Tempe art-punks Vegetable sprouted much more quickly than most bands.
Whereas plenty of their peers' projects take years to develop, Vegetable's backstory comprises a flurried few months, culminating in a debut single, a regional tour, and the honor of closing out the now-defunct Eastside Records in the time it would take a lot of guys to figure out a name.
Ann Marie Philipp, who plays in drone-folk project Hell-Kite, and her friend Paul Arámbula, best known as the guitarist of garage pop band Chandails, had been playing together and wanted to start a new project. Arámbula wanted to make rhythmic pop music.
"I told [Philipp] I wanted to make a Devo cover band," Arámbula says, smirking. The duo recruited Melissa Marriott to play bass, and with the lineup completed, everything was set.
With a few bumps, of course. Starting with the fact that Marriott had never played bass guitar or been in a band. "We were trying to think of who could play bass," Philipp says. "We decided to ask someone who doesn't know how to play bass."
"[They asked me], and I was, like, you know I don't know how to do that, right?" Marriott says. "They said, 'Yeah, it's fine.'"
The three assumed stage names, with Marriott performing as Dizzy Ms. Lizzy, Philipp as Anna Nasty, and Arámbula as Paulie Polio, and started assembling the riffs and teaching Marriott to play bass. The songs came quick but didn't sound the way Arámbula originally conceived them.
"[The songs] ended up sounding very different than what I was planning, but I like [the sound] a lot better. I wanted it more precise and clean, but it came out dirtier . . ."
"That's because I'm a dirty drummer," Philipp says. "I played drums a long time ago, but I kind of had to re-learn how to do it. That's part of the reason I bugged Paul to do songs; I wanted to play drums again."
Philipp holds the distinction of being a singing drummer and one who plays standing up, inspired in part by her friend Jess Aurelius, of Pigeon Religion.
"I was just being a jerk at practice, and I stood up to be funny," she says. "But it was a lot easier to drum that way for me."
"Mo Tucker from the Velvet Underground drummed standing up, too," Marriott is quick to point out.
The band quickly earned a fan in James Fella, who runs Tempe-based Gilgongo Records and has issued records by Hell-Kite.
"Vegetable are doing a specific sort of sound that I enjoy a lot and think is honestly quite rare on a scale much larger than Arizona, or even the entire U.S.," Fella says.
"I enjoy a lot of different subsets of punk or post-punk — or whatever else someone might refer to Vegetable as — and within [those sounds], it's not very often that a band can be so raw and honest-sounding without also being abrasive or loud, and while being able to simultaneously play music that is very pop-friendly and catchy. They remind me a lot, in various ways, of a band like Delta 5 or Au Pairs."
Philipp quickly booked a tour of the Southwest, and Fella offered to record a 45 for them to sell on the road.
"We got our shit together and recorded it in one evening," Phillip says.
"I thought the tour was really ambitious and that they deserved to have something to take with them other than a tape or something, so as soon as I got a green light from the pressing plant that I use, I proposed we do a single and then squeezed it in to my upcoming releases," Fella says. "I would have wanted to do a seven-inch at some point anyway, but their own drive to make things happen made me want to do one immediately."
Fella says the resulting single, "Castration Frustration," sounds "exactly the way it's supposed to."
The record bears out Fella's description of the band: While the skuzzy hiss of the record puts it perfectly in line with the lo-fi garage punk sound currently in vogue, the songs have a swagger and pop aesthetic that points to Arámbula's original Devo aspirations.
Arámbula takes sings lead vocal on "Castration Frustration," which is a song about "Being around competitive dudes and not being able to keep up."
"I just wrote it out of anger for them," he says, laughing, seemingly recognizing the punk versus jock cliché. "I mean, I feel like there are certain things to be proud of where your gender fits in society, but [concepts of what] you should act like or be are just bullshit. [Not that I'm saying anything] that hasn't already been said."
The B-side, "Sol," is just as direct in dealing with gender concerns. "There are things that separate us girls / There are things that separate us, us / We have got to fight the ultimate disconnect," Philipp sings over clanging guitars and drums.
"A lot of the time, you can feel like you're totally on your own," she says. "That you are isolated from everyone else. Ultimately, there's another knowledge, and a greater unity," Philipp says, noting that "Sol" was influenced by the book Feminism As Therapy, by Anica Vesel Mander and Anne Kent Rush.
"Music is a great form of expression. It helps you get in touch with yourself. When I hear a new band of women, I feel really connected to them, and I feel really strong connection, and I feel like we're both working toward one thing, and it gives me a feeling of hope," she says.
With the single in tow, the band hit the road in December, playing venues, house shows, and record stores in Flagstaff, L.A., Oakland, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Albuquerque before making a treacherous 10-hour drive to Tempe for a unique show, the closing of Valley mainstay Eastside Records.
"All of the roads in northern Arizona were closed, snowed in," Philipp says. "So we had to drive down New Mexico, and across Arizona, still through a ton of snow."
The show was a personal one for the band, says Philipp.
"Michael [Pawlicki, of Eastside] told me Sun City Girls were the first band to play Eastside, and Vegetable was the last, and that he was glad it was that way. I teared up. I had to run away from him, because that was such an intense thing. I never thought one of my bands would be closing Eastside. It was really crazy and honorable — we were some of the last people in there."
Philipp says it sucks to see bongs in the window of the former record store, but the loss has reinforced her resolve to create at such a rapid pace with Vegetable.
"Other cities have their co-ops and record stores, and it's sad in a way that we don't have access to those kinds of establishments, but it also makes us work a lot harder. What's going on here strictly relies on us, and makes us work really hard to get [those things done.] I feel it's a lot more rewarding to be a part of this."