Many, many years ago — before the age of digital music mojo and studio wizardry, and right around the time "rock 'n' roll" was deemed a dirty term by apple-pie America and you couldn't see Elvis' hips gyrating on TV — what we now call "garage rock" was literally just that: people rockin' out raw and live in a garage. Nothing fancy but damn sure spirited.
There's something infectious about a band that looks like they're actually having fun playing, rather than worrying about not having perfect pitch or tripping over a mountain of effects pedals. Take local garage rock trio The Cosmeticators — these three women smile while they're playing, laugh off mishaps, and keep rocking out simple, punky anthems in the vein of classic girl garage bands like Thee Headcoatees, The Runaways, and The Pleasure Seekers (they cover the latter's song, "What a Way to Die," at shows).
The band — Chela (bass, vocals), Dee Moreno (guitar, vocals), and Amy Young (drums) — formed in January 2008. They'd known each other for years, and all three women are active in the Valley arts scene. Young works for Scottsdale Cultural Council and helps run two galleries in downtown Phoenix, Perihelion Arts and Pravus Gallery. Moreno works an art school. Chela's an artist and also brings the best-known local music pedigree to the trio: She used to play with furious female rockers Hell on Heels. And while the simplicity and brevity of The Cosmeticators' songs might lead one to think they're in a sloppy punk rock hurry, that's not the case. These three ladies have taken their time building a fan base and getting a debut album ready for release (more on that later). Even their band name is a product of intense brainstorming.
Chela and Moreno met at punk bar TT Roadhouse in Scottsdale and made a list of cool words that could be used to form a band name. "Cosmetics" and "medication" were both on the list. "The concept of self-medication, whether it's through drugs or whatever people use, [like] video games — there are various ways of self-medication. It's been a big buzz word in the last decade," Moreno says. "I was actually influenced a little bit by that local band The Complainiacs. I like the way they put 'complain' and 'maniac' together. And we were writing down things that related to women, mostly, like cosmetics. In a way, cosmetics are a way of [hiding]. You hide behind [them]. So it was synonymous to put the two words together."
After settling on a band name, The Cosmeticators built a reputation around the Valley playing shows with established locals like Labor Party, Green Lady Killers, and The Love Me Nots, as well opening for national acts like The Dollyrots, White Flag, Clem Burke of Blondie, and '60s band Love. Their songs are simple and short but catchy, ranging from the fuzzy guitar-filled "Roboman" and head-boppers like "Double Man" to the "Cosmeticators Theme Song," a call-and-response tune that finds the band chanting about "taking control" and "rocking down." The lyrics to almost any Cosmeticators song can be humorously dubious. But like the band name, there's more to them than meets the ear.
For example, in "Apple," Chela sings, "You're so cold and oh so sweet / You're just the kinda treat that I'd like to eat / C'mon apple, give it to me / C'mon now, give me a squeeze."
A more dirty-minded person (like, say, us) might think that's a sexual innuendo, but it's an actually an ode to a beverage. "It's about an apple slush from Sonic," Chela says. "Sonic has this 100 percent apple juice slushie that's just like apple juice that's slushified. And I was like, 'This is a song right here. These are so great. I wanna get picked up by Sonic as their, like, house band.'"
Chela says another Cosmeticators song, "Jerry," is also often misinterpreted. "The chorus: 'He's big, he's black / It's a Jerry love attack' gets a lot of . . . People think it means something else, too," Chela says with a laugh. Jerry was her late dog. "He was a black lab. I have a new chocolate lab named George. I have a few songs about George already."
"If they're not covers, all our songs really do come from our own real, personal life experiences," Young says.
Moreno concurs. "We have a song about Botox, which is really tongue-in-cheek. No pun intended there. That was influenced by one of our friends that does cosmetics," she says. "We have songs about psycho stalker ex-boyfriends. I have a song about Sheriff Joe, and [one about] a DUI. It was influenced by a girl I knew who had a DUI, so it was about the whole experience she had."
"We have some love songs, but most of them are hate songs," Chela adds. And the love songs are about things like dogs and apple slushies.
The Cosmeticators recorded four songs for an EP about three years ago. All the tracks were recorded live in the garage of their friend Jon Cheney's East Valley home, dubbed "Heathenworld Studios." Hard copies of that EP are long gone (you can still hear the tracks on the band's MySpace page, www.myspace.com/thecosmeticators), but the band's already recorded an untitled, full-length debut album. They say they're finishing the mixing of it and hope to have a CD release party in the fall. The upcoming album was recorded at Dead Studios by Chuck Harding, who also produced the Cosmeticators' video for "Roboman."
"Roboman" is a slick-looking video and features Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots duking it out, as well as a cool robot costume, designed by Chela and worn in the video by Robot Tank guitarist Mike Dee. "The video's been an accomplishment," Young says. "It really got a lot of attention."
Chela says she enjoyed "the theatrical aspect" of shooting the video and looks forward to doing more. When the band holds its CD release party this fall, they'd like to make it a CD release/video viewing party. In the meantime, they're continuing to play regular gigs around town and mine their lives for musical inspiration.
"If you are a person that's done anything shitty to any one of us," Young says, "expect to have a song written about you."