool chicks weren't enough to turn heads, being one of the town's best acts should cement it.