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.
"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?