Music News

Numb Bats: Don't Call Them a "Girl Group"

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.

If any band in town has the "it factor," it's Numb Bats. With those refined and unique harmonies, the switch to an all-female lineup has done nothing but make the band's sound more cohesive.

"We have to use the fact that the three of us are girls and not make us shticky. We can use it to our advantage, like how we're playing with our vocals right now," Opich says. "We can only do that because it's three women."

Plus, not to get all kumbaya, but you can tell the bandmates genuinely like each other.

"It feels more whole," Neuharth says. "I think the energy has changed because we connect well with Sophie, but I can't say if that's just because she rules or because she's female or both."

When asked whether they see themselves taking off and making a career of the band, they all seem taken aback, almost as if the thought had never occurred to them that what they do in Neuharth's basement could be more than just a fun experiment. But after listening to them practice songs from an upcoming album that they currently are recording in the basement practice space, it's hard to not imagine them getting attention and getting it quick. So will they make it big?

"I don't know what that means anymore," Opich says.

"Can you even imagine what that would feel like?" Neuharth adds.

Jokingly confident, Hobeheidar chimes in, "We'll definitely be rock stars in two years."

Each agrees that Phoenix is a prime place to be playing music right now. Numb Bats just opened for Jeff the Brotherhood, and they are still gushing over the experience. Phoenix is much more realistic than somewhere like Portland, L.A., or New York, where the scene's more saturated with local acts.

"I think that's what makes the Phoenix music scene great," Neuharth says. "It's really great for the locals."

While Opich says they aren't currently trying to attract a record deal, the group is collaborating with L.A.'s Lolipop Records to release a full-length cassette. Though the band hasn't yet decided on a name for the album, ideas like How Messed Up Is Grandma Right Now? or even simply putting the track list on the cover, as it did for its last demo, are being thrown around.

The album will be released, ideally with a name, on July 30 at Crescent Ballroom, where Numb Bats will be joined by some of their favorite local bands, including Man Hands and Drainbow. Two days later, the band will be going on its first cross-country tour, which the members are scheduling entirely on their own with help from a lot of acquaintances and strangers.

"It does finally feel like we have a nice collection of little songs that get along," Neuharth says. "I imagine when we get back from tour, we'll be way better."

For now though, the three women are just sitting on Neuharth's porch smoking cigarettes. They might go in and practice more, or maybe they'll hit up a pool party in town. Neuharth will likely be making flyers for upcoming shows and zines for her Etsy page, while Opich and Hobeheidar work through Arizona State University's creative writing program. But if folks out of town see the band the way its hometown does, it won't be long until Numb Bats makes this whole music thing a full-time gig.

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Heather Hoch is a music, food, and arts writer based in Tucson. She enjoys soup, scotch, Electric Light Orchestra, and walking her dog, Frodo.
Contact: Heather Hoch